Assignment 4 – Applying lighting techniques

This assignment comes at the end of a series of exercises that investigate the use of different lighting techniques. I’ve explored the colour and temperature of light in different weather conditions and through various times of the day; looking at both available light, natural and man-made, as well as photographic lighting.

To demonstrate some of the theory learned, this assignment requires 8 photographs that use different lighting techniques to bring out particular physical properties of the same object.

(Click on the pictures below for the full-sized version)


The shape of an object is an easier quality to understand. It is to do with the outline or edges of an object. The simplest way to use lighting to show the shape of a subject is to increase the contrast between it and it’s background or surroundings.

As we saw in the exercise on lighting angle, when the light was directly behind the subject, giving the greatest contrast, the outline was clearest. In fig.01, rather than using a bright background, I’ve kept the image low hey by using the last of the sun’s light to provide that back-lighting, showing the shape of the upper branches. The lower half of the trunk was below the height of the horizon and would have been lost against it (no contrast), so instead, I lit the bottom half of the tree with my flashgun and softbox.

Fig.01 Shape - using artificial light

Fig.01 Shape – using artificial light

In fig.02, I used diffused afternoon sunlight to provide back lighting of the subject, to show a the shape of the tree’s leaves. The clouds act as a diffuser to the sun’s light meaning that the contrast is not so great between the leaves and sky as it would be in full sunlight (see fig.08), which in turn allows detail to be kept in the subject rather than creating a silhouette.

Fig.02 Shape - using natural light

Fig.02 Shape – using natural light


Form is another way of describing the volume of an object or how three-dimensional it looks. In fig.03, the diffused evening sun light lit the right side of the tree meaning that because the trunk is a hollow arc, the centre and right side would have been in shadow, and the form would not have been obvious.

The softbox to the left was positioned at a distance that gave just enough light on the left of the trunk to cause diffused reflection back to the camera from a small area of the trunk and leaves. Being lit from both sides, the centre is still dark, informing us that it is missing and the trunk isn’t a more usual cylindrical shape.

Fig.03 Form - artificial light

Fig.03 Form – artificial light

Later in the evening, with less ambient light, I moved the softbox to a position 60° from the camera (fig.04). Exposing for the sky to retain detail, I used the flash to light the trunk and part of inside of the tree through one of the holes near the base. The parts of the trunk closest to the light are recorded brightest while those further away are darker. Those out of direct sight of the flash are completely dark. This gradient of brightness shows us the form of an object.

The area inside the trunk that is lit again provides the viewer with information that this area of the trunk sits behind the more brightly lit area to the right, indicating its three-dimensional nature.

Fig.04 Form - artificial light

Fig.04 Form – artificial light


Texture is the quality of the surface detail. In fig.05, by positioning the light at 90° to the weathering of the bark, dark shadows were created in the weathered surface of the trunk.

Fig.05 Texture - artificial light

Fig.05 Texture – artificial light

The sun acts as a small, high contrast light source. Shooting the tree’s surface with the sun, camera and subject at similar angles to those in fig.05 (but rotated through 90°), a similar effect is created.

Fig. 06 Texture - natural light

Fig. 06 Texture – natural light

These pictures show that the bark is heavily textured, but because of the lighting, there is no detail in the dark areas of shadow caused by the high-contrast light sources. To show texture and increased detail, the surface could have been photographed with a lower-contrast light source (on a cloudy day or with a large softbox) to light all areas and angles of the surface more evenly. Or, the shadows could have been softened as we learned in an earlier exercise.


In fig.07, the colour of the leaves has been emphasised by moving the flash close to them. Again, to add interest to the shot the exposure levels were set for the clouds in the background that were lit by the sun that had set moments earlier.

Fig.07 Colour - artificial light

Fig.07 Colour – artificial light

In fig.08, rather than shoot with the light at a similar angle to the camera which is the more conventional method of reproducing colour (as seen in the lighting angle exercise), I photographed the leaves with the sun behind. The translucence of the leaves meaning that they have transmitted light through them showing off their colour.

Fig.08 Colour - natural light

Fig.08 Colour – natural light

Subject Choice

For this assignment, I didn’t want to be confined to a spare bedroom with a flashgun taking pictures of an ornament. I wanted to use a subject that I might be interested in shooting other than for this course. I also wanted to use both natural and photographic lighting as we’d studied both during the exercises.

I live a mile from a country park that began as a medieval deer park and is home to several ancient, pollarded oaks that are ‘many centuries old’. One in particular (I used a picture of the tree in my second assignment) has a prominent position overlooking the city at the junction of several paths and has always fascinated me. The trunk has split and twisted over the years and is now only a fragile arc of pockmarked, weathered wood. When spring arrives each year, I’m surprised (and relieved) to see that it is still healthy enough to grow leaves. It seemed an ideal subject and although it may be around for any more centuries, I wanted to photograph it as it was now. Just in case. I suggested the subject to my tutor who liked the idea, suggesting I look at the work three other photographers who have studied trees.

Because the tree is a couple of miles into the park (all up hill), each trip to photograph it, especially carrying tripod, lenses and lighting gear, became an expedition. I began setting the alarm for 4am to get up and check the sky, hoping for the magical light that dawn can provide. More often than not, I went back to bed disappointed. I also visited a couple of times late in the day and while it is a beautiful place to be, it can frustrating to give a couple of hours of my day up waiting for light that doesn’t actually materialise. I made almost 150 pictures across 6 separate visits.

Another difficulty caused by my subject choice was the the practicalities of a using small (90cm) reflector, smaller softbox (60cm) and a standard flash gun to light such a large subject. As a result, I used the flash only to light small areas of the tree or to provide a small amount of fill-in.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I’m happy that the images fulfil the brief and that I have used a variety of lighting to bring out the qualities of shape, form, texture and colour. I’ve used direct flash as the main light source, as a fill-in to supplement natural light, and daylight that is both direct sunlight and diffused by cloud. I have resisted my usual temptation to apply post-processing. Additional contrast could have been added to show texture for example, but I’ve allowed the lighting alone to provide this information to the viewer.

Quality of outcome

I’m pleased with the set overall and a couple of pictures particularly. However, while the subject is the same tree in each picture, I would have preferred the set to look more cohesive. Because of the requirement for a range of lighting techniques and my self-imposed desire to use both natural and artificial lighting, the set doesn’t sit together as well as I’d have liked. I didn’t give this as much thought as I should have in advance of taking the pictures, concentrating instead (again) on ‘ticking the boxes’.

I did want a degree of contrast in the set to show the relative permanence of the tree and the delicacy and evanescence of the leaves. This theme would have been better explored in spring or autumn and without the other limitations imposed by the brief.

On street photography blogger Eric Kim’s Facebook page, he lists (he likes lists) 103 lessons that he has learned. It feels like his 57th lesson has applied to me during this assignment. I found the editing of the images difficult for this assignment, repeatedly replacing those selected, particularly for the texture images.

Lesson 57. Spend 99% of your time editing your photos (choosing your best images) and only 1% of your time post processing them.

Demonstration of creativity

The choice of subject in the first place showed some creativity in my approach and rather than simply shooting into the sunset to show shape for example, I’ve tried other lighting techniques. I’ve also selected parts of the tree that showed the various properties that I was looking to emphasis, rather than middle-distance views of the whole tree at different times of the day. I experimented with shooting only the shadow of the tree and using its shape out of focus at the edge of the frame to show shape, but wasn’t satisfied enough with them to make the final cut.


I read about several photographers whose work had studied trees and found many, varied interpretations. My favourites included:

  • Simon Norfolk’s study of the oak trees at Blenheim. This was the closest of these works to my original intent. The large lighting set-up that he had obviously used (and smoke machine!) was way beyond anything that I could create with my limited equipment. His set has that cohesion that I was looking for, and he has managed to bring out the shape, form, texture and colour of the trees in each shot, despite shooting from a similar distance each time and in similar ambient lighting conditions.
  • Martin Stravars has a similar rigour to his ‘portraits of trees’, resulting in a set that of photographs that look very similar to each other. His use of long-exposure, infra-red and heavy processing makes for striking images and does an excellent job of showing texture and the shape of the trunks and branches.
  • A set that really stuck with me was Korean photographer Myoung Ho Lee’s technique of isolating the tree from its surroundings by hanging large backdrops behind them, again really emphasising shape. It is a fascinating method of isolating a subject while at the same time, showing its original surroundings; somehow separating the two but in the same frame.

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Further reflection

Comparing these pictures to others that I’ve taken of the tree in the past, it’s satisfying to see that my creativity and technical abilities have improved as a result of this course directly and the wider experience I’ve gained by looking at other work and considering other methods. The course has brought me a long way so far, but as I’ve written a couple of times, the next section on narrative is one that I’m very much looking forward to.

This appears to be the last assignment focussed technical skills with which I’m fairly comfortable, and has us concentrate more on content in future. That said, the use of flash in a ‘studio’ setting was something new to me and learned much from the exercises covering these techniques.

I still enjoy writing this blog and especially looking back through old posts to see my progress and changing attitudes.

I’m now reading more varied sources on photography, visiting every exhibition I have the opportunity to and creating a valuable collection of photobooks. The course has led me to several photographers whose work is inspirational and aspirational and who I tell people about at every opportunity.

Finally, I still need to make more use of the OCA network. I have almost no interaction with fellow students or with tutors as I’ve struggled to find time between the exercises and other research. Whenever I have, and particularly at study visits, it has been valuable.


Gibson, D (2014) The street photographer’s manual. London; Thames and Hudson

Hunter, F et al. (2012) Light – Science and magic. An introduction to photographic lighting. Oxford; Elsevier Inc.

Bradgate Park website [online] Available from: [Accessed: 28 July 2014]

Kim, E (2014) Facebook [online] Available from : [Accessed: 29 July 2014]

Institute (unknown) Feature: Blenheim Oaks // Simon Norfolk [online] Available from: [Accessed: 29 July 2014]

Lens Culture (unknown) Tree. Photographs by Myoung Ho Lee [online] Available from: [Accessed: 29 July 2014]

Stavars, M (unknown) Portraits of trees [online] Available from: [Accessed: 29 July 2014]

Assignment 4 – Subject Choice

I’ve now completed all but one of the exercises in the lighting section of the course. The one I’ve missed is the impractical ‘lighting through the day’ that required repeat visits to the same spot between sunrise and sunset. Given that there are 18 hours of daylight at this time of year and I work full-time, I’ve just not had the opportunity. My plan is to set up a camera and intervalometer in a bedroom window, I just need a sunny forecast on a day when I’m not shooting anything else.

Reading through other student’s blogs, I was expecting these exercises to be long-winded and time-consuming, but I’ve found them interesting and fun for the most part. With them behind me, it’s time to think about a subject for assignment 4 – Applying Lighting Techniques.

Again, reading through the blogs of students that have gone before me, the majority seem to have chosen a small, portable object, often it would appear, a holiday souvenir, that they have photographed at home using natural and photographic lighting. There is one notable exception in Tim Dunk’s exceptional interpretation of the brief.

Fig. 05 - Light in front and 45 degree above

Fig. 05 – Light in front and 45 degree above

As I mentioned in my post on the lighting angle, I had intended to shoot a small sculpture that we have at home. It has interesting texture, plenty of colour and an familiar shape. I was happy enough with some of the shots in that exercise, despite being my first using backdrops and stand mounted lighting. But, having read the brief repeatedly, I began to think about using a subject that wasn’t moveable and for which the lighting of would have to be natural. It meant that the exercise would be less about equipment and more about investigating which natural lighting conditions best enhanced the various facets we were looking for and adapting to whatever I was presented with.

Bradgate Tree

Bradgate Tree

I live a mile from a country park that began as a medieval deer park and is home to several ancient oaks that are many centuries old. One in particular has a prominent position overlooking the city at the junction of several paths and has always fascinated me. I used a picture of the tree (above) in my second assignment. The trunk has split and twisted over the years and is now only a fragile arc of pockmarked, weathered wood. When spring arrives each year, I’m surprised (and relieved) to see that it is still healthy enough to grow leaves. It seemed an ideal subject.

I’ve taken a few dozen pictures of it so far, across a number of visits and now I’m not so sure. Because the tree is more than a mile into the park (all up hill), a trip to photograph it, especially carrying tripod, lenses and lighting gear) becomes an expedition. I began setting the alarm for 4am to get up and check the sky, hoping for the magical light that dawn can provide. More often than not, I went back to bed. I visited a couple of times late in the day and while it is a beautiful place to be, it can frustrating to give a couple of hours of my day up waiting for light that doesn’t actually materialise. The practicalities of using reflectors and artificial light seem too great for my meagre equipment.

So, I’m thinking of lowering my sights once more.

Dark-field Lighting

Dark-field Lighting

Last night, rather than walking into the park again, I experimented for the first time with dark-field lighting as described in the excellent Light – Science and Magic book that forms part of the course’s reading material. After a few false starts, I began to produce pictures that might be useable in an assignment.

So do I take the easier route and lock myself away in the spare room for a couple of hours and produce the set I need, or do I persevere photographing the tree, getting fitter at the same time? Or should I do both and see which I like best?

The next post will probably let you know…


Hunter, F et al. (2012) Light – Science and magic. An introduction to photographic lighting. Oxford; Elsevier Inc.


Assignment 1 – Contrast: Tutor Feedback

Myjnia TIR

Myjnia TIR

Last night I received my tutor’s feedback on my first assignment. It had taken a while, but was worth the wait.

The opening sentence said: ‘you have submitted an excellent first assignment’. I was tempted to close the email at that point but I read on and was happy with the very positive feedback on the work I had submitted for the assignment and associated exercises.

I’ve written previously about how I enjoy blogging and so I was pleased to see that he also complimented the layout and content of this learning log. While I believe that I’m getting better at it, I still feel that I need to get a little more descriptive and analytical when discussing my own photography and that work which inspires or instructs me. However, it was good to see my efforts were appreciated by my tutor in his comments that I was demonstrating ‘good independent research and an ability to analyse and apply good self-reflection’.

I feel that I can improve on this and as he suggests, will look to include further information on my thought processes, what I did and why to explain my methodology and evidence my decision making.

I was concerned when I submitted the first assignment that the images were taken across a couple of weeks, in different locations and had little to relate them to each other. However, the feedback was that the demonstration of contrast within the pairs was enough to hold the set together when viewed as a whole. My plan for assignment 2 is that all of the images will be shot within a couple of hours, be processed identically and look very similar – further exploring the effect of such variation (or not) to a project. My tutor encourages this suggesting that for the next assignment I ‘could start to consider your projects as series, make work around themes and related ideas, and consider the coherency of working in particular genres.’

The most interesting part of the feedback was the following:

I think what I’m saying is that I can see that you are obviously a competent technician but don’t let technical issues get in the way of your creativity, if you can evaluate and justify your images then that’s closer to the notion of contemporary photography. Personally I like to see ideas, after all photography is about the maker and how they communicate their ideas to their audience, we share a little bit of ourselves every time me show our work!

This idea is exactly why I began the course in the first place. I know that I can take ‘pretty’ pictures, but want to learn how to share my ideas, my vision and my message (whatever that might be) with people. Most of the photographers and photographs that I like best are not necessarily technically excellent. The composition, exposure and sometimes content is not always ideal, but the story is there, between the lines (or pixels perhaps). The photographer has found a way to communicate the story or idea through less obvious methods.

At times I feel a little daunted at the size of the subject. By way of example, yesterday, I posted my first couple of pictures onto the OCA Student Flickr Group and shortly afterwards received a comment on one, suggesting I investigate the work of George Tice, and particularly this photograph. I was blown away – another photographer that I wasn’t familiar with, but exactly the type of image I love and aspire to take. Just when you think you know where you’re taking your learning and practice, more inspiration comes along and makes you consider other ideas and direction.

As I’ve said before, I’m enjoying this…

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.

Assignment 1 – Contrast: Preparation

Finally, after a couple of weeks of avoiding it, I’ve begun thinking about my first assignment. The submission doesn’t actually count towards the final assessment of the module, but is a valuable ‘dry run’ as it will be submitted to my tutor and feedback given. When I chatted to my tutor, I committed (in a fashion) to submit my first assignment by the middle of December. I have taken a few pictures towards it, but still have more to take and it feels like the pressure is on. While that probably isn’t conducive to my best work, it will give practice in shooting pictures ‘to order’ and ticking them off against the list of contrasts we have to choose from.

The assignment is made up of three parts. This post forms the first. Our brief suggests that we look through our previously taken photographs and assemble pairs that represent contrasts. Contrast isn’t just about light and dark in a frame. Some of the pairs can be literally interpreted, such as straight/curved or continuous/intermittent, but others are open to more interesting representation. Sweet/sour, thick/thin or light/dark can be shown in many ways. The idea of beginning the course with an assignment on contrast reflects the methods used in the Bauhaus design school. Its teacher there, Johannes Itten was encouraging his students to ‘un-learn’ some of their previous, formal studies and natural techniques. If corporate buzzwords had been around in the 1920s, he would have been teaching them to ‘think outside the box’!

Looking through my photographs, I found that many of my pictures covered few of the contrast pairs – the 80/20 rule. For example, I found lots of straight/curved, but high/low was more challenging. What was useful in my preparation for the assignment itself, was thinking about pairing pictures. I was keen to not only make the pictures suit the particular half of the pair, but also that they were somehow related, in either the subject matter or the post-processing style. They also needed to be interesting pictures in their own right.

And so to the pictures – as usual, you can click on any of them to see a larger size.


Two pictures of ring roads of the East Midlands – thrilling stuff, eh? The first is Coventry’s hideous, throttling ringroad from beneath and photographed in fog. The second is Nottingham’s A52 Clifton Boulevard. This pair forms a very literal interpretation of the pairing. They are both long exposures, taken in the dark and treated them in a similar way. I wanted to keep some colour in the Coventry picture as the curve of the red tail light reflects the curve of the concrete structure above. Everything in the Nottingham picture is straight. There isn’t a curve anywhere, other than the circular starbursts caused by the tiny aperture. Black and white not only emphasises the geometrics shapes in the pictures, it gets rid of the strange colour casts caused by a mixture of street lighting types.

A second pair showing straight/curved and another literal interpretation. I was keen to use pairs that show a similar subject matter and ‘look’ similar and will try to do the same for my assignment submissions.


Everyone seems to use ice in this pairing. Here, I’ve photographed the icicles formed in a bush by cars passing and spraying the bush with icy water. My liquid picture shows the setting sun illuminating the water on the top step of the weir that forms the overflow of our local reservoir. This picture is another long exposure (25s) and was also on the shortlist for ‘curved’. The link obviously is water.


Here, the almost perfect symmetry of the pylon could have been used for ‘strength’, ‘square’ and probably several more of the pairs. It has been chosen for ‘diagonal’ because of the longest and strongest elements of the metalwork. The second image in the pair, ’rounded’, shows another pylon, the top of which was positioned at the north star for this stack of 30 second exposures, shot in Poland over a 3 1/2 hour period.


The road markings in in the first shot provide a literal interpretation of ‘intermittent’. ‘Continuous’ is a little more creative. The worker is photographed in the centre of a bell wheel that he is building. A wheel, or any circular form is by definition, continuous – it has no beginning or end. The shot was taken at Taylor’s Bell Foundry, a company that has been casting bells, and presumably making bell wheels, for more than 600 years – continuously! It was shot on medium format film using a Bronica and processed at home. The images share a square crop and a lack of colour.



The final image in our previously shot selection needed to contain both halves of the contrast. This tree in Bradgate Park has been standing in its spot overlooking the city for several hundred years. This picture was shot on a windy day (in June) and so the movement in the tips of the branches and clouds was caught in the long exposure, made possible by a 10-stop neutral density filter.

The next stages of the assignment are the submission of the final images and to review our own work against the assessment criteria, recording our thoughts. At the moment, it feels like I am hung-up on this assignment and need to gather momentum once more, but without submitting something I’m not happy with…


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.