A5 scanning Polaroids

One of my tutor’s suggestions for reworking A5 was to look at alternate camera technologies such as scanners and old digital cameras. As my old digital camera seems to have been thrown out, I investigated scanning on our basic HP inkjet.

It’s definitely a promising approach in that it gives me something in between the sheer physicality of the Polaroid and the modernity of the macro shots taken with my DSLR . Unlike the Polaroid, it’s digital so I can use it in other ways. I’m thinking more about a photobook, with a modern photo on one half of the spread and a scan on the other, probably offset, possibly with the two images both relating to the same original Polaroid. I could attach an actual Polaroid inside the front or back covers, using either Velcro dots or transparent cd wallets, to allow the photographs to be removed and handled.

On the scanned Polaroids I like the inverted images – it ties in with Fox Talbot’s invention of the negative. More to follow…

Sophie Gerrard Drawn to the Land

This exhibition is at the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography, Lacock, until 12th March 2017.

Sophie spent two years photographing six women farmers in Scotland. Although there are increasing numbers of women entering farming the depiction of current farming tends to be both of and by men. Sophie wanted to show how women farmers shape, and are shaped by, the land which they work. Viewing the images, I found the absence of men noticeable. In one image, a young man stands in the shadows behind farmer Patricia Glennie, she is fair and illuminated by the light, he is darker and almost in the shadows – click the link to see this image on the documentscotland website, opens in new window  http://www.documentscotland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2013_04_04_01_DTTL_Lauder.jpg . We see more sheep dogs than we do men.

The women seem at one with the land they farm, complete and competent. There is a strong sense of heritage evidenced by the still life images containing portraits and photographs of those relatives and ancestors who farmed their land before them. These women see themselves as part of a long chain of farmers, extending both before and after them. We see them on their hills and mountains, as portraits either within working or home environments, and still lives of domestic or farming details. Animal images are unsentimental, we see new lambs, dead lambs, livestock being sold at market, yet we also get a strong sense of these women in their homes too, with portraits, agas, guest rooms and music. We see technical clothing, bandaged thumbs, worn waxed jackets and warm hats and scarves. These women work, at all hours and in all weathers and conditions. Sarah Boden is photographed at four months pregnant and we can tell that she’s not allowing herself much concession to her pregnancy.

As I progress with my studies I find myself paying more attention to the format of images and how they are presented. For this exhibition all the images were presented in plain dark wood square frames of varying sizes. I’ve never seen an entire exhibition in square frames before and I liked it. Three of the sets were mounted on walls, the remaining three were placed in large glass cabinets with each framed image stood on a lighter wood support.

I came to this exhibition fresh from reading Paul Strand’s Tir A’mhurain: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland. I had been unexpectedly engaged by the text as much as the images, with its stories of difficult lives made even harder by land clearances. Drawn to the Land was a good way to follow this book I think, it shows the continuing resilience of the farmers. I have wondered about making a series about the women who work some of the land here in Wiltshire, and suspect that idea isn’t going away anytime soon. It is a completely different way of life here though, the climate is more amenable and farms less isolated.

I found the light in the work very engaging and interesting. It looked to be made entirely with available light, and not tampered with in any way. There were of course the big majestic Scottish skies, and the relentless grey, but also those beautiful spot-lighting golden beams into barns and a beautiful milky haze over the sea. I liked the delicacy of the indoor portrait lighting. Like so much of this work it was understated and complemented the women beautifully without demanding or distracting attention. I thought the portraits were beautifully crafted. The closer ones gave a sense of both intimacy and insight whilst also recognising the incredible bleakness and isolation of this way of life.

Photos are from my mobile intended as aide-memoire only. I encourage you to follow the links below to see the original images.





Exercise 2.4

“Find a location with good light for a portrait shot. Place your subject some distance in front of a simple background and select a wide aperture together with a moderately long focal length such as 100mm on a 35mm full-frame camera (about 65mm on a cropped-frame camera). Take a viewpoint about one and a half metres from your subject, allowing you to compose a headshot comfortably within the frame. Focus on the eyes and take the shot.
Longer focal lengths appear to compress space, giving a shallower depth of acceptable sharpness, which is known as depth of field. This makes a short or medium telephoto lens perfect for portraiture: the slight compression of the features appears attractive while the shallow depth of field adds intensity to the eyes and ‘lifts’ the  subject from the background.”

I felt as if I was getting back into my technical comfort zone here. I used a 50mm prime lens as it works better in lower light (supports wider apertures) and the aperture that I chose remains constant in AV mode. I wanted this light because it picked up the honey tones from the walls and worked well with Clare’s colouring, hair and outfit. If I was to take it again I would drop the ISO and use a tripod, probably taking the aperture to 2.8 rather than the 1.8 I used here.

ex2.4 portrait good light-4587

Exercise 2.3

“Choose a subject in front of a background with depth. Select your shortest focal length and take a close low viewpoint, below your subject. Find a natural point of focus and take the shot.
You’ll see that a very wide lens together with a close viewpoint creates extreme perspective distortion. Gently receding lines become extreme diagonals and rounded forms bulge towards the camera. Space appears to expand. The low viewpoint adds a sense of monumentality, making the subject seem larger than it is, and tilting the camera adds to the effect as vertical lines dramatically converge. Not the ideal combination for a portrait shot!”

Again, I was frustrated by the fairly narrow angle of the widest end of my zoom, especially combined with my cropped sensor camera. The composition here is poor, as is the straightness (I didn’t straighten as I didn’t want to lose the distortion around the edges of the frame). You can however see the verticals and arches going all over the place in the background, and the wall seeming to tilt inwards on the left hand side.

update – this remains one of my least favourite images, not least because of the very poor composition. It does do the job though so I am reluctantly leaving it in.

ex2.3 wide angle portrait-4577

Exercise 2.2

“Select your longest focal length and compose a portrait shot fairly tightly within the frame in front of a background with depth. Take one photograph. Then walk towards your subject while zooming out to your shortest focal length. Take care to frame the subject in precisely the same way in the viewfinder and take a second shot. Compare the two images and make notes in your learning log.
As you page between the two shots it can be shocking to see completely new elements crash into the background of the second shot while the subject appears to remain the same. This exercise clearly shows how focal length combined with viewpoint affects perspective distortion. Perspective distortion is actually a normal effect of viewing an object, for example where parallel train tracks appear to meet at the horizon. A ‘standard lens’ – traditionally a 50mm fixed focal length lens for a full-frame camera (about 33mm in a cropped-frame camera) – approximates the perspective distortion of human vision (not the angle of view, which is much wider). A standard lens is therefore the lens of choice for ‘straight’ photography, which aims to make an accurate record of the visual world.”

This was an interesting exercise, not least because of the unexpected dizziness from walking and zooming at the same time. It was another moment of frustration with my entry-level zoom, which has a different minimum aperture at the wide end to the narrow end, and which caught me out again. I’ve now bought a lens with a smaller zoom range but a constant aperture at all focal lengths. I couldn’t frame the two images exactly the same way, and I also managed to shift position so that the window is visible in the wider shot. Another issue is that I use a cropped sensor camera so 18mm is closer to 29mm, which is not wide at all.

I don’t enjoy making portraits with a long zoom, the available settings always seem to be a compromise and I prefer to work with primes where you make a setting and it stays put. I also prefer to use my camera in manual mode. I’m hoping that the new zoom will give me higher quality images with a workable range, so I can then forget about the kit and get back to the photographs.

So not my best results. The left hand photograph is not straight, and I didn’t want to straighten it in case I lost too much of what makes it a zoomed image. You can see that there is a much wider perspective on the image taken at 18mm with me almost in Clare’s face. The image taken at 135mm has less showing to the sides and above Clare, and the background is more blurred. Somehow one image is at f5.6 and the other is at f5, I was sure that I was in AV mode and that I didn’t change the settings, but I can’t see any other at to account for the difference given that I was manually setting the ISO too and that was the same for both images. I think I should reshoot this pair, somewhere with better light.


Exercise 2.1

Find a scene that has depth. From a fixed position, take a sequence of five or six shots at different focal lengths without changing your viewpoint.

I took these at Lacock Abbey. The sequence I had in mind was in the cloisters, however I took another sequence in an upstairs corridor that I found more interesting, you can see how the corridor seems to shorten and the stairs move closer as the focal length increases. There is camera shake visible on the last two images, I’d like to re-take this sequence with either a tripod or a higher ISO (I used ISO800 for these).

On looking at the exif data I realised that even though I’d been shooting in AV mode I didn’t have the same aperture for each image. I tend to work with prime lenses and had forgotten that my zoom lens doesn’t have a full aperture range available from one end of the zoom to the other.  Using the zoom lens, as I increase the focal length  the “widest” aperture available to me decreases rather than the selected aperture remaining constant throughout. Hence my realisation that neither of these series were at a constant aperture, despite my setting the  camera mode to AV. Both environments were not well lit so I had selected the widest possible aperture, which then become unavailable to me as I increased the focal length of the zoom. So I’d met the requirement to work in AV mode but it hadn’t been implemented by my lens in the way that I’d expected. That will teach me not to set and forget. For the sake of completion I will take another set at a constant aperture (ie one at f5.6 or narrower) and add that series here. The sets with varying apertures are not affected in terms of composition or showing the effects of changing the focal length, but they will show larger variations in the histogram and depths of field.