Steve's OCA Blog

Photography Learning Log

Familiar Ground

It’ been months since I’ve even picked up my camera, however last weekend I took it to one of my favourite places, Oulton Park, for the British Superbike weekend. It was great to get back into the swing of things by taking some very familiar feeling subjects and brushing up on techniques I hadn’t used in a while. Time to build on this and take the camera out soon.


Oh and the racing was great!


Gallery Visit

Today has been a welcome distraction to the daily pressures, I’ve been in London with time to kill. I thought I’d wander through a few galleries and focus on different approaches to photography. The diversity was vast and I’ve outlined some reflections from the visit below:

Roger Mayne

Clearly an important photographer in the 50s and 60s taking the style of images that serve as much as a historical record as they portray a story. One of the collections I saw, Southam St, was from the 50s and depicted many street scenes in a single street of a deprived area of West London. The images focused mainly on people and depicted a wide range of emotions. All the images were black and white, with the quality of the film often quite grainy. I’m not sure if the film quality reflected the technology of the time, or if it deliberately aided the sense of a poor neighbourhood. The use of of black and white was skillfully executed, with the high contrast helping to emphasize subjects, but also ensure backgrounds weren’t distracting. One of the contrasting emotions I noticed was that almost all the images with children portrayed positive or joyful emotions, whilst I can’t remember a joyful image of adults. The use of shutter speed was also helpful in adding movement and aiding the joy that children were often showing when at play in the street scenes.

One image I really enjoyed from the Southam St collection was  boys playing football on cobblestones, it really felt like you were part of the game (below). Something I remember as a child.

IMG_0464 (1)

From the Southam St collection, Roger Mayne

In another exhibit by the same artist, the style was similar, people in social gatherings expressing emotions, however there were important differences. The images were using early colour film from 60s, i.e. washed out colours, however the emotions were all positive, suiting the use of colour. These images came from a wide range of events where people gathered and can also be seen as having important value to historians.

There were a few images in this part of the exhibition, which just confused me. For instance, the composition of the image below is mystifying.

IMG_0465 (1)

Roger Mayne

Dana Lixenberg

As part of the DEUTSCHE BÖRSE Photography Foundation exhibition, there were a number of photographs from a project to visit areas most impacted by violence following the ‘Rodney King’ riots. The images are largely portraits of black residents, who live in the areas most impacted by the violence. Initially, I thought a number of portraits was fairly standard stuff and not terribly interesting, particularly as the portraits are taken with the subjects very clam and relaxed, However, as I started to spend a little time viewing them I began to understand that what appeared very emotionless was, in fact, very emotional and that some of the same emotions kept appearing in the images; defiance, pride and resignation. From the images I really began to appreciate a deep understand of the area and it’s people. This only appeared after I’d viewed a large number of images and wouldn’t have really worked if I’d only viewed the small number of images hanging on the wall. I really enjoyed my time in this part of the Gallery. The following are a couple of typical images from the wall mounted element of the exhibition:

IMG_0466 (1)Dana Lixenberg


Awoiska van der Molen

An artist that was also part of the DEUTSCHE BÖRSE Photography Foundation. These images were large and billed as black and white abstracts, all of which were natural world landscapes. I tried with this artist, but the images didn’t resonate with me, although some were cleverly shot. Fairly normal images, but with high contrast resulting from the way the images were shot, giving some abstract shapes. An example is shown below:IMG_0468 (1)







Awoiska van der Molen


Sophie Calle

Another artist in the DEUTSCHE BÖRSE Photography Foundation exhibition. I found this a very moving and thought provoking exhibition, exploring death and relationships. Dealing with serious subject in a very humourous, dignified and engaging manner. The exhibition focused more on the words that were with the photographs and exhibits, and so the meaning came from a different place to the images, but were completely supported by these.  Although I gained a lot from the exhibition, in particular personal insights into mortality, but if the meaning came from a source other than the photograph, should it have even have been in the gallery? This does highlight an issue I’d never really thought about much, how art is catergorised into different types and does this make sense. Does it really matter how meaning is expressed by an artist and if it fits into a particular category? Whatever the answer, I’m pleased I found this exhibition.


All in all, a very educational day and with a very wide range of subject matter and styles, I look forward to my next visit.

Photographer Review – Andreas Gursky and Henri Cartier-Bresson

Both photographers were highlighted as good examples of candid portraits. They do, however have very different approaches. Andreas has a very macro style, often without people. His images are generally colour and feature macro patterns in buildings, people or nature. When people feature, they aren’t recognisable or aware of the image being taken, however the people do seem to be individuals as the choice of background or timing makes them clearly distinguishable. I assume that this may also be due to the use of a wide Depth of Field. A good example is the following image of a swimming pool, where the people seem to be spread evenly, right across the macro viewpoint. Clear, light backgrounds and wide depth of field ensure each individual stands out.

Andreas Gursky, Ratingen, 1987.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed the images of Andreas Gursky as through his macro approach he adds a sense of abstract to the images he creates.

Henri Cartier-Bresson has a different style, with clearly recognisable individuals, sometimes staged images, but often candid. Using Black and White and careful use and placement of backgrounds, the subjects of his images are very clearly the people. He uses the contrast in the black and white images well to draw out the people. Often they appear as silhouettes.

The following is a really good example of one of his candid images that highlights the features described above.

FRANCE. The Var department. Hyères. 1932. Henri Cartier-Bresson

Assignment 1 Feedback

I was pleased with the feedback on my first assignment. Much of the feedback was positive, but there was lots of constructive criticism that I can work on in future.  Key learning points seem to be that I need to ensure that the approach needs to be clear before starting an assignment, stretch myself and try different subjects and techniques, worry less about the technical aspects, and be braver in the editing of images. Tutor notes are available here.


My Assignment 1 submission is at – Assignment 1

I will revisit the assignment further into the course, however rather than focus on reworking this first assignment, I’m looking to move on with part 2 of the course and the second assignment.

Exercise 2.1 – Part 1

The first part of this exercise was to emulate the work of Karl Blossfeldt by capturing images of plants with plain backgrounds. His work shows many macro images of plants and objects captured against plain backgrounds,  using natural light in a way that avoids shadows. His images really emphasize shape, textures and details of his subjects. Due to this approach the work looks very staged and almost like a series of images for museum specimen categorisation. All his images are black and white (he would be restricted by technology to black and white), but the real beauty in the images for me, is in the grey tones, the texture and details that these tones expose.

I took a number of images in strong overcast daylight using  100mm macro lens, using a white sheet of A4 paper as a background. Some images were converted to black and white where this was thought to enhance the image.

One image stood out for me, with shape and texture very evident.


The colour image was also striking, but the impact comes from the colours


Other images from this series, are as follows:

My learning from this exercise was that plain backgrounds really do change images. For black and white images, they tend to highlight shapes and textures, whereas for colour images ,which have strong colours, it is the colour that dominates as the subject. On a technical note, I used a wide aperture (f2.8) and gained a narrow depth of field and whilst it added to the aesthetics of some images, it distracted from most, as the texture and detail was lost due to the narrow depth of field.

Now for the next part of this exercise, to do this with people.

Assignment 1 – Square Mile – Childhood Revisited

After a week of catching up on my OCA course, I spent some time reviewing and executing assignment 1 for the course and submitted today.

There are 8 images attached to this assignment, which I’ve called ‘Square Mile – Childhood Revisited’. These images are:



What was your initial response to the brief and what ideas did you have for how to complete it?

Initially, I struggled to conceptualise how I might create images around a theme and following some further reading, I liked the thought of revisiting a familiar place some years later. I spent my childhood in a small village and returned to the village to visit some of the places with meaning to me.

I decided that I needed to have something more to shape the narrative and so had some themes that aided the creation of the narrative, Firstly, it was important that it had a summer feel, that the images had a slightly aged feel to them and that it had to be shot at child height.

Part way through I became distracted by the influence of the river through the area and it connection to my childhood, but after exploring this for a while returned to the original theme. I also found that there weren’t any children in these places on the days I visited, probably a reflection of current childhood experiences.

What have you learned from the two photographers you looked at, plus any other photographers you sought inspiration from? How did they influence your work on this assignment?

From Dan Holdsworth, I learned not to worry about over or underexposure and that night can be an interesting time to take images, however having tried some night images they didn’t really work for this assignment.  From Tom Hunter I learned not to be afraid of creating ordinary, but to be clear about the narrative.

I also viewed a few learning logs from formers and OCA current students.

Joao :

Phil Clarke:

Kate Aston:

The different approaches to the assignment were very clear, one seeking a style and common subject theme, whilst the others sought to highlight particular features in the square mile.

Joao references work by Paul Gaffney which has a similar theme, but it was the title of the sequence that helped connect the images and visualise the environment and narrative to the piece.

What was your technical approach to the assignment? And what techniques did you use to make it?

As this is to be seen through child’s eye I wanted to ensure small aperture and wide depth of field, which also added to the softness of the image and the relaxed nature of summer. I also used different shutter speeds to create under and over exposed images that could be adjusted in post production.

What’s your opinion on how you did? Are you satisfied? Are there any areas you’d like to improve?

I’m happy with the set of images, however I’m worried that this is just a set of images, it means something to me, but without a good narrative perhaps not to others. I realise that I need to do more planning and visualise the end product before setting off anywhere with a camera. I’d also like to investigate and learn more about working at night.

Combining Images in Lightroom

Although I’m still struggling to get to grips with Lightroom, I’ve discovered it has a feature that allows images to be combined, probably a bit like HDR, although it doesn’t seem as intense.

Following an earlier OCA course exercise that suggested using long exposures and exposure bracketing to achieve softness in the images (overexposed ones), I though I’d combine some images with different exposures, including some that I took as part of Assignment 1.

I quite liked most of the images the combination feature produces, allowing the best of all the images to be included. The image featured at the beginning of the post, for instance, has kept the colours and impact of the late evening sky. whilst exposing enough of the bridge for it be part of the subject matter of the image.

There are some drawbacks, some of the colours can appear very odd, and make some combinations unusable. However, with a little tweeking many seem to have value, especially with grey sky, something that is common where I live!

The following are some of my early results of using the combination feature:


Review Tom Hunter & Dan Holdsworth

As part of Assignment 1 students are asked to view and comment on the images of Dan Holdsworth and Tom Hunter. The following are my thoughts.

Dan Holdsworth

Why do you think he often works at night? Is it because there’s less people and traffic about to clutter the view? Is it because of the effect of light in a long exposure and the sense of artificiality or ‘strangeness’ that brings to the image?

These factors are probably why this artist predominantly works at night. They allow him to create long exposures that generate some unusual effects, without big distractions, which are central to his images. I really enjoyed the bold and unusual elements to his images, they made me stop and think about each image, rather than left through the images quickly.

What happens to your interpretation when the views are distant, wide and the main emphasis is on the forms of the man-made landscape?

It’s clearly intentional and these mechanisms help support a need for greater interpretation, leaving the viewer to create their own narrative.

Is there a sense that these images are both objective (because you are looking out at the world) and subjective (because they seem to deliberately conjure up a mood)?

Yes, deliberately so. The unreal from the real world allows a wide variety of different subjective interpretations from the same image. The point of the images is to ensure you define the narrative more than he does.

Tom Hunter (Life and Death in Hackney and Unheralded Stories)

Do you notice the connection between the people and their surroundings? How does Hunter achieve this?

The body of subjects often has a strong physical connection (arms laying on or whole body lying down) with elements of the foreground part of the image.

What kinds of places are these photographs set in? Are they exotic, special or ordinary, everyday places?

They are very ordinary, but often unpleasant (or made to look so).

There’s something ‘mythical’ and yet also ‘everyday’ about Hunter’s pictures. Look carefully at one or two images and try to pick out the features that suggest these two different qualities.

The image with the body in the water is set in a very ordinary context, but unusual in that the body is floating the pool. Many of the images have this juxtaposition.

Exercise 1.12 Smash!

Timing is everything!

This exercise is all about super fast shutter speeds and capturing freeze frame from rapid movement in order to see images in a way the naked eye can’t.

I thought I’d use the kitchen table as it is black glass and this would work with a black background and show some reflection of the subject. I setup my camera on a tripod (again! I’m almost familiar with it now) and had to do a couple of things to get enough light for the subject to be lit; increasing the ISO to 2000, and to find a studio light to put on the left hand side of the image. The studio light also gave strong sidelight which I thought would enhance the smash/splash. I then focused the 70-200mm lens using Manual focus on an area of the table and set a high image burst rate.

I grabbed the first thing that I thought would create a smash, an egg. But after a few attempts, all I got was something similar to the following:




No real splash that would show the fast shutter speed impact I was looking for. Timing was clearly really important with this subject and I became bored very quickly, especially as it was quite messy. So, I moved to dropping a strawberry into a glass. Something I’ve seen others do. Even with this subject timing was important and it took a few attempts to get close to the effect I was looking for, although along the way the shutter speed was capturing a freeze frame smash images.

It wasn’t as messy, so a quick mop up and kept going until finally, I got the timing right and had both a splash and a strawberry in the shot.


So what did I learn?

  • how to think about taking a superfast freeze frame image: background, light, use of the camera,
  • even 1/2000th of a second is slightly too slow,
  • the high ISO made very little difference to the quality of the final image,
  • expect lots of failure and that may trials are required to get the image you are looking for,
  • and finally, to be careful of reflections, as I hadn’t spotted the reflection of the room on the left of the final image. It’s a distraction from the main subject.

On reflection, as I was unsure of the ‘how to’ element of the exercise, having not undertaken this kind of image previously, I focused on the technical elements, and gave minimal thought to the artistic or narrative element of the image.


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