27 July 2011

Pre-course exercise: shutter speeds

This exercise asked you to take a series of pictures of a moving object with a range of shutter speeds; the collage below shows my partner Gary juggling.

The images were captured at: 1/800, 1/400, 1/250, 1/125, 1/80, 1/50, 1/30, 1/15, 1/5, 1/3, 0.625, 1s and 2s.  All were taken at a focal length of 24mm on shutter priority mode, with some exposure value adjustments (some of the pictures have less than perfect exposure - it was the first time I'd used the EV mode on my camera!).

In the first image, all the elements are in focus, although the end result was very grainy.  Images 2 and 3 are almost frozen apart from some very slight blurring around Gary's left hand (and around the green ball in 3).  Image 4 has blurring around the hands and forearms, and image 5 is the first in which none of the balls are in focus.  In images 6 and 7, the balls are starting to leave trails and individual fingers are not discernable, and in the eighth, one ball is invisible because of the speed at which it was moving.  By image 9, the forearms as well as the hands have been reduced to flesh-coloured impressions, and we can only see the trails of the balls, not the balls themselves.  Images 10 and 11 show the merest hint of where moving objects have been, and in the final image both limbs and balls have effectively disappeared.  Gary's head, torso and shorts remained more or less in focus for the whole series, although naturally they are sharper with faster shutter speeds.

My favourite shots from the collage are 2, 6 and 9.

9 is the one I prefer overall because it's quite ambiguous; the viewer is reasonably sure that the activity they're looking at is juggling, but the level of blurring means there's still an element of doubt.  However, as an illustration of the act of juggling, I think maybe 6 is a closer representation of what you actually see with the naked eye, and I like the slightly surreal element of 2 as Gary is looking at an object which seems impossibly suspended in mid-air - like a much less cool version of cats being thrown at Dali :)

20 July 2011

Pre-course exercise: focus at different apertures

In this exercise you were asked to focus on the mid-point in a scene and take three pictures, one with the widest available aperture, one with the narrowest, and one in the middle.  The somewhat abstract results (the images depict a striped woven throw) are attached below.

All three images were taken at 44mm with the camera on aperture priority setting, meaning that the shutter speed was automatically decreased to maintain a constant exposure.

Image 1 was taken at f4.8 at 1/30.

Image 2 was taken at f10 at 1/8.

Image 3 was taken at f29 at 1.1s.

The first image has the smallest area of sharpness - the first eight bands of colour are blurred, and so are several at the back.  The second image is slightly sharper, with only the first four or five colour bands at each side out of focus; and the third image is the sharpest of all, with more or less all of the fibres clearly visible. 

Although I was quite fond of the images (particularly as a linked, undulating triptych!) I'm not sure this was the best subject to illustrate this technique.  Blurring at the top and bottom of the photos is not as obvious as on the left and right.  Something on a larger scale would perhaps demonstrate it more clearly - I might try to repeat this exercise...

11 July 2011

Depth of field: other examples

After starting the exercises on depth of field I noticed that a lot of press photos seem to exploit the idea of a three-layer picture plane. I've attached two examples that I've come across in the last week.

The first is by Christopher Thomond for the Guardian. Academically, I thought this was a really good use of selective focus: it is clear that the man, Wol Ariec (a Sudanese political exile in London) is the subject, but that the flag (of newly-formed South Sudan) is included to provide contextual information and mirror the badge on Ariec's lapel.  However, I still found it frustrating being 'separated' from the subject because in a real world conversation participants tend to remove any physical barriers between them.
On the other hand the second image (by Gerry Fox) of performers at the Rainforest World Music Festival does not have the same effect. I'm not entirely sure why - perhaps because a person (rather than an inanimate object) obscuring your view is a common feature of day-to-day life, or perhaps because the subject is looking at - and therefore validating the presence of - the musician closest to us. The framing of the subject also works really well here - the bow mirrors the diagonal created by the nearest performer and seems to cut off the head of the one who is furthest away, leaving you in no doubt about where to direct your gaze!

Pre-course exercise: focus with a set aperture

The second exercise asked you to take another series of three photos, focusing at different points in the picture plane.  My (unedited) results below were taken at another school I'm working with, SK Sitang Petag.  All three were taken at 32mm on the widest available aperture (f.42) at 1/30.

Image 1 focuses on a point at the back of the scene - the blackboard and adjacent poster.  This is my least favourite image of the three, for two reasons.  First, the subject in focus is too far away to see clearly and not particularly interesting - had there been a teacher at the board, it might have been a different matter entirely.  And second, as a viewer you feel very much removed from what the photographer tells you (through selective focus) is the most important part of the scene, and therefore less engaged with the image.

Image 2 focuses on a subject in the centre of the picture plane - Nicol's chair.  I prefer this image to the previous one as the subject is closer to you, and also more intriguing in itself (the graffitied name, for example, makes you wonder about the owner of the chair and imagine the classroom full of noisy children).  A sharp image in the centre of an otherwise blurred picture is also instinctively 'easy to read', like focusing on the bullseye of a dartboard.

Image 3 is my favourite image.  It has the most immediacy as you can easily imagine interacting with the subject (i.e. picking up the eraser).  Because of the viewpoint you can also picture yourself as the pupil in the chair, bored with the class and resting your head on the desk, fiddling with stationery instead of paying attention.

06 July 2011

Pre-course exercise: focal length and angle of view

The first exercise asked you take three pictures of any scene: one with the lens at its widest setting; one at 'standard' range, so that what you saw through the viewfinder and with the naked eye were approximately the same; and one with the lens at its furthest setting.  My results are below.  All three images were taken using a Sigma 18-250mm lens on auto and they haven't been edited in any way.

Image 1 (taken at 18mm, f9, 1/320) is SJK Beratok, a Chinese school that I'm working with in my current job as a teacher trainer.  The picture was taken from a balcony outside the staff room.

Image 2 (taken at 50mm, f7.1, 1/200) shows the scene again at 'standard' range. I found it quite difficult to simultaneously compare what I saw in the camera and in reality.

Image 3 (taken at 250mm, f6.3, 1/500) is the final, fully zoomed shot - my favourite of the three.  I like the simple geometry of it and the muted colours.