Thursday, 26 January 2012


Last night I went for a walk down by the canal while on my way to a friend's house.  I found a couple of interesting locations that I hope to use on some of the next course exercises, however, the real gem was this canal underpass that stretches beneath the motorway, which also has a busy tram line running underneath.  The light was very dark and atmospheric, a bit creepy, it seemed perfect for a long exposure with the tram speeding past.  After spending half an hour getting it set up correctly, waiting for a tram to go past while dodging cyclists going down the path and getting the shots, I packed away.  Then I remembered I had set the camera to a low detail level for some reason and not changed it back - oops! Start again....

'all our transport' - Tamron 10-24mm @ 11mm, 8 secs @ f8, ISO 3200, Auto WB, tripod

I'm quite pleased with how this turned out but there are definitely some other interesting angles to photograph at so I think this spot demands another visit.  There were a few semi-sunken boats and barges further up the canal that looked pretty sad which I'll have to remember about as well.

Looking at this from a compositional sense, I have tried to place certain things in certain places, for instance the angle of the wall meeting the top-right corner of the frame and the edge of the path meeting the bottom-left corner.  Otherwise I have let the leading lines running through the image do most of the work.  The wide-angle view is also accentuating the converging lines which also give the roof this lovely 'fan' shape.  I wish the whole roof was an even brightness, perhaps it could be evened out in photoshop, or maybe next time I will take a flash or a torch with me and give that roof area a bit more light.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Exercise - Object in different positions in the frame

Subject: Chest of drawers in an alley

I had taken a set of photos for this exercise already.  They were of an owl carved out of a tree trunk in the park, however, on further inspection, they were rubbish.  The light was very dull and because the subject was of a similar colour to the rest of the picture, it didn't really stand out.  In different light it might look better so maybe I will have another go at it one day.

Instead I have found this lovely set of drawers at the end of the alley behind where I am living.  Unloved, unwanted, with a rusty nail-ridden plank of wood on top, they have been unceremoniously thrown out with the rest of the rubbish.

I took six photos.  I have tried placing the subject in the centre, off-centre to the left and right, and also in the top-left and right corners.  The final image I took (bottom right), has been placed just off centre to the right, and I changed angle slightly, bringing the top of the wall to the left into the shot and getting more of the black rubbish bags in frame as well.

Normally I would agree that the subject should be placed off-centre so that the background doesn't look 'punctured', however, I don't feel this is the case in this situation.  To me, the final image with the subject very slightly off centre feels the most balanced.  I think this is because the black bags on the right hand side need to be countered by some open space on the other side of the frame which this particular framing has.  I quite like the image with the subject placed in the extreme top-right corner of the frame - the open space infront of it is quite appealing and could indicats movement in that direction - perhaps the drawers are slowly shuffling their way down the alley?


Never place the subject in the middle of the frame, unless of course it looks better that way.  I suppose rules are made to be broken.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Exercise - Fitting the frame to the subject

Subject: Fidelity Rad 24 radio

Having ventured out between the showers on Sunday afternoon to find a subject suitable for this exercise, I was promptly sent retreating back to the house by more rain.  As such I decided that this old radio in the kitchen which belongs to my housemates might make an acceptable subject for the exercise.  It is interesting enough to look at and has some nice detail when viewed really close.  I've been told it belonged to my housemates grandmother initially.  There's a great vintage look to it, it's in fine working order and a quick google search tells me it was made in London in the early 70's.  Fantastic.  We leave it on when there's nobody in the house, to keep the dog entertained.  Not sure what will happen when they switch off the analogue radio signal, they might have to buy a new 'vintage-look' DAB radio to keep the dog happy, unless he likes listening to static.

I will refer to the photos in clockwise order, from top-left to bottom-left (1-6) 
(1) - This is the first shot I took, as the exercise suggested, without taking too much time to think about the composition.  I had already decided to take the shots head-on and not from an angle, to show as much of the frontal detail as possible, and also because I felt this suited the surroundings better.  I actually think this image is not that bad.  There are some nice colour highlights from the teacups and the scrubbing brush to accent the plain silver and black of the radio.

(2) - Tightly cropped, the long focal length has made all the background sufficiently out of focus to show off the shape of the radio and the slight wonkyness of the two dials at the top right.

(3) - Here I've moved in close to highlight the detail of the radio.  I didn't feel like this was close enough to show off the detail effectively.

(4) - I switched to a macro lens, and got as close in as I could get, framing around the writing in the bottom-right corner.  I think this image is much more effective than the previous shot - you can clearly see the tiny dents, cracks and dirt on the metal detail.

(5) - A more wide-angle shot.  I spent a bit of time framing it right up to the edges of the cupboard doors, also trying to keep all of the right hand glass-shelf/box on the wall just in shot.  Sadly, I actually think the first shot I took quickly looks better than this.

(6) - I decided to see what a different angle would look like.  The coloured teacups slightly take over the frame and I think it has become a slightly cluttered image.

Cropped versions of pictures 1 (left and middle image) and 6 (right image)
These are some cropped versions of the images.  I used a square crop on the left-hand image. I think this focuses the attention on the radio, with the colourful teacups not dominating, and much less background clutter.  If I was to take this photo again, I would remove the pasta jar from the background as I find it distracting.  Is it possible the square format is slightly reminiscent of the era the radio is from?

The middle image makes me think of an identity parade.  The wide-angle format is quite interesting and although the other objects on display are quite prominent, I think the uniformly rectangular radio still just manages to dominate the photo.

The third image is a tighter crop of photo 6.  I like the angle of the lines of the work surface and how the pure white contrasts with the colour of the teacups.  Unfortunately they are still taking over a bit from the subject, and I was unable to find a nice crop that completely removed the blue towel.


This exercise and the subsequent attempts at cropping have been very useful.  It has taught me I need to take even more time when framing my subject, to be imaginative and try to visualize cropping bits out of the photo.  Also, as Clive Minnitt and Phil Malpas mention in 'Finding the Picture' - "Be bold.  Don't allow the fear of making mistakes stifle your creativity."  I will try to do just that.


So I was struggling to motivate myself to start the next exercise over the weekend, and also to write up and post the previous exercise to this blog.  It's possible this is due to the awful weather here, which has been consistently dark, dull and damp recently which does nothing for my spirits....Maybe I will go out and take some night shots tonight for a bit of fun.  Anyway one thing that raised my spirits was a book I had from the library - 'Finding the Picture' by Phil Malpas and Clive Minnitt.  It's a light-hearted book packed full of their own great images, along with some technical explanation and also a decent bit of critiquing of each others work.  I can see myself going back to this book quite often as it deals with many theories of composition and is quite inspiring.

Next on the reading list is 'Camera Lucida' by Roland Barthes, something I've been meaning to read for a while.  From what I've heard it sounds quite heavy so I'll probably need to give it some serious attention if I'm going to get my head around it.  Anyway, back to work, I've got quite a few photos to sort through and a few exercises to write up.

Exercise - Panning with different shutter speeds

Subject: Cars passing by

We're still on the doorstep sheltering from the rain unfortunately.  This is only the second time I've attempted 'panning' with the camera, so using the tripod for this predictable subject seemed like a good strategy to get half-decent results.  I started with a quick shutter speed and went all the way down to some slow speeds which I hoped would give a big range of results for comparison.

From left to right: 1/125 sec, 1/60 sec, 1/30 sec

In the first two pictures we can see the movement is well frozen (except perhaps the wheel spinning on the 1/60 sec image) and the background is starting to blur a little, however, I don't think the effect is looking particularly interesting at these fast shutter speeds.  At 1/30 sec in the third image above, and first below,  there is significantly more blurring of the foreground and background.

From left to right: 1/30 sec, 1/20 sec, 1/10 sec
I think the middle image at 1/20 sec is the superior image of the group.  The car is still crisp and focused (except the rear wheel which is wonderfully blurred) with the rest of the image blurred and streaky but still recognisable.  The final car image at 1/10 sec is still fairly crisp, however, not quite as sharp as the other images.  I'm not sure whether this is just due to my technique and experience at panning (there were many attempts to get a good image at this shutter speed) or whether it is simply very difficult to obtain a sharp image at this speed.  It is worth noting that the background is so blurred now that the tree in the top right corner of the frame has been rendered nearly invisible. 

Left: 1/30 sec, Right: 1/60 sec
I also attempted a couple of shots with pedestrians instead of cars as the subject.  As can be seen from the left hand image of the gentleman walking with his hands in his pockets, there will inherently be movement blur in images like this because our movement is not uniformly in one direction like a car.  We move our arms and shoulders, legs and feet (as illustrated in the inset above) as we walk.  As part of this movement is in a direction perpendicular to the panning movement, it therefore results in blurring.  It is a little difficult to see, but the ladies hand in the image at 1/60 sec is slightly blurred, even though the image was captured at a relatively quick shutter speed.


While I do like some of the images at longer shutter speeds from the previous exercise where the subjects movement was completely blurred, (I enjoy making these type of shots at night which results in fantastic light trails from the cars lights) my favourite is the panning shot at 1/20 sec.  It is so sharp, the car stands out well from the blurred foreground and background, and the detail of the spinning alloy wheel really draws my attention.  I enjoyed practicing the panning technique and will be keeping an eye out for situations where I can use it again.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Exercise - Shutter Speeds

Subject: Cars in the street, from my doorstep

Still raining but this time I've ventured as far as the front doorstep which is covered.  I was able to perch next to the tripod and get some shots of movement with the camera in a fixed position, without getting soaked. Unfortunately there were parked cars, garden walls and general street furniture in the line of sight to contend with so the images are a bit cluttered.  It is not the fastest stretch of road around but at least the cars are moving perpendicular to the camera position which gives the greatest possible lateral movement.  I also made sure I only photographed cars moving at similar speeds of what I would guess to have been between 20-30mph to keep some consistency to the flow of images.

To guarantee I obtained evenly exposured images I set the camera to 'Shutter Priority' mode and the ISO to 'Auto'.  This way even if I ran out of aperture sizes for the images with short exposure times, the camera would automatically adjust the ISO setting to produce an evenly exposed image.  It is not a particularly bright day in Manchester.

From top left clockwise: 1/500 sec, 1/250 sec, 1/125 sec, 1/60 sec
 In the first two images at 1/500 sec and 1/250 sec the image is nice and crisp, if you look closely you can even see the raindrops falling.  A bit surprisingly, at 1/125 sec the image of the taxi is already starting to blur noticeably and a similar effect is happening at 1/60 sec.

From top left clockwise: 1/30 sec, 1/15 sec, 1/8 sec, 1/2 sec
The images at 1/30 and 1/15 sec are not particularly nice to look at with considerable blur.  I did notice that the pedestrian in the top left corner of the 1/30 sec frame, while still blurred, is not blurred to the same extent as the car due to her slower speed.  By the point of 1/2 sec exposure the car has been reduced to a smudge of grey streaks across the frame, which I actually find quite pleasing as it gives a feeling of speed and movement.

I would conclude that for objects moving perpendicular to your position at between 20-30mph the minimum shutter speed to use is between 1/125 sec and 1/250 sec.  You could use a slower shutter speed if there was a smaller angle of incidence or the movement was slower.  Therefore quicker movement would require a faster shutter speed.

Having thought about this some more, I'm not sure if I am correct in saying the angle of incidence would make as much difference as I thought.  While the object may not appear to be moving as fast relative to the camera position on one axis, it is instead moving more on the other (towards/away from you) which would have a similar effect on blur except it would be going into the image instead of accross it.  Maybe I will try to do a comparison on another day that is less wet.

Exercise - Focus at different apertures

Subject: CDJ decks and mixer (again)

I decided to use the same subject as the previous exercise as it demonstrates the learning points quite well and it is still raining outside, so indoors is where it's at tonight.  I used the AF to focus on the centre of the jog wheel again, then switched to manual focus so it would stay locked for all the images.

From left to right:  f1.8, f8, f22
The variation between the 3 images is fairly obvious - I have placed a red box around the area I would say is in sharp focus.  With f1.8 set, the area of sharp focus is very slim.  At f8 it is much larger, and on first glance the area of focus appears to be larger than what I have highlighted.  When I looked in more detail though I saw it was not sufficiently sharp to be said to be considered as part of the depth of field.  In the third image at f22 the limit of sharpness extends almost throughout the image.  However, the top 1/5 of the image is again not perfectly sharp - this could be in part due to the lens's inherent lack of sharpness towards the edges of the image.  The rest of the image is lovely and crisp but my favourite has to be the first image at f1.8 because the colours and shapes of the lights in the out of focus areas balance the image nicely.  

I have also made a note to give the decks a good dusting.

Exercise - Focus with a set aperture

Subject:  CDJ decks and mixer

It is cold, dark and wet outside (typical Manchester weather) so I chose to shoot something inside that has some depth and interesting detail.  I decided to use a fast lens at maximum aperture to produce a short depth of field and exaggerate the different areas of focus.  The 'AMERICAN' text in the foregroup and the yellow and red lights towards the back of the image should act of points of interest to draw the eye towards different parts of the subject.

50mm lens, f1.8 in Aperture Priority mode, tripod
The red area indicates where I focused the image for each shot.  I would say there is roughly 1/3 of the image in focus in each shot.  

In the first image the eye is immediately drawn towards the writing in the foreground, with the top third of the image being completely out of focus, resulting in some nice blurring to the coloured lights in the top right hand corner of the image.

In the second image I have focused on the centre of the jog wheel, roughly in the middle of the image.  Consequently there is some nice detail in this middle part of the image, with the foreground and background both slightly out of focus, more so in the background.

The third image was focused on the top right corner where the coloured lights are.  The eye is immediately drawn to this area of the image where there is some good detail.  However, the pleasing colours from the out of focus lights have now been lost, and the writing in the foreground is now unreadable.  This is definitely my least preferred of the three.

I would say my favourite image is the first image where the focus is on the foreground writing.  This takes your attention initially but there is also the out of focus lights in the background to draw your eye through the image.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Getting to know your camera

Exercise  - Focal length and angle of view

The angle of view in a photo is directly related to the focal length of the lens being used, which is in turn roughly proportional to the distance between the film plane in the camera and the lens element where the light entering the lens crosses.  Simply, focal length is the distance between the sensor, or film, and the lens. The diagram I have found online and included below gives a fair explanation of how I understand the relationship between focal length and angle of view to work.
For this exercise I was asked to take 3 photos.  The first was to be taken at a focal length where what I saw through the viewfinder matched in size what I could see through my other eye.  In other words to find the focal length of the lens which gave a 'normal' viewing angle.  The second and third shots were to be at a telephoto focal length and a wide angle focal length.

'Normal' focal length found to be 53mm 
Telephoto - 135mm 
Wide Angle - 18mm

Next we were asked to print the photos onto 8x10 paper.  Instead I displayed them full-screen on my laptop as this is roughly the same size.  Then we had to move each image to a position between the position where we captured the image and the subject, where if our eye was in the same postion as when the image was taken, the size of the real objects and the reproduced images would be proportionally the same to our eye.  Then measure this distance.

'Standard' focal length (53mm)        - 600mm
Wide angle (18mm)                       - 1400mm (this was just infront of the objects I was photographing)
Telephoto (135mm)                       - 190mm

If I had used a lens with a focal length longer than 135mm, would the image have needed to be placed beyond the actual subject to produce a proportionally sized equivalent to my eye?  I expect it would have.  The 600mm distance was also by far the most comfortable distance to focus on the image from, roughly an arms length away, and is the obvious decent you would stand at when viewing a similar sized image in a gallery.

However, this exercise has left me a little confused and quite interested, for a reason that I am struggling to get my head around.  My camera uses a sensor smaller than the 35mm or 'full-frame' size, with a crop factor of what I believe to be around x1.5.  If this is the case, how can my zoom lens set at 53mm provide a 'standard' focal length?  Have they altered the markings on the side of my lens to compensate for this?  To confirm I decided to attach what I know (in full-frame sensor terms) is a 50mm prime lens - this should have an equivalent focal length of roughly 75mm (50mm x 1.5) on my camera - and to find out if this had a similar angle of view to the zoom lens set at 53mm.  I found it produces almost exactly the same angle of view.

I was expecting to find a standard focal length of roughly 35mm for this camera (as 35.33mm x 1.5 = 53), not the 53mm length I have found.  The 50mm prime lens is primarily designed as a standard focal length lens for use on 'full-frame' bodies, and is therefore said to be slightly telephoto when the crop factor of a smaller sensor is applied.  The results of this exercise have not really shown this to be true.  Is what people believe to be a standard focal length actually slightly wide-angle?  Perhaps I have I misunderstood this exercise somewhere.  Is it possible that the definition of a 'standard' focal length lens is open to interpretation?