Category Archives: Part 1 – The Frame

Tutors response to “Contrasts”

Here is my Tutor report on my first assignment:-

Overall Comments.

Some of the images you have chosen to illustrate the contrasts in this assignment is a personal one but also an interesting topic using tools and materials from the garden shed that have gathered dust over a number of years. This assignment is about observation and how it can influence one’s thinking about the photographs that are to be recorded.

Assessment potential

‘I understand your aim is to go for the Photography Degree and that you plan to submit your work for assessment at the end of this course. From the work you have shown in this assignment, providing you commit yourself to the course, I believe you have the potential to succeed at assessment’.

Feedback on assignment

Light and dark.

In this sense, light refers to a degree of brightness in greyscale and not the weight of something, so the contrast is something at the other end of the scale that is dark. The two Mapplethorpe pictures are of nude studies recorded in black and white and framed behind glass where the emphasis is on white, whereas the sculpture is probably a bronze figure, which is dark in comparison. This complies with the notion of the contrasts.

Your copy photo of the two models has a magenta cast and also some reflective lights can be seen in the woman’s photo. I have taken the liberty to straighten and correct these in Photoshop

tutor correction 1

Still and moving.

The still shot of ‘The Battery at Grain’ is a nicely composed image with the viewer being led from the immediate foreground along the walkway to the battery itself. There is a good contrast in colour from the shoreline, walkway and the Battery. Positioned just above the horizon makes for a pleasing image. The train travelling on the Hastings line appears as moving in the mist can be taken in an opposite mode with the train appearing reasonably sharp and the surroundings blurred to indicate movement as in your illustration taken when practising panning, however the contrasts do compare.

Straight and curved.

Chagall window and altar at All Saints, Tudeley and Carving at St Thomas a Becket.

Both these examples have a mixture of straight and curved lines.

In both cases you could use the transform and skew tools in Photoshop to correct the convergence that appears. Also there is a degree of underexposure in the Chagall window shot, which you could correct by isolating the stained glass window with the lasso tool and to avoid lightening that at the same time inverse the image, and brighten the interior.

tutor correction 2

Weak and strong.

The foxglove being a flower is easily damaged and can be considered to be weak, whereas the gravestone would take some force to damage it, therefore it can be considered that these two images contrast with one another in this category. I like the positioning of the foxglove turning slightly inwards facing right with a blurring of the background that still has some interest and colour.

Transparent and opaque.

Using your father’s old shed and contents is the personal part of this assignment. Looking outwards through the window displays the transparency of the glass, whereas the section of the concrete panels confirms the opaqueness as a contrast.

Smooth and rough.

In these two images we see the roughness of the old watering can spout and also the smoothness of the stem in the same picture.

The second image of the hacksaw handle is seen as still smooth in appearance, after many years of neglect.

Diagonal and rounded.

The rusty saw blade resting against the shed wall has created a diagonal and the weights are rounded by design and fit this contrast.

Broad and narrow also termed as pointed and blunt.

The stainless steel spade and fork have survived still looking good after all this time and of course contrast with one another in both categories.

Strong and weak.

The rusty drill box despite its appearance is a strong object compared to the weakness of the spider’s web.

Many and few.

The jars of screws and the single screw on the floor make the comparison in contrast in numbers in this Aladdin’s cave of historic items.

Several Contrasts in one picture.

The wood plane does show several contrasts as you have pointed out. I am sure cleaned up this tool would still function well.

This assignment has fulfilled a couple of important factors. The first to seek out objects to contrast with one another as directed in the brief and also enabled you to document a part of your personal history and memories. In other words it helped you to think about an avenue that possibly had not occurred to you previously.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

Congratulations on your exercises recorded on your blog together with your research and your reflection with exhibitions in Paris. It was good to see that you investigated the work of Martin Parr, Robert Mapplethorpe and Don McCullin among others.

Keeping sketchbooks and a learning log/blog is an integral part of this and every other OCA course, not only because they constitute 20% of your marks if you choose to have your work formally assessed but they are also an excellent way to see how you are developing.

I do hope you will continue to enjoy the course and fulfil your aims and objectives. Please contact me with any questions /queries you may have on any aspect of the course or techniques attributed to the course.

Suggested reading/viewing

If you can find the time consider some of this reading material.

PHILIOSOPHY / on Photography

Susan Sontag: On Photography

Berger, J. (1972)               Ways of Seeing London: Penguin Books.

                                             About Looking

ELKINS, James What Photography Is

TAGG, J. 1988. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. London: Macmillian.

Roland Barthes: Camera Lucida

 BATCHEN, G Photography Degree Zero: Writings on Camera Lucia

Pointers for the next assignment

Elements of Design’. This does follow on from assignment 1 in a practical way. Often students use buildings as they contain natural elements of different shapes to choose from. Also these are very much in evidence in plants and flowers.

Have a look at some of these sites to give you ideas if you wish:-

I am quite pleased with the report (it is of course early days so to speak) as I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing with regard to the shots in the shed, but am glad this came out reasonably well.  I have noted the points the tutor has made on correcting the flaws in the shots and must watch out for these issues, particularly white balance on interior shots, in future.

I’ve had a look at the recommended sites and will look at some more  of fellow students work as I progress towards assignment 2.  I will also have a look at the reading suggestions.  I did start to read Sontag’s book but found it very hard going.  I will, however, try again!



Assignment 1 – Contrasts

In addition to finding four existing pairs of photos illustrating them, the exercise required you to produce eight pairs of photos illustrating a selection from the following contrasts:-

Large/small Long/short Thick/thin Black/white Many/few Pointed/blunt Smooth/rough Still/moving Transparent/opaque Liquid/solid Strong/weak High/low Broad/narrow Light/dark Much/little Straight/curved Diagonal/rounded Hard/soft Light/heavy Sweet/sour Continuous/intermittent.

I have assumed that the four pairs were to come from those shot for the preceding exercises/posts (if this is not the case then I can always come back to this with photos from my broader portfolio) and as a result have selected these:-


Two shots from the Mapplethorpe exhibition I attended in Paris.




The Battery at Grain


Train on the Hastings line.



Chagall window and altar at All Saints, Tudeley


Carving at St Thomas a Becket



Foxglove in churchyard and gravestone in same churchyard.



I originally wrote down a variety of proposed shots that I thought would do the trick for the second part of the assignment and indeed starting taking a few but these were, to me, too much of a haphazard nature.

However I had the further thought that it would be good to have a common thread or theme, as it were, to the series of eight pairs and decided to use my Dad’s old shed as the source of all the photos for this part of the assignment.  This had basically been left untouched for some 25 years until very recently and in the process of tidying it up I felt that there was scope to cover the assignment using just the objects in it, and the shed itself.  It also served as a bit of a record keeping exercise in terms of my memories, and a visual essay on the building.


When the shed was built, some 46 years ago, the garden was a building site, literally.  It now looks out on a fully matured and planted garden.


It was made of interlocking concrete panels all of which seem to be in good shape.




Due to the length of time things have been left some decay/disintegration has taken place, for instance in this watering can the rubber nozzle on the  spout has disintegrated:-


Whereas this hacksaw still seems to be in good condition and the cast iron handle is still smooth and unblemished (I also liked the visual pun in this shot.)



There is a lot of death in the shed – the cobwebs have many corpses, as does the window.


There is also a lot of life, particularly in the form of spiders, who can be seen around the window area.




There are various objects and tools, some of which I have no idea of their function.  In addition there are random objects such as these weights.



Broad/Narrow  (also pointed/blunt)

Two item that seem to still be unaffected by time are the stainless steel fork and spade.




A box of drills and a spiders web.  It could be argued that, relatively speaking, a spiders web is strong, but in these two shots I wanted to show something solid and difficult to move compared to the fragility of the web.





There were many jars full of tacks, screws, nails and odds and sods, but also individual items lying about.







The exercise also required a shot showing multiple examples of contrasts and I took this photo of a wood plane used by my Dad, which has a strong resonance with me,  for that purpose:-


It has a straight/curved contrast in the cast of the metal; a diagonal/rounded contrast in the slope of the blade holder and the front round wooden handle; a light/dark contrast the sheen on the metal and name and the shadows and a transparent/opaque contrast with the perspex window and the solid metal of the plane.

With regard to assessment criteria I would make the following points.  I would add that at this point I decided not to make any further changes as I felt the self assessment would be more relevant on what I considered the finished assignment to be.

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Out of the four criteria I think this is my strongest one (or least weak).  My technical skills are, I believe, fairly good and while this assignment was limited in the range and application of those skills (partly as a result of my own choosing) I think there is an element of visual awareness shown (choice of angles for instance) as well as compositional elements (the only staged photo was the wood plane everything else in the shed was in situ).   Earlier exercises may have demonstrated this as well.

Quality of Outcome

I am pleased with the idea behind the assignment and I think the presentation of it has been reasonably clear.  I maybe need to elaborate on my thinking a bit  more and be more disciplined in recording ideas, whether used or unused.

Demonstration of Creativity

This is probably the area I am least happy with as I don’t think the imagination is free flowing enough and certainly have not yet developed a personal voice (and hopefully I’ll know when I do!)


If I am honest I did not do any specific research for this assignment and the preceding exercises, other than look at other students blogs.  I have however done a fair amount of reading and a few study visits but I would not class this as research for this particular course more like general background reading.  One book I did find useful was the Nature of Photographs by Stephen Shore as it made me think  a lot more about photo’s I am viewing.  I think my reflection on where I am at (see earlier entry) is fairly honest, particularly as to my deficiencies with recording activities, thoughts etc and that is something I intend to work on.












Vertical and horizontal frames

For this exercise I used a subject I was familiar with – the Church of St Thomas Becket, Capel near Tonbridge. This no longer used but is in the care of the Church Conservation Trust. I thought I would use both the interior (first session) and exterior (second session) of the church for the exercise as there seemed to me to be plenty of scope for examples in both.

1. Pulpit

DSC02216            DSC02249-2

2. Carving

DSC02248            DSC02217

3. Pulpit and window

 DSC02207            DSC02253

4. Hymn board

DSC02238              DSC02236

5. Memorial Plaque

DSC02228                 DSC02242

6. Hymn Board 2

DSC02271                DSC02192

7.  Lectern

DSC02202               DSC02258

8. Window

DSC02264              DSC02196

9. Cross

DSC02267              DSC02193

10. Side windows        

DSC02243         DSC02222

11. Organ

DSC02191             DSC02272

12. Side door

DSC02259             DSC02199

13. Centre

DSC02218            DSC02246-2

14 Alcove

DSC02241-2          DSC02234-2

15. Side windows 2

DSC02223            DSC02245

16 Steeple

DSC07447            DSC07446

17 Gravestones

DSC07444-2            DSC07445

18 Gravestone and Steeple

DSC07442            DSC07441

19 Statue  gravestone

DSC07430             DSC07431

20. Foxglove

DSC07423              DSC07424

In my experience a portrait shot would normally concentrate on the subject; whereas the landscape version will quite often (though not always) give some sort of context.  The shot of the door (12) above is a good example.  The portrait shot shows a door probably belonging to an old building.  The landscape shot provides some supporting information and you can now guess, with a reasonable amount of accuracy, that it was taken in a church.  In addition there are subjects that lend themselves to a portrait shot, as in the Foxglove and Steeple shots above, and are diminished, or their impact reduced, by being taken in landscape mode.



This exercise asks for three photos to be edited via cropping.  As I use Lightroom and have done for some time the majority of my editing, including any cropping is via that software.  I find the cropping tool particularly useful and in the process of selecting shots to keep will, along with other considerations, consider any cropping possibilities.

This first shot is a case in point.  Shot at sunrise on Glastonbury Tor it of a young girl waiting the sunrise and the opportunity to spread her father’s ashes.  Having asked permission I took several shots this being one of my choices (with some adjustments to highlights, shadows and exposure) already having the final crop in mind:-


As it has several component parts, the girl; the sunrise; the landscape and the sky it is possible to crop to isolate these:-

DSC08230-5 DSC08230-4

My preferred crop was, however, this one which (to me) told the story better than the full frame, by concentrating on the relationship between the girl and the sunrise:-


The next shot, of Stonehenge was taken, by necessity, some distance away from the structure.  As a result there is fairly large expanse of green at the bottom;-


To cater for the lack of range I bracketed the shot but the main change was to cut out out the foreground and edges, albeit slightly in the latter case to arrive at what I consider to be a more dynamic and interesting photo:-


My final shot used in this exercise is from Eastbourne seafront.  This is the original:-


I hadn’t really thought about a final crop for this shot (I just liked the subject) so played around with it when I got home.  One of the advantages of the cameras I use (in particular the full frame) is that the image size allows a judicious amount of cropping with out the image suffering.

I liked the idea of the rail leading the viewer in to the shot so this was one of my possible crops:-


I also considered a more portrait orientated crop:-


Eventually I opted for a letter box shot as I liked both the sweep of the rail and the division between the sea and the promenade.  I went for a monochrome shot as I wanted to make the image not related to any timeframe.


I use cropping as a tool a lot and often shoot with a particular crop in mind (as in the first example above) or with sufficient space and/or distance to enable cropping as in the second and third examples.  That is not to say I do not shoot with a specific composition in mind but having croppable (?) shots as a further option is to me a good idea






















Positioning the horizon







The above pictures were taken at a viewpoint near West Kingsdown overlooking the Medway valley.  I liked the layers in the shots of both the land (and mist) countered by the steam (smoke?) rising from the industrial complex, and the sky.

By placing the horizon low in the first shot the sky is the main component with just the wisp of smoke at the bottom to indicate there is something else happening.  This is made more obvious in the subsequent shots while the final shot only include a small layer of sky almost indistinguishable from the layers in the actual landscape.

Of the shots above I think the one that works least well is where the horizon is central.  There is no real impact in the shot and there is no progression into the shot for the eye to follow unlike the fourth in the series, my preferred choice, which has a series of layers leading the eye in to the back with the sky taking only a relative small strip of sky which itself is almost two layers with the lighter streaked area at the top.  At the bottom the shot is “anchored” by the hedging.



For this exercise I have chosen initially a random selection of my old photos to illustrate, as far as possible the idea of balance.

SONY DSC        Balance diagram

1.  Old barn at Detling.  This is a favourite of mine as it dominates the horizon from a distance and has a dilapidated look close up.  This distance shot gives prominence to the Barn on the left in contrast to the large area of sky to the left and centre and accentuates its isolation in the landscape.

SONY DSC         Balance diagram2

2.  The old fort at Grain.  Again this fort is the dominant factor with the fairly bland mudflats and sky, but this time the building is nearer the centre of a less panoramic picture than the one above, and I think were it not for the path leading to it this would have made it imbalanced.

SONY DSC       Balance diagram 2

3.  Two flowers.   This one is fairly straightforward as the flowers are nearly identical and roughly equidistant from the centre of the frame.  Worth adding that there is a view (particularly among Camera club judges) that you should normally have an odd number of subjects in a shot.  This works for me though in that the left plant is slightly darker.

SONY DSC         Balance diagram 3

4.  Vulcan at Manston.  The main element here is the plane itself and this is counterbalanced by the vehicle and control tower on the left.  furthermore as all three components are interrelated I think this helps the balance work.

SONY DSC        Balance diagram

5.  Bee approaching flower.  While the flower takes up nearly the whole of the left half of the frame it is counterbalanced by the main subject of the bee, especially, in my view in terms of visual impact.

SONY DSC        Balance diagram 2

6.  Window in deserted dairy.  Again this is straightforward in that the two frames balance each other but also, in terms of composition, the wood fragments on the wall also balance the frame.

SONY DSC           Balance diagram4

7. Old fisherman’s hut at Dungeness.  These shots have probably become a photographic cliché now as you see similar shots all the time. The hut, emphasised by the orange netting, dominates the picture but is counterbalanced, albeit to a degree, by the rail giving a depth to the shot.

SONY DSC           Balance diagram 5

8. Boat at Portree.  The boat is balanced by the open space but over and above both is the background landscape running across the shot.  The effect could have been improved if I had been able to take the shot from higher vantage point so there was a clear delineation between the foreground and the background.

SONY DSC             Balance diagram 6

9.  Old barn at Detling again. The opposite of #1 above but, in addition, to the barn and open sky – left versus right – the yellow of the field and blue of the sky also complement each other.

SONY DSC            Balance diagram 7

10.  Rig off Whitstable coast.  There is a kind of diagonal balance here, as I see it, of the long stretch of people (relative to the shot) to the rig .

In assessing the photos I found some considerably easier to assess the balance than others.  In particular where there is a clear balance, #3 and #6, but not so easy when there is a blank space – as sometimes, not always, that is the dominant part of the picture,  In both the barn shots (#1 and ~9) you can argue that the sky area, though not the immediate thing that catches the eye,  is however the dominant aspect of the shot by virtue of it accentuating how isolated the barn is.  The hardest one for me to consider for this exercise was the Old Grain Fort (#2) and I’m still not sure whether I have got that right as, reconsidering it, there is the view that maybe the pathway is the dominant feature.

Focal lengths and different viewpoints

For this exercise I used the extremes of the lenses I own, 400mm and 12mm – a zoom range of some 33x.

I chose as one of the subjects the hanging bird feeder in my garden, taken at both these focal lengths:-

The second, and my preferred, choice were the rocks on Tunbridge Wells common.  Again these were taken at 400mm and 12mm:-




The 400mm shots in my view flatten the image, whereas the 12mm gives more depth to the image.  This flatness, I think, translates to the viewer that this is a shot taken from a distance while the wide angle shot makes a intimate interaction although care has to be taken to avoid excessive distortion.

Even with a flat subject the difference created by different focal lengths can be seen.  The first shot is taken with a 12mm lens at a distance of some  30″ and the window frame can clearly be seen


The second shot below was shot some 15′ away and while the subject occupies the same space in the frame, the reduced angle can be seen as there is no sign of the window frame.


As an alternative this shot of Tudeley church was taken at 12mm:-


While this was shot at 70mm and within a few feet of the window.

While again the wide angle is capable of showing the context of a subject, a longer lens is needed, in this case, to isolate the detail of that subject and the roles are reversed in that in the wide angle shot there is nothing for the viewer to get involved in but the close up of the window creates a closer relationship with the detail of the window.

I think this exercise emphasises that when considering how to shoot a subject the lens or lenses used is an important aspect.  We are used to considering certain lenses are appropriate for certain types of shots – wide angles for landscapes, medium telephoto for portraits and long telephoto for wildlife etc – but it is, I think important not to be restricted by what would be considered the norm, in terms of the type of lens, for any subject.