Elements of Design (6)

Here I tried to emphasise vertical lines:

I find the gap between the columns a bit distracting, so I stepped closer to them:

Next I tried to cropping tighter:

And lastly, stepping back again but including a glimpse of Queen Victoria's statue and some figures in the background:


Elements of Design (5)

I wanted to create a really clean, simple, design with theses spheres in Victoria Square, Birmingham, but found it difficult to avoid distracting details:

Spheres 1

Next I tried to isolate and emphasise one of the spheres but still show it in context of the others:

Spheres 2
Again though fussy details at the top of the image I find distracting, this next example with a shallow depth of field perhaps works better:

Spheres 3
I think what also works better in this third shot is that by cropping less tightly on the nearest sphere, it actually seems to isolate it more.

Elements of Design (4)

Another trip to Birmingham this morning:
Curves 1
Trying to capture some 'curves', the above shot seems 'ok', but not quite right. I had included the drain cover in the top right to add a little interest, but I'm not sure that works. On the next one I missed the shadow of the passing pedestrian at the top left which is a bit distracting:

Curves 2

The next one works better, I think because the two lighter curves are more tightly anchored into the lower corners and lead the eye in:

Curves 3

By changing position so that the camera was pointing down, the same curved block work becomes more diagonal:


Depth of Field

An exercise from the course, all these pictures of a sign on a curved wall were shot at f/1.4 on a crop sensor (APS-C) digital camera:

Focus on 'T'
Focus on the 'R' in Windsor

Focus on 'W'
 I prefer the first one - it seems to stand out more than the others.

Elements of Design (2)

Another shot from my first attempts of street details, here trying to shoot a combination of vertical and horizontal lines:

Perhaps a little too literal or 'deadpan'? Still, I like it, I think because the slightly bluish hue of the white-washed glass goes well with the packing tape. Also the random-ness of swirls of white-wash contrasts with the regularity of the window frame.

May be this blacked-out window is a better example:

Elements of Design (1)

I decided to take 'street details' as the subject for my second assignment, 'Elements of Design'. Here's some shots from my first attempts:

I was trying to create an implied triangle here, but I think my earlier shot was more successful:

I think this works better as the 3 darker blocks create a second triangle shape, as does the group in the upper right corner:

Contemporary Photographers

I visited The Photography Show at Birmingham NEC today, where I heard two interesting talks by contemporary travel/documentary photographers of National Geographic fame. First, Steve McCurry and then Joe McNally.

McCurry is perhaps most famous for his 'Afghan girl' image, which appeared on the front cover of National Geographic in 1985, see here. He related the many challenges he had faced in travelling to some of the most dangerous places in the world, and how most of his street portraits were made by selecting a suitable back-drop and natural lighting, and then simply waiting for an interesting subject to come along.

But he also showed himself to be a master of subtle artificial light effects in his shots for the Pirelli calendar, in which he also broke away from tradition and avoided nudity. He preferred the use of constant lighting rather than flash as he like's to 'see the light'.

He also gave some good examples of how his imagery had helped to communicate the plight of people in crisis-ridden countries and had directly led to some of them receiving help.

Joe McNally is well known as an exponent of on-location artificial lighting (see in particular his book The Hot Shoe Diaries), but over the course of the hour also revealed himself to be modest, self-deprecating and very funny. His tales of crazy schemes dreamed-up and then bought into by editors were at times hysterical, as was his wickedly ruthless humour at the vagaries of the world of journalism.

His more serious side came out when discussing his photographs of survivors of 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks. What he made clear is that he feels portraiture is all about being sensitive and building relationships, some of which he has sustained over decades.

During the question and answer session, McNally came out with a quote, which if I recall it correctly, goes something like this:

'As photographers.....or aim is to communicate with thousands of people who we shall never meet.....'


Newman, C. 2014. A Life Revealed - National Geographic Magazine. [online] Available at: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text [Accessed: 3 Mar 2014].

Mcnally, J. 2009. The hot shoe diaries. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Joemcnally.com. 2014. Joe McNally’s Blog. [online] Available at: http://www.joemcnally.com/blog/ [Accessed: 3 Mar 2014].

Tutor Feedback & Key Learnings

I recieved feedback from my tutor on Assignment 1, and it was broadly in line with my own self-assessment, which is a good start. The summary of the key learnings, placed in my order of importance, are:
  1. Make sure I stick strictly to the assignment. Assignment 1 is all about visual differences between images, but I included some pairs of images where the differences were not visual but were more ambiguous. Partly I think this was because I had been reading The Photograph by Graham Clarke and had tried to impart some deeper meaning to some of the images.(see here). Anyway, I have Assignment 2 printed out and pinned above my desk now as a constant reminder!
  2. Try not to mix different styles (i.e. black and white and colour) in one piece, try to keep a theme/narrative going throughout the piece.
  3. Be careful before using a form of manipulation - especially HDR as this can look 'contrived', and was not really suitable for this assignment.
  4. Bring in more references to research and particularly other photographers' work into this blog.
  5. I presented the images and notes in a photobook, and whilst this is good method of presentation it makes re-shooting and re-editing, following your tutors feedback, costly and time-consuming. Better perhaps to use a more flexible format, but possibly then consider a photobook for formal assessment.
  6. Pre-visualising often helps to foster other ideas when shooting.
  7. Be careful to not to have images that are too similar - I included two images of logs where one is simply a closer crop of the other - in hindsight this was perhaps a little lazy.
  8. Don't worry too much about equipment - smartphone images can work well.
  9. Be realistic about deadlines and allow time for editing.

Clarke, G. 1997. The photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Key Learning - Assignment 1

One of my key learnings from the first assignment in 'Art or Photography' is how pre-visualising and sketching images before the 'execution' - the act of actually capturing the photograph - is that often this preparation leads to quite unexpected results which are often better than the pre-visualisation. Here's two examples:

This idea for 'curves':

This idea for 'lines':

I am not quite sure what's happening here, but it's not the first time this has happened to me. One theory is that by having sketched out some ideas, subconsciously I can relax and in so doing become more receptive to other ideas - both the images above were obvious but I never noticed them until I tried to capture the ideas I had sketched out.

It's a bit like when you try to remember something but no matter how hard you try, you cannot. Then, later, when you are thinking about something completely different, the thing you were trying to remember just pops into your head.

Contrasts - Part 5

I learnt from reading Michael Freemans' book The Photographers Eye that the 'Contrasts' task is nothing new, as it actually dates back to Bauhaus circa 1920. There it was a task set by Johannes Itten, the Swiss expressionist painter, as part of the 'Basic Course'.


Freeman, M. 2007. The Photographers Eye. Lewes: Ilex.

Wikipedia. 2014. Bauhaus. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus [Accessed: 18 Feb 2014].

Wikipedia. 2014. Johannes Itten. [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Itten [Accessed: 19 Feb 2014].

Curves and Lines

Getting close to the deadline for the 'Contrasts' assignment, so been thinking of things that I can shoot as close to home as possible. On the theme of straight lines and curves, came up with these sketchs of ideas:

Curves of rope loops
Coil of rope
Patterns of straight lines on decking

Commoditisation of photography

I have been reading 'The Photograph' by Graham Clarke, supplied with my course materials. Had a strange thought that the effect of the launch of the Kodak Brownie in 1900 may be somewhat mirrored in what's happened in the last decade or so with the smartphone and Internet.

The Brownie put cameras into the hands of many more people: for almost 60 years previously it had been the preserve of those that could afford to make or commission a camera, which was more like a hand-crafted piece of furniture than a tool.

112 years after launching the Brownie, Kodak filed for Chapter 11, so I wonder how 100 years from now how people will reflect on the impact of the smartphone / Flickr / Instagram / citizen-journalism generation on photography. I also wonder who will have survived from the current crop of manufacturers, if any, because, as Thom Hogan says here, it's just possible you already have the last camera you'll ever need...


Clarke, G. 1997. The photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. 2014. Brownie (camera). [online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownie_(camera) [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].

BBC News. 2014. New Kodak emerges from bankruptcy. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23952800 [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].

Hogan, T. 2014. Last Camera Syndrome | byThom | Thom Hogan. [online] Available at: http://www.dslrbodies.com/newsviews/february-2013-nikon-newsvie/last-camera-syndrome.html [Accessed: 17 Feb 2014].

Contrasts - Part 4

Here's some shots from Birmingham, where I had travelled to try and capture some contrasting views of the developed and undeveloped parts of the city.

Sign of the times 1

With this picture, and the one below, I was hoping to show the contrast between the run-down and re-developed parts of the city. I like the fact that both have signs that promise so much - one making promises that clearly cannot be delivered on any more, and the other make a promise that is, well, superficiously enticing.....

Sign of the times 2

Shot as a pair with Sign of the times 1, I can't help feeling the sign's 'promise' is a little surreal, hence the unrealistic HDR processing of the image. Both sites face each other across open land.

New vs Old - Birmingham Library & Hall of Memory

East Side Park & Millenium Point

Above was another idea to contrast the developed and un-developed parts of the city. I applied a little HDR in Photoshop - I wanted this to look a bit like an artists impression or one of those scale models made to show what the development would look like. This site is between the Eagle and Tun and The Hive (first two images).

Who is Ezno? Or is it Enzo?

Another shot whilst exploring Birmingham - not particularly on-topic of contrasts, but I just liked the possibility of a mis-spelt name, and as the person came along I included them for a sense of scale.

All of the images in this shoot were taken with a Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone, see my review here.

Contrasts - Part 3

Whilst looking for 'contrasts', I hit on the idea of an old book versus an electronic book, but when I went to work on this, I hit an unexpected secondary contrast.

I retrieved my wife's 2011-model Kindle from a drawer where it has been left unused for several months, having been replace by a new tablet, only to find it's battery was so drained no amount of charging could revive it. It will almost certainly get recycled rather than repaired.

Dead Kindle

This model Kindle has been superseded, I think, at least three-times in the model range, and itself was the fourth generation since the original launch in 2008! So the contrast is not just between 'old' and 'new' but is also, and more poignantly, between 'longevity' and 'transitory'.

130-year old book of poetry by Elisabeth Barrett-Browning

Perhaps, more importantly, the book remains a desirable object, worthy of being loved and cherished as an object in it's own right, where as the modern equivalent quickly fades to something with little or no value at all, and therefore soon becomes unwanted and unloved.

Contrasts - Part 2

Now I really begin to see the pitfalls in the what I've set out to achieve, because as well as the expected photographic issues of shooting smallish objects up close (shallow depth of field and obtaining accurate focus), there also the very annoying issue of every spec of dust, pet hair, grit etc., literally looming large in every image. Unfortunately there's nothing for it but to keep the blower-brush to hand and to be vigilant, both during shooting and later in Photoshop.

Here's the affect of the black card as mentioned in Part 1:



Contrasts - Part 1

My first assignment is all about contrasts, so I thought a good start would be to gather some small objects to demonstrate contrasts in their physical characteristics.

This leant itself to indoor table-top shooting, which, given the weather we'd been having, was a sensible way to get started and keep momentum. I dug out an old Lastolite light 'tent', which I bought years ago for snapping objects to sell on ebay.

This is designed to be used with a single light source and is made of white diffusing material, except for one side panel which is silver. This silver panel reflects light back onto the unlit side of an object in order to 'fill' the shadow. I bought some coloured paper and card to fashion backgrounds, and to help control the lighting and shadows.

© Tim Tucker 2014
Sketch of lighting set-up

The basic idea was to use soft diffuse light for showing off softer, smoother objects and make a much more harsh, directional light to show up texture in other objects. Lighting itself would come from a very old and very battered Bowens studio flash unit.

Hello World!

Welcome to my opening post for this on-line learning log. This blog is going to capture my thoughts, ambitions and, yes (probably!) frustrations as I embark on a BA(Hons) Photography degree at the Open College of the Arts.

Why do a degree? Well, bluntly, opportunity - I have the time and funding - but also ambition to move my photography on from what has been, if I'm really honest, a pretty stagnant state in the last few years.

It's eleven calendar days since signing up to the first unit, Art of Photography, I have already tinkered with my first assignment, setup this log and received a deluge of reading-list books from Amazon.

Now, in the next few weeks I really need to crack on with that assignment!