Thursday, 16 August 2012

Assessment - A Milestone

Today is a milestone as I am now half way towards my degree with the official notification of credits, breakdown of marks and advice for further study.

Advice for further study 

 " There is much evidence of a strong progression and self-critisism that should be built upon and will lead to a personal vision and a sense of visual achievement. A continuing engagement with the context and theory underlying contemporary photography practise will pay dividends"

For the time being I am reflecting on the experience and between modules will continue to read widely and visit exhibitions where possible. I need to return to some of my own work, using the 5x4 camera for landscape work (not possible during the module as there were issues with workflow) and use the rangefinder whenever possible as I enjoy the feel of the work more than that of the DLSR. I may shoot some more stock, which a year ago seemed unlikely. Stock is a practice technique, similar to a golfer on the driving range. You make photographs that are technically perfect but there is very little editing or selection.

It is unlikely that there will be any further postings on this journal. It has served its purpose quite well and I hope has provided some interest to the various readers, who I see from the data are worldwide. So for now thank you all for your comments, encouragement and support when it was looking bleak (Ass 4) and good luck with your own photography.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Friday, 29 June 2012

Assessment - Notes for Assessors

Having followed the URL on the CD or in the assessment file you should have arrived here.

The navigation of this Learning Journal is based on the Index on the right hand side using Labels.

The various assignments and projects are listed together with other categories covering exhibitions, reading etc in alphabetical order.

All of the photographs will enlarge for better viewing with a mouse click. The differences in monitor gamma / calibration may introduce slight variations to how you view the images. The photographs were prepared using an Eizo CG241W monitor calibrated with a Eye One Display 2 with screen brightness set at 100cd/m2.

Assignment photographs are included in the Learning Journal to illustrate the text. None of these images are included here for assessment. Assignments have all been reprinted and these prints are contained in the print box for assessment purposes.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Magnum Exhibition.

A week or so ago I had a rare trip to London. Rare because although I live within a mile or two of a train station I am not attracted by the place very much and the cost associated with the journey. Occasionally though I am attracted by an exhibition and as Chris Beetles (CB) was showing work by the 62 (should be 63 but there is no work by Philip Jones-Griffiths which is curious) Magnum photographers I incorporated this with a trip to RG Lewis who were selling some of my Nikon equipment to chew the cud. The day had its highs and lows, one of which (not sure if high or low) was being question by the police about taking photographs "for too long in one place".

Magnum 62.

After the second world war, four photographers saw that there was an opportunity to start a new agency run by photographers. Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson, George Roger and David Seymour wanted to change the way magazines of their generation were monopolising the photographic industry, so in 1947 they set about building a cooperative agency that would be wholly owned by its photographers and who would retain the copyright of their work. During the last 65 years Magnum photographers have contributed many thousands of photographs to the history of photography, often from places of conflict but always with innovation and integrity. The gallery is bright and airy place and the 62 images fitted well in the space, although one or two were awkwardly positioned. Those who have read past postings know my love of the fine art print and it is for this reason I had to see this work "for real". All of the images (I assume) can be seen on the internet ( I have found most of them)but seeing the work as prints with thick matte mounts and classic black frames makes all the difference to my reaction to the image.

There are too many images to go through them all here although some of the iconic work is of note when seen at arms length. It is at that time (not when sat here at the desk with the catalogue) that I get a fleeting connection with the photographer and his image. I am sure everyone is familiar with the HCB image "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932". If you are not then look here and you will see a man crossing an area of water, a ladder in the water and a shadowy figure behind a fence. The man crossing the area is in mid stride and will shortly splash into the puddle. In 1952 HCB published a book called "The Decisive Moment" and the photograph has become associated with this phrase and in a way a genre of photography has followed where the significance of capturing a single moment from the ever ticking clock of time has defined still photography. I have know of this photograph for maybe 20 years but never spent that much time to consider it. Being inches away from a Silver Gelatin print (with a £15,000.00 price tag) at the gallery gave the space and time to examine it and draw my own conclusions as to why this image is a icon of photography almost 100 years after its invention.
There is no singular aspect of course that identifies this image as: fantastic, awesome, sublime etc. From a technical aesthetic it has issues that could be better. The light is very flat, the shadow and mid tones are dark and it is not pin sharp. The slow shutter speed (the main man is blurred) is not in this list as the movement of his limbs contribute to the power of the image. I wonder whether HCB intended this or whether the dull day had dragged down his shutter speed and the speed of the man exceeded his expectations. These are not issues that need to be dwelled upon.The image is surreal. The location is off the beaten track, we know its "Behind" somewhere, it is an area under construction with rubble and a wheelbarrow, it has a circus poster, a shadowy figure and a large puddle reflecting all of these in the water. So, The Decisive Moment, that fraction of a second before the man touches the water. Is this luck is it massive amounts of skill ?, well maybe some or none. Firstly HCB had to be there and this is the crux, you make your own luck by hard work and being in places and occasions where others are not. Sometimes this results in the world class image to be taken, the R Capa images of The Omaha Beach landings, Stuart Franklin's The Tank man, Tienanmen Square etc. Looking at this image and then the rest of the Magnum work in this exhibition this is what strikes me the most. Most of these photographs were of course assignments for the agency, so one would expect to be there but "Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare" was a chance made by the photographer because he was there as part of a plan. It is said that HCB would anticipate a photograph by waiting at a location and then work quickly and discreetly when the right juxtaposition of people filled the scene. So here he sees a puddle and waits. The intent is humorous, maybe the splash is what he intended and he took the image too soon, I don't know.

The documentary and reportage images were thought provoking and sometimes sad to look at. People in a crisis and their fate at the hands of oppressors, lonely people and those trying to make a difference to their society always have an untold story. When the photographer left, what happened next ?, did the 11km pipeline in Guatemala bring drinking water ? Man with daughter and kitten 1972, what happened to her ? she would be 45 now.

As photographers, whether working for Magnum or not I think we have a responsibility to respond to whatever we see, photograph it and look after the past with images of today.

Later that day I am watching people, using my Leica, feeling inspired by HCB and his Magnum friends when asked to identify myself by a PC because a security guard thought I had been taking photographs for too long in one place.  I offered no explanation.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Project 33 : using the tripod

The Tripod.

It is difficult for me to imagine my photography without using a tripod or some form of camera support.

The reasons why I use a tripod have changed over the past 30 years. To begin with my lenses were slow and with slow film the shutter speed was slow in poor light and in order to remove camera shake the tripod was used as support. During my stint as a trackside photographer at motor sport I used a monopod, mainly due to space restrictions but also at that time I had faster telephoto lenses and the amount of camera movement was less, although with 600mm on 35mm the weight of the lens needed support and was difficult (almost impossible) to hand hold.

Lately with the introduction of the DSLR and improvements in digital noise it is possible to shoot at much higher ISO and retain higher shutter speeds and the elimination of camera shake. The situation with the 600mm lens regarding weight and support has not changed and for wild life and sport there is always a need for support. The 600mm lens was on a tripod for project 26 : shooting the moon together with a monopod to gain maximum rigidity for the camera.

I occasionally use a 5x4 field camera and due to the nature of how this is used I know of no way of using it without a tripod. The Graflex 5x4 is a handheld sheet film camera with a rangefinder type of viewing / focus device so it is possible to use this format without support but my Wista certainly needs it. With a larger format (or even a larger sensor) we create a file (assuming we scan the sheet film) with high levels of detail and ability to print at larger sizes. On the downside with this the amount of depth of field for a given focal length is smaller and it is necessary to stop down to a smaller aperture with the resulting slow shutter speed. Using say ISO 100 film, an aperture of f16 this could result in a shutter speed of 1 second.

Aside from the issues of supporting long heavy lenses and bulky sheet film cameras the tripod has an important part to play in the taking of images, especially within the landscape genre to slow down the process and allow reflection, contemplation and the abilty to take a step back and wait.

It is important that the photographer becomes engaged in the location where he is working. This indeed not be a large area, within the acre of assignment one was plenty of space to engage with the land and the sky. Previous as a Press photographer I literally ran around shooting everything that moved or looked slightly interesting but now within the landscape I like to be static and let the image come to me. This is especially appropriate with the view camera where composition changes are difficult especially if tilt and shift is being used.

The photograph above was taken using 5x4 on a large tripod during early morning. The front is tilted forward to bring the whole image in focus from foreground to background. The micro adjustment needed at the focus stage (using a loupe) requires a solid platform with no camera movement.

On occasion when movement can be captured the camera needs to be on a sturdy tripod. In this example a 10 stop ND filter was used with a resulting shutter speed of a few minutes.

This is the setup for 5x4 on a tripod.


With the advent of DSLR cameras that produce low noise images at ISO 1600 there are good reasons not to use the tripod so much in low light and retain no camera shake.

For long lenses and 5x4 there are weight and stability issues that cannot be resolved and the tripod is still to be used.

For work where precise composition is required, time can be spent to wait for light and further contemplation is required then a tripod is certainly required.

It is unlikely that one tripod will cover all situations. I have a lightweight carbon fibre type for walking long distances and a heavier carbon fibre (as above) when stability is paramount.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Project 29 : re-photographing a well known image

I photographed the power station at Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire soon after it was constructed for a stock image that is on Alamy and as there are no other license free images I will use my own as the base image. It is similar to many others and is the default view used by many newpapers and websites to illustrate the site. It is a gas fired plant and sits on the East bank of the river Nene in a wide expanse of Lincolnshire Fen.

Original Stock Image

The Stock image shows the power station as a clean bright piece of engineering, shot on a sunny day with blue sky and virtually no cloud. There is obvious architect involvment to make the buildings have a clean line and the use of red steelwork offers some relief in an otherwise bland facade. An impression is created whereby the need to have such a building is made as palatable as possible and in isolation this image has a good feeling with plenty of good PR opportunities.

The images below offer a different impression. They are in monochrome and maybe a little flat and illustrate how such a building sits in a flat landscape and close to the village of Sutton Bridge. I have perhaps gone out of my way a little to exagerate the less flattering aspects of the complex and its juxtaposition in the landscape. This is I suspect how the residents of Sutton Bridge see it every day. It could be labelled as a "Blot on the Landscape" or to some it is a source of employment and gives them financial security in an otherwise less than prosperous area of Lincolnshire.

Within agriculture

Close to residential housing

While looking at the shapes I was reminded of the work of Bernd and Hiller Becher, particularly their work photographing blast furnaces and water towers.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Project 37/38 : ways of dramatising a landscape and burning in the sky

The dramatic tends to use the extremes of nature, by way of topography, lens selection (wide v telephoto), colour, back lighting, reflections, meteorological conditions and composition. Mountains, reflection in water and the sea are often seen as dramatic.

This project is the precursor to three projects on black and white images and looks at the techniques available in a wet darkroom and the use of film. These are techniques that I used in the 1980's when preparing for my LRPS Panel. The wet darkroom environment is alive and dynamic. The output of processed film and print is a hands on experience using chemicals that need mixing, temperatures monitored and times adjusted and managed. The parameters are variable and by reference to manufacturers graphs time and temp changes can be made to change the characteristics of the process. It is an analogue process and when carried out by hand is difficult to replicate with any degree of accuracy.

Digital Black and White photography is achievable using Adobe Photoshop, various plug ins and ink jet printers. Until recently the output of the printing process was inferior to that of the silver halide image. Progress has been made in the production of paper that shares its origin with the silver halide predecessor, offering a look and feel that is very similar. Additionally printing machines are available with advanced ink and gloss enhancers, delivering prints without metmerism or bronzing. Twelve cartridge colour printers can produce monochrome through ink mixing or alternatively use the four black variants without the colour.

Apart from working with a RAW file via Adobe Camera Raw there are a number of conversion techniques available to make a black and white image. These include:

Conversion in ACR

Conversion in Camera (surprisingly good in Nikon and Leica)

Conversion in Camera Manufactures Software ( Nikon Capture NX2 )

Conversion in Photosphop using Image > Adjustments > Black and White

I hold the opinion that images for monochrome output should be shot with that purpose. The ability to take all photographs as a colour images and then convert them is missing the point of monochrome as a style and genre. The monochrome image is not influenced by colour (although the use of filters can change the characteristic of a colour) and is primarily about shape, texture, form and light. Seeing in monochrome is gained through experience, knowing what colours reduce to grey scale tones and how filtering can manage their properties.

Post processing techniques need to follow simple guidelines and rules. The most important aspect of this is the control of the histogram. The initial file must have a full tonal range without any large areas of black or white. The exception being specular highlights which will by their very nature always be white. Where the subject is outside the dynamic range of the cameras sensor, then bracketed images should be taken and the files blended to form one master file with all the tones required. With the use of layer masks and selective adjustments the image can be made made. The following example takes a relatively bland (but has a full tonal range) image towards the dramatic by way of a 17mm lens allowing the sky to have a dominant role in the photograph.

When working on an image for print output it is important never have a 255 white. A correction of any white to 253 will ensure that a small amount of ink is delivered to the white areas. A 255 white will not have any ink as the printer assumes that the paper is base white and the lack of ink upon close examination will be a printing flaw that degrades the image.

Original Full Tone
The file is then converted into a simple monochrome version, retaining the full tonal range.

Full Tone Monochrome
The image now is no more interesting than the colour version and localised tone adjustment can be carried out. My work flow is all within CS5 and along these guidelines.

Create a Layer - Ctrl + J
Choose small areas at a time to work on.
Use Curves to make adjustments. By never adjusting the ends of the curve graph the 0000 and 255 (253) extremes are never modified and therefore the tonal range remains constant.
Ignore the areas of adjustment that will not be used.
Alt + Add Layer mask will remove all adjustments
Use soft paint brush with low opacity to paint the required correction to the local area. The painting will remove the mask to reveal the adjustment below.
The Set Foreground Colour should be at Black and White and by switching between the two mistakes and changes can be made.
Flatten Layer

Repeat until all areas have been adjusted to the desired effect.

Towards the end of the process there are further tools available within the history brush to make localised adjustments.

The history brush in association with the various blending modes will give the following effects, all of which require careful use with small opacity percentages.

Multiply - Darkens a local area
Screen - Lightens a local area
Colour Dodge - Lightens extreme small highlights
Colour Burn - Darkens small shadows
Difference - Darkens extreme highlights
Soft Light - Increases contrast in areas that have both dark and light areas.

Within CS5 there are the normal dodge and burn tools. I rarely use these are they apply themselves to a broad range of tones only controlled by the basic Highlight, Mid tone and Shadow control.

The process of  creating the image difficult to repeat and the various Layers can be left insitu for retrospective treatment if required.

Dramatised Image after manipulation by Contrast Grading Technique


The dramatic is difficult to capture in the field. There are occasions when the photographer is at the right place and the right time but these are rare and as mentioned above the ability to previsualise a different outcome is therefore required. The image used here was not "dramatic", other than using a wide angle lens and the sky had interesting detail. As a colour image I don't believe it would ever have been anything special  other than with some saturation maybe a stock image for a library showing the Favoritz lighthouse on Menorca. With a monochrome conversion and careful use of contrast manipulation, some lightening and darkening the image is transformed. The lighthouse as the interest is enhanced. The tone within the clouds hang heavy over the feature and the diagonal lines from the LHS take the eye to the building. The rock outcrop on the RHS is darkened to hold the composition while the raggedness is accentuated. In many ways this exercise covers project 38: burning in the sky, although not by using the burning tool.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Assessment material delivered to Barnsley

A trip to Barnsley today. I followed the satnav instructions and 2+ hrs later I handed over my box to Lee and received a nice cup of tea in exchange; a transaction not dissimilar to when I have given blood.
I now have 5 weeks to make changes and fill in some blanks to the blog. While having the tea I had a good read through the PWDP course notes. How refreshing they are after the Landscape set with its prescriptive, do this, now do that routine in the projects. Photojournalism is where I have some empathy so maybe after a break that is my next module.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Project 28 : intimate landscape

I am influenced here by David Ward and his books Landscape Within and Landscape Beyond. David does shoot vista but his best work takes a closer look at what is around our feet. This is not unlike Weston whose work on photographing natural form within nature is of the same genre.

As discussed elsewhere in this journal nature and landscape are not uniform and present themselves as chaotic with hidden form. It is difficult to quantify "intimate" along with close up and macro and I am not happy to include them in this. The difficulties with shallow depth of field in macro photography do not appeal to me within this context. I tend to think of this smaller world existing from 1m to 25m from the camera and in every case to exclude the horizon.

Shape and form with simple framing will succeed here and the cluttered and disjointed will always be unsatisfactory. I include below a selection of photographs taken with this in mind.

The forest floor

Small rocks forming a matrix

Light on dead wood

The larger the area under consideration for an image then the greater the distance the photographer has to move to instigate change or introduce new form. An intimate landscape implies a closeness, one where you can reach out and touch the shapes and textures but does not deny the existence of the wider world with its wide vistas. There is no reference to where the images are within the world and that is of no consequence as we are asking the viewer to look closer and allow themselves the time to see detail, texture and form. The intimacy helps to move the image from the illustrative into the abstract and to move away from objectivity and into another place, a microcosm where attention to detail is paramount for success.

"There is something about abstraction that is alluring. It forces the viewer to look afresh at the textures, colours and patterns of our world"  D Ward - Landscape Within

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Final Portfolio

Twelve photographs, three for each season and use some from Assignment One which was the Spring. Sounds simple enough but this has taken far too long. Always fighting away from the cliche although having used a cliche or two so far it is difficult (in regards making a cohesive set/panel of prints) to be too diverse. If I were to start again I would do different but there has been too much time wasted on procrastination and while I can predict a few groans from the assessors I understand their disappointment. The digital images shown below are low quality and not representative of the final prints being offered for assesment.

Spring 1

Spring 2

Spring 3

Summer 1

Summer 2

Summer 3

Autumn 1

 Autumn 2

Autumn 3

Winter 1

Winter 2

Winter 3

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Project 36 : defining a style

Project 36 asks us to look at photographic "Styles" and comment on four photographers work whose style is distinctive. Style being defined here as an overt characteristic of the photographers work that defines them and makes their work obvious if unlabelled.

Fay Godwin:  a self taught  landscape photographer, who through her love of walking photographed the English landscape in a conventional style using mainly a roll film camera. In simple terms her photography is "normal". It captures what was there at that time and as a result the light is unpredictable, often flat and uninteresting. What Godwin wants us to see is simple and unpretentious with no special treatment to the image. What does make her work interesting and therefore part of the Godwin style is the use of a square format. Not normally used for landscape, where the preferred aspect ratio was 5x4 (from sheet film cameras) or 3x2 (from 35mm film cameras) the square image is different but not to the extent that the viewer is struck by it (not in the same way as say a 16x9 panoramic format). Godwin's book "Land" published in 1985 is probably her best known work on landscape photography. The plates in the main show a placid approach to landscape photography using soft tone with the rural idyll as a theme, punctuated only by her personal indifference to fences, gates and land being separated by fencing and walls.

David Ward:  Ward graduated with an Hons degree in Photography in 1983 and has worked as a freelance photographer ever since.His photographs are distinctive for their graphic simplicity and technical quality. He is particularly drawn to making abstract, intimate landscape images and his work is informed and inspired by many of the great American landscape photographers of the last century. His technical ability to match form with light is sublime and the attention to the detailed position of framing is paramount in his work. In addition to his image making Ward writes prolifically about the subject and questions the intent of photographers and their work within the landscape genre.

Ansel Adams: Adams is probably the most well known of all landscape photographers. His work from within the national parks of North America are well known and highly regarded. Adams style is traditional with the emphasis on excellence in the whole process of image making. Working with large format cameras he was able to process the individual sheets of film with precision that matched the exposure and extract the maximum tonal range. The resulting prints have a resonance and vibrancy that few others could match. The subject matter is (like Godwin) simple. The grand vistas of Yosemite, the orchards of California and the lakes of Alaska are seemingly simple subjects but Adams use of light is the key to the lifting of these into another dimension. Adams was attuned to light and how it moved across and around the landscape and he developed a sense of creating the decisive moment for the image when light and form moved to create the perfect harmony.

Robert Adams: Adams (no relation to Ansel) work is factual and of the moment. His photographs of the mid west of the USA are perhaps the least "spectacular" as they include so much of what is considered ordinary, the areas of landscape that we pass by. We pass them by because they are perhaps not pretty enough to fit in what the public perception of landscape photography would be. But what these images do is they show what we are doing with the space we live in and how we make these changes to the landscape. Worn out buildings, scrub land and trailer parks are part of our landscape and need recording to explain the socio economic changes, creation of and loss of wealth and the transient nature of many of the minor features of the landscape. Some describe these images as survey photographs and they were/are of that genre. Social landscape images have narrative and this style is significantly different to those mentioned above.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Notes - Towards Assessment - Future.

Despite my best intentions to have Landscape in for March assessment that didn't happen. A new customer for my engineering and construction "know how" came and wanted me to do some work, which spoilt my plans. So, having got them underway and happy I have managed a few projects that had got left behind (actually quite a few) and today started to put together a document to accompany the prints that will be assessed. This required finding tutor reports, adding my comments and the rationale for any changes that were made to final prints. It was during the re reading of early assignment feedback (quite nostalgic) that I realised just how much I have changed as a photographer during this process. My early work was quite predictable and suffered from the inevitable cliche or two and I seem to be addressing that in the later work.The print will always be my chosen media for output and although this makes for loads of extra work I think it is worthwhile. I have just read on the forum that a number of tutors like electronic images so I am hoping in the future I never have to work with them. I find an image on the screen such a transient thing, it doesn't exist, you cant do anything with it and it is essentially worthless, both financially and emotionally.
I suppose it is now that I should be thinking about what to do next and getting excited about the prospect that I am only three modules from completing the degree. Unfortunately this hasn't happened yet. Not that I have lost my interest in photography, far from it. A recent sale of equipment and the buying of new (a 600mm lens went and a new rangefinder body arrived) has given me new impetuous, together with some new found ideas from the extensive reading of the past year. There are issues I need to come to terms with about the OCA and the content of the modules. Due to it being a distance learning operation it does have a number of drawbacks when compared to a red brick institution and the opportunities that would be available elsewhere. I don't necessarily think the only way to personal fulfilment is by obtaining more HE points and then a degree in photography. That would be fine if I were a teenager looking for a career, but I have a successful career and photography will never be a second career. PWDP is my only alternative (Soc Doc would be a disaster) and the thought of endless hours at the PC bogged down in Photoshop is not that appealing. I can imagine myself working just as hard on personal projects but  reinventing the wheel was not on my agenda.
All this may of course change. I need to talk to the OCA about possible tutors if I go any further and have a look at some course material without having to commit to starting.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Project 40 : coloured filters with black and white film

This optional project is primarily directed at the impact that coloured filters have on the image when using silver based black and white film.

The same effects can be created in the digital environment using "filters" in CS5 or the Silver Efex Pro Plugin

Base colour image

Basic monochrome conversion

Yellow Filter

Orange Filter

Red Filter

Blue Filter

Red (sky) and Blue (land) split Filter

Yellow (sky) and Green (land) split Filter

The examples above demonstrate the basic rule of thumb in that the same colour filter as the object in front of lens then the object colour goes lighter. Opposite colour [green to red, red to blue, etc] darkens the colour in front of the lens. So a blue sky photographed with a red filter makes the sky go dark (not the clouds) and trees and grass photographed with a green filter makes the greens lighten. The use of the filters in post processing rather than when shooting allows the amount of filter to be added to be adjusted between 0% to 100%.

The split filter examples require the use of a layer mask to "paint" in the correct filter to the area of the image as required.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Project 42 : man made landscape

In the UK it is difficult to find any "Landscape" that has not at some time been under the influence of man. Well known landscape such as the English Lake District, often seen as picturesque and unspoilt is in fact quite the opposite. Much of the obvious marking on the land is by fences and walls that provide containment for farm animals and delineate the ownership of parcels of land by farmers and the scree on a fell side is from mining. The mobility of man across the landscape has evolved with progress in engineering. The soft rural intervention of man is often seen as an acceptable part of the countryside whereas large engineering features such as bridges and deep cuttings are the source of debate and protest from those in society that see change as detrimental.

The image above shows how man is dividing up the landscape for farming. In this case the areas divided by stone walls enabling the control of grazing and stock management. In addition the wild overgrown area in the top right is separate and not a farming area.

Man made features (such as the bridge above) are often a legacy of previous activity. In this instance the railway is now disused but the legacy is a footpath. The loss of paint on the steelwork and resulting rust has toned the structure to blend in with the forest.

The influence of man on natural features such as rivers is to capture their features and enhance them for his own use. Here the Civil Engineer has created a quay wall in an estuary port where left to its own devices the landscape would be marshland and impossible to navigate.

The influence of man is sometimes hidden. The photograph above taken with low evening light and picks out the shape of an enclosure ditch or dis used watercourse.

Within the intimate landscape of man there is shape and texture. Concrete here is patched after cracking and illustrates the fragility of the man made, however it is constructed and demonstrates the transient nature of man on the landscape.

French Door

While browsing landscape folders for project images that have been misplaced I came across a lovely old doorway shot in France a while back. Not what I was looking for but it became an interesting 10 minutes of working with monochrome, Silver Efex Pro and the History Brush.

Version 1

Version 2

Version 2 has enhancements using the History Brush to dodge and burn overall as well as selective adjustments to hightlights, shadows and contrast.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Project 41 : grain

Grain in the context of film is the microscopic silver halide crystals that form the active element in black and white film (Not chromogenic black and white which is essentially a colour film, Ilford XP1 etc) and the coloured dyes in colour film.

Film users generally wanted the grain to be conspicuous for effect (grainy high contrast) as found in ISO 1600 stock or non existent (nearly)  as in ISO 50, Ilford PanF etc. Due to the onset of digital capture the diversity of film stock has diminished and the choices of 15 years ago are no longer available.

The notes call for the demonstration of overt graininess in the image, using the texture of the grain to enhance the image. The grain being particularly evident from small formats such as 35mm when enlarged beyond 20"x16" prints. The use of texture and the grain can be achieved using film and scanning or delivered by totally digital capture. Using digital alone there are two methods. Firstly to up the ISO at time of capture. This will increase the digital noise and simulate grain especially when converted to monochrome. The effect is less than satisfactory when used with colour as there is a tendency for the noise to shift the colour. The second method with more control is the application of grain within the post processing. CS5 has tools for this (Filter > Artistic > Film Grain) or one of the PS plug ins (Alien Skin Exposure or Nik Software Silver Efex Pro).

I no longer have a small format film camera to demonstrate grain and for for this exercise I am showing my preferred method of achieving this effect using Adobe CS5 and Silver Efex Pro.


An image taken at ISO 400 with a long lens (850mm) that has not worked too well in its current guise as a colour image. The late evening light is a difficult yellow and the prospects for the image are minimal.

Stage 1 - The Sky

Stage 1. Open in CS5 with SEP plug in and apply a Kodak P3200 TMax film for the sky and apply a blue filter to increase the contrast of the grain within the sky. I do not want the high contrast over the entire image. SEP is applied to a layer. Alt + Add Layer Mask Icon adds a black mask (the monochrome conversion will disappear) and using a soft brush with the white colour paint back in the area of the sky where the high contrast grain is required. Flatten Layers.

Stage 2 - 1st Conversion
Stage 2. As Stage 1 without the Blue Filter. The Mask is now only applied to the ground below the skyline. Paint in the foreground conversion. Flatten Layers.

Stage 3 - Lighten Mid Tones

Stage 3. Improve Tonal Range. Control + J to create a layer. Make a curves adjustment that lightens only the mid distance tones (small adjustment). Create a layer mask Alt + Add layer mask icon and with white brush set to 50% opacity lighten the mid greys. If over applied change to black brush and undo.

Stage 3A - Re cropped

Stage 3A. Remove the light strip at the bottom of the image with cropping.

Stage 4 - Add Contrast

Stage 4 - Add Contrast to the sky with an S Curve inside lasso area with 100px feather. Small amounts of Dodge and Burn to complete.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Blog of the week

During mid January this learning journal was featured on the OCA blog as "Blog of the Week". I am grateful and a little surprised that this happened as I see all my work within photography as a series of compromises and often far from ideal.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Assignment 4 : further thoughts

As mentioned elsewhere the assignment 4, critical review, was not well received, largely due to my inability to follow the brief. I had written a biographical review and this needed a substantial re write prior to sending for assessment. My tutor had been kind enough to suggest that I send a new version with the assignment 5 and he would write some off the record comments by way of extra help. The second version is "better" which is a relief although still edging towards biographical and could do with more contextual analysis in the socioeconomic climate of the time. If I have time before I need to email the OCA the word doc for plagiarism checking I may change a few paragraphs to incorporate these issues. 

There is a wider lesson here. If I have some skill in photography this is not enough on its own to progress at level 2 (5) and beyond without some problems and I need to quite literally "learn" more with regard to essay writing.  Much of the chatter on the forums is about photographic technique and very little about the academic writing that must sit alongside it. Maybe I am alone on this and it is my technical writing from my day job that conditions me towards linear thought.

However, it its current guise it can be seen here.

Assignment 5 : feedback and comment.

Very happy to get these remarks. "A set of photographs which are technically outstanding and beautifully presented". There was no mention as to whether I had achieved the primary goal of images in the style of Edward Weston, but on the assumption that no news is good news I assume they were.
This assignment required far more research and time than any of the others and I think that the final set of prints show this. Previous assignments were conceived by content rather than concept, largely due to my inability to think conceptually. Here the brief was to look at a style, not a season or place and after a few days of aimlessly wandering about I regrouped, read more Weston and started again. You can literally photograph anything in his style, indeed he did, toilets, cats, nudes, peppers etc. Keeping within the "Landscape" was the only restriction which seems reasonable. Assignments that required seasonal shooting were often rushed and even now I would like another whole year to drill down into the seasons rather than the superficial work that I will have to show for assessment. The Modernists, Weston , Stieglitz and others had a vision of final output quality that left no room for error or compromise and it is my belief that modern photographers can do the same.