Archive for the 'Assignment' Category


Assignment 4: Composition


The composition of a photograph, apart from being a potential ‘subject’ itself – has the power to make or break your photograph, more than any other aspect. It can be a complex topic to address and involves almost every aspect of the making of a photograph.

We will use primarily only black-and-white images in this discussion for two reasons; the first is that the issue of composition becomes a much simpler topic in black and white – as the black and white image tends to be more dependent on composition for it’s success (the color photograph also relies on the same factors of course but can distract from these issues). The second reason is that we will be carrying out this assignment in monochrome (that is to say, ‘black and white’). Please set your camera on your monochrome setting for this assignment. It is usually located under the main menu setting under ‘color settings’ or equivalent. If you don’t have a black and white setting then ‘sepia’ will do also.


Using Negative Space
Notice the dramatic nature of the following image. By using an unusually large amount of ‘negative space’ (a fancy term for ‘background’ or ‘featureless’ space). It is sometimes surprising to see how dramatic an image can be when using such a technique. This is something to keep in mind and try out on your own when the opportunity presents itself.


Ray K Metzker, Philadelphia 1963

Ray K Metzker, Philadelphia 1963

Exercise: Try making three photographs using shadow (or light) in this manner. Think of this ‘negative space’ almost like a window matte over a framed photograph. You may use a large expanse of shadow or light (it can be a wall for example – in shadow or bright light) – the idea is to use only a small part of the frame to draw attention to the subject and make that seem more significant.


A politician once said ‘Repeat a lie often enough and people will start to believe it.’ This strikes me as relevant when looking at the topic of repetition in images – perhaps it’s simply the insistence of a particular form repeating itself – or perhaps it has to do with our fascination with patterns and systems. Whatever the reason, repetition of a single element throughout the frame can make for a powerful image. the design of such images are usually MORE successful when they are based on a diagonal motif (which is to say- that straight grids are not usually as successful as diagonally based ones, such as the image below).


Margaret Bourke-White, Delman Shoes, 1933.

Margaret Bourke-White, Delman Shoes, 1933.

Exercise: try this with whatever subjects are available for you. Try to make three (at least one at a minimum) images that are based on repetition in this manner. Try to make one based on a ‘straight up’ vs ‘diagonal grid.


Gesture and Line
Look at the following image by Lewis Hine. Note the way that each motif (arc,circle, other shapes) compliment eachother. This is a classic example of good design in a photograph. It is not necessary to ‘pre design’ or ‘calculate’ such an image. It’s simply a matter of ‘moving things around’ until you find a composition that you find pleasing to the eye.


Lewis Hine, (Powerhouse Mechanic), 1920

Lewis Hine, (Powerhouse Mechanic), 1920

Exercise: Using common objects – or, like the above, using a friend as a subject – attempt to integrate the subject of your photograph into the background. This shouldn’t be daunting – it can be something as simple as a doorway – or the space between two other people… a form behind them (perhaps a statue or sculpture). Learn to stop seeing the world in terms of ‘good and bad’ subjects. Start thinking of everything in terms of it’s surface and ‘photographic’ qualities (shape, tone, reflectivity, texture, etc)


Shadow and Light
Both shadow and light can be strong design elements in any image, and any photograph that has ‘beautiful light’ in it contains an element of this. The quality of light in a photograph is one of the most underrated aspects of photography by newcomers. Try to pay attention to what is going on with the lighting in the scene of any photograph you make. Being more conscious of this will make you a better photographer than most other aspects of photography will.


Paul Strand. Porch Shadows, 1916

Paul Strand. Porch Shadows, 1916

Exercise: Find a subject that has a pattern of shadow (or any shadow of an interesting nature to you) falling on it. Make the shadow say something interesting. That is to say – compose the image so that the shadow almost seems like the subject. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You should also try this with a swath of light passing through an opening like a window or partly open door. Think about the shadows cast by things and let the shadows take on a life of their own… consider them part of the object that’s casting the shadow…


Assignment 3: Electronic Flash

Swans in flight

In the last day(s) we went over the concept of fill flash and how to achieve it. Using the built-in flash in our camera, set on comparatively low power to shoot a subject at close range, while simultaneously using a slow shutter speed (1/4 second or greater) to give the proper exposure for the background, we can achieve some interesting effects, using the high speed of the flash to clearly make out our subject – while abstracting the background somewhat (depending on camera movement and/or what’s going on in the background)

When we make a photograph by this technique – we are actually making a form of ‘double exposure’ – one is a standard flash photograph of our subject in the foreground by flash – and the second is our background, lit by traditional methods.

The Weekend Assignment is:

1. Make three successful shots using this technique OUTDOORS (important hint: you will need to use the smallest possible aperture – i.e. higher f-number). This is because a wider (smaller number) aperture will require too short a shutter speed to effectively blur the background. Once you get your basic technique down and you feel like you’re getting pretty good with it – pick your framing and subject in a way that will complement the effect you’re achieving (hint: this technique conveys the idea of motion when used correctly)

2. Make three successful shots using this technique INDOORS – preferably where there are lots of people around (if possible). Use an aperture that will allow you to be in the 1/4 sec to 1 sec range, if possible.Now make three successful shots (again – not all the same please!) at the same location but try under exposing the background (by about one stop – yes, that’s right – we need to use a higher shutter speed). Now see what happens when we keep the background properly exposed and we underexpose the flash.

3. Make a series of photographs using a friend in motion – they can be on a bicycle or walking briskly by you – anything will work in this case. Now try making a series of seven shots. Test for the optimal background exposure and then make this the middle of the series you’ll do. So – for example – if the optimal exposure is around 1/4 second, then make a series at 2 sec, 1 sec, 1/2 sec, 1/4 sec, 1/8 sec, 1/16 sec and 1/30 sec. Look at your results now – once you have this completed. What effects do the varied exposure and reduced or increased shutter time have on the final picture?


Billiards with rear curtain synch


Assignment 2: Street Photography

Philip Lorca de Corcia

Philip Lorca de Corcia

Your homework for this segment is to take your camera into an urban street situation, not unlike the situations encountered by some of the photographers whose work we looked at last day (see reference at end for further details). Your job will be to capture an image using techniques that we reviewed and that you should practice shortly before the exercise.

garry winogrand vampiress

Garry Winogrand

Your Focus
The first of these is ‘Zone Focusing’ – learn to read from your focus dial (or equivalent) and pre-set your focus to a distance between 2.5 and 4.5 feet. The smaller the distance, the more demanding the exercise will be – a great result will be slightly more difficult – however you will learn much more. That’s the payoff. Practicing first with a wall or other object with vertical mass to it (like a person – of course – a person might be an ideal subject for your training), do a series of trial exposures while walking towards your practice target, attempting to identify the precise distance you will be working at. This may not come easy at first. Guiding yourself with a yardstick or measuring tape is a great way to get to learn how far that distance occurs in front of you at first.

Lee Friedlander  - doors

Lee Friedlander

Shutter Speed
Your shutter speed will be a fixed speed . So in this case we’re going to use a shutter speed of 1/90th of a second – the aperture will be determined by what the camera indicates in it’s light meter (in the case of manual mode) or automatically if we are in shutter priority mode. In this mode, an adequate shutter speed will always be maintained – and the lighting of the scene determining what aperture we end up using.

Focal Length
Remember – cropping (or zooming in) is no substitute for ‘being there’

Do not be afraid to shoot in a place where there is both direct light (sun or skylight) and a lot of heavy shadow- but don’t make this a priority – try to mix things up a little in terms of scenery.

Remember – a great street photograph usually contains a strong element of social commentary. Be intent on exploring social and other contrasts inside the frame of your viewfinder. It’s all about revealing relationships, whether real or only perceived. You have the power to reveal truths about the world in the same way as Franz Kafka or Vladimir Nabokov can with their pens on paper. The only limitations are created by you. GOOD HUNTING!

Lee Friedlander

Lee Friedlander

Roy De Carava

Roy De Carava


Street Photography in Wikipedia

PHOTO.NET’s page on Street Photography

Eric Kim’s page on Cartier-Bresson


Exercise 1B: Shutter Effects

For the next series, we will make an exposure series with constant shutter speed. A tripod is not necessary for this – as we will be exposing them all (all frames that is) at 1/60th of a second. The reason for this exercise is to have an intense look at what happens to our highlights and shadows as we move through an exposure series. While in most cases what happens may not be ‘pretty’ in terms of a traditional image – it can be learned from – and we can use it to our advantage where necessary.

f/2.8 f/4 f/5.6 f/8 f/11 f/16 f/22 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec. 1/60 sec.

Analysis: Explore the shadow detail in certain areas as we move through the series… notice what happens to the detail that is underexposed and likewise with the highlight areas. Also note that contrast seems to vary according to the brightness/darkness of certain areas. For example, in frames which are underexposed – shadow areas tend to lose contrast when underexposed. Film will respond differently than digital images in this regard, as film tends to be a more ‘forgiving’ medium that responds a little differently than the digital medium.

Make note also of what other changes you see happening :

May 2018
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