Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Reflections on Part 2: Elements of Design

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I really enjoyed the Elements of Design part of the course. After the slight apprehension of starting the course, which lasted right up to getting my tutor feedback on Assignment 1, I got into it more in this section and enjoyed myself with it without worrying too much as to whether I’m good enough to stick with the whole degree course (I may or may not be, but I stopped worrying about it!). So I feel like I’m hitting my stride now.

Black and white

I took the advice given early on in the course notes to shoot in black and white for this part, in order to better see the graphic elements themselves. This was a step in a new direction for me, and I have to say that I’ve hugely enjoyed it. It’s changed the way I see photo opportunities, as I find myself not only looking for strong points, lines and shapes but also for the kind of contrasting edges that increasingly know will look better in mono. I’ve found myself using b/w much more in my everyday shooting, coupled with my new understanding of strong graphical elements. Below are a few examples of photos from my daily photo journal that weren’t shot for any of the exercises but with hindsight seem to display the same visual thinking of some of the challenges I took on in this part of the course.


An aspect of the assignment that appealed to me was the instruction to shoot a series of photographs on a specific theme; this made it feel much more cohesive, more of a photographic ‘project’, which I guess is wholly deliberate. Between the assignment theme and the b/w aesthetic choice, I feel like the body of work in this part of the course really hangs together as a whole.

Shooting more photos

I covered this in my assignment write-up but it bears repeating here, as it’s probably the biggest learning I’ve experienced in the last two months: shoot lots of photos of each subject, as you will rarely nail it on the first shot. I saw a quote on a photography blog (which I unfortunately now can’t find – must make better notes!) that said simply, “Killers keep shooting!”… which is another way of putting the advice my tutor gave me on Assignment 1. The book that illustrates this best is one that the tutor recommended, ‘Magnum Contact Sheets’ [1]. It’s expensive but incredibly interesting. Seeing the outtakes of legendary photographers is a great way to reset your understanding of how human they really are/were.

Research and reflection

I’ve expanded my photographic reading a little: I’ve taken out subscriptions to the British Journal of Photography and Hotshoe, and I’ve invested in a few more photobooks, including:

  • Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Scrapbook’ [2]
  • a retrospective of the found images by Vivian Maier [3], inspired by the documentary I watched a couple of months ago
  • a compilation of ‘classic’ photographs entitled ‘PhotoBox’ [4] with short biographies and examples from over 200 photographers
  • a practical book on black and white photography entitled ‘Creative Black & White’ [5]

In addition, I’ve recently found time to visit a couple of exhibitions at the Photographers’ Gallery in London – blog posts to follow.

1. Lubben, K. 2011. Magnum Contact Sheets. London: Thames & Hudson 

2. Cartier-Bresson, H. 2006. Scrapbook. London: Thames & Hudson

3. Maloof, J (ed.). 2012. Vivian Maier. New York: Powerhouse

4. Kocj, R. 2009. PhotoBox: Bringing the Great Photographers into Focus. London: Thames & Hudson

5. Davis, H. 2010. Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques. Indianapolis: Wiley


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