Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Assignment 1: tutor feedback

I should have done this a few weeks ago when I first got my feedback from my tutor, but I got caught up in cracking on with the Part 2 exercises and have left this until now. In fact, it was starting to think about Assignment 2 that reminded me that I never covered off the debrief from Assignment 1!

Anyway: better late than never.

The feedback was generally positive, much to my relief. I presume that all OCA students experience a little apprehension when sending off the first assignment on any course. Well I certainly did.

The opening statement was that this was a good start to the module, with a few small technical issues, “mainly related to explaining why you make certain decisions. It is the conceptual thinking behind these decisions that is at the heart of making the switch to degree level learning”.

The main points of feedback that I need to work on:

  • I don’t shoot enough
    • I settle on choosing an image from too small a selection of shots taken
    • The tutor recommended a book on Magnum Contact Sheets [1] that laid bare the contact sheets of several illustrious photographers over the last century, and I’ve found this absolutely fascinating, a real eye-opener… they really don’t get the right shot first time, and have a ‘hit rate’ much lower than I expected. And if the professionals work like that, I need to give myself many more options when I shoot so  that I can select the best image at the editing stage
    • I didn’t help myself on this by accidentally deleting a lot of my outtakes, so my contact sheets were minimal and it appeared as if I’d shot even less than I had
  • I need to be wary of different crops and aspect ratios
    • Consistent aspect ratio helps a series of images hang together better
    • There needs to be a good reason for a variety of crop ratios (not sure my reasons were justifiable enough)
  • One of my images (‘blunt’) didn’t really hit the brief well enough
    • I knew this… but I let it go; with hindsight I’d have found an alternative image or chosen another word pair

The other comment that I took on board was that I am still trying a variety of photographic genres, and have yet to settle on my own style. Given how early I am in my studies, I’m comfortable with this.

All in all, I was pleased with the feedback and grateful for the pointers for improvement.

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


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Assignment 1: Contrasts – inspiration from my old photos

As suggested in the brief for Assignment 1, I’ve had a look back through my existing photos with a view to assembling some contrasting pairs. This was harder than I expected! But I came up with some examples that could serve as inspiration for the real thing. As far as possible I tried to have a thematic link within each pair.

1. Dark & Light

The same view on a very dark winter’s night and an earlier evening / longer exposure version.

Dark

Dark

Light

Light

2. Many & Few

An overhead shot of lots of pansies and a simple crop of a few forget-me-nots.

Many

Many

Few

Few

3. Continuous & Intermittent

A long winding path versus a series of posts at the seaside.

Continuous

Continuous

Intermittent

Intermittent

4. Large & Small

A giant poppy and a normal-sized daisy.

Large

Large

Small

Small

5. Solid & Liquid

Solidity represented by a huge old steam train, liquid represented by a still lake.

Solid

Solid

Liquid

Liquid

6. Opaque & Transparent

A chinese lantern before and after drying out.

Opaque

Opaque

Transparent

Transparent

7. Still & Moving

Bikes before and during a mountain bike jump track day.

Still

Still

Moving

Moving

8. Straight & Curved

Two contrasting monuments in the same city.

Straight

Straight

Curved

Curved

9. Black & White

A dark train station clock at night, and a set of white vases on a white background.

Black

Black

White

White

10. Solid & Liquid – same shot

An unfortunate parking accident.

Liquid & Solid

Liquid & Solid


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Assignment 1: Contrasts – initial thoughts

Having completed the exercises in Part 1: The Frame, my attention now turns to the Part 1 Assignment: Contrasts. I’ve been thinking (but only thinking) about it on and off, and have scribbled down thoughts as they occurred to me. I’ve read over the assignment brief, looked at how a few other people have tackled the assignment and surfed the OCA forums looking for nuggets of advice.

The purpose of this post is to structure some of these initial thoughts in a way that helps me to plan the assignment in earnest. I’ll refer back to these notes as I progress through the assignment, to make sure I don’t lose sight of my initial thoughts on the brief (even if I completely change tack before the end!)

What I need to keep in mind:

  • The assessment criteria, obviously
  • The images need to have intrinsic visual interest, not just fulfil the brief of contrasting pairs – I need photos that you’d want to look at twice
  • How does my tutor interpret the assignment objective? Can he give me any pointers?
  • I need to get out of my comfort zone!
  • The images need to take on board everything I’ve covered in Part 1 (framing, composition, balance, format, cropping etc); in a sense I need to see this assignment as a framework to demonstrate the learning to date, not as an unrelated standalone exercise

Content thoughts:

  • I’m working on the contrasting pairs to be matching in terms of theme and look/feel (colouring, tone, lighting, format etc) – as I want them to work together visually when put side-by-side
  • I also want the images to very clearly depict the contrasting pair words – to the point that they would work without captions – as long as they are seen side-by-side
  • And yet… need to avoid cliché – don’t be too obvious – be creative but not overly obscure
  • I’m considering trying for all of the 17 pictures to have a (loose) theme that connects them, such as location, subject matter? if I can…
  • Further to this thought: I’ve been working in Vienna for the last several months, but only for a few more weeks… and idly wondering whether I could do a series of shots based on the architecture and public spaces in the city? Not sure yet, but it’s worth investigating

Random other thoughts:

  • I need to plan ahead! I can’t rely on wandering around and spotting the right subjects
  • I need to get better at making notes when I’m out scouting and shooting; so far I’ve relied on remembering what was going through my mind at the time of shooting and writing it all up after the event… not sure I can carry on like that
  • I should shoot more than I think I need, have some spares so I can select the best ones at the end

That’s it for now.

Next up: go through some old shots to identify some contrasting pairs in my existing portfolio…