Thursday, 18 October 2012

Assignment One Workflow

“Devise a themed assignment on a topic that interests you.”
Introduction and Notes
For this assignment I have chosen to use the landscape of the Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve. My interest in this area extends back to my schooldays and time spent studying the plant species distribution as part of an ‘A’ level Biology project. Within the reserve there is a contrast between the salt marsh that forms the majority of the area and the shingle bank that forms the southern extremity and mouth of the harbour. At first sight, the landscape is fairly uninspiring. It is flat and has no prominent features. However, at this time of year (October) the low sun picks out and highlights a lot of textures in the plants, water, shingle and mud. I wanted to experiment with black and white images to emphasise these textures. Although this was the main theme for the assignment, I did also make other images which may inspire future projects. Neither area is entirely natural, over the centuries, attempts have been made to reclaim the land but the west-east coastal drift and storms over the same period have breached any attempt to close the harbour mouth. The shingle spits at Selsey and Pagham are constantly on the move which changes the landscape over decades rather than centuries.  The area is quite large. I started photographing the salt marsh at Sidlesham Quay and then drove to Selsey and walked from the East Beach car park out along the shingle spit to the harbour mouth. I have included some images taken from a series I made in October 2009 at Church Norton as I didn’t have time to return there and re-photograph on this occasion.
I have standard settings for landscape. I adapt these as necessary but these form a checklist with which I start the day:
  • Clean the camera and lenses
Camera Settings for Landscape
  • Command dial: manual
  • Exposure compensation -0.7
  • Exposure Meter Matrix
  • ISO Select 200
  • White Balance Direct Sunlight
  • Image Quality NEF + jpg basic
  • Image Size Large
  • Picture Control Standard
  • Active D-lighting Auto
  • Colour Space sRGB
Lens Settings (18-200mm DX VR)
  • With Tripod: VR – off Hand held: VR –on
  • Focusing M/A
Once theses checks were complete, I loaded the car and included camera bag, tripod and monopod. At Location:
  • Check lighting, adjust white balance/ISO as required Set ISO to 200 and white balance to direct sunlight.
  • Continue with assignment, noting ideas and interpretations I made notes on which areas to concentrate on, where to get the best viewpoints. I also included ideas about how to present the final images to emphasise the contrasts between the shingle bank and the salt marsh. I also recorded a lot of textures and looked for different colours to alleviate the monochromatic feel of the shingle beach.
  • Record memory card index and store SD cards securely
At my PC
  • Uploaded my images from two memory cards (263 in total) to View NX2. My folder naming convention is: YYYYMMDD_Location. I then cross reference the location and assignment in my diary. I find this the easiest way to keep track of my image folders when archiving.
  • Technical edit. I went through the images in both folders to select those that I like and deselect those that were not technically suitable. For this location, I was taking pictures for more than one theme. I had not decided what form the final project would take at his stage. I labelled each image I had selected with 1
  • First Select. Before deciding on which direction I want the project to take, I went through the first select images again to find those that go together. I had four ideas to start, the salt marsh, the shingle bank, a contrast between the two and an essay on the landscapes of the whole reserve.
  • Black and white conversion and Second Select. Working through the best images I worked in Capture NX2  to perform any geometric corrections, initial retouching, tone, contrast, and colour correction before converting to black and white using *Silver FX Pro. At this stage I was looking for 6 – 8 images to encompass the whole nature reserve, salt marsh and shingle bank with emphasis on the big sky and textures in the plants, mud and shingle. Using high contrast and high grain structure I was able to exaggerate these textures. The sixteen converted images are labelled 2
*Silver FX Pro Settings: I used two pre-sets in the conversion of these images to black and white, 024 Full Contrast and Structure  and 017 Full Dynamic (harsh) where the contrast on the shingle was too high. The Final selection images are labelled 4
  • Take a break from editing overnight.
  • Save the Second Select black and white images to a Final Select folder. I have eight images to prepare for printing.
  • Preparation for printing. I have my assignment images printed onto lustre paper by an online lab, DSCL. In Silver FX Pro, the images are converted from NEF files to TIFF.  My next task was to resize my images and convert them to  high quality JPEG files. For assessment, I like to have my prints made on A4 with a border. To achieve this I keep the original 4:6 ratio and reduce  the image size to 3312 pixels on the long side. In Photoshop I created a new A4 canvas and layered the image centrally leaving a border, wider at the long edges. The resolution was set at 300dpi. Once I have the JPEGs I soft proofed them using the paper profile supplied DSCL. As there was a barely perceptible difference visible on my calibrated monitor I saved and uploaded the files to DSCL’s server for printing.
  • Final selection from the prints Having received the prints and looked closely at them I have cut the final selection down to six. Two of the eight images were repeating the textures already shown form a different viewpoint so I have excluded them.
Here is the final selection of  six images from the prints, with exposure details. 0074: 1/250s f8 18mm ISO 200 DSC_0074

0109: 1/320s f9 40mm ISO 200


1149: 1/80s f22 18mm ISO 200


1207: 1/125s f22 18mm ISO 200


1250: 1/40s f29 35mm ISO 200


1262 1/50s f22 18mm ISO 200


Reflection and self assessment:
Did I achieve my objective for the theme of the assignment? I started the assignment with an idea of shapes and textures in the landscape. As I worked both at the location and in the editing the form of the assignment emerged. I have presented six images showing form and texture both in the land and in the sky.
Have I made any changes to my established workflow? This is my sixth assignment for photography and I have worked at them all in a very similar way. As a result of the exercises in this section of the course I have made more use of the grading and filtering tools in my browser to sort images. In the past, I have included assignments as part of other activities i.e. sailing, holidays etc. and taken far too many images. The time limited assignment  for exercise 1 was very useful and concentrated my mind. For this assignment I did not have a clear objective at the start of  the day which resulted in a massive effort in the edit.
What else have I learned?
  • I used this opportunity to process some images into black and white using a fairly sophisticated software. I also have Michael Freeman’s Guide to Black and White Digital Photography and am enjoying experimenting.
  • I made the decision to have prints made for this assignment. I prefer the idea that both my tutor and I are looking at the same image presented in a standard way. This worked well for me at assessment for Art of Photography so I shall continue with it where appropriate. Under daylight balanced lighting they do seem to have a slight yellow cast. I will look at my soft proofing again to make sure the paper profile is right.
I have looked back at this assignment and feel confident that I have demonstrated that I can meet the majority of the assessment criteria. During the 22 months that I have been studying with OCA on my film and photography courses, I have improved my technical skills. I now have an almost instinctive feel for my camera and don’t spend a lot of time thinking about camera settings once I have an idea of  the location and lighting. I use manual settings again like I did with film cameras in the past. I hope that with the theme of this assignment I have shown that I can find interesting, innovative images and compose them well. If there is a weakness in this area it is perhaps that I need to develop design skills to make the best use of groups of images and how to fit them together. Looking back over the submission, I have achieved what I set out to do and I was able to edit the images down to the minimum required. I soon realised that although there were twelve images suitable, six adequately expressed the idea of contrasting textures. This assignment has made me think about experimenting with image editing software and becoming more organised in my approach to workflow. Having a free reign over the assignment has made me think a lot about following a single idea to its logical conclusion. I tend to get side tracked and start thinking about new ideas and not wanting to miss any photographic opportunities. Hence I finished the day with 260+ images and enough material to start another two or three assignments. I have continued to make very detailed notes in this learning log and with two study visits in the next few weeks will be able to include research and critical thinking in the process. I am hoping that as this course progresses I will become a more creative and confident photographer. I am planning to display larger assignment images in my web gallery. Look out for a new page on
Assignment 1 – Feedback and reflection
I received very positive feedback from my tutor about my print submission. She liked the quality of the prints, my choice of subject and the effort I had put into the editing, planning and research  to produce consistent work. I am pleased that I have progressed in my approach to editing. The feedback I got from my Art of Photography assessment report helped me in this respect. I shall continue to bear it mind as I progress through this course where there seems to be  more emphasis on  a free hand when choosing topics for assignments.
My tutor  would like to see more evidence of background reading and book reviews in my learning log. I have recently finished reading “Art Photography Now” by Susan Bright and will include a review soon. I have read parts of “ The Photograph as Contemporary Art” by Charlotte Cotton and “Photography -  a Critical introduction” by Liz Wells. I struggled a little with these two while I was studying TAoP. Perhaps now I’ve have some understanding (albeit very basic) of photographs as art, I will take them up again.
I’ll take a short break from this course for a few weeks while I work on DFP assignment 3. I find that working on one course at a time is more productive.

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