Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive moment. You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’ or you may choose to question or invert the concept by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, event or particular period of time.
Include a written introduction to your work of between 500 and 1000 words outlining your initial ideas and subsequent development. You’ll need to contextualise your response with photographers that you’ve looked at, and don’t forget to reference the reading that you’ve done.
Full details of my research for this assignment can be found on my learning log and research pages).
After some thought and experimentation I decided to take a series of photos of two people playing the game ‘rock, paper, scissors’. The two players face each other and count reasonably slowly to three. On the first two counts the players raise and lower a clenched fist, the count being on the downward gesture. On the third count each player chooses a hand shape – rock (clenched fist), paper (flat hand sideways as if offering a handshake) or scissors (fingers 1 and 2 make the shape of a pair of scissors). Rock blunts scissors (rock wins), paper wraps rock (paper wins) and scissors cut paper (scissors win). I wanted the series to show the key actions of the sequence of movements being counted off and if possible to capture the moment when each player is seen to make their choice as the hand moves into the chosen gesture, a decisive moment if you like.
I chose to have the game played out against a white rendered wall. With camera I did some tests on the wall to get a rough idea of metering/exposure (it was a very bright day and a white wall could be problematic) and how best to solve focus problems. I chose to shoot in black and white for several reasons. First to refer to the almost scientific aspect of archiving, documenting and logging data, looking obliquely at the pioneering work of Harold Edgerton. In addition shooting in monochrome takes attention away from skin tones, any bright clothing colour in the frame and it helps draw attention to the important elements, these being the shapes and gestures of the hands.
Exposure: given the predominance of the white wall I did a quick test using spot metering on an 18% grey card held by one of the players to check the exposure. From this and other tests, and given the bright day and reflective white wall I knew if I shot at 1/1000 second the aperture selected would be wide (This was f1.4, the widest available on a fairly fast lens) and I would have a low ISO. An aperture of f1.4 allowed a very helpful depth of field which blurred the background sufficiently, affording prominence to the hands and their movements.
Focus: I did some tests using (apparently excellent) focus tracking features on my camera but this didn’t work very well, probably because the movements are too slow for the camera’s tracking algorithm to kick in. The wall remained in focus with the hands blurred. I then decided that the solution was to use continuous mode to get multiple clear shots. I focussed on the hands using autofocus and changed quickly to manual to fix it, checking occasionally with the peak focus feature to be sure. My tests here ensured a good exposure and in-focus hands. Some of these techniques were fairly new features to me so I’ve learned a lot in this exercise for the future.
I then positioned the players and made several series’ of images, shown below as Contact Sheets 1 – 7, with comments on the problems arising form each and how I addressed these.
Contact sheet 1 (below) – from this test sequence I was able to identify the main problems. These were:-
- framing – the hands disappeared out of frame as they ‘counted’
- there are too few shots to appreciate the movements involved
- the hands are not in focus
Contact sheet 2 (below) – two more shots in the sequence helps to solve problem 2) above.
Contact sheet 3 (below) – the hands are still out of focus and there are too few shots but the framing is better, ie the hands remain within the frame. Reframing or cropping is needed to remove the wall edge on the left-hand side.
Contact sheet 4 (below) – As with the three tests above this was shot at shot at 5fps. Six shots is too few to see the unfolding of the hand gestures. I must have been timing my shots badly at the start and finish (ie my counting was flawed) to capture so few. Nonetheless I now have the hands mostly in focus, though the depth of field is so shallow that even a matter of a few centimetres can soften one of the hands.
Contact sheet 5 (below) – At seven shots (again shot at 5fps) the key moves are identified as the players count (ie one, two, choose).
Contact sheet 6 (below) – shot at 11fps this sequence of twelve shots offers a very clear sense of the movements (even though my counting is still off the mark). I should have closer to 22 shots in a roughly two second event. However this series completes what I set out to achieve. The images are in-focus, well-framed and the exposure is fine.
Contact sheet 7 (below) – although this final sequence of fifteen shots is about right for what I thought would be the right number of shots, it’s perhaps too many. I could certainly omit a couple at the end where the hands come to rest. Shots 10, 11 and 12 are however revealing as the hand on the right opens out to make the choice. Shot again at 11fps.
Contact sheet 4 has the qualities of a decent concise series so I’ll choose it as my final selection. Here are the individual images:-
Were I to exhibit such a series I’d choose to set the images out in what might be described as a minimalist arrangement, horizontally, along one wall. This would work well with longer series’ of pseudo-scientific investigations inviting the viewer to walk along or around the gallery walls to appreciate the small differences in the images:-
Future research and development – apart from working in great detail on the raw files, say for a photobook or display (the jpegs straight from the camera have various film simulations and are of good quality) one future improvement might be to use a remote trigger. To extend the investigation I’d try to find ways of blurring motion right up to the last shots when the hands have ‘decided’ their move and come to rest, in-focus. I’ve done this in the past extracting film stills from video but I should carry out further experiments to find alternatives.