Category Archives: Research and Reflection

At the end of TAoP

Preparing for Assessment

I have spent the last few weeks preparing for the July assessment. I spent quite a bit of time tidying up of my blog to ensure all links are working and that it followed the structure suggested by the OCA . This, hopefully, will make it easy for the assessors to navigate.

I was initially unsure as how to present the work for assessment. Should I submit my blog as it stands or would it be better to submit some physical prints? The online option appealed to me for several reasons. It would involve less work, it would require little or no expense and I also have extremely limited experience of what would work well in terms of printing photographs for submission. However, I was also conscious of the photograph’s function as an object/artefact and of what Shore (2007, p15) describes as ‘The Physical Level’ of a photograph’s function. He lists attributes such as the base of paper to determine the texture of the print, the flatness of the paper to establish plane and the edges of the picture to frame and create boundaries. I was also curious to see how some of my work would look when printed professionally on good quality paper. I then found myself leaning towards a submission, which would have all the images from all 5 Assignments on a memory stick but also include 10-12 physical prints. I then approached a Glasgow based business, Deadly Digital,  who printed the A4 images for me on A3 sized matt paper. Overall, I was pleased with how the prints turned out and found it interesting to note that ones which stood out for me most were the two high contrast black and white images from Assignment Two. I gave quiet thanks to Jose Navarro, my tutor at that time’s advice to increase the contrast in these images in post-processing to make the them ‘more dynamic’ black and white.

'distinct, but irregular shapes'

‘distinct, but irregular shapes’



Tutor input

I have had three different tutors over the period of this course. When I was notified of these changes by the OCA I was slightly concerned that the change in tutor would somehow be detrimental to my learning process. However, as I am now at the end of the module I can now see the positives in this situation. I have the benefit of several different points of view when reporting back on my work and also of when directing me towards sources of research and inspiration.

Next steps

I would like to be able to list the knowledge that I have gained over the period of this module, however I think that this is nigh on impossible due the amount of learning and that I would be sure to forget to list something. When I reflect on where I was at the beginning of this module and where I am now the learning seems considerable.

It has taken me almost two years to complete TAoP and I now realise that had I had more technical knowledge of my camera and post-processing at the onset I could have reduced this time. With out realising it, there were times when I became sidetracked by camera settings and software functions, which meant I tackled the exercises at a slower pace that would have been desirable. This is obviously a major draw back to distance learning and something I need to be more aware of for the next course, perhaps by being more firm with a study schedule or seeking help from fellow students on the OCA forum.

I have looked at the options for the next part of this course and find the new course ‘Context and Narrative’ quite appealing. I like that it builds on elements of what we covered in TAoP such as Narrative while gaining influence from the work of contemporary photographer’s from which to influence my own practice.

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs (2nd edition). London: Phaidon Press Limited





Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative- Progress towards Assessment Criteria

On successful completion of this course you’ll be able to:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

This section of the course has been quite varied in content, which has resulted in considerable learning. The exercise on illustration showed that, with careful planning, I could tell a simple story in a single photograph by showing evidence of action and that by juxtaposing one or more elements in the frame we create connection which provides the foundation for illustration. When planning both these images I called upon the knowledge I have gained in the previous section, Light. In evidence of action 2, I positioned a continuous photographic light to the side to emphasise texture while in juxtaposition, I used a speed light, diffuser and reflector to create dramatic shadows.

In Rain, I experimented with a speed light and adjusting shutter speed to reduce ambient light, creating a darker, dreary atmosphere and reducing shine on the boots.

For the actual assignment, however, I worked entirely with available light. This was because the light from 4pm to sunset was gold and attractive and also to minimize the attention that I received. I was trying to be a blend into the environment and be an ‘invisible’ photographer. This would have been made more difficult with a Speed light flashing.

When looking at narrative I was aware of the need for visual and emotional variety in the selection of photographs. Therefore I planned to include shots of various distance scales such as the first image in Assignment 5 that was taken from a far distance and image 8, which shows a close-up, detail shot of spices that overfill the frame. Image 1 also makes use of strong diagonal line to inject some dynamism into the establishing shot. I also experimented with aperture, adjusting it to give shallow depth-of-field and emphasis the focal point in image 9, while shutter speed helped to freeze motion in photograph 5 and create motion blur in images 7 and 12.

I have also become aware of the importance of timing a shot, particularly with moving subjects, to ensure they are positioned in the frame where I want them to be.

I believed that the photographs for Assignment 5 should be in colour to help convey the character of the Creek area I was photographing. I did experiment with a few black and white conversions but felt as though these were not as strong as the colour shots.

Quality of Outcome

I feel as though my work in this section has benefitted from the research and planning that I undertook on the subjects. I read in Short (2011, p42) that to be a photographer, you need to be passionate about communicating ‘something’, as this will inform every choice you make in relation to your work. This led to me giving focused thought to the idea of intention, “what did I need, or want to share with the audience?” I used a Picture Script as suggested by Freeman (2012, loc 1335) to develop the idea of a ‘Dubai’ type location story. This script helped me formulate a plan of what I wanted to achieve and came with me in my backpack on shoots.

The presentation and layout of the narrative was an important element of this section of the course. It became clear to me that there is no one definitive ‘correct’ narrative layout. There seemed to be many variations, sequential layout, deliberate variety or visual continuity. In the end I began by using the basic, Opener, Body, Climax and Closer layout as suggested by Freeman (2012 ,loc 190) and tried to plan for visual variety in the rhythm and pace of the layout.

When I am working I often make quick notes and sketches in notebooks and post-its. This can somehow feel quite disjointed therefore I find that writing in my learning log on the exercise and work I undertake, helps me to organise my thoughts, think in a more coherent manner and consolidate my learning.

Demonstration of Creativity

Narrative and illustration needs to be visually interesting or it will lose the viewer. I knew that, photographically speaking, the Creek would be an interesting place to many viewers, however it was important that the photographs worked together to tell the whole story and keep the viewer engaged throughout

While I stated above that I had formulated a clear intention for the assignment in the Picture Essay I still took over 300 images over a period of 3-4 weeks in order to get the images that I needed.

During this time I experimented with creative use of shutter speed, aperture, vantage position, framing, composition and light. I also spent time waiting for elements to align in the frame the way I wanted them to.

Initially, I found the ‘open’ nature of Assignment 5’s brief difficult for me to refine into a subject idea. However, having now gone through the process it had helped me to see that by connecting with a subject is important as this then helps inform the choices you make about how to approach it with your camera.


On beginning TAoP course I spent a lot of time getting to know my camera as opposed to learning about or reflecting upon photography. As my practical skills improved I began to focus more time on reflection and began to use my learning log as a place to write about my thoughts and ideas on the assignments, exercise and reading I undertake.

In addition to this I now, routinely, take time to inform myself of the work of other photographers and consider my thoughts on it.

Recently, at my tutor’s recommendation, I sought out the work of Julian Germain, For Every Second You Are Angry, You Loose Sixty Seconds of Happiness (2005) and Wolfgang Müller, Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg (2003) and made entries in my learning log on this. Both series of work are very different in the narrative they want to convey but I also found them to both to evoke a strong emotional response. I found it useful to consider Karat in term of stadium and punctum as introduced by Barthes in Camera Lucinda (Wells ed. 2003, Ch 1).

In the last few months I have also attended exhibitions showing the work of Roland & Sabrina Michaud and Bruno Barbey, again writing my thoughts on the photographs and the photographer’s approach in my learning log.

In March, I attended a few events at Gulf Photo Plus, a photography festival in Dubai. I was lucky enough to attend a seminar on small lights with Joe McNally, which I found to be very informative. I found it extremely useful to see the practical side of a photography shoot and interesting to note that attractive results could be achieved with a single light as well as a multiple light set up.

During this week I also attended a seminar with David Allan Harvey, where he talked about his approach to work and discussed a slide show of his photographs. I found this seminar very inspiring and felt as this, to a certain degree, inspired my approach to Assignment 5, particularly his advice ‘don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’.


Freeman. M. (2012) The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual

Narrative. Lewes: ILEX (Kindle edition)

Short. M. (2011) Context and Narrative. Lausanne: AVA

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge























18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

18. Bruno Barbey, A Scorching Beauty

Last month I attended an exhibition of Magnum photographer, Bruno Barbey’s work at The Empty Quarter Gallery  in Dubai.

Barbey (b.1941) is a Frenchman, born in Morocco. He has travelled across five continents photographing numerous world conflicts. However, he does not consider himself to be a war photographer. This exhibition titled, Morocco: A Scorching Beauty shows a selection of photographs that Barbey has created showing his fascination with and love for the land of his childhood.

The first thing that I noticed about the photographs as I walked around was the strong use of reds, oranges, yellow and brown tones that were present it nearly in all of the images. It was shown in various hues on painted walls, fabrics, and wools and in the light cast by the Moroccan sun. The effect the colours seem to generate is of warmth, light, sand and the earth.

The photographs that I seemed most drawn to where composed quite simply.

One of these was Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes. 1985The image show a two wall of a room, painted a pale orange colour. Around 2/3 of the way across the horizontal frame, the two wall meet and at his point sits an arched doorway. The floor of the room is decorated in a black, ochre, green and white mosaic tiles that also skirt the base of the walls. Beyond the tiling extends towards an orange wall in the distance. What really caught the eye is that walking adjacent to the wall is a figure; head bowed wearing a striped djellaba, a long-sleeved hooded robe traditionally worn in regions across North Africa. The figure is framed in the archway and one can only imagine how long it took Barbey to time this shot. I was also really drawn to the way the black and white of the djellaba seems to mirror the black and white in the tiling. As this is the only figure in the photograph, I did begin to wonder who it was, why where they there and where were they going? The figure has his head down and hands clasped behind his back. Both of these actions seem to give a quiet, contemplative feeling to the photograph.

I also found MOROCCO. Village of Maadid, near Erfoud. 2002  to be quite interesting. It shows a figure walking away from the camera wearing a white djellaba. The figure seems to be walking through a tunnel although slices of light intermittently break through gaps in the roof creating a pattern of alternate shadow and light ending in the white-clad figure silhouetted against shadow. The effect is quite striking and I again got the feeling of calm and quiet.

I considered why this would be. Was it the simplicity in the composition of both images or perhaps the long, hooded robe was evoking connotative associations for me of religion, prayer and reflection.

I also really like Avenue Oqba ben Nafi, Essoaouira. 1987, as it was labeled at the gallery. Although, somewhat confusingly, I found the same image on the Magnum website titled MOROCCO. Essaouira. 1987. Women resting along the ramparts. The majority of the horizontal image is taken up with a well-worn wall, painted orange. Two woman, one dressed in black the other in white, sit on the kerb at the bottom left of the frame. The sun has cast the shadow of castle’s rampart diagonally across the orange wall. While the shadow gives us the clue that they woman are sitting beneath a rampart, it is not the shadow but the woman who are the focal point of the image as a small archway of sunlight frames the sitting women. One does wonder why are they sitting there? I also wondered if perhaps they sat in the same place each evening or did Barbey capture a very unique moment in time?

Overall, the photographs tell the story of Morocco as a fascinating place, full of colour, character and traditions.

While the exhibition runs only until April the 17th, further details about Barbey’s work can be found at;

and also at


Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg

Wolfgang Müller- Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg


On my tutor’s recommendation I looked at the work of, German photographer, Wolfgang Müller. In particular, he suggested he publication Karat, Sky over St. Petersburg (2003) as a good example of narrative through photography.

The photographs tell the story of various groups of Russian children and adolescents who live on St. Petersburg’s rooftops and in the sewers. While the images show how the children’s daily lives are marred with violence, drugs and prostitution they also show the friendships they have formed and elements of their daily routines. Müller captured the series of work over a period of 10 months between 2000-2003.

I wasn’t able to get hold of a hard copy of the book but did find 25 photos from the series on Müller’s website.  

My thoughts

The opening photograph, 1/25, shows the profile of a statue, Lenin with his arm outstretched. He is surrounded by power cables, which run in various diagonal lines across the frame. In the distance we can see the rooftop of one of St. Petersburg’s decorative buildings. I thought this was a very strong opener for the series for several reasons. Firstly, the power cables and the visible rooftop decoration in the background helps establish the setting as being elevated. Secondly, the statue appears to be of Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union, which also helps the viewer establish a sense of place. Thirdly, the diagonals created by the power cables encourage the eye to move across the image between foreground and background. And last, the one arm raised gesture the statue holds could be interpreted as friendly and welcoming. Overall, I feel as though the muted colours and simple composition make this an attractive image, which contrasts strongly with the content of the next picture.

The second image, 2/25, shows two boys, possibly in their teens, perched on a red-tiled rooftop, next to a chimney. They sit facing each other, one boy injecting a syringe into the others arm. When seeing this image for the first time I initially felt confused by the out of context location of the children, “Are they really on a roof?” Confusion was then quickly replaced by shock as my eye noticed the blue syringe.

Later, when I looked at the images in more depth the terms studium and punctum, which I have been researching recently, came to mind. Roland Barthes, a French essayist and semiologist first introduced these terms in his 1981 book, Camera Lucida. I read extracts from this in Wells (ed, 2003, Chapter One). Barthes describes the studium, a Latin word, as concerning ‘application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment’. He continues by noting that it is by studium that he is interested in many photographs, participating in them culturally, the figures, faces, gestures, settings and the actions. The punctum, Barthes continues, is what pierces or punctuates the stadium. While the stadium belongs to language or culture, the punctum does not. It is personal, an element that grabs the viewer and is poignant.

I considered that perhaps I viewed the first image-using stadium. I encountered the photographer’s intention of establishing place and interpreted the gestures of the statue.However, in the second image the children on the roof provide the punctum. It was not only their location and actions that both confused and shocked but also the boy’s serious, but relatively calm, expression.

The photographs that follow are none less provocative. Amongst other places they show the children and young people in on rooftops, in attic spaces and in sewers. They are seen playing, fighting and interacting as well as participating in drug use and prostitution.

The eighth photograph, 8/25, in the series focuses on two children inside an attic space. Prominent in the frame is a young girl wearing a green coat. She holds a plastic bag, probably containing Karat, to her face as though inhaling the fumes. Karat, referenced in the project title, is the name of a shoe-polish containing solvents that the children sniff. Her left hand is out stretched and holds a cigarette that a young blond-haired boy is puffing on. The boy looks into the camera lens, his face almost expressionless. One imagines that perhaps he has already partaken in the Karat. While shocking, the image on a whole seems very sad and hopeless.

While recording the lives of these children and young people, it was important for Müller not only to show the children as pure victims but also to show the moments of fun and happiness and portray. I feel as though image 22/25 manages to convey this. It shows a kitchen scene where a teenage girl and boy stand, embracing. The girl’s profile can be seen and she is smiling. There is a stove to the right, on which a pot containing food is bubbling away. On the left of the frame we see the edge of a table, holding plates of food. Behind the couple, someone lies asleep on the floor on top of a blanket. We can see affection, food and shelter. On a connotative level this image suggests to me hope. It also suggests the idea that while these children have been failed by corporate Russia they have, in someway, still achieved a degree of happiness.


While I found the content of these photographs to be quite disturbing, I also found them to be very thought-provoking. Müller has portrayed the children as real people, not only just surviving, but also living. Müller brought the children food and shared the photographs he took, however one can only imagine that it was the time and patience he invested that allowed him to gain the children’s trust. Trust that would have been essential to achieve the candid shots.

I read on a fellow OCA student’s blog , who has viewed the hard copy of the publication, that in the book, the photographs are accompanied by text that relays the individual children’s stories. He notes that the text magnifies the impact of the images. With this in mind, I hope to be able to view a hard copy of Karat in order to note the effect that the addition of text has on the overall narrative.

More information on this project and others by Müller can be found on his website.

Wells, L. (2003) The Photography Reader. Oxon: Routledge

Julian Germain

Julian Germain- For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds  of Happiness (2005)

To support the study of narrative and illustration in photography, my tutor recommended I look at the work of Julian Germain and in particular the “For Every Minute You Are Angry You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness” series. He suggested that I could perhaps view the publication at a University Library however as I am currently out of the UK this was not possible. I did however manage to view the images on Germain’s website.

The photographs, taken over an eight year period, capture the quiet, contemplative life of Charlie Snelling, an elderly man living alone in a small house in the south of England.  The photographs show the day-to-day activities of Charlie, such as driving, cooking, walking and gardening. This alongside the domestic settings adds to the idea of a quiet life guided by routines. In the majority of the portraits Charlie’s gaze is directed somewhere off camera and this seems to give the viewer the idea that he is deep in thought.

Peppered throughout the series of work there are photographs from Charlie’s family album that offer the viewer a glimpse of Charlie’s life in years gone past. On the yellowing pages, alongside snapshots from family vacations, day trips and flowers are photographs of Charlie’s deceased wife, Betty. Looking at excerpts from Charlie’s family album feels very personal and helps the viewer to piece together the story of Charlie’s life up to that point.  By taking the time to select a photograph and arrange it in an album, you glean that the subject, time, place or event was significant.

By including Charlie’s personal photographs alongside the shots that Germain took himself he has opened up the series of photographs to a new level of meaning. On a connotative level, the family album has evoked the idea of time, memory, refection and melancholy. allowed me to see a sample of how the photographs were laid out in the book. I noticed that for the family album type shots Germain has chosen to display the double page spread with the scrapbook binding right through the gutter. This seems to make the experience of viewing a family album more authentic.

In term of narrative, Germain has told the story of Charlie’s life is at present and also shows glimpses of what it looked like in the past. The result is a dignified, gentle portrait of Charlie that prompts both emotion and question in the viewer about time, age and family.

More information of Julian Germain and his work can be found at


David Alan Harvey Seminar

David Allan Harvey Talk


As part of the GPP 2014 programme of events, Magnum photographer, David Alan Harvey was in Dubai to share his knowledge and experience. I was lucky enough to attend an event, alongside 300 other people, where Harvey was speaking about his work.


David Allan Harvey began photographing at a young age, having bought his first camera when he was 12. Harvey career has led him to contribute over 40 feature stories to National Geographic Magazine, found Burn Magazine and in 1997 become a full member of Magnum photos.


Harvey began by speaking about how his career in photography came to be.  As a young boy he began photographing his family and neighborhood. He said that initially this was not a conscious decision, simply what was available to him. Harvey stressed that you must ‘incorporate photography into your life’. From this point his interest in family, culture and humanity developed.

When he was 20 years old, Harvey lived with and documented the lives of a black family living in Norfolk, Virginia. These photographs were published in 1966, in his book ‘Tell It Like It Is’. The title, he said, is a reference to photography that observes and interprets life. One of his well-known quotes is:

‘Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like’.

Harvey notes that among his major influences were Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), a founding Magnum member, and Robert Frank (1924-). Both photographers who are known for their documentary approach, both with very individual styles. However, he also gains inspiration from literature, history and art.

Like Cartier-Bresson, Harvey likes to use minimal equipment. He usually opts to use just one fast lens and available light. He aims to be ‘an invisible photographer’, emerging himself in a scene to become an insider. He presented his typical kit to the audience, his camera, casually slung over one shoulder and a sport-type backpack across the other. He also said that he often uses his i-phone camera as this then can connect him quickly to the Internet.

Harvey also confessed that he does not use Photoshop or any other post-processing tool to edit his work. “I don’t have a problem with Photoshop”, he said, “I just don’t know how to use it”. He believes that the technical route he took into photography, he learned film, worked in a studio as a teenager, learnt the Zone System etc., has helped negate the need for post-processing.

Harvey wants his photographs to tell a story. He likes to have a lot going on in his images with the elements juxtaposed in certain ways. He advocates that when using pictures to convey a narrative it is important to print out the images and physically move them around when experimenting with layouts. He notes that no computer programme is a substitute for this and that top magazine editors still use this system to this day.

Harvey talked us through two slide shows of his work. The first showing a range of work spanning his career and the second featuring photographs from his ‘Divided Soul’ projects. ‘The Divided Soul’ projects are based on his extensive work on the Spanish cultural migration to the Americas. He notes that he feels drawn to Spanish culture and that he has undertaken much research to gain more insight. His research concerned, although not limited to history, literature, customs, religion and music. He notes that this helps him to prepare for shooting as he then with highlight keywords that he wants to focus on. This sounded, to me, like Harvey’s version of a Picture Script.


I found this talk both interesting and inspiring. Harvey comes across as being a very humble man who loves what he does. The glimpses of his life and work experience that he shared sounded fascinating. From being in Vietnam as an American at a time when Americans were considered the enemy to racing across the Dubai desert, camera at hand, with Emirati royalty.

I attended this seminar only a day after hearing Joe McNally speak and found it interesting to note their very different, but equally impressive, approaches to photography. While McNally was illustrating the use of hot shoe and off-camera lighting, Harvey talked of working with one camera, one lens and available light. It did make me think that perhaps it is too easy to be overly concerned with equipment and gadgets and that by doing so you could miss some amazing photo opportunities.

More information on David Alan Harvey’s work can be found at

Harvey is also the Publisher/Editor of Burn magazine, an online magazine/journal that aims to provide a platform for emerging photographers both online and in print.

Joe McNally Seminar

Joe McNally Seminar


GPP 2014, the Dubai Photography Festival is in full swing, March 7-14. The event is the region’s only photography festival and brings some of the world’s best photographers and instructors to Dubai to share their experience and knowledge to the Middle East and Africa’s professional and amateur photography community.

As part of the festival I enrolled for a Seminar: Small Lights Made Simple with U.S. Photographer Joe McNally. McNally is in internationally acclaimed photographer with a career spanning over 30 years. His work has included covers for National Geographic, TIME and Newsweek.


McNally began by introducing the programme for the day as beginning with hot shoe flash, moving on to off camera flash, multiple wireless flash, portrait strategies and advanced techniques.

The structure of the day was a live demonstration with McNally’s camera connected to a large projector screen allowing every shot he took to be seen by the audience. At the side of the room a large white sweep was set up and an array of different light stands, flash units, light shapers and models were waiting to be called upon. He also had two assistants.

The Shoot – Using models, professional and from the audience, Joe began by showing the effects of on camera flash and experimenting with bouncing flash to improve the shot.

He moved through the programme as a very quick pace introducing light modifiers, such as umbrella, soft boxes (both large and small), cutters, reflectors, beauty dish and grids.

He talked about feminine and masculine light, opting to use an umbrella to shape the light for a young woman and to use a hard light to achieve dramatic shadows in a man’s face and also dramatic shadows on a wall.

McNally also introduced the use of gels to the flash units. While I experimented a little bit with correction gels, McNally used theatrical gels, which strongly influenced the light and the effect in the images on the large screen.

Nearing towards the end of the seminar McNally had set up a scenes involving as many as five different flash units although he did not that on many occasions he works with just a single light.

While I found the entire seminar extremely interesting these are the areas that I found to give me most food for thought.

What we need to consider about light- Quality, Colour and Direction. While, having completed my light section of this course, I was aware that these factors were important I found it useful to have these summarised do neatly. Recalling these three words will be helpful when planning or setting up a shoot.

TTL v’s Manual- Responding to an audience question, Joe discussed his thoughts on using flash units in TTL mode v’s Manual mode. McNally notes that he will use TTL mode the majority of the time, switching to Manual when TTL fails to give his the results he wants, such as in high contrast scenes. I found this interesting as on many photography forums I have read the use of Manual mode is usually advocated with the implication that TTL is in some way ‘cheating’. However, as McNally notes why make things hard for yourself if you don’t have to. He also noted that if you only have a very limited amount of time to get a shot TTL can save you valuable set up time. He demonstrated use of both Manual and TTL in his shoot.

Shutter speed/flash duration- While the duration of the flash influences the amount of light reaching the subject in the foreground it is the shutter speed that needs to be adjusted to increase/decrease background light.

Multiple flash units- When using multiple flash units you can mix-up TTL and Manual flash mode. Using different modes on different lights. While I only have one flash unit I did find this interesting for future reference.

High Speed Sync- For every f/stop about max shutter speed you lose about ½ your flash power. While I knew the maximum sync speed for my camera/flash was 1/200s I didn’t realise that the fall off in flash power was quite so high.

Start with a single light- McNally stressed that he only ever starts with a single light then builds the lighting as needed. He notes that this is important as if you set up five lights all at once and find out something isn’t working it would be more difficult to find out what light/lights were causing the problem. Very useful advice that could save a lot of frustration and valuable time.

Light positioning- As speedlights are small lights it is very important to have them in the exact position. McNally demonstrated the effect that even the slightest change of light position had to a photograph.


The seminar was at a fast pace and full of lots of information. McNally imparted the information and demonstrated the practical application in an easygoing, informal, entertaining manner. While gaining a huge amount of information, I also found it extremely useful to see the practical side of a photography shoot and found to interesting to note that pleasing results could be achieved with a single as well as a multiple light set up. Following this seminar, my speedlight has become a little less of a mystery and I look forward to using it with more confidence.

More information on Joe McNally and his work can be found here

More information on Gulf Photo Plus and GPP can be found here

Roland and Sabrina Michaud exhibition

Earlier this week I attended an exhibition showing the work of photographers, Roland and Sabrina Michaud, at The Empty Quarter gallery in Dubai.

The exhibition was titled ‘A Love without Frontiers’ which references the husband and wife’s lifetime of travel and exploration. Roland, a Frenchman met Sabrina, a Moroccan in the late 1950’s. They then began their photographic journey, which has taken them across Asia. They travelled by foot, car and horseback documenting the people and places they encountered and shared their images with the world via the 23 photographic books they have published.

A collection of the Michaud’s most famous works were on display, depicting scenes from Afghanistan, India, China, Mongolia and Pakistan.

While a few of the photographs were portraits the majority showed people carrying out their day-to-day tasks whether that be work or play.

One of the first things that came to mind when I viewed images was the bold use of colour and the ever so slightly soft focus effect that the prints had. It made me think of Autochrome images I had viewed and read about previously in Robert’s, The Genius of Colour Photography. This alongside the use of shadow and light gave the images a painterly quality and seemed to romanticise the scenes.

A few images which really stood out for me were:

Young Kirghiz girl, (Afghan Pamir), 1971 demonstrates this bold use of colour. The girl’s gaze is focused as she concentrates on her task, possibly sewing or threading. The colour red dominates. It is the colour of her headscarf, jacket, dress and also features in the background, a red and blue tapestry. Although red is usually considered to be an active colour, the girls pose and concentration the overall effect is warm and calm.

In Afghan Dervish, 1967, contrasting colours feature again. It shows a portrait shot of a dervish, an Islamic mystic. The man is elderly and the side lighting emphasises the wrinkles and furrows of his skin. His head is covered with a purple scarf, decorated with a garland of purple ornaments. The man’s eyes are the focal point of the image. The eyes are sharply in focus while the focus softens around the sides of his face and ears. He looks directly into the camera lens with a very intense gaze and this helped me to connect to the picture. I spent quite sometime returning his gaze and wondering what he was thinking. The areas of soft focus also added a sense of calm and quiet to the image.

Playing Sitar in the Shalimar Gardens, Lahore. (Pakistan), 1981 has a more muted colour palette, using pinks dusky pinks and purples. As the title suggests, the subject is a sitar player. The photograph has been taken from a distance and the sitar player, a woman, sits between columns and underneath archways. While framing the woman the archways also add a rhythm for the eye to follow. The soft pink light seems to indicate that it either sunset or sunrise. Again the overall effect is calm and serenity.

Kazakh family life in the Altai Mountains (Mongolia), 1999 shows more activity. The photograph shows the inside a dwelling. It’s walls and floors are covered in an assortment of many different patterned and coloured rugs. The colour red, again, is dominant although there are small splashes of green and orange. A single bed sits in a corner also covered by a patterned tug. Someone stands on the right of the frame, their back to the camera. In the middle of the frame a woman sits engaged in a household task. On the left of the frame a man sits cross-legged, a young boy on his lap. In his hands he holds a ‘guitar’ like stringed instrument that it appears he is playing. The three faces are lit from the side by what looks like natural light. The man is looking towards the guitar, the woman towards her work, smiling. The young boy however, is looking straight towards the camera, unsmiling, perhaps not quite as comfortable as the other family members to its presence. I liked this photograph as it offers a glimpse as to what family life resembles to another family in another part of the world. A fly on the wall perspective.

Overall, I found this exhibition interesting in both a visual and anthropological way. It felt a little bit like a journey as I got a hint as to what the Michaud’s experienced on their travels. It was apparent through the work that the Michaud’s were comfortable in the places they photographed and also that the people they photographed were comfortable with the Michaud’s.

I did wonder as to how working in a photography partnership would work, particularly with one’s spouse. Would they be creative differences? Would there be competition? However, it seems to work for Roland and Sabrina Michaud. There work in equally credited to them both and they are still now, in their 70’s and 80’s,  travelling in the middle East and Asia with their camera and their motto:

‘Old age in winter for the ignorant, but harvest for the wise’

The exhibition runs until March 13th, 2014. The majority of the photographs mentioned above can be viewed on the gallery website.

‘Light’ book reviews

Books that I found very useful on Light

On commencing the TAoP chapter on Light, I had only a very basic understanding of how light behaved and how this relates to photography. As I worked through the exercises and projects (at a much slower pace that I would have liked) I used reading to explain topics further and in turn support my learning in this area.

Three books that I found to be particularly helpful were

  • Hunter, F., Bier, S. and Fuqua, P. (2012) Light, Science and Magic. (4th Ed.) Waltham: Focal Press
  • Präkel, D. (2007) Lighting. Lausanne: AVA
  • Freeman, M. (2012) Light & Lighting. Lewes: ILEX

I will now offer a short review of each book highlighting the ways in which each offered support and inspiration.

Light, Science and Magic (2012)

I bought this book at the beginning of the course as per the recommended reading list. Since this point I have made a few attempts at digesting its contents only to become confused with the technicalities of diffusion, transmission and reflection. However, as I needed to extend my knowledge of light I made a concerted effort to read and, this time, to understand the concepts. Admittedly, I found the first three chapters difficult, however this time I persevered and I found it useful in helping me to understand the answer to the fundamental question, What is Light? This led to a further explanation about colour temperature that helped support my work on the exercises, Judging Colour Temperature and Light Through the Day.

The ‘family of angles’ was a concept that I had real difficulty in grasping no matter how many times I read the text. However, I carried out a practical exercise as directed on p121, and this helped demonstrate to me how to find the family of angles that, in turn, helped to demystify the concept. My blog entry on this can be found by clicking here.

The following chapters in the book contain a lot more practical information and advice and clearly guide the reader, using lighting set-up diagrams and varying subject matter characteristics. This section was especially helpful for Assignment Four as it explains about the angle of light in relation to texture, shape and form, three characteristics of an object the assignment asks to be revealed.

Despite it’s technical introduction, this book is actually full of practical advice on photographic lighting. It is a book that I will keep to hand and undoubtedly use as a point of reference for my lighting set-ups.

Lighting (2007)

This was also a book that was included in the recommended reading list for the course. It is part of the Basics photography series by AVA and has a good balance of technical information and practical tips alongside inspiring images and clear diagrams. The book consists of six chapters;

What is light?

Natural light

Available light

Photographic light

Controlling light

Using light

The section, What is light? Helped to reinforce what I had read in Hunter et al regarding light being an electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the eye. It expanded on this somewhat, by detailing the colour temperatures of common light sources and how a nomograph can be used to work out which filters can be used to convert the colour of one light source to another.

The Natural light chapter specifies the qualities of light at different time of the day. I referred to this often when researching the Light Through the Day, Cloudy Weather and Rain and the Outdoor at Night exercises as it helped me to understand how light behaves throughout the day and how to ‘read’ its temperature.

The section on Controlling light helped outline to me the possible uses for the light modifiers I had recently acquired, such as reflectors, a flag and a snoot, to build light and control it.

The last section, Using light, offers brief, yet clear advice on how to use light to reveal a subject’s shape, form, texture, tone and colour. Advice that was extremely useful in planning for and carrying out Assignment Four.

This book has both practical content and is easy to navigate, making it a handy reference book to have on hand.

Light and Lighting (2012)

This book was not part of the recommended reading. I found it in the photography section of my local bookshop and decided to buy it after noting that its structure is akin to that of a college course, containing lessons and encouraging reader participation.

The book covers five sections titled; Lighting fundamentals, Daylight, Artificial light, Photographic lighting and Lighting styles.

I found each section helpful in some way.

Lighting Fundamentals was helpful in that it explained colour temperature, WB and measuring light in a simple way. All helpful in supporting the Light exercises.

Daylight discussed the quality of light at different points throughout the day and in different weather conditions and how to use this to advantage. Freeman covers shooting into the sun, which was useful as it gave practical advice on how to achieve a silhouette and correct exposure. This section also outlines how reflectors and diffusers, both man-made and natural, can be used to manage strong sunshine.

Artificial light is a short section which discusses incandescent light, fluorescent and vapour discharge lights. The main learning I gleaned from this chapter is that even with WB presets many images taken under these types of lighting still may have deficiencies in colour accuracy. While sometimes these colour casts can add to a scene’s atmosphere sometimes they require colour correction, best carried in images shot in RAW format. It became apparent that there is no one ‘rule’ on whether to correct or not. Freeman advises that it is probably best to consider what is appropriate for your individual subject and setting.

Photographic lighting was a helpful chapter as it details the benefits of both flash and continuous lights alongside various light modifiers. It also illustrated the varying positions of a light in relation to the subject and how this could emphasis specific subject characteristics. Practical information that was useful when planning and carrying out both the exercises, assignment and future shoots.

Like Präkel, the Freeman book also looks at Lighting Styles. However, the Freeman book has a wider range of images to illustrate the varying lighting styles, several of which, the chiaroscuro, light painting and backlighting styles, sparked me to experiment.

Overall, I found each of these books helpful in widening my knowledge of light and in supporting me through this section of the course. While several of the topics are repeated in more than one of these books I didn’t feel that I was routinely covering the same ground. Conversely, I felt as though reading from more than one source helped broaden my knowledge and has helped me to consolidate my learning.

Light-Progress towards Assessment Criteria 4

Light- Progress towards Assessment Criteria

On successful completion of this course you’ll be able to:

Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills

Material, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.

Before beginning this section of the course I was aware that my understanding of light was lacking. Since completing the exercises, reading and assignment I now realise that having knowledge of light and how it behaves is fundamentally important in photography. I feel as though I have had several ‘eureka’ moments when things seemed to have clicked together in my mind.

Examples of these occasions include when I felt as I was beginning to recognise light temperature. I had previously selected WB routinely, based on shooting conditions and was not fully aware of how this affected the image. However, carrying out the ‘Judging Colour Temperature 1 & 2’, exercises and examining the resulting images made it clear to me that the different options compensated for the varying temperatures of the light and also of how this could be used creatively. I have since began experimenting with custom WB options in post-processing and now realise that the temperature my camera, a Nikon D5100, defaults to for Daylight WB is slightly different to the Daylight WB setting preset on Photoshop Elements 11. The ‘Light through the Day’ exercise has also helped me develop an awareness of the colours of changing natural light. On examining the resulting images it was easy to see the huge differences in the light temperature, sometimes even after only minutes of time had lapsed. Following this exercise I downloaded a sun compass from I Tunes, which would allow me to gauge the sun’s position while travelling or in an unfamiliar place.

The exercise on ‘Measuring exposure’ and ‘Higher and Lower Sensitivity” has helped see a shift in the way I meter a shot. Previously I used matrix metering the majority of the time, however I am now better at identifying a mid-tone in a shot and using this to TTL spot meter to achieve a better exposure. I do, nevertheless, realise that mastering an off-camera light meter is the next step. I also knew on a logical level that aperture, shutter speed and ISO had a reciprocal relationship when it came to exposure however these exercises have helped me to realise this practically.

A further ‘eureka’ moment came when I experimented with Bulb mode for the ‘Outdoors at Night’ images here I began to realise the opportunities that long exposures could offer. This encouraged me to use Bulb mode for the Colour 2, light painting shot.

110mm, f/11, 13s, ISO 200, Tungsten WB

Colour 2,
110mm, f/11, 13s, ISO 200, Tungsten WB

This section of the course has introduced me to many new techniques and pieces of equipment. I fairly recently acquire a speed light and a set of 500w (3200k) tungsten lights that I have found to be a joy to use compared with the desk lamp/daylight set ups that I have used for previous photographs. The lights offered bright, even light without the colour casts that the desk lamps gave. Where to position a light to reveal specific subject qualities was a major element of Assignment Four and as the tungsten lights have a stand and I can position the flash off-camera on a stand, it allowed me to position a light exactly where I wanted it to go and for it to stay in place.

When I previously researched photographic light and came across various light modifiers I quickly became puzzled as to what I would need and how would I use it. Research during this chapter, (Präkel, 2007, Hunter, et al, 2012, Freeman, 2012), made it clear that it clear that if I wanted to control light I would need some tools to be able to do so. I therefore have added modifiers to my kit, such as a large 5-in 1 reflector, a Rogue flash bender that can act as a reflector, flag or snoot, a shoot through umbrella and DIY soft boxes and grid. For this assignment I used some pieces of equipment more than others, such as the shoot through umbrella and reflectors, however I have taken the time to experiment with each item and realise their potential uses.

When deciding how to compose the still-life photographs for this assignment I called upon the learning I had previously undertaken on this course. I considered presenting the images in a square format as this would frame the shape of the pumpkin neatly, however after planning with some sketches I realised the square format felt quite restrictive and a rectangular format would fit some of the compositions better, such as Texture 1 and Form 1.

Texture 1,  side-lighting, 105mm, f/4.8, 1/45s, ISO 100, Tungsten WB

Texture 1,
105mm, f/4.8, 1/45s, ISO 100, Tungsten WB

Form 1,  tungsten lighting, 68mm, f/19, 1/15s, ISo 200, Tungsten WB.

Form 1,
tungsten lighting,
68mm, f/19, 1/15s, ISo 200, Tungsten WB.

I tried to vary the compositions between each shot to add visual interest to the series, employing both static and dynamic balance, different camera perspectives, over-filling the frame and varying depths of field.

I also considered making the series consist of both black and white and colour shots as black and white can enhance the qualities of texture and form (Freeman, 2007, p127). However I experimented with a few black and white conversions and found that without the element of colour the pumpkin images seemed lacking. Perhaps because the bright orange colour is often considered a pumpkin’s dominant characteristic?

Quality of Outcome

Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualization of thoughts, communication of ideas.

The learning I have gained throughout this section of the course has been vast and have I found the exercises useful in illustrating how this can be used in practice. I have also found that writing about the steps I undertake during the exercises in my learning log helpful in organising my thoughts and to pinpoint exactly what learning has taken place. Further to this, I find that by linking my thoughts and findings to the research that I have undertaken, whether it be reading or viewing the work of other photographers, my thinking develops and my thoughts consolidate.

When planning and developing the images for Assignment Four I have tried to show how I have applied my newfound knowledge of lighting and how to control it. However, I opted not to use all the equipment and  all the techniques to which I have been introduced, as I didn’t want use a snoot or a flag for the sake of it. I choose instead, to select the tools that I felt best fulfilled the assignment criteria by revealing the subject’s attributes.

In terms of presentation of work, I did give quite some thought as to how the work for the assignment could be presented, as noted above, in order for the photographs to hang together as a series and also offer some visual interest.  

I have had a few blog problems lately, mainly with missing images and plan to repair this before commencing the next section of the course.

Demonstration of Creativity

Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice

I was aware that while Assignment Four was essentially a technical exercise, I wanted it still to be visually interesting. I initially used a mind map and rough sketches to brainstorm my ideas.

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.06.55 PMScreen Shot 2013-11-13 at 1.07.17 PMThese formed the basis of my ideas but there was a lot of trial and error as I tried out the various techniques and compositions. I returned to the drawing board often to rethink, particularly before I purchased the studio lighting. I had somehow gone from being largely unaware of how to use light at the beginning of this chapter to a point where I knew what I was doing was not good. In the end it has taken me nearly 200 different shots and a period of 4 weeks to reach a point where I am (fairly) happy with the images.

While the assignment brief asked for eight photographs to be taken of the same subject matter I took a bit of creative license and used a number of pumpkins in some of the photographs, trying to present the different subject qualities in slightly different compositions.

The exercise and assignment instructions encouraged me to experiment with techniques that were new to me such as backlighting to silhouette and rim lighting. While I did find the exposure for these shots tricky to master, I found the results to be worth the frustration and will use these techniques again, particularly to reveal a subject’s shape. Light painting, Colour 2 (see above) , is also an example of me experimenting with a new technique.


Reflection, research, critical thinking.

My learning log is the primary location where I reflect on my work, research and thoughts. I have also started to develop a more informal off-line electronic notebook. The benefits of this seem to be that I can cut and paste interesting articles and web links, however the downside of this is that it is I seem to be using this more as a way of collating information rather than for reflecting on its contents. While the core texts are influencing my thinking I am also finding that questions and ideas arise from magazines, websites and photography groups I follow on Twitter. I know from experience that my ‘informal’ reflection attempts can quickly veer off topic so perhaps I can find a way of adding ‘post-it’ style notes to each article in order to be concise?

As the concept of photographic light was very new to me I found that I had to undertake quite a bit of reading in order to support the exercises in this chapter. I have referenced this reading throughout, so my thinking can be sourced and I can refer back with ease should I need to.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend three different photography exhibitions this autumn, Rawiya, She Who Tells a Story, Jung Lee and Nestled in Nature and I have written about these in my learning log. These exhibitions were very different visually and in the messages they wanted to deliver. This was interesting as it helped widen the scope of photographic styles and intentions I have viewed such as reportage, historical record, nature and philosphical.

I also had the opportunity to attend a (free!) talk on the History of Photography. What I found especially of interest was the original daguerreotypes and stereograph that the presenter shared with the audience. While I had read about these early photographic mediums in books, holding them in my hand and looking at them first-hand seemed to strengthen my understanding of how detailed the early photographic processes were.

Narrative and illustration next…

Freeman, M. (2012) Light & Lighting. Lewes: ILEX

Hunter, F., Biver, S. and Fuqua, P. (2012) Light, Science and Magic. (4th ed.) Waltham: Focal Press

Präkel, D. (2007) Lighting. Lausanne: AVA