Steve's OCA Blog

Photography Learning Log


Research & Reflection

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

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:


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.


Review – Photographer Toshio Shibata

Toshio Shibata – Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture, 2008

Following the course text and reviewing photographer Toshio Shibata, I was surprised by his unique view of flowing water and in particular the textures that he creates within water in his images. Clearly his understanding of water in various different forms and his ability to give it different form is something I’ve not previously seen across such breadth. The shutter speeds to achieve the textures must be perfect, for example creating texture in water from waves generated by the wind would need a very specific shutter speed to achieve.

I assumed that water flow images would be in natural water flows, however his are almost all from man made flows (dams, weirs, pools). The connection with the man made structures is very apparent in the images, with composition being used to enhance the relationship, either through angles/viewpoints or eliminating unnecessary context.

There are many striking images in the online galleries I viewed, however the image used in this blog stood out for me. The silkiness of the water is incredible, making the man made structure look like it is creating a smooth and effortless connection between two very still pools. The red lines add to defining the structure and the bland brown colours around the central structure also help to accentuate it. The depth of the image is very apparent, detail from front to back, although I’ve discovered that this is a consequence of using a 8 x10 inch format, I assume pinhole camera, which has a very small aperture. Thus, flow from long exposures, wide range of in-focus content and softness to the image.

I really enjoyed his photos, they are unusual, create juxtapositions and are thought provoking.



Yorkshire Dales

With no particular objective in mind, except to reinforce some of my recent OCA course learning, I set off south, undertook an errand in Kendal, and set off into Yorkshire via Sedburgh.  Soon I was on single track roads, with lots of great landscape potential. The day was very dark, grey and light very flat, so I thought I’d try some long exposure soft landscapes. I spoke to a few locals and one suggestion I thought I’d try was some of the many Viaducts on the Carlisle to Settle railway running through the area.

As with previous exercises, I took a number of different exposures at a very small aperture (f22) and was really pleased I did this. Due to the poor light I had to use much higher shutter speeds of around 2 to 5 seconds. The results were surprising, particularly the slightly overexposed versions, which gave brightness and detail that I didn’t think was possible from such a dark environment. These were very different to what was apparent to the naked eye.

Even more surprising was what happened in post processing when I combined the different exposures with the HDR function in Lightroom. The best of all the combined images came through in the result, the brightly lit Viaducts and definition in the sky. To illustrate, compare the overexposed image below:


The combined image of the same viaduct.


The difference is incredible, richer colours, lots more detail and the softness of the image from the long exposure and small aperture is retained. I have learned much more from this set of images than the previously posted images of soft landscapes. I might even keep my tripod handy for future trips.

There were many rivers running through the area, so I thought I’d also use shutter speed to capture the flow of the rivers. With the use of the tripod, I took a number of images of flowing water with 1 second plus shutter speeds. However, I hadn’t spotted that some rain on the lens spoiled many of the images, with large smudges. I had to delete these in post processing. The most challenging element was finding the right exposure to show the flow of the rivers and enhance this with lots of detail in the surroundings.


One element of images I’ve used in the past is to include foreground elements that help add depth or frame the main subject e.g. branches or bushes. These work well at higher shutter speeds, however the wind and long shutter speeds made these elements distracting, so I will now avoid these for this type of image (although the middle image above wasn’t as distracting as others).

Some of the other images from the trip are shown below:

Exercise 1.10 – Shutter Speeds

The subject of motion is one I feel very comfortable with, using shutter speeds to create the appropriate effect, depending on the subject and the impact or story that is being created. I love motorsport and an understanding of shutter speed is essential for this subject matter.

With this exercise, I undertook something a little different and stood close to a railway line,taking passing trains at different shutter speeds. In this case, 1/500, 1/160th and 1/50th of a second. This showed the trains in very different ways, the fastest shutter speed slows a clear image of a train in a countryside setting, the second gives some degree of motion with a little blurring whilst the final image shifts the subject from a train to that of speed.


The middle image would normally be an image I would bin, as there is insufficient detail for it to be about the train, nor is there enough blur for it to really give the sense of speed. Due to the stationary background, these images were all exposed for the background.

Normally the images I take that outline speed or movement are those where the background blurs, so that the subject can remain clear. This involves panning (tracking the subject) whilst taking the image. This can be a tricky technique, but results can have real impact. The other trick I’ve learned are that these type of photos benefit from a little bit of angle in the shot as it can really add to the feeling of speed. A few examples of these type of images are shown below:


One area I continue to struggle with is exposure, this does take a lot of getting right, slower shutter speeds used on cars or bikes mean it is much easier to overexpose and create horrible blown out sections of images. I’ve never really worked out if auto exposure or manual exposure is better for these subjects.

Change is Frustrating

It’s incredible how difficult change can be, and how it knocks your confidence. I should know better, as my professional role focuses on making service changes, however the shoe is on the other foot. It’s frustrating.

To help capture images for my OCA course, I bought a small compact Camera that I could easily carry with me all the time. Another Canon, so when it arrived it had all the same symbols and worked in a similar way to my SLR. After some experimentation, I was able to work how most features, including some the advanced features worked. The change was relatively easy to cope with, until I tried to upload some of the photos onto Aperture, there were no conversion files for the RAW format for the new camera, something I should have realised as Aperture hasn’t been supported for at least 2 years (something I’d recently discovered).

So, I needed to move to Adobe Lightroom earlier than I thought. Supposedly, the most similar product to Aperture. I bought the product and after 3 days (for the PC, not me) the existing photos were all converted, but how different it is.

After years of using and perfecting my photo processing workflow, I’m going to have to do this all over again as well as find a way of easily finding all my existing photos. I can’t find the photos I want, they a buried in folders that I’ve forgotten what they were for. I can now now empathise a bit more with frustrated people in my professional life.

To be honest, it’s put me off taking photos, because I know it’s going to take hours to work out how to process, store and export them to get the same results I can do in minutes on Aperture. A somewhat unhelpful distraction from the OCA course.

Red Bridge – Image Analysis

Toshio Shibata, Red Bridge, Okawa, 2007

Part of the OCA course suggested an analysis of the image in this blog (P42).

Initial impressions were that the main subject is the path/road running from left to right, framed by a series of red A frames. The path being across the gorge to the vaguely lit wooded area in the background.

The high and bright sunlight really enhances the shape of the A frames and the shadows the depth of the gorge. Although the image title is entitled Red Bridge, the colour is washed out by the side lit and strong light and so, for me, isn’t the dominating feature of the bridge, which is the A frames.

The notes taken on my iPad re:composition and subject outline below.

REd bridge

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