Exercise 4.5

Background
Not too far from where I live, there is located on the banks of Lake Geneva (French: Lac Leman) is one of the most visited castles in Switzerland, Château de Chillon. The castle origins date back about a thousand years and the building has been expanding ever since through turbulent times on conflict. Lately in more peaceful times the castle came to more romantic fame in the 1800s when it was visited by poets Byron and Shelly. The castle today is easily accessible by both road, rail and steam boat and remains an attraction because structurally it is complete and because on its imposing lakeshore location.

Being a top attraction the image of Château de Chillon must appear in every tourist brochure for the region, numerous postcards, adorns chocolate wrappers, placemats, souvenir mugs, hats, flags etc. In fact any piece of tourist memorabilia will have a picture of the castle. On these items the standard image of Chillon appears, that is a view of it being approached by boat from the lake.

The following screen shot is from Yahoo by entering the image search criteria Chateau Chillon. It can be seen that nearly all the images conform to the lakeside presentation on the castle. Scrolling onto the next Yahoo page the images did not alter much in style.

Chateau Chillon

Some images may be at dawn and others at sunset, some may be enhanced, some may be straight but essentially all the images conform to the same norm of a low shot from the water. Again in most cases the castle is placed along the third with the rest of the shot taken up by water, or placed centrally to be the predominant feature.  The vast majority of the images I viewed on Yahoo, Bing and other search engines are presented in landscape format.

Living here you cannot but help to be drawn by both the nature and by the beauty of this building and I make no apology for taking many similar ‘touristic’ images for a pictorial record of my time here in Switzerland.

Approach
I wanted to create images not too dissimilar to that found on the internet. In other words it would be easy to record details of the castle wall or make designs from juxtaposed items in the castle to be different; but that is not what I was looking for. The plan was to create something that paid homage to the images but was different enough to be dissimilar.

Images
What I thought would be relatively easy was in fact more difficult than I expected.  Sounds obvious but once you were confronted by the castle it became obvious there were only certain places it could actually be photographed from.  Secondly the size of the place also limited how far back you needed to be in order to recreate a similar type image. Finally the weather played a part.  On the occasions I visited the castle the weather was almost clear blue skies again very similar to the ‘standard’ image found on Google. Therefore by a combination of these three factors greatly reduced as far as I was concerned the ability to be creative.

1a) This is my starting position of the classic shot.  Nothing creative or incidental about this image and taken from the lake on a boat.  On the plus side I was blessed with a clear blue sky.  However the downside was the lens I was using has caused some distortion on the verticals of the castle and although the horizon is straight the castle has a feel of leaning to the left. DSC01829

1b) A portrait version of the same scene if a little nearer. I wanted to explore the usage of this format to see if it could add value to the viewing experience.  I think the conclusion must be no.  OK the classic sea on the left and sky at the top have been replaced with water underneath but again nothing exciting about this.

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1c) The next in sequence is a tighter shot on the castle.  Visually more balanced than the last in that the subject almost fills the frame. For me a much better shot and represents well the building but in terms of this exercise nothing too different.  I would class this as a good record shot and certainly captures the feel of the castle.

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1d) While as photographer’s there is a tendency to remove objects from view so as to concentrate on the subject I purposely included the Swiss Flag from the back of the boat to give a different feel and perspective. On one hand it applies the same principle of John Davies’ Mount Fuji series in that the subject is just in the background.  I suppose the difference here is that there is a strong association between the castle and the flag so the foreground and background come together to give that completeness of Swiss-ness to the picture.  The red of the flag is striking enough to catch the eye and hold attention before looking at the background.  While it can be argued the picture is not overly original and if anything a little clichéd it is interesting to note that there are very few similar images as a result of internet searches. For some reason I do have an affinity to this image, while the others in the sequence I consider just as record shots.

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2) With this I tried something different.  I noticed that there were very few monochrome shots of the castle. It was taken from the road at a low angle to fill the frame with the building.  Other than an experiment in being different for me it does not add anything to what I set out to do.

DSC00508

 

3a) For these pictures I wanted to explore if you could still get the feel of the castle the further away you moved to the point where it became almost an insignificant point in the landscape.  In this picture the castle is framed with the trees and the happenstance of a boat going by.  It was a case of framing and waiting for the boast to pass at the right time.  I have consciously cropped to a longer format to try better to represent the position of the castle in the wide lake

DSC_8264

 

3b) Taken further back and this time similar to the flag image from earlier I have introduced a strong foreground.  The difference here is that the foreground is not directly associated with the background.  The common element here is the lake.  This has the effect of putting the castle into a total context of its surroundings.  We then get a totally different feel as the castle ceases to become the main subject.  The picture is more a landscape where the castle plays its part.  From my own perspective I do like this picture and feel I have brought a differing view but the picture does retain the ethos of those found from the internet although not from the same angle.

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3c) The final image is taken from even further back where the castle becomes even less significant.  The castle now ceases to become an element of interest in its own right,  If anything it has been demoted to a compositional object just to balance out the boat on the opposite side. The image is just a competent landscape.  I must admit that outside of the question I do like the scene as it captures the tranquil feel of the day.

DSC_8260

 

4) In this last image I wanted to explore the image of the castle in how it is projected to the public by an image of itself.  As mentioned earlier the image adorns almost every touristic object there is.  Here I wanted to find something where the image is used in a different way in an ordinary scene but still in keeping with the castle itself.  At the station I found that even the trains have the image of the castle upon them.  While just taking a picture of the train would have been a little too obvious I waited until something else would happen that I could use in the picture.  As luck would have it after about 10 minutes a signalman entered the frame and then it was a case of timing.

What I like about the final image is the complete detachment between the signalman and the train.  He is doing his job yet next to him is this brightly decorated train which is being ignored.  Conversly other passengers on the platform we pointing it out and talking about it.  Perhaps the signalman is so used to it that it now plays no part of his daily routine.

In terms of this image according to Brandt was I photographing what I saw or what the camera saw I am not sure?  Maybe I have done what Baily said was in fact just photograph the ordinary.  Of all the images that while it may depart from what I originally set out to do I favour this image over the others to capture what the castle means to the region  – namely tourism.

As a complete aside the image on the train has taken an artistic photographic liberty.  The Jet d’Eau actually is in Geneva about 40 miles down the other end of the lake.

DSC_7696

Personality Determination

The beauty of this section is that it can be used to record thoughts without the necessity of the full justification that either the exercises or assignments warrant. In other words is a true blog of ideas and passing thoughts and the following is a good example:

I recently met for real a photographer whose work I was aware of via the internet and his personal web site. During the conversation he posed a question that went along the lines of “so what does my photography tell you about me”. Without listening to the question correctly I answered what I thought about him as a photographer. At the end of my discourse he asked the question again. Once I had really listened to the question, it left me stumped in that any response I have in looking at a body of work is in context to what I am seeing. I had never considered what the images were telling me about the personality of the photographer. Should it? Am I missing something here? Or was the photographer using his work as a medium to discuss himself as a person rather than what he was seeing.

While perhaps getting a little too philosophical here it did leave me wondering that if I thought this way would it be some stepped change in the process I appreciate photography and photographs. I think the answer is yes and no. If the body of work is a true personal project then yes I think there is an argument that you can determine the personality of the author, however for any professional or commercial work then I would argue this is not the case.

Maybe once I have built up a few personal projects I will canvass random people to see what they think about me via my work. It should be somewhat interesting especially so if their view does not line up with my self-thoughts.

Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment: Rework Post Tutor Review

Preface
The following is Assignment 3 that has been reworked after the tutor review.  It is presented as if it has been written first time through and does not try to compare or contrast the differences between the first and the second versions.  The reason for this is it would (a) detract from the point of the Assignment and (b) anyone reading the Assignment afresh would see how it is supposed to be rather than a comparison between two articles giving a justification for changes.  However in fairness the structure and overall direction of the Assignment has changed little.  Key changes are

  1. The number of images has been reduced from seven to six.  The image North Parade, Southwold, England has been removed because it did not really fit in the set.  In my original submission I argued that it should be in but upon reflection, that although a good photograph, it should be removed.  An interesting lesson in harsh picture editing perhaps in that even if it is good is does not mean it will make the final cut if the context is not right.
  2. Two pictures Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France 1 & 2 were substituted.  Again this was not due to the picture composition or quality but the context was weak compared to others to choose from.  This was in direct response to the tutor review (as mentioned earlier) where I was challenged to:

a) Consider image selection in more than just pure compositional values. Ask the question does the image “linger in the mind after the initial viewing”? In other words is there depth to what is being viewed or is the image nothing more but a compositional exercise.

b) Consider image selection in terms of empathy: Can the viewer for some form of empathy with the subject in the image or are we so far removed that the subject just becomes a compositional element?

As a result they were replaced with Cheseaux Gare, Switzerland and another from Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France.


The Decisive Moment

Background
In this Assignment I try to determine in if today’s society where everyone is far more picture and image conscious there is still room for ‘decisive moment’ images to exist. Or is the genre passé and the images become a cliché?

It could be argued that perhaps Cartier Bresson himself realised that the decisive moment had run its course.  While there is scant evidence to support this statement Cartier Bresson gave up photography for the last 30 years of his life and returned to his first love, art.  Although he saw the camera just to be a way to instantly draw he may have considered he had exhausted all possibilities with this medium.  Maybe after taking so many of similar type images he himself felt they were not fresh anymore in their appeal and perhaps even somewhat trite.

Yet when we look at all different media today decisive moment pictures are still present and there for all to see.  I would argue that perhaps many of these pictures are created more by accident than design which is probably just down to sheer volume of picture recording devices sold.

“humankind’s cumulative picture production total to 5.7 Trillion photographs taken since the first camera was invented”.[1]

So it can be logically concluded that with all these devices out in the world there is a greater statistical chance of more people being in the right place at the right time to produce the right image. However as counterpoint to this as Freeman (2011) states

“Ease-of-use and ease-of-taking guarantees that there will always be a huge majority of ordinary, uninspiring photographs”. [2]

There again does it actually matter the final image was not purposely created? I would argue not, providing the image captures all the elements of the decisive moment.

Yet with that said our curiosity and interest with the decisive moment remains, insomuch as the Cartier Bresson’s original book The Decisive Moment (Images à la Sauvette) was republished for the first time since 1952.  Clearly there is demand and the publisher sees money to be made.

From my images most were not ‘accidental’ in that 4 out of 6 were selected from what I call Group 3, ‘Knowing When to Photograph’, where I have composed the scene first and then waited for a subject to enter the frame at then release the shutter at the right time.  To me these are the most reminiscent of Cartier Bresson’s work and I feel demonstrate that the decisive image does still work today.  However there is the argument that this actually was not true to Cartier Bresson’s meaning in the book Images à la Sauvette because this is popularly translated as Images on the Run.  In other words all his images were taken on the fly rather than planned.  Both observation and Bresson himself says this is not always entirely true as mentioned in the original research for this Assignment (Click for link).  An interesting point is that while Images à la Sauvette is popularly translated as Images on the Run I asked a number of my French colleagues what they understood as Images à la Sauvette in modern parlance. While there was no one unanimous answer (proving there was no absolute direct translation) they majority favoured Caught Red Handed.  If this were true it does put a different perspective on Cartier Bresson’s work in the book.

Before looking at my images in detail it is interesting to note that Clayton Cubitt in his article On the Constant Moment (2013) argues the “the decisive moment is dead. Long live the constant moment” [3] in that Cartier Bresson was limited by technology in that he could only use one, camera, one lens, and one film thus creating the static decisive moment.  As technology has advanced such as devices as Google Glasses or multiple positioned webcams and infinite data storage means that the decisive moment becomes the constant moment.  Here in this constant moment world we do not record a single point in time but in continuous real time.   He proposes that the photographer is then “freed from instant reaction to the Decisive Moment, and then only faced with the Decisive Area to be in, and perhaps the Decisive Angle with which to view it.” [4]  It is a fair prediction of what the future holds but I would argue that even within this constant moment world there is still room for the decisive moment.

Image Selection

Theme
As said before four of the six images are selected the images from the 3rd Group as this is the closest to the feel of Cartier-Bresson’s work.  The linking theme here is that all the photographs contain the element of compositional anticipation in that the frame was composed first and the subject then entered the scene afterwards.  In other words they are not by chance grab shots.  With that said a couple of the images were taken almost instantly after seeing the frame as the subjects walked into the frame.

Portfolio Balance
In this assignment we are asked to deliver the images as physical prints.  As these will be looked at individually, the criteria for selection can be different from those that will be looked as a set.  Stronger single images are allowed to be more dominant although there still needs to be a balance through the set else they will come across as 6 to 8 very good but discrete individual images.

Orientation
Again as being separate images I was not concerned with a balance of orientation in that they all must be landscape format, or 3 landscape and 3 portrait format etc.  Therefore format was ruled out of my selection criteria.

Consistent Ratio
In line with Cartier Bresson’s thinking I have tried to compose full frame.  In a few cases cropping was necessary but in doing so I have retained the original 3:2 format.  Therefore images selected will need to be in this ratio for a consistent feel through the deck.

Subject Balance
Although the subject or subjects are the key focal point I did not want them to dominate so they should not take up more than 20% of the frame.  This will stop the subject becoming so overpowering and taking away from the compositional geometry of the rest of the frame.

Technical Competence
Each image had to be of an acceptable technical quality. e.g. tone, focus, sharpness for the subject contained. Therefore the representation of movement through blur would be acceptable.

Composition
Finally each image had to be compositionally pleasing in that would the viewer feel comfortable observing each image.  While this is a very subjective area it is usually immediately obvious if an image is compositionally ‘wrong’ compared against common norms.

Image Presentation

Titles
I have consciously decided not to put any title other than location.  For these images I believe a title can be very distracting and draw the viewer to the wrong conclusion.  This thinking is based on the fact I recently submitted a grab shot of a group of youths to a constructive criticism photographic forum for review, which as part of the submission process requires a title.  To me the subject matter and composition had the feel of an album cover or pop/rock group publicity shot and therefore titled the image ‘The Band’.  It was interesting that the returned criticism was judging picture against the title (in that how good or not it was a picture of a band) rather than an image itself devoid of label.

Besides guiding the viewer there is also the danger that the title may also slight the viewer’s intelligence.  Pictures entitled Sunset or Tree on Horizon will not add any value clearly when the picture is of a sunset or a tree on the horizon.  Hence again putting weight to the argument that the location will inform the curious but not bias the thought process.

Final Presentation
To produce a high quality image is a complete end to end process.  The capture and processing are down to the camera and software, while the printed output is a combination of printer, paper and ink.  With these images they will be externally printed, and printed on a high grade paper with a matt finish.  My research has shown that this is more favourable to black and white images as there is less reflection and the tones render very well.

While the images are requested to be separate individual high quality prints I will also supply a small photo book.  This will act as a sequence guide and contain the title on the opposite page.

While they will be individual images the sequence is still important.  The mathematics dictate there are 720 ways of sequencing 6 images (factorial 6, 6!) therefore it could be argued that it is almost impossible to get right.  My approach was to print small versions of the pictures and keep arranging until I was happy with the flow.  My guidelines were I did not want the images to have too much of a contrast between one and the next and there was some overall compositional flow between them.  I also noted that Cartier Bresson started the book The Decisive Image with a bold ‘portrait’ oriented image.  I suppose like an opening paragraph of a book it is this that both sets the tone and draws you in. Also first impressions do count.

The final three sequences were:

Option 1

  • Built the sequence so there is a ‘portrait’ either end to replicate start and finish so as to act as an end stop
  • Started with a light tone picture and finished with a dark with the images in between getting progressively darker.
  • Tried to pair up similar compositions of object from follow on images e.g. doors, openings, floors and stairs.

Capture_01[1]

Option 2

  1. A sequence of ‘landscape’ followed by the two ‘portrait’ to keep images in like shape sequence
  2. Try to group the pictures in pairs as with common theme (i) shadows; (ii) groups; (iii) pavements
  3. Try  to keep each picture. in a balanced composition of the  next

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Option 3

  • Build up the sequence so there are two ‘portrait’s at the end so as to act as an end stop
  • Keep subjects in pairs of roughly the same size
  • Start and end with the most contrasty image

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I selected Option 1 as my preferred sequence

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Images

The structure of this section will:

  1. Show each individual image
  2. Give commentary of the image
  3. Show a before and after where the ‘before’ is the compositional framework that I saw in anticipation of the subject entering the scene and the ‘after’ is the final image. What is interesting to note that in 5 out of the 6 images I feel are strong enough to be could be standalone images in their own right, but not on the theme the decisive moment. It should also be noted that my Lightroom cloning skills are at the very early stages of development, therefore the before is illustrative rather than a perfect picture.
  4. Show a representation of where the eye is compositionally directed.

When looking at the detailed commentary there are two process themes that run through the series:

  • Vantage point: high or low with only one picture at eye level
  • Time for correct subject to enter the picture. The average is about 10 minutes between composing the ‘before’ and taking the picture.  This can seem like an eternity when waiting

1) Piazza Carlo Emanuele II, Turin, Italy

Turin, Italy
Taken from a high vantage point of my hotel balcony.  This shot was all about patience.  I saw the compositional value of the straight lines of the street light and the gutter and wanted to place a subject at the right point.  This was a very busy road with traffic and pedestrians.  I had to wait over 15 minutes until the conditions became ‘right’ with the added bonus that by luck the lady stopped and looked up at something.  The viewer is left wondering what has caught her eye or even distracted her from crossing the road

For my part I like the clean approach of this image in that there are only 4 compositional elements present.  The lady, the road, the lamp post and the gutter.  Also the nature of the optics causing the lamp post to lean into the picture is far stronger than if this had been a more flat geometrical image.

Perhaps Cartier Bresson’s words “It is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression” ring true for this simple composition

Capture 07

Before and after

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Visual Plan

2) Cheseaux Gare, Switzerland
 Cheseaux Gare, Switzerland

This is one of those almost accidental shots, in that chance entered the prepared mind.  It was taken in the underpass of a provincial railway station.   During research I had seen the potential of what the underpass could compositionally offer and would just have to wait for the right subject to enter the frame at the right time.  As I was fiddling to set up my camera I became aware of people in front and just took the picture.  The process could be described as an instinctive grab shot.  I had no time to check or set up the camera.  I thought nothing of that shot and carried on setting the the speed, aperture, and camera set up and continued with what I had originally set out to do.

It was not until I reviewed the images in Lightroom did I see the potential if this image. In theory everything is wrong with it.  It is out of focus, the subjects are blurred, but not enough to usefully represent movement,.  Also the verticals are out of line because of the use of a wide angle and a low vantage point.  However for me this adds strength to support the two subjects. There is a mystery with this image because what we as the viewer (and in fact myself as the photographer) do not know is the relationship between the pair of women.  On first glance there is the illusion that they are a pair who know each other and are chatting, but the more we look it is if they are travelling in opposite directions as if one is shooting a glance or giving a comment as they pass each other.  While we can speculate, this will remain an unsolved mystery because as soon as I took the photograph I turned my attention back to setting my camera up and when finished the subjects had gone.

It could be argued that an underpass is a bit of a clichéd location for the backdrop of a shot however for me it was full of the geometrical compositional opportunities I desired.  What adds to this shot is the low vantage point as I was actually on the floor at the time sorting my camera bag out.  This gives a different dynamic that if it had been at eye level.  Also I decided not to correct the verticals in Lightroom as I would have normally done.  The ‘corrected’ image lost some of that dynamism of the original.

For me this image is more than just about the pure compositional values because the relationship of the mystery of the subjects does  “linger in the mind after the initial viewing”.

Gare

Before and after

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Visual Plan

3) Musée des Confluences (2), Lyon, France

Musée des Confluences, Lyon, France

I had walked around the museum for a while and had spotted the potential compositional value of the alignment of the door, grill and two lights.  I waited for a long while but nothing was right to get the any form of decent picture.  It was a very busy thoroughfare and the timing was just not going to happen. As chance would have it that much later as I was preparing to leave two ladies were standing talking. The one on the right was looking at some artwork on the wall just out of picture and her friend started walking away.  The question for me was when should I fire the shutter for the greatest compositional impact? The obvious was when the lady was being framed by the dark door.  However I dismissed this as it was a little too obvious and felt the picture would have an unbalanced geometrical weight. I wanted the lady directly under the light as it would both give a repetition of theme of the two light with subjects under and also would fill the left hand space.  For what seemed like an eternity I  waited until she was in the right place.  In this case fortune favoured the brave because in those three or four seconds any of the subjects may have moved into different positions or someone could have walked into or across the shot..

For me this image is everything I wanted it to be.  I got the timing right and as shown in the Visual Plan below the relationship of the way the eye through the picture to the right hand lady that acts as a backstop and bounces your eye back into the picture give a greater weight to the composition.

But like the previous image this is more than just a composition exercise we as the viewers are left wondering what is happening here.  Are the subjects friends? Has one walked off after an argument?  What are they doing there and what are they going to do next? Yes this could be argued that these are questions you could ask about anyone in any photograph. However here I think that it is the position of the compositional elements that lend more weight to these questions in order for the image to “linger in the mind after the initial viewing”.

Museum 1

Before and after

Capture 04

Visual Plan

 

4) Galleria Sabauda (1), Turin, Italy – Stairs

Turin, Italy

This shot was a taken from a low vantage point on a busy staircase.  Here I was trying not to make the image look too clichéd with a silhouette of someone walking up the stairs positioned on the thirds.  Again it was a case of a long wait to get the timing right for the lady going up but as she was in the right position a man came running down and for me compositionally added to the picture.  As conditions were bright I was using a fast shutter speed that has frozen the moment.  Ideally it would have been great if the lady was frozen and blur was shown in the gentlemen but as is it I am happy with the result.

I very much like the tonal range in this image as it again just stops it from being a silhouette shot.   The grain in the marble subconsciously takes our eye through the picture.  Also for me there is a little compositional subplot in the arches in the bottom left hand corner.  Besides giving a sense of depth to the picture, it links to the subjects is asking the question what is beyond, where has the lady come from and what is the man rushing on to.

Capture 01

Before and after

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Visual Plan

5) Triq San Gorg, Spinola Bay, Malta

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Again taken from a high vantage point this shot again required patience.  Even without the subject I saw the strong composition value of this scene.  The eye is drawn down the lamppost and shadow and up to the staircase to the plant and up the further staircase all accentuated by the harsh sunlight giving deep black shadows which I particularly like.  The issue here was in fact a lack of people walking by.  As with a previous image this took about 15 minutes before the right person at the right time.  It could be compositionally argued that the man should be a little further back in the space and walking more into the picture.  My argument here is the position is correct as it fills the space between the curb and the stairs.  Also I like the fact he is walking out of the frame and that we cannot catch his vision.  It gives the photograph an element of mysterious purpose; what is on his mind and where is he going.

Capture 04

Before and after

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Visual Plan

6) Galleria Sabauda (2), Turin, Italy

Turin, Italy

I saw the effect of strong backlight on people passing this busy corridor.  I deliberately set myself a long way down the way so as to get a real sense of depth and to ensure the subject just became a silhouette but just enough still to give a sense of purpose and direction of the subject.

Again with this shot it was a case of timing and a little luck.  Many people passed in two and threes but just was not the right composition. This person passed and I knew I had the right shot.  The distance between the two walls (walking into some space), the position of the legs, the body stance and the sense of purpose are all there to make this image.

What I like about this image is how the banner/flag either side of the corridor have narrowed the gap down hiding both where he is walking to and from and also stopping the arch window being too symmetrical.  It breaks the flow slightly so the eye slows down to look and think about the subject.  Also by fortuitous luck rather than design, during processing I noticed the foreground line in the floor.  Initially I was disappointed but then realised that again it subconsciously acted as a barrier to stop the eye racing off down to the end of the corridor.  Effectively it accentuated the depth of the corridor by giving the image a foreground rather than having all the action at the back of the scene.

Capture 02

Before and after

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Visual Plan

References

[1] Ahonen, Tomi T (2014) [Online]
http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2014/08/camera-stats-world-has-48b-cameras-by-4b-unique-camera-owners-88-of-them-use-cameraphone-to-take-pic.html  [Last accessed 18 May 2015

[2] Feeman, Michael (2011) The Photographer’s Vision P13 Focal Press

[3] [4] Cubitt, Clayton (2013), On The Constant Moment [Online]
http://claytoncubitt.com/blog/2013/5/13/on-the-constant-moment [Last accessed 18 May 2015]

Exercise 4.4 Ex Nihilo

Before starting this exercise I suppose I had never considered that fact that the light in a studio set up was completely under the control of the photographer.  The photographer creates it from nothing and if the lighting does not work properly then there is only one person to blame.

In a way I was not looking forward to this exercise as my comfort area has been the outside natural light type picture. Lighting objects artificially to me seems a lots of effort for something that will be predictable. Clearly there are other important elements to the final picture in that you can have the best lighting but the composition can still be wrong.

I suppose that by shooting outside most lighting decisions are taken out of your hands. Yes there are ways to control in the outside but for by and large for instance landscape photography is a given. This can seem a narrow and naive approach but perhaps where I am on my learning curve this is where I currently see it. A couple of modules on it will be interesting to reflect on the situation.

I have tried ‘home made’ studio set ups before and never really been excited by the whole process. To me there seemed much effort to get the desired image. But perhaps I was looking at it the wrong way. I was trying to look at the outcome as a whole and perhaps was disappointed. Reading through the exercise I now see this as an accumulative process in that that you have to understand how each element works so as to build up into final outcome.

Looking for reference material it is clear much has been written on the subject of artificial lighting all trying to make you an expert. I think in reflection that is where I have go wrong in the past and will now just concentrate on the elements.

Therefore what follows can be considered as more of a technical exercise for me to learn rather than produce the best portrait of still life picture I have ever created. With that said almost timely to this exercise I visited an exhibition of Christian Coigny a Swiss art photographer specialized in black and white photography, works for advertising, fashion, portrait, landscape, still life and reportage. See exhibition reportage). While there was much to see I focused specifically in the context of this exercise how he lit his subject in terms of shape and form and trying to understand the desired output and reaction from that conscious lighting decision. Clearly by looking at one exhibition will not make me a better photographer (however that is defined) overnight but it gives me a hook to hang my ideas upon.

The following was written after each stage rather than reflection as a whole and shows my thought process.

Planning
Inspired by what I saw at the exhibition I realised how ill prepared I was for this exercise. I had no idea of what I would use as the subject matter or how I would arrange and compose. What depth of field I would need to create an effect, being the fact I had not even thought of the effect I wanted. I had not considered the practicality of where I would o the pictures. The kitchen table is always the obvious but it was the space and logistics to get to that point. Even to the point of I had not figured out how to use my camera to the best advantage as I had recently upgraded and was still getting used to how it operated.

Research
To overcome the subject matter/composition issue this was just a case of research reference images that I felt comfortable of being able to recreate. On one hand I did not want something so simple (a single apple for example) that while would satisfy the question criteria would not be the most inspiring of subjects. But there again I suppose that is the mark of creativity is that you can get something fresh and new from the mundane. And on the other hand I did not want something that may be so visually pleasing but it was too complex to create.

Because of familiarity, variety, availability, and the shape and form I concluded that the fruit and vegetables would be the subject matter of choice and therefore could then focus on how this could be executed.

Being such a popular subject there is so much material available to use as a reference. Once you start looking there is even more than one ever imagined. In the end I narrowed it down to three areas: professional advertising shots, the ‘greats’, and painters.

Initial Trial and Results
I’ve entitled this section Initial Trial which is a little more structured than ‘have a go and see what happens’ which is nearer the truth:

  • Location: Kitchen table
  • Main subject: A red bell pepper as this had colour and form, and also a contrasting green stalk. It was easy to handle and move
  • Additional props: A ceramic vase was added in the background to add a further point of interest.
  • Backdrop: A cream coloured sheet attached to the wall and covering down over the table.
  • Lights: Various household light including a torch.

The following shows a selection of the results. ISO-100 and f/6.3 were kept constant throughout.

Problems encountered that need to be adjusted/sorted for the next time are as follows:

  • Logistics: There was not really enough space to work around and for any easy light placement at a distance
  • Electrics: The plug socket location was not conducive to the location of the table so the lights could not be put in the optimum position. Mains extension leads are required.
  • Choice of Lights: The lights used were what was available at hand e.g. a table lamp. Need to think for the future if these are the ‘right’ type of lights
  • Depth of Field: Needs careful thought and selection in relation to the subject. It can be seen on some of the shots that while the pepper top is in focus the stalk clearly is not.
  • Colour Cast: In looking at the images on a number there seems to be a light brown/warm colour cast. Initially I thought that this could be to do with the correct white balance from the tungsten bulbs in the lights. This maybe the case but I think it is also caused by the cream colour of the backdrop. Further trial and investigation needs to happen here.
  • Composition: Initially it was more of a placement of the objects rather than any created composition. Further thought needs to be given to making the picture a little more interesting.
  • Plan of Lights: As said this was more trial and error so while there was some structure moving the lights around for differing effects there was no real plan. One needs to  be created.
  • Reflections: Because of the shiny nature of the surface of the pepper it gives reflections especially so on the curves. These tend to be a bit distracting and could be reduced/obviated with the use of a diffuser of some type.

Thoughts after Initial Trial
My initial plans for Assignment 4 was to develop further the blue hour night time exercise. Although I had not formulated the theme or subject it did seem do-able because I suppose it is still what I see within my comfort zone. Having completed the initial trial for this exercise, and that while there is much to learn and even more to put right, I am feeling more confident that lighting to express a view of vision is the art of the possible. So while initially I saw this as a technical exercise my thought process is changing for it to become more than that and as a learning platform for Assignment 4.

Planning
The planning for the second shoot is far more structured in that:

  • The problems encountered need to be obviated or at least managed.
  • The pre-design of the lighting set up rather than inventing on the fly.

While the exercise question does afford the luxury of viewpoint also being changed I think that I will keep this static. It then allows me to concentrate on the lighting thus reducing the number of variables. Therefore the plan and problems to overcome are:

  • Logistics: The kitchen table had been pulled out of the current position allowing space to move around.
  • Electrics: Two long extension leads were acquired.
  • Choice of Lights: Two desk lamps with movable heads were bought.  The shade is solid metal and as a result focuses the light out the front of the light.
  • Colour Cast: A pure white paper backdrop replaced the fawn sheet.  Also daylight balanced bulbs (6500k) were bought for the lights.

Initial Problems
Having planned for ‘everything’ I still encountered two problems, namely:

  • Bulbs
    One of the pair of bright bulbs was not working correctly.  The element did not light up as it should and was giving a warm glow rather than a daylight balanced colour.  The problem then was I did not have two bulbs of the same wattage which were going to be used left and right of the object to give a flat lighting effect.
  • Backdrop Paper
    Once I had set the backdrop up it was actually quite thin paper.  Therefore that which was above the table appeared darker from the background on the table.  I originally wanted an infinity backdrop so no line would be visible behind the object.  Even doubling up the paper did not seem to make too much of a difference so therefore decided to go with the ‘horizon’ line.

Choice of Depth of Field
Having selected a large round object the next decision was how much depth of field was required.  Once selected I was going to keep this constant through the pictures as it would give both continuity and uniformity through the sequence of images.  The obvious answer would be to go for the maximum depth of field which was f/22 on the lens I was using.  Yes this would ensure that everything was in focus but would it necessarily be the best way to represent the image?

The following shots show the image at f/2.8, f/8, f/16 and f/22 respectively.  As expected the image at f/22 gave overall sharpness right through to the edge of the cabbage.

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As explained earlier my images not had a ‘horizon’ in the background.  The effect I wanted was that this line was visible but did not want it too sharp and pronounced.  Therefore I repeated the depth of field test by placing an object with words on the ‘horizon’.  The following images show the respective results for f/2.8, f/8, f/16 and f/22.

So while I favoured f/22 for the cabbage itself f/16 gave the most overall balanced results of sharpness of the object and out of focus for the ‘horizon’:

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Set Up
The following digram gives a view of how the shoot was set up.  This was constant through every picture.  Only the flights were moved.  In the sequence below the light position is shown relative to this set up.  (Definitely not to scale).

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Shots
The main subject I used was a cabbage.  However at the end of that round of set up I repeated with a number of other items, some peppers, a cabbage, and tomatoes because they had different surface textures and wanted to see how the light played on this.  While I recreated the lighting positions they were not exactly the same.  Th light may have been a bit higher or just a slightly a different angle.  Therefore although the pictures fit the question it can be seen the shadows do not match exactly picture to picture. 

1. Single Light 45Near Object 
With this set up one strong light is placed near the object at about 45 degrees from the camera and angled down at the subject.

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The results give good modelling to the subject with strong shadows behind and deep shadows within the texture of the object.  This can be seen in the leaves of the cabbage, the ‘grooves’ of the peppers and surface of the cauliflower. This set up does show well the texture of the object.

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2. Single Light 450  Far From Object

Similar to the set up as (1) above but the light was placed much further away.

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The effect is similar to that of (1) in that the shadows bring out the surface texture but as the light is further away the light while does not go around corners gives the appearance of filling in the background shadows therefore the shadow does not seen so harsh.

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3. Single Light 450  Far From Object With Single Diffuser 

This time as per (2) but a diffuser (tracing paper) was placed in front of the light.

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While it has softened the shadows further and taken the reflection from the surface of the peppers (compared to the test shots) the background shadows remained much stronger than I thought they would.  Therefore the diffuser was doubled in thickness with the results shown in (4)

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4. Single Light 450  Far From Object With Double Diffuser 

As per (3) but with the diffuser double the thickness.

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The shadows have almost disappeared and in doing so loses some of  the texture feel as in (1).  In other words the diffused light has filled in the shadows.

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5. Two Lights 450  Far From Object 

Here two lights were placed at 45 degrees either side of the camera at equal distance from the object.

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With this set up I expected an even lighting all over the subject with a little modelling of the subject because each of the lights should balance the other one out.  What actually happened is that because as metioned earlier that one of the matching light bulbs did not work I did not have an even pair.  Therefore to give an even light I had to move the less powerful light further forward to compensate.  As a result in theory the lighting was even but it did change the way I expected to see the shadows.  It can be seen in the first picture that shadows are there in theory when they should not as each light should have filled in the shadows made by the other.  Clearly my positioning on the lighting was still unbalanced.

In the second picture again the lighting was moved but the shadows still appear.  It shows that while the left light should have compensated for the right having a light half the power and in a different position it is not the same as having two even lights.

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6. Single Light Close Direct Overhead 

Here a single source of light was placed directly over the object.

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The shadows that appear are only under the object created by the widest part of the cabbage. The lighting over the object is evenbut because of the texture of the cabbage there is still some modelling of the leaves so the object does not look totally flat.  With the shot of the peppers there is still modelling on the smooth surface with highlights being picked up on top from the downward light.

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7. Single Light Bounced Off Ceiling

This is almost the reverse of (6) in that the light is bounced from the ceiling rather than shone direct onto the object.

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Here it can be seen that the final result is a much more diffused light as the ceiling bounced the light off in all directions. While there is still some shadow under the cabbage and the peppers this diffused light has ‘bounced under’ the objects to make the shadows less harsh.  Also an even light has closed the contrast between the horizon and the table because the light is evenly illuminating the whole scene.

Again because of the texture of the cabbage leaves there is some modelling and gives a pleasing appeal.  On the other hand the peppers because of their surface become far more flat in appearance.  Also the diffused light has killed any highlights that could be seen in (6)

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8. Single Light 1350  Behind Camera

A single low light from behind the object creates a moon like image.

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The rim if the cabbage has modelling but most of the object is in shadow because it is behind the light and there is nothing that bounces the light back.  The total shape of the cabbage can be seen as light spreads over the backdrop.  A similar appearance is for the peppers.

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9. Two Lights Behind Object 

Similar to (8) but another light is placed in the opposite position.

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This time it give the objects in complete shadow to stand as a silhouette against the backdrop.  While the peppers are in complete outline enough light has crept onto the cabbage so there is a slight form showing around the edge.  Technically there should be nothing but this is more to do with the  placement of the lights and the size of the objects in that I have not lined them up correctly for this shot.

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10. Single Light Low Level
Here I have placed a single light at low level in front of the object.

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This was not a planned shot but as I was moving the lights around I saw the effect this made.  It is almost as if the light is setting on the object and picking up just the form in the front of the object. I am not sure how this lighting set up would be utilised in ‘normal’ photography but it does give an interesting perspective on the object.

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11. Other
Within this section I have taken a couple of the set ups and played with the light

11.1 Green Diffuser
Here with the set up in (2) I have replaced the diffuser with a green piece of cellophane.   The image is similar to (2) in that the cellophane diffuses the light a little but also gives as expected a green cast.  In fact it emphasises the green of the cauliflower.

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11.2 Mixed Lighting

With this one the cauliflower was lit from the side but I also turn on the overhead light in the ceiling.  This was light source was a much warmer tungsten bulb compared with the daylight bulb of the main lamp.  While the overhead bulb does fill in some of the shadows the mix of warm tungsten giving an almost pink colour to the background is mixed with the direct daylight source.

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Comparison of Light
For me in comparing this against Exercises 4.2 and 4.3 I feel that in comparing the light the exercises are almost mutually exclusive.  Yes the light illuminates the objects but it works and reacts in a different way.  With the ‘studio shots’ the quality of light could be set up in any way that was required while in 4.2 I had to accept the flat diffused lighting as it was and in 4.3 the mix of blue hour and and artificial lighting again was and is and out of my control.  Similar to that of the contrast that as nothing could be done to move the light sources in 4.2 and 4.3, but in 4.4 it all could be controlled.

Probably in terms of colour I liked that of the night shots in 4.3.  While it is not the correct technical term the light and the images look much ‘cleaner’ than those in 4.2 and 4.4.  It is not a question of focus or sharpness (although those taken with a wide angle do tend to look sharper) but something else.  Not quite sure what yet but something I will explore as the course moves on.

Conclusion
Overall I found this exercise quite difficult because as mentioned at the beginning I had never really dealt with setting up lights in this fashion.  There are a couple of things that I would need to improve with my process, namely:

  • Better Notes
    When writing up what I had done I realised that my notes were not as good as they should have been.  I did take a number of pictures of the same set up and did not clearly note down the exposure number on the camera.  In the end I sorted it all out but it was some unnecessary effort that could have been avoided.  This is noted for the future.
  • Better Lights
    While the desk lamps and bulbs I acquired were acceptable enough for this outcome of this task it would have been much easier if I had a ‘proper’ set up in that they would have been on adjustable mounts/booms.  The issue I had was putting the light in a constant place which was very difficult within the kitchen space.

In conclusion I found the learning experience quite illuminating (no pun intended) and intend to use as a basis for Assignment 4.

 

 

Before, After and After

Within this Miscellaneous section of the Blog I use this almost as a notepad to myself.  An electronic Learning log.  Here I am just recording the development of an image that was used in Assignment 3: The Decisive Moment.

Original
This is the original colour image.  No post processing has taken place other than sharpening, and exposure correction.  In this state the image in terms of colour looks weak to me.  However in my mind’s eye the image always was intended to be in black and white so when seeing the image through the viewfinder I did not think in terms of colour, but just in the placement of the elements.

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After Post Processing

The image was then converted to black and white in Lightroom.  I brought up the contrast, removed spots, took out a shadow in the bottom left, vignetted the corners and sharpened the image a little more.  It was taken full frame and remained full frame.  Overall I was pleased with the result (as my Lightroom skills are still developing) and used it as part of my submission for assignment 3.

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After Tutor Report

After receiving the tutor report back a couple of recommendations were made about this image.  While liking the composition my tutor recommended that the stairs in  the lower right hand corner and the pavement/stonework left and top left should be burnt in much more.  The highlights were too bright and almost burnt out.  In a strange sort of way I think I knew I should have done this in the first place but I suppose some of this reticence is inexperience therefore not being brave enough with my image.  There is definitely a balance between a great picture and one that is overcooked.  I suppose I am still finding that balance tipping point and remaining on the cautious side.  That said the image was further processed as advised and show below.  Yes in my view the image is stronger and works very well.

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We All Came Out To Montreux

‘We All Came Out To Montreux’ is temporary photographic print exhibition at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland featuring the work of Neal Preston, primarily known for his photographs of rock musicians. This exhibition displays an extract of his work of about 32 mainly black and white prints.

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For me rock photography is a complex subject because has to work combining many elements for it to be successful.  Key are the subject, the context in which that subject is placed, and probably most important the element is the ‘unobtainable’.  For the viewer it is like having a backstage pass.  Somewhere we as a fan would never have the privilege of being.

Rock photography is taken for the here and now.  To document what is.  Yet what has happened and these photographs are excellent examples is they have now become historic social documents.  We now look at these images and see how things have changed, how the musicians have aged, some have died so we remember and reminisce. Yes it can be argued this is the same for portraits of others, which is true, yet I would argue that there is something special within our hearts about musician images.  With a film star they are seen on the screen and perhaps at film premiers but the reality is we actually see very little of them.  Even in a film by the nature of what they do they are not themselves.  However with musicians they are there to perform for us on stage, they make their music for us to buy, they feed from their fan base.  We feel closer to them. We all want to meet our idols and through rock photography we get that chance.

Even when subject and context are sorted the skill of the rock photographer, much like a sports photographer, is all about timing.  A second or so either way and the picture is lost especially so during a fast moving concert.  For me Preston’s pictures reflect what I want to see as a fan.

I would break rock photography down into three key subsections with Preston’s work comfortably and successfully straddling all three; namely:

1) The Portrait
This is where the subject is aware the picture is being taken and my well be formally posed and lit.  These may well be studio shots but many are done backstage.

Pete Townsend: A very well lit and close crop portrait that gives us the essence of Townsend.  On the face of it a straight portrait but the more you look into his eyes you see some tired, perhaps on or having been on substances, yet still gives the feel of the Townsend we know as fans. Again this is one of those pictures that today we look back on and see how the person has (or has not) changed.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

Marvin Gaye: Here this portrait is also a historical document in that it is the last formal portrait before Gaye’s killing about a year later.  What is interesting here is the context in Gaye wanted to portray a vision of normality (which comes over well) for a man with big troubles at the time of huge back tax payments claims, heavy drug usage and paranoia.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

2) The Off Guard Moment
This is what we want to see.  It is the unobtainable for us.  We see our stars for better or worse at a point in time.  It is not rehearsed it just happens.

Freddie Mercury: An interesting picture in that we now look at this with a sense of poignancy.  We now know the history that would eventually follow 13 years later and therefore I would argue we look at this image differently than when it was taken.  We look at it how Freddie was and how we remember him but in fact it was originally an off guard moment caught by Preston of someone getting ready for a concert.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

Jimmy Page:  This sums up the rock and roll hedonistic lifestyle we expect of Led Zeppelin of swigging back the Jack Daniels.  Perhaps today in a far more media savvy controlled music environment we would never see this type of picture but this was taken at a time when it did not really matter.  The fans were the fans regardless.  Was this picture posed in that it was a sham to perpetuate the rock and roll myth? We will never know but it does amuse me somewhat there is a basket of not quite so rock and roll fresh fruit on the table.  Posed or not Preston captures that backstage moment.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

 

3) On Stage – In Concert
These are the back stage pass pictures we want to see.  Up front and close to the stars.  We are on stage with them.  We are at the seats we cannot get or afford.  Preston says of his of stage work “Shooting live music is something photographers rarely do well.  I just discovered one day I was good at it because it feels natural to me” [1].  He also says “Access is the hard currency of my job. It is as essential as any camera of lens. Once you have access you must nurture it and treat it with utmost respect or you can kiss it […..] goodbye” [2].

Freddie Mercury at Wembley Stadium:  This picture sums up Preston’s philosophy that live shooting is “one part photography, one part love of music, one part a love of theatre and theactrical lighting, one part hero worship, one part timing and 95 parts instinct” [3].  With this picture I like the way one individual is isolated when in reality there are probably about 50,000 in the audience.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

The Rolling Stones, Los Angles: Captures everything we have come to expect about the The Stones performing live. This is still rock and roll innocence. Today Preston admits that the whole process is far more controlled and he is one of the few photographers that has the freedom to take what he wants and how he acts.

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Photograph © swissrolly. Original image © Neal Preston

In Conclusion
My only criticism is that it is a somewhat tenuous link to the Montreux festival.  Firstly in the write up accompanying the exhibition it states that all the artists in the photographs have all once played the Festival.  In reality not every artist shown has played at Montreux (but I do need to triple check this). Secondly it would have been great if the photographs displayed were actually taken at the Festival rather than elsewhere.  In reality these images are a subset from Preston’s book and previous exhibition In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane. However being a big sucker for all things rock photography, and all proceeds from book and prints sales going to charity, I can forgive both points (and yes I did buy the book).

The temporary exhibition runs from 3rd to 18th July 2015 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Auditorium Stravinski, Grand Rue 95, Montreux, Switzerland.

http://www.lightpower-collection.com/

Visited 13th July 2015

Copyright note explanation: A curious one here in that I was not given the right to use original image files however if I took the picture myself it would be perfectly acceptable.

References

[1] [2] [3] Preston, Neal (2015) In The Eye of the Rock and Roll Hurricane, UK, Reel Art Press

Proof Reading

Before I publish anything on this learning log I read, reread and read again to ensure that there are no grammatical errors.  Yet when I refer back to something a few weeks later, maybe changing an assignment after the tutor’s comments, there staring me in the face are obvious typos.  Typical ones are the small words such as for some inexplicable reason on is either in or an.  When you read the passage it is plainly obvious that the word is wrong because the sentence or statement becomes complete nonsense.  Also even worse instead of tying if I have typed i which Word automatically corrects to I.  Again when reread it is so obvious.  Therefore the question then comes why I do not spot it first time through.  To be honest I have absolutely no idea.  So when in doubt a quick scour of the internet helps.

The good news is, or the web site I probably biasedly selected is that actually I am not suffering from incompetence or word blindness but in fact by brain is working optimally. (Ed: Yeah right!].  Evidently the science is that our brains do not need all the data to make the connection to understand the meaning.  In fact it needs the minimal amount of information and fills in the blanks.  This information can also be misspelled and we still understand.  We effectively read words as a whole and even better we understand sentences as a whole.  Therefore our brain automatically corrects the incorrect on, in and an etc.  The following link which explains things a little further has a great paragraph where virtually every word is incorrect yet we totally understand the meaning.  http://heartifb.com/2014/09/24/proofreading-typos/

So the point here I suppose is that to ensure what I publish is ‘correct’ then a second set of eyes should read the article.  Their purpose should be from a purely typographical viewpoint and not try to understand what is written else they will fall into the same trap as I do when reading.  Therefore If anyone does see typos in any of my posts please let me know.    The irony is there is probably a typo lurking in this post but my brain (not me) just can’t see it.