Assignment Two in The Art of Photography (TAoP) concerns the basic graphic elements of design; points, lines and shapes, and how these can used in photographic composition.
The course notes suggested that when examining a photograph’s graphic elements working in black-and-white offers the advantage of focusing attention precisely, without the distraction of colour. I followed this advice throughout the Elements of Design exercises and also for this assignment, shooting in colour and then converted to Grayscale while editing in Photoshop Elements 11.
Assignment Two asks that I demonstrate the knowledge I have gained so far on this course be demonstrated in a set of 10-15 photographs, directed towards one type of subject. The set of photographs should show:
- single point dominating the composition
- two points
- several points in a deliberate shape
- a combination of vertical and horizontal lines
- distinct, even if irregular, shapes
- at least two types of implied triangle
I decided upon to base my photograph set on street scenes, mainly because I find street photography very interesting to view, yet have very little practise in.
I focused my attention on an area of Dubai called Bur Dubai, which literally translates as Dubai Mainland. Bur Dubai sits alongside Dubai creek, and is often referred to as being part of ‘Old Dubai’. It holds Dubai Museum, Dubai Creek, Al Bastakiya, significant for being one of the oldest residential areas in Dubai and Dubai Old Souk, amongst other sites.
Cultural and historical features aside; I selected this area for several reasons:
it is an area I have visited only a few times in the 5 years that I have lived in Dubai. This gave me some idea of what to expect while it is still removed enough from my everyday routines for me to ‘see’ it with fresh eyes. Cultural and historical features aside; I selected this area for several reasons:
- the location is popular with tourists, usually equipped with their cameras, which means I would go relatively unnoticed with mine.
- it is a view of Dubai that is generally overlooked by popular press in favour of the skyscrapers and shopping malls of ‘New Dubai’.
- I visited the area on three separate occasions, early afternoon, late afternoon and morning.
Single point dominating the composition
This is a photograph of the back wall of Al-Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, the fort is believed to be Dubai’s oldest building, it’s walls built from coral and shell rubble, cemented with lime. The building is now home to Dubai Museum.
I choose this single doorway high on the tower wall to illustrate a ‘single point’ on my first visit to the area, as I liked the way it ‘punctures’ the wall and the peculiarity of a doorway in this position. However, it wasn’t until my third visit that I took this shot. On previous visits the sun had been fairly high in the sky and this had resulted in shadows on the sunlit wall, either in the corner of the frame or cast from the wooden joists, which I wasn’t happy with. In this image the fort wall is still in shade and I think this helps define the texture of the wall. It also makes the diagonal line created by top of the wall more prominent and this encourages the eye to move along to the dark doorway, which contrasts well against the bright sunlit tower wall.
While shooting I experimented with the position of the point using horizontal and vertical formats and placing the edge of the tower wall at the frame edge. However, I eventually selected this image as the slightly off-centre placement of the point adds some dynamism to the image while allowing the two-faces and contrasting tones of the tower to be viewed. The horizontal framing also emphasises the length of the wall and the textures which run along it’s top.
These UAE flags sit atop abras on Dubai creek. An abra is a traditional boat made of wood; they are used to transport people from one side of the creek to another for the princely sum of 1 dirham, which converts to roughly 18p.
Freeman (2007, p70) notes that the relationship between two points depends on how dominant they are and how receding the background is. While, size-wise, these flags technically may not be described as ‘points’ the use of selective focus (on the far-right flag) and f/5.6 aperture has made them dominant components in the frame against an out-of-focus background. Although positioned at different depths in the frame a horizontal line is implied between the flags and the position of this mirrors the horizon line. Interesting, Freeman (2007, p70) notes that the direction of a line tends to move from the stronger point to the weaker. In this case I think it has, the right flag is nearer, so seemingly larger and also the focal point, this leads the eye to the flag behind, apparently smaller and not so sharply focused. I did consider using a slow shutter speed to create motion blur as the flags fluttered in the breeze, however, I decided sharper focus would be better to establish the flags as ‘points’. Freeman also notes that the direction of the line between two points tends to lead towards the point that is close to the edge of the frame. This doesn’t seem to be the case in this image, perhaps due to the shallow depth of field and perceived activity on the creek, which draws the eye to the left of the frame?
Several points in a deliberate shape
I took this photograph at Dubai Old Souk Abra Station. These abras and their drivers prepare for the shift ahead. I initially took this shot with ‘a combination of vertical and horizontal lines’ in mind but quickly realised that the bows of these abras were arranged into two sides of a triangle, with the line of the creek edge providing the third. This thinking is in keeping with the Gestalt Law of Closure, which Freeman (2007, p39) discusses. The law states that ‘elements roughly arranged together are seen to complete an outline shape. The mind seeks completeness.’
I selected a shallow depth of field and focused on the abra furthest away to ensure the detail here was sharp while the ‘points’ at the front of the scene are out-of-focus but still apparent. While the scene looks fairly static, possibly due to the strong horizontal elements, the activity from the Abra station was causing the abras to bob around on the water and of the 5 photographs of this scene I took, this was the only one where the points were positioned to clearly imply a triangle.
A combination of vertical and horizontal lines
I had several failed attempts at this shot, due to abra moving which meant that the horizontal and verticals were misaligned. However, I persevered and waited for a suitable vessel to pass behind the abra to create a strong horizontal element.
The vertical lines in this image are strongest in the pillar on the abra with the abra number drawing attention to this. I think this is a good example of how vertical lines, seen from a level viewpoint, can confront the viewer (Freeman, 2007, p74). The vertical is supported by the abra, which we can see, and also by the horizontal base provided by the bottom edge of the frame. Smaller vertical can also be seen at the front of the abra and in the design of the dhow that is passing behind it.
The horizontal elements are seen in the base of the abra roof and in the shape of the dhow and the direction that it is travelling. Both horizontal and verticals can be seen in the building behind the dhow, on the far side of the creek.
I was aware, when composing this photograph that the vertical and horizontal lines were dividing the frame in a pleasing way, however, it was only when studying the image in more detail at home I realised the division adheres, quite closely, to the golden ratio.
I took this photograph while walking through Dubai Old Souk. On previous visits I had taken photographs of the carts as their ‘diagonality’ appealed to me, as did the implication that they were pointing to the shop doorway. However, on my third visit, a third cart had joined the previous two, and on top of this a man lay, having a mid-morning rest. This added two additional diagonal elements and also interest to the composition. I also like the irony reflected in this image. Diagonals are considered to be active and dynamic, however they seemed to suggest quite the opposite to the man in the photograph.
The street and building are relatively old and, as is often the case in this part of the city, doors, windows and pathways often run at a slight angle, as is the case here. I tried to straighten it in Photoshop Elements but when I had the door aligned with the frame edge the windows then ran at an angle. I eventually decided to keep the scene as I saw it at the time.
Interestingly, the man was not actually asleep, just resting. He watched me take the photograph and then gave me a smile and a small wave as I moved on.
I spotted this urn outside a restaurant in Al Bastakiya. I tried several viewpoints before decided on this, which shows the curves of the urn mirrored also in the urn behind it. The aperture of f/5.6 allows the shape of the urn to be sharply focused and ensure it stands out from the background details. The black-and-white format also helps the texture of the urn to be apparent.
Curved lines have associations with being gentle, flowing and elegant and I think this description fits the subject well in this case. The curves of the urn are smooth and gently lead the eye up to the minaret of Dubai Grand Mosque, in the background.
Ideally, I would have been able to find am angle which have removed the wind tower and building to the right of the urn from view but as I had a wall to my immediate left I wasn’t able to. I think the difference in tone still allows the curves of the urn and it’s handle to be evident.
Distinct, even if irregular, shapes
This is a photograph of the bow of a traditional dhow, a wooden sailing vessel, which is on public display outside Dubai Museum. I photographed it from several angles to find one where the background details didn’t seem too distracting. The dark wood helps the wedge-shaped area of boat contrast well against the brightness of the sky while the museum tower in the background provides some context. The gentle diagonal of the boom crosses the frame and divides it between foreground and background. It also provides some energy to the image, preventing it from appearing too static. I considered using the trapezoidal tower in the background as a subject for this task, but felt as though the light stone did not make its shape distinct enough.
At least two kind of implied triangle
I initially got sidetracked with this task as I gathered several examples of triangles through convergence and of photographs showing two sides of a triangle, where a third side could be assumed. After revisiting the course notes and ascertaining that triangles with visible edges are considered to be ‘real’ and not implied I took the following two images
I took this photograph of people enjoying an abra ride on Dubai creek. The creek is a working creek and the large vessels at the rear of the photograph are cargo boats unloading at the Dhow Wharfage. The bow of the large vessel in the top left-hand corner, together with the bow of the two abras creates three prominent points, which imply an inverted triangle. An implied triangle could also be formed, using the two groups of people and the bow of the closest abra as points. I also like that the woman wearing the hat appears to be looking over her shoulder, towards the camera. I don’t actually think that was the case as I was taking the photograph in a busy area with a focal length of 207mm efl. Perhaps she was talking to her companion?
Ideally, I would have moved the framing slightly more to the left to include all of the large vessel’s bow. I waited patiently for a similar scene to come together, however subsequent attempts where not as pleasing.
I took this photograph in Dubai Old Souk. It shows mannequins dressed in an assortment of traditional Emirati clothing (although, I have no idea what the boy has on his head?). The three heads create points, which form an inverted implied triangle. Freeman (2007, p86) describes inverted triangles as less stable and more aggressive than triangles with an even base. In this case, the arrangement makes the balance of the composition more dynamic and offers a glimpse of the lantern stall in the alleyway behind the figures. At the time of shooting I thought including the lanterns would add interest and show the souk setting. When examining the image later I noticed that strong vertical lines created by the figures, and to a lesser degree the verticals in the background, draw the eye up towards the lanterns. Further analysis noted that several of the lanterns create points that also form implied triangles.
Repetition is a necessary ingredient in creating rhythm in a photograph, as is time and movement. The photograph below is of the main entrance to the mosque in Al Bastakiya. Rhythm is created by the ogee style archways and columns, and is strengthened by the way this is repeated across the frame and receding inside the building. Freeman (2007, p48) cautions that if rhythm is predictable it can be perceived to be boring. He advises that an anomaly that interrupts the rhythm can make an image more dynamic. In the photograph below the man sitting in the shade, on the mosque steps, provides a break in the rhythm. When I took the photograph the man was sitting on the left of the frame, however, I flipped it to place him on the right, in order to give the eye time to establish the rhythm before the break. On my subsequent visits to the area I revisited the scene to see if I could retake the shot with a figure in the right hand side but on one occasion it was deserted and another, filled with school children on an excursion.
Präkel, (2006, p73) notes that pictures containing pattern should feature something more that simple repetition. They should capture the pattern while saying something about the subject being photographed. The pattern below is a section of the mosque building in the previous photograph. Geometric patterns are a common feature in Islamic art as geometry is thought to reflect the language of the universe and help the believer to reflect on life and creation.
I overfilled the frame to accentuate the strength of the pattern and for the viewer to assume the pattern extends beyond what they can see. This thinking follows the Gestalt Law of Good Continuation that states that the mind tends to continue shapes and lines beyond their ending points (Freeman, 2007, p39).
It was more difficult to take this photograph than I initially anticipated, as the I wanted the framing to show no obvious start or end to the pattern, which would encourage a viewer’s eye to roam across the pattern. I also wanted the shadows in the background to be a fairly consistent tone to allow the pattern to contrast.
The Elements of Design exercises have been extremely helpful in understanding the usefulness of each element, how they work together and how they are perceived. It has helped me understand and explain why I like a particular photograph or am drawn to a scene.
I recently read On Being a Photographer by Bill Jay and David Hurn. I found the section on Selecting a Subject to offer some particularly good advice. Hurn advises the need for forward thinking and planning, to be specific about what you are looking for when planning a project and shooting it. This is the first time I have worked on a photography project where the subject matter had a connecting theme and found this helpful in focusing my planning, thinking and attention.
Part three, Colour next…
Freeman, M. (2007) The Photographer’s Eye. Lewes: ILEX
Freeman, M (2010) The Photographer’s DSLR Pocketbook. Lewes: ILEX
Jay, B and Hurn, D. (1997) On Being a Photographer, 1st Kindle Edition 2010. Washington: LensWork Publishing
Präkel, D. (2006) Composition. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA