Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Assignment 3: Feedback

I have received my feedback for Assignment 3, monochrome. It is mostly fairly positive, though with room for improvement, as usual!
"This is a good attempt at a documentary project. Additional research and analysis of a range of suitable techniques and approaches, and more practice, will undoubtedly provide you with greater confidence when working in this genre."
So once again my tutor reminds me that more research is required (it seems there cannot be too much research - something I plan to engage even more in when I move onto Level 2 courses).
"In terms of developing a documentary narrative through a collection of images, it is often highly beneficial to visit the location and capture activities on more than one occasion."
I reflect in hindsight that I was a little rushed when capturing this project (hard with a small baby around and limited time out), and definitely should have captured images on a second or third occasion. I did return once but just didn't really find the same scenes in action and was unable to make another visit. This is something that I hope to change in the future - to be able to set aside times for photography and commit to it.

"It appears from the contact sheets on your blog, you would have benefited from a wider range of shot types, exploring the subject from;  wide angle (how large is the overall space, how many workers?), and close-ups (fingers tending plants) etc.."

I also should have used different equipment (lenses) to capture this wider range in scale and interest. I should know this from my previous studies even within this course. I think I need to take more time with composition and care with my images. Another learning point.

Regarding my intent:

"A collection of images which maintains such anonymity may be viewed as a document of suspicious activity. If you feel this may be the case, how can you counteract this?"
This is an interesting point. I had not thought about this in advance, it just happened on the day - that I thought about anonymity for this project. I didn't follow through completely with it (lack of conviction?) What might it mean for the project - am I protecting the people? Or wanting to send a message? I am aware that the people I photographed, whilst they gave their permission, may not want to be known as being 'on the dole', though I think it's great that programs such as this (re-skilling) exist.

So once again I am pleased with the detailed explanations and considerations my tutor has provided me. I can see that there are some areas I need to work on to further improve my photography skills.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Assignment 4: Magazine cover musings

I have been thinking more about Assignment 4, which is my next challenge. I was in the Post Office picking up my new GorillaPod Tripod for our road-trip (more on that another post) and I had a few spare minutes to browse the magazine section. I can hardly believe that there are so many different types of magazines! I have never been a magazine person, only generally buying one on holidays, and haven't done that for a long time! I now buy digital mags occasionally, and subscribe to some Photography related magazines but almost never look at them otherwise (except at the hairdresser!).

So below are the types of magazines I may be interested in creating a cover for:

  • Caravan/camping magazine
  • General travel magazine (for example Lonely Planet)
  • Organic Gardening
  • Gardening Australia
  • Kids/Toddlers
  • Pregnancy
  • Sport/fitness/health (Womens)
  • Cooking
  • Technology
  • Art/Design
  • National Geographic
  • Science

Thinking about what sells magazines. The cover must be attractive, simple and make people want to buy the magazine!! That is the main aim of the cover. For example, the food/produce must look good enough to eat, the people attractive, beautiful (yet attainably so?) and generally both must be 'blemish-free'. For the technology, it has to look interesting/colourful yet nerdy and complicated. The Art/Design category has to be perfect - lines/shapes and everything totally in order. The travel images need to make people want to hop on plane/boat/car to get there, taken in perfect weather and with everything 'just-so'.

After thinking about the above paragraph, I can certainly see why Photoshop (or equivalent)  is a must for creating a cover. It is simply very difficult to create that kind of perfection in camera, particularly when dealing with food/people/fruit/vegetables/other objects. So even if it's a bit of touch-up here and there with the spot tool, or removing whole elements to simplify the scene and focus on the subject, it is almost necessary (and probably assumed by most people that it happens) to create a successful cover. A carefully set up still life might fit the bill for an image that needs very little touch-up, but that would be quite challenging.

I've seen a video before showing how images are taken for advertising, for example, a burger for one of the big chains. It is cooked, then assembled in front of the camera and lots of images taken during the process. Sauce and mustard are syringed in place and a blow-torch used to very carefully melt the cheese in all the right places. It required a team of at least 10 people just to get a good image. That certainly explains why the image on the package never looks anything like the squashed, assembled in a hurry item in the box! And that doesn't even consider the various post-processing routines that certainly take place. I think it's common with food advertising that multiple images are taken and then combined afterwards, rather like the Addition exercise. We had some photos taken of our house to sell it, and the photographer took multiple images of each room, pointing the flash in different places and with different exposures to get the windows right and then the inside right, and he said he then combined them in post, so it's a pretty common technique now.

So now I've had a good think about what sort of magazine cover I would be interested in photographing, now I need to actually think about what to capture. I am leaning towards the Organic Gardening area - this is a personal area of interest, and with the farm over the road there are lots of willing people who may be able to help out with posing etc. There are chickens too who may be happy to photographed! A search on 'organic garden magazine' on google images comes up with some good ideas!

I'm thinking:

  • healthy plants
  • tasty looking produce
  • worn hands or gloves
  • well used sturdy garden equipment
  • happy chickens
  • still life with some good looking produce (with stalks on?)
  • fruit growing on trees
  • Heirloom fruit/veg (tomatoes and zucchini are the most common)
  • some rare kinds of fruit/veg
  • An actual, beautiful garden - trees/plants/paths/pond/buildings
  • fruit in a bowl/cloth bag/basket
  • herbs/spices - bundles on a wooden table
  • sunflowers
  • hands on plants - shows that it's 'home-grown'
  • person holding happy chook
  • sliced fruit/tomatoes
  • colour/shape very important
  • bowl of berries

I need to try taking some photos now and then see what we've got that's suitable for a starting image(s).



Friday, 11 January 2013

Exercise: Addition

Adding elements from one image to another, in this case the fairly simple method of replacing a sky.

Same scene, two exposures - one for the landscape, one for the sky. The difference may be one or two stops.

Bring the two images into Lightroom, and then open in Photoshop.
Two images, left exposed for sky, right exposed for landscape
We are advised to not do any highlight recovery, though I did do a little just for the roof which was slightly overexposed in the right hand image.

First erase the sky in one (I used a layer mask drawn with a soft brush). In the image below you can 'see through' the layer:
sky erased using the mask option and a soft brush
This is the resulting image
Image created from masking the overexposed sky using a brush
There are some small artifacts particularly amongst the various tree branches.

Then I used the Blue channel to create a layer mask.
Copy blue channel to a new alpha channel. Then Image > Adjustments > Curves to make it strongly black and white (vertical line of curves).
Copied blue channel with first curves adjustment
Copied blue channel with near vertical curves adjustment, zoom in on sky area to show detail in between leaves
Then paint with black brush the areas in the foreground I want masked out.
Erased areas in bottom half of image that are not part of the mask using a black brush
Then with copied blue channel active click on the dotted circle at the bottom, and invert the selection. Then with the Layer 2 active (the sky layer) click the ‘add mask icon’ at the bottom of the layers panel. A much more detailed mask and quicker also.
Combined image using more detailed selection mask
Next, choose another sky from another photo. Copy the sky, paste as new layer and place behind the layer 2 so that it shows up above the background layer. I just chose a simple blue sky, as it is the technique we are focussing on here. The colours roughly match those from my landscape image, and I just stretched the sky down to fill the whole area. When doing this technique it's important to look at any reflections (i.e., if replacing a blue sky with a dramatic cloudy image there may be blue reflections on some objects which need to be adjusted) and also consider the direction of light.
Image where i have taken the blue sky from
New sky added using same technique with channels to create mask
I have learnt a few new Photoshop skills whilst doing this exercise. Selecting using the channels seems to be much more detailed and better for this exercise. I think I will definitely use this technique again for other images.

As for replacing a sky - I think the first example is quite reasonable - a kind of simplified HDR without all the fancy technique - fairly justifiable ethically. The second is a bit more dubious - replacing a large part of the picture with part of another picture, in this case from somewhere no where near the original is somewhat dubious. I think this is not really ethically sound for most kinds of photography apart from where it is clearly stated that there are large parts of the image that have been replaced. However, I know not all photographers will agree with this and they may think that it is fine. A spectrum of possibility...


Better Photoshop Techniques Magazine, Issue 29 2012

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Assignment 3: Monochrome

This assignment is all about the monochrome image. I struggled to find a topic that I thought was suitable, interesting and executable. I decided in the end to follow the documentary tradition (with it’s long history of using monochrome). I live near a local community farm, which grows organic produce and also is involved in educating people about permaculture. Both paid staff and volunteers are integral for the running of the farm, and I wanted to document how they go about their daily tasks.

I chose to photograph on a day when I knew there would be people working hard at the farm. I started in the nursery (where the plants start their lives!), capturing volunteers and staff hard at work potting plants and moving them around. I then followed the ‘work for the dole’ coordinator (dole is unemployment benefits) out to the planting area where she was working with a small team. I decided to avoid capturing full-frontal portraits in order to maintain some degree of anonymity for the people, although they were all OK with me photographing them. I was more interested in their tasks than them per se.

I tried to create images that I thought would work in monochrome – strong lines, texture and variety of shapes and shades were the main interests. My camera was set on monochrome so I could view the results on the LCD if necessary. I try to limit this looking and just get in amongst the scene. I only shot with one lens, my 24-70mm which gives a nice wide angle shot and can get fairly close in if necessary too. With ample daylight around I could leave my ISO on 100 for most of the shots and generally used manual mode, trying to ‘expose-to-the-right’ as much as possible, pulling back highlights when necessary in post-processing.
I was keen to capture the ‘sense’ of the place, and since the garden/farm is awash with colour (particularly when combined with the blue sky!), I felt like monochrome would allow me to focus more on the workers and their tasks at hand. I searched for interesting angles, getting low to the ground, climbing higher on mounds of dirt and using a range of camera angles in order to maintain variety. I feel like the set of images represents well some of the activities of the farm, but it is by no means comprehensive.

I certainly feel like the set of images is much stronger in monochrome than in colour. The colour tends to focus the eye on the wrong things, for example, in this image, the eye is drawn to the bright red crates, whereas in the monochrome version, it is much more subtle, and the eye searches out and finds the person hidden behind the tree, watering.
Colour version

Monochrome version

In terms of the processing, I first converted the images to monochrome, and made my selections (using the star process), giving me about 25 images I wanted to consider for my project.
Final chosen images
I then optimized the images in monochrome (exposure, black and white point adjustment) and applied some universal changes such as increasing the clarity. I initially tried increasing the contrast using the tone curve, to medium contrast. However when analysing the images I found them to be too harsh.
Medium contrast image
As a result, I decided to use a lower contrast method. I reversed the tone curve so that it was the opposite shape to the medium contrast curve (raise darks/shadows and lower lights/highlights), giving the images a low contrast appearance. I found this to be much more appropriate – the images were ‘softer’ looking, but still retained some of the gritty nature of hard shadows formed by the harsh midday Australian sun. I think this low contrast tone curve on the naturally hard images produces a good result. The more subtle grey scale is more appropriate and asthetically pleasing.
Lower contrast image
I then selected my final 12 images to be printed at the local printers (first at 6 by 4 size to check them out). Of these, I highlighted the best eight, shown below on a board. The two on the top right were rejected at this stage as I didn't feel they were strong enough for the final submission.
Printed proofs
I have some doubts about including only one portrait orientation image in a set of otherwise landscape images but I have decided that it is OK. After receiving these prints I made further updates to my images - lightening a couple, tweaking the levels of green/blue contributing to the final B&W and also adjusting the crop slightly. I then had them printed at 6 by 9 size and have mounted them on white card to send to my tutor. They look quite good in my opinion, but I admit I don't know a lot about printing technicalities and this is something I will need to do some research on soon.

The final selection of six images is discussed below:

Photo 1
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/2.8, 24mm, 1/60sec, ISO 100
A volunteer pots out young seedlings ready for sale in this image. I have chosen a wide angle of view in order to capture the seedlings in the foreground but focus on the worker in the midground. The shutter speed is just low enough for the hand moving to blur slightly, and the DOF shallow to keep focus on the worker. I have raised the green level to make the seedlings paler, and used the adjustment brush to slightly darken the far background which had some distracting highlights.

Photo 2
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/4.5, 24mm, 1/125sec, ISO 100
The manager of the nursery gets new stock out of the greenhouse for putting on sale in the nursery. The curved gridded roof of the nursery and rows of plants give some geometric interest to this image. I have raised the green levels slightly to make the leaves a bit paler of the plants. I also kept the exposure of the image high and just dodged the white t-shirt to make it a little darker (otherwise it was overexposed). This has resulted in an overall light bright image.

Photo 3
Plant Selection
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/11, 24mm, 1/90sec, ISO 100
Plant selection
The nursery manager discusses plant selection with the organiser for the Work for the Dole program. The signs all around pinpoint the location as the nursery and the summer heat is obvious from the attire and hats. Once again I have dodged the white t-shirt a little to prevent clipping and overexposure. I have raised the green level slightly to make the plants stand out in the foreground.

Photo 4
Ground preparation
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/8, 24mm, 1/180sec, ISO 100
Ground preparation
Working in small teams, the ground is prepared for planting by mulching and watering. This low-angle shot captures the three people working and by placing the people on the edge of the frame the viewer’s eye moves between them taking in the whole scene. I have decreased the blue level to darken the sky slightly.

Photo 5
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/5.6, 24mm, 1/350sec, ISO 100
I have captured another slightly different angle in this image – looking down onto the team putting the new seedlings in the soil. There is extra dynamism in this image created by cropping off the man on the left on a strong angle.

Photo 6
24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 5Dm3, f/5.6, 40mm, 1/180sec, ISO 100
A man is hidden behind the tree watering the young seedlings, which are protected by upside down crates on the ground. I like the subtle and somewhat mysterious feel to this image, which I have created on purpose by choosing my location to photograph with the tree between me and the man. I wanted to keep him the as focus of the image by also keep him anonymous to some extent. I stood on a raised mound of dirt to raise my viewing angle slightly.

Choosing a project for this assignment was challenging. Deciding on documenting the farm and then having a successful shoot was very pleasing for me personally. By using monochrome I have focussed on the people at work, and there is no colour to distract the viewer’s eye. When I compare the colour images to the monochrome images they are definitely a stronger and more coherent set. I think the documentary genre is well suited to monochrome and I think this project has definitely been a success. It has also made me think more carefully about what would look good in monochrome, and determine some projects that would not look good in monochrome. This is all useful in developing my critical eye.

The whole project was certainly a success. The chosen images (and others that I have supplied to the farm and nursery staff) were very well received by the staff and requests for others were made also. I also feel like I have captured the ‘feel’ of the place, which is important in a mini-project such as this one.


Freeman, M. (2009), The complete guide to black and white digital photography. East Sussex: Ilex

Freeman, M. (2009), Perfect Exposure. East Sussex: Ilex

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Assignment 4: Thoughts

The object of Assignment 4 is to produce a photographic image to illustrate an imaginary book or magazine cover (ideally portrait format then?). I need to decide on a topic, and then think about how to get the theme or story across to a prospective reader (some thoughts below on this). I need to consider the areas of adjustment and manipulation and how they contribute to the successfulness of the cover (making the object stand out by fading/desaturating/darkening the background, or brightening the subject). Juxtaposition is a possible idea (combine two or more images together). Obviously this all has to be accompanied by some thoughts and notes and importantly for this assignment, my ethical justification (suggested by the previous exercises on manipulation degrees). Prints must be sent again to my tutor.

A few ideas:
Each of the ideas below have differing levels of (Photoshop) complexity and levels of manipulation.

  • Out and out manipulation - e.g. a vampire image would make a good cover for a book for this genre, and would be fun. However it's not really an area of interest, and photographing people is not my strong point.
  • Or something patterned - use one element from one image and copy/paste/rotate it to make a new pattern - something chaotic, or fractal, or something along these lines - this could be the cover of a photography or design magazine. This will test my Photoshop skills and has the chance of being a bit cliched.
  • A pseudo-infra-red image - this is an area of interest for me (I have thought to convert my 30D at some point) could be used for a car magazine, or a camping magazine perhaps. Might be worth a try.
  • A more simple manipulation of a skateboarder jumping off some steps or something similar - capture him/her flying through the air and then combine it all into one image - this would be good for a youth style magazine. Once again, not really my area of interest, and I can't think where I could take such photos easily.
  • Front page of a Real Estate magazine - continue with the theme of houses and photograph the front of a house and combine different images - perhaps times of day, or simply remove any unwanted features and 'brighten' it all up to make it look posh and clean (remove blemishes etc), or add in a new sky for example? This is a possible one. I could start playing with some of the images I have taken for Assignment 5 as a starting point.


  • Practical Photoshop magazine often has some examples of manipulated images. I have some editions on my iPad which I will peruse some time for ideas. 
  • Hotshoe, Photoworks and BJP are less focused on this area, so will be less useful, though they do always have other interesting articles, and sometimes discuss the ethical side of manipulation.

This is a new area for me. I have never before tried to do any of the above ideas, so it's sure to be fun! I plan to do some more magazine reading to get some ideas and start trying things out. I'm sure my Photoshop skills will let me down, so I shall be doing some reading (and video watching) on CS6 also trying to make sure I know what more of the buttons do!

Exercise: Alteration

This exercise is all about full-on alteration of an image.

Aim: The aim of this exercise is to totally adjust an image to remove a major element from the scene. Tools which can be used are mainly those in Photoshop - this is a job for the big guns! Although not specifically discussed in the notes, I guess we are meant to consider the ethics of this sort of change to an image.

Procedure: This goes beyond anything I have ever attempted in Photoshop before, and thus was a bit daunting. I have chosen one of my 'rejected' images for my houses project. This image was rejected because it has a car in front of the house and I found it too distracting. I did however really like the bright yellow fence out the front and the contrast with the red brick walls and blue sky. So I decided it was a good image to attempt this exercise.

Here is the starting image. I have chosen to remove both cars, or attempt to anyway!
Starting Image
I made some minor adjustments (black/white points, clarity, vibrance and contrast, in keeping with the other images in this set) in Lightroom before opening in Photoshop.

I decided to start with the easiest part, which I thought was the wall.
Starting with the wall
There are some bad repetitions in the wall, but I decided to just do gross changes first before tidying up later on. In the screenshot below, most of the wall is done and I have concentrated in the detail near the bush.
Editing near the wall and bush
Next I worked a bit more on the car, and also on the foreground where there is clear repetition of the grasses. I am mostly using the clone tool for this exercise.

more work on the foreground
I then did some work on the wall and stair area which I was aware could be the hardest part of this exercise.
Started work on the stair area
The stairs did prove tricky but I feel like i managed to get a reasonable result. I then finished tidying up near the intersection of wall and plant and stairs.
Tidying up near the top of the wall
I needed to fix up the stairs which I had made a mistake with, (kept the bit under the stairs aligned vertically instead of following down stepping out to the left of the image). This was easily fixed.
Working on the stairs
 Here I have basically finished the stair area.
Almost there with the stair area
Next I removed the car on the right - the fence palings were quite easy. I then copied the LHS of the driveway, flipped it and placed it on the right, making a few changes and then adding in some more grass with the clone tool etc. I am quite pleased with how easy this change was.
Removing the moving car on the right, and making the RHS of the driveway and fence area
The rest of the car was removed and the repetition was fixed to some extent, though there is still some repetition in the image. I think with further practice this would be possible to remove but I have decided to draw a line under this exercise at this point.
Rest of the main car removed
The final step was to use the crop perspective tool to straighten the verticals of the image and call it finished.
The starting and finishing images are shown below:
Starting Image

The finished image, also straightened using the crop tool in Photoshope

When I started on this exercise I was a bit overwhelmed with the task ahead. However I soon realised the power of the clone tool and what could be done with it. The final image is by no means perfect, there are too many repetitions, and if you really zoom in then there are clearly areas where the cloning work is not very good. However, this is not really my area of huge interest (photo manipulation), and whilst it is good to know how it's done, it's not really worth me spending too long on for this exercise. I think at first glance I have achieved the objective, though with closer scrutiny there are areas where I could improve (had I the time or inclination).

Ethically, this is obvious major photo manipulation and certainly would not be acceptable for documentary work, or even landscape/nature photography. I recall a World Press Image a few years ago which had a major element removed with great uproar around it. And a landscape image just last year which was removed from the competition (after winning it strangely) which had had 'too much Photoshop work applied'. Strange how it could get that far in the competition without that being picked up on though... Anyway, this is clear manipulation and needs to be presented that way.