Back to School

I’ve recently undertaken a photography course with the Photography Institute. I’m doing this for 2 main reasons. Firstly, feedback on my photography is the best way to improve. I’ve tried Flickr, and the only feedback you get (if any at all) are throw away remarks, ‘great photo’, ‘wonderful work’, etc, etc. I will admit, I’m guilty of posting these same throw away remarks. But no more. The second reason is that challenges set by someone else are usually harder and take you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to work harder and think differently.

So far the course is fairly technical, covering a lot of what I already know, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and depth of field. However, I now have a much deeper under standing of how these work and there relationship with each other.

My second assignment was to take an object, photograph it then explain the experience (of course it was a lot more in-depth than that, but I’m paying to do this so I’m not giving all the juicy details away).

Initially I had a couple of objects in mind. I love to cook and have a professional cooks knife that I use everyday, sleek, shiny, sharp as a razor. Or maybe the bizarre star shaped bottle of liquor from my wedding day, filled with a clear syrupy liquid. Another idea was my watch, steal and intricate, with a glass back so you can see all the movements. The problem is all these items are hard, with little or no texture. I wanted to photograph something that was personal, but something with character. Then it hit me, on my desk in front of me I have a tiny wooden boat with the phrase, “there is no set path follow your heart”, on the sail. The grain of the wood can be seen through the blue paint and the weave of the sail is rough, but the edges are soft.

So now I had my object, I sat down and thought about how I wanted to photograph it. I wanted it big to fill the shot, because its small but has a powerful message. I wanted it to be bright and inspirational to reflect the message. Finally I didn’t want anything else in the shot, so the boat was the sole focus. I wanted to back light it, to give it a celestial feel.

I looked round my flat, looking for the perfect place to photograph my little boat. I decided that the windowsill was perfect. It gave me lots of natural light coming in behind the boat. Cropping in close on the boat would mean that anything in the background outside would be blurred well out of focus. When I set up my shot I set it as I saw it in my mind. I got as close as my lens would allow me to, level with boat. I had the boat central in the shot, with the idea to crop out the additional background post shooting. If I had a macro lens I wouldn’t have had this problem and could have framed the shot exactly as I wanted. I set the ISO at 100 then the f stop to 1.8 for a narrow depth of field, this way the background would be really blurred out. Finally I set the shutter to expose the boat correctly. I knew this would give a really bright background. A quick look at the preview and I knew the shot was as I saw it in my head, but it wasn’t as dramatic or interesting as I thought it would be.

I took the camera off the tripod and moved round the boat, looking for a new angle. It didn’t work from above, all I could see was the white windowsill, and that was too distracting. Low down looking up was better but didn’t feel right. It was now I realised that it wasn’t just the angle, but the space around and the framing of the boat that wasn’t working. I moved the boat around in the viewfinder, settling when the boat was in the bottom left. It felt natural, as if it was moving forward into the space on the right. Positioning it at the very bottom of the frame, so none of the windowsill was visible, makes it feel like it was floating on water. I put the camera back on the tripod, set the shot up, checked all the settings and pressed the button. A quick look on the preview and I was sure this was right. I popped the card into the computer to get a better look. The type on the sail was not in focus. But the spherical aberration of the light coming through the trees in the background really work for me and help give it a magical feel.

Back to the camera, I really wanted to get the message on the sail as sharp as possible. I refocused, took another shot. Still soft. Try again, and again. It wasn’t working. I decided to try and reduce the aperture and widen the depth of field. I was very close and at f1.8. I changed the aperture to f2.8. Bingo, the type was sharp.

I put the image on the computer, set it to fill the screen, sat back and looked at it. The image was better than my first vision. The positioning and crop, the spherical aberration, and the light glowing around the edge of the sail were not part of my initial idea, but they developed through my experimentation. Together they created an image that I believe portrays my idea perfectly.

This exercise was really interesting. Thinking about the process of visualising the photo I wanted to achieve, changed the way I took the photo. My initial vision came to me quite quickly once I really thought about the object in my hands. Even though it didn’t work exactly as I saw it, the subsequent experimentation came from me wanting to depict the object in a certain way. Before this exercise, if I had been asked to take a photo of an object, I would have randomly picked something. Put it in front of me and snapped away.
Follow your heart

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