Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Assignment 3: tutor feedback

I got my tutor’s report on Assignment 3: Colour earlier this week and so it’s time to write up and reflect upon some of the key comments.

The good

Generally it was quite positive (thankfully) and included in the overall comments the phrase I was looking for: “Overall this was a good assignment and you should have no problem when it comes to assessment”.

My previous assignment report had some constructive feedback about the sharpness of my images (combination of shutter speed / ISO decisions while shooting handheld, and frankly a sub-optimal lens, since replaced). This time round “you have obviously taken on board the previous advice as the sharpness issues have all but gone” – one image out of 16 was still a little too soft; the one I shot on the day I submitted the assignment…

I was also pleased to read that I have “notably managed to maintain [my] overall clean and geometric aesthetic” – I have a clean and geometric aesthetic! This sounds like a compliment :-)

Jumping to the end, the tutor did call out one image (below) for particular comment:

I was very interested in the Contrasting colours photo, number 15, of the interactions of the reflections. The photo showed a different way of working from what I have seen from you before and it was probably the strongest photo I have seen you produce yet. Your very graphical way of seeing works well here and moves your work beyond just documenting what you see and into something more lyrical. This might be an avenue for you to explore further in later assignments/modules.

OXO Tower Inside/Out

OXO Tower Inside/Out

It’s very gratifying to get such positive feedback and reinforcement, and helps get me some direction in where my photographic style might be heading.

The not-quite-so-good

Enough of the positive stuff… what’s really useful is the constructive feedback on ‘development areas’!

The main thrust of the critique was that in a couple of cases I “may have tried a little hard to show the viewer that they should be looking at these colour relationships, rather than it just being an inherent part of the photograph.”

One such example was the padlocks. The red lock stands out well but I’m not sure if you have done something in post-processing with the saturation or if the other locks really are that yellow, but the photo ends up looking somewhat unnatural. I would probably revisit this photo and adjust the saturation a little either globally or of specific colours.

Paris Love Locks

Paris Love Locks

He got me bang to rights on that one. I totally over-processed it in my desire to make it fit the brief. Hindsight being what it is, yes I could have been much more subtle. Less is more and all that.

The Rubik’s cube is also a tricky image. The colour seems a little off to me, but it’s not an easy photograph to rework. […] I feel it is a little too red in the shadows which is giving the whole photo a more orange than yellow feeling, that appears unnatural because the blacks are no longer black, but a dark orange brown hue.

Rubik's Cube

Rubik’s Cube

Now I will confess to being initially a bit deflated by this – I genuinely thought it was one of the strongest in the set, I really liked it! But I absolutely take on board the critique – and will go back to the RAW file and see if I can get the black to be properly black and see what that does to the overall colour tones.

So for both these two images, I will return to the digital darkroom (aka Adobe Lightroom 4) and reprocess them based on the advice. I will post the results of this in a new blog post shortly.

The other note of warning was that my prints came out a good deal darker and more saturated than the screen counterparts. This could be a colour profile or settings issue, and he’s offered to review my workflow in this regard before the next assignment. I think part of it is down to me using an iMac as my primary display, and reading online they have a reputation for being difficult to calibrate (strangely, given the reputation they have for graphic design etc). So as a precaution I have got hold of a ‘regular’ Dell PC monitor that I can use to sanity-check whether my iMac is seeing things very differently to the rest of the world.

Anyway – in all, a really useful set of comments that I will take on board and act upon!


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Assignment 2: tutor feedback

I got my tutor’s report on Assignment 2: Elements of Design over a week ago but haven’t managed to find the time to write up this blog post until now.

I was hugely relieved to see that it started with the sentence “Overall this was an excellent 2nd assignment“! But of course the really useful feedback was the detailed constructive critique that made up the rest of the report.

Much of the feedback was with regard to some technical issues, which I’m hoping I will learn to correct as I go along on my photographic journey:

  • Shooting at too high ISO and introducing too much noise in one particular instance – should have gone for a longer exposure time and used a tripod
  • Similarly, using too slow a shutter speed for a shot containing a crowd of people meant that none of them came out sharp enough to be a focal point
  • My prints came out warmer in tone than the onscreen images; I put this down to it being a new printer that I don’t think I’ve optimised yet. I’ll need to sort this before the Assignment 3 on colour!
  • I used an 18-200mm zoom lens for most of the images in the assignment, even though I have a couple of reasonable primes, and this led to a couple of observations:
    • first, it’s not a fast or expensive lens and this meant that I sacrificed some image quality
    • second, it led to a wide variety of focal lengths being used and sacrificed what could have been a more consistent ‘feel’ to the images

The choice of the zoom lens is related to another observation that my tutor made, which wasn’t evident to me at the time but is very obvious now… he remarked that my photos of people were shot from high vantage points or from behind the subjects. As he politely phrased it I was “obviously trying to remain fairly inconspicuous”; what I think he means is: I’m too timid! This is very true. i’m not that comfortable (yet) with getting in close and taking pics of people. This is something I need to work on, especially for the People & Place module of the degree course.

The feedback on my blog was pretty good, although he did point out that I tend to go in for long posts that maybe go into more detail than needed. I should be mixing it up a bit with shorter posts. I have a few ideas for shorter pieces so I will take this feedback on board.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the tutor’s feedback and already working to take it on board as I move through part three.


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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