Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


Assignment 5: selection, structure and sequencing

With this assignment it feels like the shooting is less than half the job! First there was more preparation involved than previously, and now there’s quite a bit more to do at this post-shoot stage than there was in the previous assignments.


I’ve edited the photos down in two passes so far, and it still needs a third pass to get down to 12:

  • First pass: I immediately deleted the several near-identical versions of the same shot I got on day 1 when I used Burst Mode a little too much, and also removed a smaller chunk that had really obvious technical issues (out of focus, over- or under-exposed, tree obscuring subject etc…)
    • This got the total usable shots down to just under 400
  • Second pass: I worked through the images one-by-one in Lightroom, using the Rating function to quickly identify the images that stood out
    • This gave me a longlist (4* and 5*) of 68
    • And a shortlist (5* only) of 17

To get to the final selection of 12 will need to take into account a few criteria:

  • The thinking on structure and sequencing that I summarise below
  • Cross-referencing back to the shooting plan that I prepared (without following it slavishly)
  • Juxtaposition, balance etc generated by the specific sizing, ratios (vertical/horizontal) when arranged into a photo layout style as per the brief – and to what extent they support the aims of the series

So rather than thinking of the final selection as being a task of how to get the shortlist down from 17 to 12 (i.e. simply discarding the five ‘weakest’ shots), I am treating the challenge as that of getting the series to work together as a narrative. This might entail revisiting some of the longlist (or even the first pass 400).

To help with the final selection I’ve put a bunch of post-it notes on the wall by the desk… to remind me what I’m looking for, how to judge the candidate images.



Structure & sequencing

I’m thinking here in terms of the different approaches one could have to weaving a narrative structure through a set of images covering this kind of event. There are a few variations (not mutually exclusive):

  • Purely chronological: not planning on doing this – in fact I’m actually blending photos from two consecutive days
  • Visual depth: start wide to set the scene, move to medium context shots, move further to portraits and close-ups on fine details
  • Give a sense of the actual occasion, in terms of how it builds up to a peak of excitement/scale/grandeur/awe and latterly how it ‘comes back down’ – in a way this is a blend of both of the above, moulded to the particular event

I’m erring towards the last option there: without looking at the pictures I sat down and tried to visualise how best to get across the ‘shape’ of the story… the top blue post-it note above best shows the effect I am seeking:

  • Start with individual details (e.g. a float arriving, the crowd waiting)
  • Add in more contextual details (e.g. individual performers)
  • Big (double-page spread) image showing the scale of the whole event, shot wide and high
  • Focus back on contextual details, this time on the interactions between performers and crowd
  • Finish with obvious indicators that the event is over (people leaving etc)

To further aid the sequencing and layout task, I made a non-pictorial 8-page mockup out of folded A4 paper and post-its:

This helped me enormously: it helped in terms of not only testing out the ‘story arc’ concept to the images, but in two additional ways:

  • Layout: relative sizes of images, combination of portrait and landscape ratios etc
  • Juxtaposition: how to position images together on facing pages; I’ve added notes to the spreads for my own benefit, as follows:
    • p1 (cover): the hook shot!
    • p2-3: build-up / anticipation
    • p4-5: awe / spectacle / scale
    • p6-7: people / reactions (joy, excitement) / interactions
    • p8: comedown

Once I’d laid out the photo-free mockup above, the final selection became easier, as I started seeing how each image could fit in.

Then in a few more iterations I played about with various layouts on screen. For the ones that I was getting increasingly happy with, I started printing them out on A4 and then folding to A5 size so I could see what it might look like as an actual magazine supplement. This helped me enormously.




If you can make it out, you’ll see that I changed a couple of the pictures during each iteration, as it was seeing them positioned together that made me realise which ones worked and which ones didn’t. I got second opinions from my wife throughout. After the last version above I did one further set of changes, including the cover crop, which formed the submitted assignment.

I must say that this approach was a real eye-opener for me. I’m not wholly sure that I’d go to this extent on many assignments, but the nature of this one – where layout and juxtaposition are important – led me to go down the physical mockup route. It really helped me visualise the end result.



Assignment 5: preparation

Wow, assignment 5 already… seemed to have got through the Narrative & Illustration section quickly. Fewer exercises than Light, thankfully!

So time to choose the subject of the final assignment. I have one in mind. The timing might just work perfectly…

My proposal is to do the magazine spread / photo essay on the subject of…

Nice Carnival!

There’s an annual carnival in Nice, France around February/March and it’s a very colourful event, a real feast for the eyes. There’s a traditional carnival parade of decorated floats, and a separate event called the Battle of the Flowers where florally-decorated floats throw flowers at the spectators. I’ve been several times over the years so have got an idea what to expect. So next Friday we fly out to Nice for the last weekend of this year’s carnival.

Sample images

Here are a few pictures from previous years, to give an idea of the subject matter.


There are a few good reasons why I think this makes a good subject:

  • Very colourful
  • Unusual subject matter
  • Should be good light (usually is down that way, year-round)
  • Lots of variety of shots


There are however some risks inherent in my plan!

  • Event-specific, in a different country, so no opportunity for test shots (except possibly staking out the shooting positions on the Friday, if we arrive early enough?)
  • Only two opportunities to get it right – the flower parade on the Saturday and the main parade on the Sunday – so no scope for mistakes
  • Specifically – I need the weather to be good! It usually is, but a couple of years it’s been a washout…
  • Need to make sure I take the assignment seriously and don’t fall back into (pre-TAOP) holiday snapshooting!
  • I’m not wholly sure whether I can build a ‘narrative’ (beginning-middle-end) out of it, over and above a collection of related images… need to work on this at the planning stage
  • Editing down to a max of 12 images will be tough!!


I have a week or so to prepare in the UK so need to use this time well. My plan is:

  • Review more pics from previous years, for inspiration
  • Plan a shooting list of the types of images I want to capture
    • Various positions/angles
    • Various focal lengths
    • Colour combinations
    • People – candid shots?
    • Close-up / abstract / macro detail?
  • Review main points of previous sections/assignments to make sure I have these in mind – not as a strict tick-box exercise, more to remind and inspire me on what I should be taking into account when shooting and editing
  • Plan the narrative aspect of the event (in particular learning the lessons from the Car Boot Sale exercise, where I neglected to have an ending)
    • Beginning: setting up the public viewing areas, rows of empty seats, parade floats waiting to set off etc
    • Middle: parades themselves
    • End: packing up, crowds dispersing, cleaners clearing the streets etc
  • Plan a coherent ‘point of view’ persona – as a spectator I presume (again learning lessons from the Car Boot Sale series, where I mixed viewpoints: sellers, buyers, me)
  • Practical stuff!
    • I’ve got a new, fast 16GB memory card as I’m expecting to shoot a lot in burst mode, in RAW format
    • Got a second spare battery
    • Packing 2x primes (27mm, 35mm) and 2x zoom lenses (16-50mm, 50-230mm)
    • Taking a spare camera, just in case

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Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques – change of plan

The pineapple has been sacked. It turns out that a pineapple has been done for this assignment before. More than once. Now that doesn’t necessarily stop me doing it again, but I strive for a little more originality. Plus, it wasn’t behaving very well in front of the camera. So the part has been recast as more of a… Gollum figurine. Much more original, I hope.



I had a go at shooting him under various lighting conditions this afternoon. I tried various combinations of two small halogen lamps and a taller overhead tungsten lamp, plus some ambient light in the room in some shots. Shape was OK I think, although I may struggle to get two identifiably different takes on that using just artificial lighting– we’ll see. I think I have a few candidates each for Form, Texture and Colour, just need to see them on a big screen to identify which works best. The next thing to try is some shots with natural / available light. Originally I was going to try to do all the shots with photographic lighting, but the risk is that they will all look a bit samey. So my current thinking is to use a mix of artificial and available light, as follows:

  1. Shape, natural light: silhouetted against window light
  2. Shape, artificial light: head-on shot against black velvet backdrop with snoot
  3.  Form, natural light: slanting sunlight through windows during mid-afternoon
  4. Form, artificial light: top-down, angled lighting plus 45° side-lighting to emphasis
  5. Texture, natural light: outside with overcast sky, diffusion and lack of hard shadows may bring out detail in texture
  6. Texture, artificial light: side-lighting across most textured part of figure
  7. Colour, natural lighting: outside in low evening sun
  8. Colour, artificial lighting: use reflectors to accentuate colours? need to experiment with this one

That’s the plan anyway… wish me luck.


Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques – preparation

After the many (many) exercises in the Light section, I’m finally getting started on the assignment! I already had to ask for an extension to the end of the month, so the clock is ticking now, only about 10 days to go.

Subject inspiration

At the moment I’m planning on using a pineapple… I was already thinking of a fruit and my wife suggested pineapple. It has a distinctive shape, both in two dimensions and in three; it has texture; and it has colour(s).

I’m thinking I might divide the shots between the outside and the inside of the pineapple, i.e. the whole thing, and slices thereof. This way I can get a little bit of variety in the shapes, forms, textures and colours.

I auditioned a pineapple for the part just to see if the subject ‘worked’… I won’t use any of these shots, but they will serve as a bit of practice, getting to know the quirks of my chosen fruit…!

Pineapple test shot

Pineapple test shot

Lighting plans

Much as I normally prefer using natural/available light for photography, in this case I believe that as this is a technical exercise, I need to be able to control the lighting as much as possible, meaning: indoor photographic lighting. That’s my current thinking anyway.

  • Shape: lit from behind to create a silhouette
  • Form: side lighting to emphasise the curve, the contours and the depth
  • Texture: side lighting (obviously need to work out the right positioning / angle / number of lights to distinguish this from the ‘form’ shots) to show the ridges of the skin
  • Colour: am thinking of using frontal lighting, maybe a bit of top-down lighting, and maybe coloured reflector cards; alternatively I may see if I can get a warm, low sun outdoor shot?

I’m referring to the fantastic book ‘Light, Science & Magic’ [1] as I prepare for this assignment… am finding it very useful. One could almost say it’s been very enlightening (ho ho).

… more progress to follow shortly …

1.  Hunter, F . 2012. Light, science & magic 4th ed. Oxford: Focal Press


Assignment 3: Colour – progress!

After knuckling down and starting properly on the assignment last weekend, I’ve made some headway. I think the very act of writing my ‘preparation’ blog post hugely helped to get me in the zone.

I’ve managed to take lots of shots already and may have selected about half of the final series so far.


I think I have three good shots for this theme. It was four at one point but looking back at my attempt at photographing an orange balloon against blue for the Complementary Harmony brief, I realised that I haven’t been able to reduce the reflection enough, and it’s very distracting. But I do have a fallback idea for the same colour combination (a rubber duck!) so that will be done this weekend.

I’m quite pleased with the toy ones, as I arranged them against coloured card and I think they’ve come out really well. Especially in comparison to the food ones…


I had ideas in mind – and by the end of the weekend, shots done – for the four food photos. However… I intended to shoot them all against a plain white background for consistency, and I’m really not happy with the results. Turns out there’s something of an art to getting a clean, pure white background. I do have a light tent, but the lamp I use with it isn’t terrifically strong and I’m getting very uneven light on my subjects. Also, despite custom-setting white balance with a greay card, I’m getting a bit of a pinkish tinge to the background. Hmm…

After a bit of googling I found some tips for clean white background, including exposing to the right, using a flash, setting a reasonably wide aperture, spot metering and some clever post-processing in Photoshop – I usually only use Lightroom. I think one of the four shots (carrots with their stalks on) is usable with just a touch of processing, but think I will reshoot the other three.


In contrast to the dedicated photo sessions I set up for the above ‘arranged’ images, I’ve been taking shots for the outdoor theme as I’ve been out and about for the last few weeks. As far as possible I’ve stuck with the same camera/lens combo (a 35mm f/1.4 prime) for consistency, but in one instance I spotted a really great red/blue sculpture while I was out with only my compact camera. I’m hoping it will still look OK as part of the final set. For other colour combinations, I’ve been trying to think fairly laterally, but I do need to sort through lots of candidate images and possibly reshoot some if I’m not happy with the image quality (after feedback on the technical flaws on assignment two). At present I have a mix of urban and more rural settings. If I have enough images I may split into two sets of four?


I had the idea early on to do flowers for one set of four images. As for outdoors I’ve taken lots of images at different times, which may dilute the visual consistency somewhat. I’m also getting a bit concerned that flowers is a bit cliched (well so is food, so maybe I shouldn’t have both?).

Anyway – I’m getting through it now. More progress next weekend!


Assignment 3: Colour – preparation

… or up until now, procrastination.

I confess I’ve been struggling with this assignment. Even though the Colour section of the course has the fewest exercises so far, I’ve found it’s taken me longest. This is a combination of a few things; work being very busy and my time being short (I presume everyone gets this at some point), nursing a heavy cold for about three weeks and – the only excuse that’s photographically relevant – I’ve struggled for inspiration.

I’m certain I fully understand the concepts in this part of the course, but I have found it difficult to source appropriate subject matter that demonstrates the concepts to my satisfaction. I found the exercise on specific colour combinations hard work from this point of view, and my heart sank a little when I realised that the assignment is essentially an expanded variation of that exercise.

For the first time I had to ask my tutor for an extension. He was fine with this, and offered some very simple advice for shifting the photographer’s block: just get out there and start shooting.

So last weekend I did just that. And I think it worked! I stopped over-thinking it for a while and just rattled of shots of colour combinations I saw, without worrying about whether they were part of the final series, but just to ‘unlock my eye’ a bit, if that makes any sense at all.

Finding a structure

Following the ‘just get out there and start shooting’ intervention I started to relax my mind on the assignment and worked out part of what was bothering me about it. What I realised was that I was worrying over the same things as I did in assignment one – namely the total number of shots and the diversity of ideas required. I found assignment two better in this respect as once I’d decided on a central theme (train stations), the ideas came thick and fast. This assignment, like the first, specifically requests a range of subjects. I’m realising that I find it more satisfying to work to a coherent theme.

With this in mind, and having got over the fundamental photographer’s block thing, I decided to brainstorm with myself how I could bring more cohesion to the brief, give myself a framework of sorts.

What I came up with is a the idea of a 4×4 set of images, where there are four examples of each colour combination (complementary harmony, similar harmony, contrasting, colour accent), one each from four thematic areas that I reckon I can find images within. I mapped this out in a grid to help me get a reasonable balance between the colours, like this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 22.08.52

It’s not to say that I will stick rigidly to this, more that I’ve realised that I need some kind of structure to my planning and this is helping me do that right now.


In terms of inspiration on subjects, as per previous assignments I’ve looked at assignments submitted by other students. Not to plagiarise, more to give my brain some jumping-off points that might trigger ideas of my own. For the first time I found myself being more critical of other people’s work; in some instances I didn’t feel that the student met the brief well at all, and in others I was awestruck by the beauty and imagination on show – a real variety of responses to the brief.

The real breakthrough I had in terms of inspiration was the discovery of the MultiColour Engine search tool – it’s amazingly useful and somewhat addictive. It allows you to select up to five colours from a palette, adjust the ratios and search for images that match your chosen criteria. It’s given me lots of subject ideas already.



Keep in mind

So armed with the insight of what I didn’t want my images to end up like as well as what level I aspired to, I put down some thoughts, or maybe self-imposed rules, for my series:

  • Bold colours, dominating the image – colours need to the first thing you notice, not incidental details
  • Primary, secondary and maybe tertiary colours only – no whites, blacks, greys, creams etc
  • Keep in mind all the compositional and design learnings from sections one and two
  • Visual consistency in the thematic sets of four – lighting, focal length, colour temperature, saturation and so on

Now to take more photos… wish me luck.

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Assignment 2: Elements of Design – research

My research and preparation for Assignment 2 is taking shape now (if you’ll pardon the weak pun) and aside from the actual photography undertaken so far, it comprises the following elements:

  • Re-reading: I’m going over the notes and exercises from both part 1 and part 2 to make sure I’m continuing to apply all the concepts I’ve been exposed to thus far.
  • Black and white: as I’ve been shooting b/w for this whole section of the course, I’m planning to do the same for the exercise, but I want to get a better understanding of how to shoot and process b/w to best effect, particularly as I want the set of photos to hang together as a series. To help with this I got a book ‘Creative Black & White’ [1] to give me a primer on the subject.
  • Train stations: as I chose this as my theme, I thought it a good idea to check out images that others have done of the same subject matter, to see if they inspire me. As it turns out, I have found lots of images very similar to those that I’ve already taken, which is in one way encouraging (I’m finding interesting ideas) and another slightly disappointing (I was hoping for some outside-the-box inspiration).

I’ve already taken lots of shots at Kings Cross, York, Vauxhall, Richmond, Malton and Pickering stations. I think I’m finding good images for some of the specific items on the list:

  • single point dominating the composition
    • lone passenger waiting in empty space
    • pigeon wandering down the platform
    • discarded disposable coffee cup on platform
  • two points
    • two passengers waiting on a platform
  • several points in a deliberate shape
    • not completely sure about this one, but I might have a bunch of people waiting in an approximate circle

On the ‘points’ ones, I want to make sure it’s not just variations on the same theme i.e. people standing around waiting. Ideally for one of these I’ll find a new idea, maybe an inanimate object. The trouble with stations is that they are visually quite busy and lack the plain empty backdrop that makes a point or points stand out enough. I will persevere. I also need to consider the positioning of the points and what that does to the image in terms of division and movement.

  • a combination of horizontal and vertical lines
    • obvious choice: train tracks
    • slightly less obvious: stairs/escalators, fences
  • diagonals
    • lots of these, mostly from diminishing perspective of tracks etc
  • curves
    • curving tracks with diminishing perspective
    • some nice architectural features at Kings Cross, especially the new departures concourse

The ‘lines’ ones are possibly the most prevalent with this subject matter; they are everywhere. My challenge is to make them interesting! I need to pay close attention to the different ways in which the lines move the eye around the frame.

  • distinct, even if irregular, shapes
    • a few options here, mainly close-ups of Victorian metalwork at York and Malton
    • also some of the signage at the steam train station in Pickering
  • at least two kinds of implied triangle
    • I have one reasonable strong idea here: traveller with trolley case
    • other ideas I’ve seen so far are a bit too obvious e.g. three barrels in a triangle stack; I’m still looking for something a bit more implicit
  • rhythm
    • a few options on this, especially at the larger city stations; Kings Cross with its contemporary roof sculpture and York with its more traditional one
  • pattern
    • again, a few ideas here; I need to get clear in my own head which images are more suited to ‘pattern’ and which to ‘rhythm’

My next steps are:

  • Review the images taken so far and identify candidates for each aspect of the brief
  • If necessary, re-shoot them to achieve optimal sharpness, composition etc
  • Find images for the briefs I’ve been struggling with so far
  • Process the images to ensure a consistent look and feel (in the likely event that they weren’t all taken at the same time with the same lens in the same lighting conditions)
  • Start compiling into the Assignment submission format

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