Project 1, The frozen moment
Exercise 3.1: Freeze
Start by doing some of your own research into the photographers discussed above. Then, using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible blur in the photograph. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.
Idea/Concept: For this project I decided that I wanted to photograph someone throwing something into the air using a fast continuous shooting mode to freeze the movement. Against the background of a dark green hedge I shot multiple pictures of an open umbrella in flight. I have the idea that the the umbrella might easily be associated with surrealism, if placed in an unusual context. Umbrellas often escape their human to fly off of their own accord. One might even fancy that you could fly with one. I took stock of the work of many of the photographers recommended and others that I had discovered in my research (see my learning log). I came to favour the idea of setting up or staging the photographs though was undecided as to how much of the process I would reveal in the frame. In this I’d say that the work of Jeff Wall had an influence (for example Milk and A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)), along with the pioneering collages and photomontages of Hannah Hoch in particular and the Dadaists and Surrealists more generally.
I shot at 11fps using a Fujifilm X-T3 cropped sensor). The lens was an XF 23mm f1.4R (35mm full frame equivalent). Using shutter priority I set the speed at 1/8000. The aperture stayed open steadily at f1.4 throughout. ISO varied between 200 and 400. The exposure was tricky because of a bright sun climbing over the hedge and peeing through the gaps. All the shots came out slightly underexposed but I knew I could recover the shadows in the software and crop out any awkward highlights. I focussed on the umbrella in the human subject’s hands using autofocus, then changed to manual to avoid refocussing during the shoot. The camera reviews jpegs so I began with a monochrome setting, then changed to colour for some shots. My intention was to make a quick evaluation from this as to whether I should work in monochrome or colour for the final selection.
Exercise 3.1, Contact sheet 1. The exposure problems can be seen clearly from this contact sheet – blown out highlights and an underexposed dark hedge. I was able quite easily to correct the exposure and crop out the skyline.
Exercise 3.1, Contact sheet 2. This time round I came in closer and avoided the bright skyline of the colour photographs. Comparing the two I decided that monochrome would be by far the better choice for this project because it would ‘defamiliarise’ the umbrella and allow for more useful tonal options in foregrounding it, for example emphasising or de-emphasising the blue content in the umbrella’s fabric which would create a very bright or a very dark patterned subject against the dark and mid-tones of the hedge.
Cropping, then converting and processing the monochrome images resulted in the following images. These three show the human subject (or the hands) in the frame with a lightly toned umbrella:-
These are reasonably interesting, thought the inclusion of a person and obvious human agency makes it all very understandable and familiar. Number 2 is the best of the three because of the strenuous gesture of the person throwing the umbrella and some doubt as to whether she is throwing or stretching out to catch.
In the following two images I pulled black the blue content of the monochrome image, thereby darkening the umbrella which, along with just the human hand, offer a greater degree of abstraction. Somehow these pictures speak of an event frozen in time more than those above:-
Of the two above the second catches the light better and is beginning to make the umbrella something of a frozen alien presence in the picture, as if it doesn’t belong, which is what I wanted to convey because the whole idea of freezing time at 1/8000 of a second is itself quite an alien concept if we think about it.
In the following three images, perhaps more suited to a series, I chose to produce the lighter tones in the umbrella because darkening didn’t work so well (due to the light). Of these three the last one works best, for me, because the (almost) upside down subject immediately catches my eye compared to the others. It makes me wonder what it’s heading towards.
The following two images are the same original, each processed slightly differently, one with a light umbrella, the other with darker tones, carried out as I said by modifying the colour content of the umbrella’s fabric as well as lightning or darkening the greens (and to and extent yellows) of the hedge. I prefer the darker of the two because of the abstraction and the patterning of the umbrella which clashes quite harshly with the background. It looks like it could be a photomontage.
The final three show a sequence of the dark toned umbrella in flight. Again the umbrellas have the qualities of an alien presence. I deliberately chose to crop the middle one so that the upside-down umbrella was in the upper centre. Because it’s perfectly frozen (and logically shouldn’t be there) it would be my first choice, with the image just above this text a close second:-
Project 2, A durational space
Exercise 3.2: Trace
…using slow shutter speeds, the multiple exposure function, or another technique…, try to record the trace of movement within the frame. You can be as experimental as you like. Add a selection of shots together with relevant shooting data and a description of process (how you captured the shots) to your learning log.
My research for this exercise is detailed in my learning log. At the moment, because I want to gain experience, with late summer and autumn to follow in an interesting rural setting, I’m studying methods of slowing exposures down over time, whether in low light or by using filters in the daytime. For this exercise I wanted to have one element of the photograph in focus that would stand out against the blurring of the other elements, in this case caused by the strong gusts of wind that day. I chose an area of a garden that had some textural interest in the moving leaves of a Japanese cherry tree yet which had a strong static element within the movement, in this case a sheltered yet prominent branch. I only had to wait for the wind to agitate the vegetation sufficiently, then I shook two shots, using a tripod because of the long exposure. I shot with a Fujifilm X-T3 and a XF 35mm f1.4R (50 mm equivalent). Both shots were taken with an exposure of 8 seconds at f16 and an ISO of 3200. In processing the digital files I decided to create monochrome pictures for reasons of abstraction, textural interest and the play of light on the moving leaves. The effect made me wonder if some of the photographers whose work I like, because of the play of light on and from their subjects ( for example Rinko Kawauchi), might be using slightly longer exposures than would be expected in order to encourage what I would call the ‘light smearing’ that goes on in their pictures.
The first shot wasn’t very inspiring but it helped me to ascertain that the exposure was good and that I needed only to reframe and wait for the right wind again.
The second shot came out more or less exactly as I wished. I’m pleased with the movement, the abstraction, the blurring, the dense texture, the smeared light and the static branch, just below right of centre.
Project 3, ‘What matters is to look’
Exercise 3.3: What matters is to look
Find a good viewpoint, perhaps fairly high up (an upstairs window might do) where you can see a wide view or panorama. Start by looking at the things closest to you in the foreground. Then pay attention to the details in the middle distance and then the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole view together, from the foreground to horizon (you can move your eyes). Include the sky in your observation and try to see the whole visual field together, all in movement. When you’ve got it, raise your camera and release the shutter. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.
I can see the value of this exercise because it’s similar to an important technique in listening to music for example where we try to balance our perception to take in the parts and the whole of a given work. Whether this is possible I’m not sure but one theory is that we oscillate so rapidly between the two that it appears that we’re doing two things at once. Whatever the case this is a technique that I’ll adopt in future in the hope that the more I practice it the better I’ll be at sizeing up a picture. For this exercise I stepped back to take in the best view of a country graveyard. There was one gap where I could line up the stones and the trees successfully and take the shot. I didn’t process or crop the image so this is the jpeg straight from the camera which is how I’ve interpreted what this exercise requires. Fujifilm X-T3, XF 23mm f1.4R (35 mm equivalent) lens: 1/105, f11, ISO 320.