Assignment 1 – Contrast

The first assignment in the Art of Photography course is designed to explore ‘one of the most fundamental principals in design: Contrast’. After the dry-run of choosing our own previously shot pictures and placing them into contrasting pairs, the assignment required that we shoot eight more pairs that ‘best express the extremes of different qualities’ and one final image that ‘demonstrates contrast in one picture’. (Quotations from the course notes).

The exercise of pairing pre-shot pictures was useful and made me think not only about the contrasts, but also the post-processing and black and white conversions that I’d included. As a result, I’ve decided to present all of the photographs for the assignment in colour, with one exception. They still could not be called garish, that just isn’t my style, but there are certainly a couple that I’d normally have converted.

These pictures were taken during the first 8 weeks of the course as I’ve worked on this assignment concurrently with the exercises. Many of them were taken on a trip to Edinburgh, during which I spent much of the time clutching a crumpled piece of A4 with the contrasts listed on it. All pictures were taken in RAW before being converted and post-processed using Aperture.


Blunt Canon 5D2, f14, 40mm, 30s, 10 stop neutral density filter
Canon 5D2, f14, 40mm, 30s, 10 stop neutral density filter
Pointed Fuji x100, f2, 23 (37)mm, 1/200s
Fuji x100, f2, 23 (37)mm, 1/200s

‘Pointed’ and ‘Blunt’ were taken on the trip to Edinburgh. It was a flying visit with my wife and mother-in-law during which I spent the time ferrying them to the busy parts of the city and leaving them there, before wandering into the quieter areas to take pictures. ‘Blunt’ shows a mooring point in Newhaven Harbour. The blunt feel is reinforced by the heavy, rusting chain, the muted colours and the sea that has been averaged by the long exposure. ‘Pointed’ shows the fence between Princes Street and its gardens. The points seemed unnecessarily pointy for such a low fence that contained so many open gates. I selected a large aperture to concentrate the narrow depth of field on the fence and waited for interesting characters to pass by. These guys and the opposing buses provided the best arrangement of the half-dozen shots that I took.


Opaque Fuji x100, f2.8, 23 (37)mm, 1/200s
Fuji x100, f2.8, 23 (37)mm, 1/200s
Transparent Canon 5D2, f2.8, 27mm, 1/250s
Canon 5D2, f2.8, 27mm, 1/250s, slight crop

Back in Leicester for ‘Opaque’ and ‘Transparent’ and both images share a balding man with a camera, framed in a window. ‘Opaque’ is a self-portrait (or selfie if you must) and shows not only me and a camera, but also a bike, my other passion. I am reflected in the mirrored finish applied to a ground-floor office in the city. I was interested in the depth that could be added to a picture by shooting what was behind me, myself and what was beyond the building in the same frame. A black and white version of this picture was previously included in my write up of the balance exercise. ‘Transparent’ was taken during a visit to the Leicester City Council offices in the New Walk Centre. An ongoing arts project allows photographers, painters, video artists etc to spend the afternoon on the 12th floor of the building, recording the city below. My images from the day will be included in a future exhibition of these works. I cropped the picture slightly and used the reflection in the whiteboard to inform the viewer what is being photographed by my subject; it does result in him being a little central. Large apertures were chosen for both pictures to focus attention on the subject and to make available the natural light.


Curved Canon 5D2, f5.6, 59mm, 1/50s
Canon 5D2, f5.6, 59mm, 1/50s
Straight Canon 5D2, f22, 70mm, 5s
Canon 5D2, f22, 70mm, 5s, polarising filter to reduce reflections

Two more literal interpretations, ‘Curved’ is the steps down to the beach on Portobello Prom. Again, I would usually have been tempted to convert this picture to black and white and bump up the contrast to bring out the shape of the curves, but chose not to to avoid having a pair separated by their colour and lack of it. Instead, I boosted the contrasts in a black and white version and overlaid it with the original in colour and blended using the luminosity mode. ‘Straight’ was also taken from the New Walk Centre and was a natural choice – everything in the picture is straight; the floors, window frames, shadows and reflections. The sun was setting between the two buildings, causing the wonderful orange glow – another reason why this pair could not be presented in mono. ‘Straight’ is straight from the camera with no crop or processing.


Few Canon 5d2, f5.6, 62mm, 1/100s
Canon 5d2, f5.6, 62mm, 1/100s
Many Fuji x100, f8, 23(37)mm, 1/250s
Fuji x100, f8, 23(37)mm, 1/250s

This pair were taken only a short time and distance apart and are two more from the Edinburgh trip. ‘Few’ is first light on Portobello Beach and features a man and his dog enjoying the beach to themselves (apart from me of course). The sun’s first rays are caught by the dog and the wave breaking on the beach. The pair seemed happy in each other’s company. Just a short time later, I was in the city, on its busiest street and surrounded by the ‘Many’ shoppers and tourists. The man made environment filling the frame contrasts with the entirely natural view in ‘Few’. It felt like a stark contrast as I traveled between the two.


Dark Canon 5d2, f4, 37mm, 3s
Canon 5d2, f4, 37mm, 3s
Light Canon 5d2, f22, 40mm, 246s
Canon 5d2, f22, 40mm, 246s

‘Dark’ and ‘Light’ are the two picture styles that feel most familiar to me, being long exposures in low light. They share a 5×4 crop and minimal composition. In ‘Dark’ I’ve removed some objects from that background that distracted the eye. I’ve also dodged the white road markings to lead the eye towards the sign. ‘Light’ was also taken on Portobello Beach and is a four minute exposure capturing the pre-dawn colours in the sky. Long exposure sea-scapes, usually featuring groynes, are something of a photographic cliché, but I like to think that by keeping the colour, it is a little more interesting than the usual monochrome version. A minimum aperture size was set to lengthen the exposure and keep what little details there was in the parts of the image that weren’t moving.


Continuous Fuji x100, f2, 23 (37)mm, 1/500s
Fuji x100, f2, 23 (37)mm, 1/500s
Intermittent Canon 5d2, f22, 17mm, 311s
Canon 5d2, f22, 17mm, 311s

‘Continuous’ is a shot of a back street, again in Portobello. The low viewpoint and large aperture help to make the narrow street appear longer. The lines of the cobbles, walls and buildings all point to a vanishing point away in the distance. You can read about how ‘Intermittent’ came to be taken in my previous post on the cropping exercise. The post also explains why this crop was selected. I had taken pictures of landing aircraft from a similar spot previously and remembered the trails created by the flashing lights and their intermittence. What I didn’t spot until I got home and looked at the pictures was the light trails of the cars broken by the bushes, an effect I might explore further in the future.


Moving Canon 5d2, f2.8, 24mm, 1/125
Canon 5d2, f2.8, 24mm, 1/125
Still Canon 5d2, f13, 40mm, 25s, 10-stop neutral density
Canon 5d2, f13, 40mm, 25s, 10-stop neutral density

When completing the Panning Exercise, I had in mind that the best resulting image might be useful for ‘Moving’, come this assignment. That exercise is all about selecting shutter speeds to capture movement and the 1/125s used here was the best compromise between introducing movement into the background, while keeping the subject sharp. At this shutter speed, the spokes are also beginning to blur as the outer edges of the wheels are moving much faster than he is. I used a wide angle to capture the spectators, some of the surroundings and the gloomy day, emphasising the challenge presented by not only riding up a hill quickly, but doing it on a cold, wet Sunday morning in October. I have pushed my self-imposed limits of post-processing with this shot too – something I’ve tried to avoid for this first assignment but again, felt it warranted to bring out the gloom. ‘Still’ was shot in Leith docks and shows some of the huge equipment used for loading ships in the Entrance Basin. During my visit the docks were deserted and the equipment redundant. Still. It symbolised the the history of the area – once a busy ship building dock employing thousands and although recently regenerated, the area receives visitors now only to the Royal Yacht moored there and the shopping centre. I chose to make the water still by shooting a 25 second exposure, using a neutral density filter.


Diagonal Canon 5d2, f9, 40mm, 1/50s
Canon 5d2, f9, 40mm, 1/50s
Rounded Canon 5d2, f22, 20mm, 13s
Canon 5d2, f22, 20mm, 13s

‘Diagonal’ is a view of Ullswater and the mountains beyond, framed by Oak trees on the shore. ‘Rounded’ is yet another night time long-exposure, this time of a local petrol station whose canopy, made up of ‘overlapping parasols’ has Grade 2 Listed status. It is something that I’ve been planning to photograph for a while – it’s run-down look fits with the idea that we are post peak-car, something that a friend and I have been exploring through photography for a while. I included the broken wall for a little foreground interest.


Rough/Smooth Canon 5d2, f22, 32mm, 42s, 10-stop neutral density filter
Canon 5d2, f22, 32mm, 42s, 10-stop neutral density filter

The final image in the set demonstrates ‘contrast in one picture’, the rough cobbles being contrasted by the smooth sea. The picture was shot at Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh and once again was taken using a 10-stop, neutral density filter. This meant that a long exposure could be employed, ‘averaging’ the movement of the water. It also causes any movement in the clouds to be recorded. A low angle was selected to fill more of the frame with the foreground cobbles and the lighthouse has been positioned off-centre to add some tension to the composition.


It feel like this assignment has been a long time coming, but I’m actually a week ahead of the deadline I set with my tutor. It is exciting and at the same time, a little daunting to think that I’ll be submitting an assignment every eight weeks or so for the foreseeable. I’ll write more about my feelings on the course so far in a later post, once I’ve wrapped up the last couple of exercises in the first section.

I’ve probably read too many blog posts by students that have gone before me, talking about the mistakes they made in their first assignments and their tutor’s feedback of them. I’ve tried to not let this information affect my submission too much. I need to submit what I feel is suitable, learn from my own mistakes (and my tutor’s feedback of course).

I’m pretty pleased with the resulting photographs, although several are disappointingly literal. I blame this on my difficulty in coming to terms with ‘shooting to order’. This is something that I need to get used to of course and will be a valuable lesson, once learned. It also resulted in taking almost all of the pictures in two sessions. I read about students that have created all their shots for this assignment in one session with the same subject matter and others that have no link between any of their pictures, other than being in the same assignment and having a contrasting opposite.


In this set, I’ve demonstrated several of the lessons learned in the preceding exercises – positioning the horizon, framing and showing movement for example. I have used both a digital SLR and a compact, fixed lens camera. The shutter and aperture settings cover the entire range available and have been altered to suit the desired end product. I realise that there are a high number of long-exposure, tripod mounted shots in this set. These have been selected because they fit the brief. This technique will not be suitable in other situations.

It is a varied set, with a one or two pictures that I am particularly pleased with. However, I can also see one with blown highlights and some disappointing sky detail elsewhere. I’ve demonstrated some creativity in the submission, but realise that this is another area I need to improve on as the course and my skills develop.

I am enjoying using WordPress and having blogged before starting the course, feel comfortable writing up my exercises. I have received some very positive feedback from fellow students and friends alike who have commented on the interesting content and engaging style. I do worry that it is occasionally too ‘conversational’. My writing style tends to be as though I were talking to a friend and may need to become more academic. I also need to improve my use of visual language when describing photographs.


Walker-Toye, S. (2012) Assignment 1: Contrasts [online]. OCA Art Of Photography. Available from: [1 December 2013]

Unknown. (2012) English Heritage Celebrates the Age of the Motor Car [online] Available from: [1 December 2013]

Unknown. (2013) Wikipedia – Peak Car [online] Available from: [1 December 2013]

Jaques, I. (2010) PostPeakCarTastic, a Flickr Set [online] Available from: [1 December 2013]

Freeman, M. (2011) Composition, Contrast and the Bauhaus [online]. The Freeman View. Available from: [30 November 2013]

Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited.


  1. Thought I’d come and see how you have done after your comment on mine. I really like what you have done, some of the images I think are excellent, well done! Must say reading your comments, I think I’m coming at this from a very similar position as you and hoping to get the same things out of the course. Good luck with the rest of it.


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