Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Assignment 2: Elements of Design – preparation

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I started properly thinking about Assignment 2 just over a week ago, while I was doing the last couple of exercises in part 2. I looked over the brief which I reproduce here for reference:

The idea behind this assignment is to incorporate the insights you have learned so far on the course into a set of photographs directed towards one type of subject. You should produce 10-15 photographs, all of a similar subject, which between them will show the following effects:

  • single point dominating the composition
  • two points
  • several points in a deliberate shape
  • a combination of horizontal and vertical lines
  • diagonals
  • curves
  • distinct, even if irregular, shapes
  • at least two kinds of implied triangle
  • rhythm
  • pattern

Choose from these groups of subjects:

  • flowers and plants
  • landscapes
  • street details
  • the raw materials of food
  • if you prefer, choose your own subject

I picked out the phrase “incorporate the insights you have learned so far on the course” – meaning from both part 1 and part 2; I need to display my cumulative knowledge gained, not just the design elements piece.

Inherent in this assignment is a theme, which will make the series of photos hang together better than the Assignment 1 set, which was pretty eclectic.

Acting on feedback from my tutor on Assignment 1, I will:

  • Shoot more and not assume that I have the best shot in the bag first time (and keep all my outtakes this time)
  • Ensure all the images are sharp enough
  • Pay attention to cropping and ideally maintain the same aspect ratio for the series, unless there is a compelling reason to not do so

And of course I will relate the results back to the assessment criteria for the assignments generally. I have decided that I do want to submit the course for formal assessment as I do want to work towards a recognised qualification.

Choice of subject

Of the list provided, I ruled out a few as not inspiring me enough for the variety of effects I need to achieve; flowers and plant, landscapes and food didn’t really appeal to me as subjects; I’d decided to continue the mono-only look of the exercises I did in this part of the course, to better emphasise the design elements with minimal distraction, and I felt that natural subjects such as the above wouldn’t suit the black-and-white aesthetic as well as ‘street details’. Black and white generally makes me think of street photography, and it’s a genre I’m more interested in than landscapes, plants etc.

So from that list, I’d narrowed it down to street details. However, this still seemed a little too broad, and I wanted to focus on a particular type of street detail – a location, an architectural style, something.

After a while I stopped thinking about it too deeply and let my mind wander as I moved through my normal weekly routine, waiting for inspiration to strike. And it did.

As I work away from home, I spend a reasonable amount of time at railway stations: from small local ones with a single platform (including an old steam train station in my home town) to huge city centre terminals. And I really love the architecture of train stations, from the grand old Victorian style to the more contemporary revamps such as London King’s Cross. They are theatres of line, shape and pattern. The final piece of the puzzle clicking into place was my long-held belief that train stations always look better in black and white.

So: train stations it is.

Not technically ‘street details’ as stations are an unusual mix of being indoors and outdoors at the same time; contained but open ended and sometimes open-topped. So this theme falls into the last category of ‘a subject of my own choosing’, albeit inspired by one of the list items.

Initial preparation

On the day the idea struck me I took a few shots with my phone’s camera, just to remind me of some of the possibilities. The quality is pretty bad but I decided this was quicker and more useful than writing down notes. I’ve subsequently gone back with my Leica and my DSLR and taken more considered versions of these, plus more besides.

In fact by the time I got round to writing this, I’d already got almost 200 shots in the bag… but they still need a lot of sorting through.

I think I have good candidates for:

  • a combination of horizontal and vertical lines
  • diagonals
  • curves
  • distinct, even if irregular, shapes
  • rhythm
  • pattern

I’m not wholly sure I have good enough ones yet for:

  • single point dominating the composition
  • two points
  • several points in a deliberate shape
  • at least two kinds of implied triangle

So that’s where I’m up to. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete the assignment by the end of August, the target date agreed with my tutor.

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