Beginning thoughts and reading – Narrative and illustration

The Art of Photography

Part 5 : Narrative and illustration – Initial reading and thoughts

 I’m now coming towards the end of this Module and, it’s odd, but I don’t want it to finish. Maybe authors feel like this when they’ve written a book (or experienced photographers when they’re coming to the end of a lengthy project).  This is not to mention the fact that, as usual, I feel anxious as to whether I’ll be able to meet the brief for the Assignment, especially as I’ve now had the invitation (and a reminder) to apply for formal assessment.   Still, best not to think too far ahead and I have a few ideas to explore.


This is the first Project.  I’ve read through the Handbook notes and this is what immediately comes to mind. I’ll add additional thoughts as I progress through the exercises.

 Using photography to tell a story now as opposed to treating it as a set of skills. This brings intent more into the frame. What is the purpose of the photograph; how is it going to be used. Michael Freeman (2007 p. 134) writes about the differences between reactive (I like his description of guerrilla still-life photography taken handheld from real life’!) or planned photography, and the role of the photographer’s personality. With regard to the latter, he might well have added experience and self-confidence.   My preference is for a mix of reactive and planned – like the action learning cycle, so that a project can attain more depth and immediacy.

Subject versus design/form versus content – put the subject first; consider what is important and let this suggest the treatment. Compositional skills may be less important than telling the story; bringing a subject to life. I’m thinking here of the growth in the use of camera phones as snapshots of events. They can bring that raw element of ‘here and now’ action to the fore, the recent riots in London for example (back to guerrilla photography). Images from a royal wedding are received best when beautifully, nay romantically, composed, whereas images of a famous star with her head in curlers and no make-up usually have that ‘snatched out of the blue’ air.

Narrative in photography is a way of telling a story through a set of pictures as opposed to trying to tell a story in a single picture. Sometimes, though, just one image conveys a moment in time which encapsulates an issue, as in photojournalism.  That single image becomes more than the sum of its parts. For instance, when I see those photographs of coffins of servicemen and women being brought back to the UK I have a flash of what their lives might have been like. The image of the young mutilated Afghan girl brought forward a whole story in my imagination of why and how this happened which deepened my sense of  anger and pity.

Showing each different aspect of the subject in a separate image is more simple than attempting to find a viewpoint in which they are combined and best suited to subjects made up of several parts or events. I need to keep the following in mind and a ‘picture script’ is a helpful aide-memoire:-

Plotting the story

  •  When and where
  • Venue and timing
  • What kind of event
  • Good locations to shoot from – making a reconnaissance.
  • What will work best –  birds-eye view or on the ground
  • Long-distance; close-up, overall, detail
  • Weather considerations
  • What restrictions might there be
  • What’s allowed and what not

Planning what and how to shoot

  • Kind of shots which might be expected or hoped for –  such as distant, close-up, or detail.
  • Variety of images to consider – the whole set will be more interesting with the most visual variety. Therefore consider vertical as well as horizontal; taken at different scales and focal length; variety of colour and lighting.

It’s comforting to have a beginning ‘how to’ list when starting from almost zero. A few months ago I started off on a personal project concerned with reconnecting with my childhood.  This involved me in spending a few days in September back in Sheffield and the Peak District, and I certainly made a list and kept a log book. What happened though was that as soon as I got back I realised that there were certain photographs it would have been good to have and arrangements I should have made beforehand. I’m still working on this particular project and gathering material together and, fortunately, I’m going back in April. The project for Assignment 5 will be a smaller scale. I have some initial ideas and, this time, will make sure I plan more comprehensively and stay nearer to home.

In thinking about ‘telling a story’ there was also another helpful article by Michael Freeman on the Photonet website – ‘Three Tips to help your photos tell a story”. Tip 1 was that  pictures also have to do a job of explaining so put yourself into your viewer’s shoes and ask yourself is anything is unexplained. Do your friends understand it, is anything missed out/needs explaining. This also brings words/captions into play – an area which has involved considerable discussion on the OCA Flickr site. Tip 2 is start with the basic 3-plus-1 ingredients. Start strong, develop the storyline, end strong.  Plus 1 is that key shot a strong powerful image which will ‘halt’ the viewer and key the story somewhere. Tip 3 ( as above) is that a linear story is the easiest.

I bought ‘Context and Narrative’ (Maria Short) last September as well.  I’ve dipped into it but now intend to absorb it more conscientiously. Here I go!


17th January 2012.


Freeman, M. “The Photographers Eye”, 2007,

Short. S, “Context and Narrative”,  2011, AVA Publishing, SA


Freeman M, “three tips to help your photos tell a story”, The Ilex Press Ltd (accessed 17.1.2012)


Summary of learning from Part 4 : Light

Summary of learning from Part 4: Light

The exercises in part 4 seemed to be endless to me.  I became aware quite early on that I was taking a rather mechanical approach and so made a conscious effort to free myself from this by, yes, doing the exercises, but also attempting to inject more creativity show improvements I’d made as time passed.

I’m just about to write-up the Assignment and so thought this would be a good  time to identify learning from the exercises.

Exercise 1 and measuring light

  • Some underexposure works well on flowers and foliage as it brings out the colour.
  • Over-exposure (and consequent clipping) affects the sharpness of an image so it’s best to use spot exposure metering on brighter parts and then deal with the shadow detail in processing.
  • If the highlights are too clipped then playing around with exposure in adobe CR won’t bring back detail that wasn’t there in the first place..
  • Large extremes of contrast are difficult. You either have to decide which is more important and expose accordingly or use bracketing.  Exposure fusion can work quite well if you’ve used a tripod and don’t alter the position of the camera.
  • I made life complicated for myself by using several different, new, lenses. Getting used to them diverted some attention away from the purpose of the exercise.

Exercise  2 – Higher and lower sensitivity

  • Longer lenses need a higher shutter speed if they’re going to be hand-held, which often means using a higher ISO and the risk of more ‘noise’

Exercises 3 and 4 – Colour temperature

  • Auto white balance provides varying temperatures which might be more appropriate than using the different WB settings which give standardized temperatures.

Exercise 5: Light through the day

  • Realisation that I do tend to take a lot of photographs in the middle of the day .
  • Shadows can create more interesting compositions.
  • Make sure to check all my settings.

Exercise 6 – Sun low in the sky

  • I prefer the quality of the light in the  late afternoon as the colours are more intense and I can use shadows creatively.

Exercise 7 – Cloudy weather and rain

  • The effect of rain deepens colours, detail and texture.
  • I love rainbows

Exercise 11 – The lighting angle

  • Backlighting shows more of the shape of the subject
  • Raised flash or light coming from 45 degrees overhead at the side are best at showing the form of the subject.
  • It’s not good to use flash on Alabaster because it seems to pass right through it.

Exercises 12 to 14 – Photographic lighting

  • I prefer the use of natural light wherever possible.
  • I need more practice to build my confidence in using photographic lighting – probably a day workshop would be good and more intensive for me.
8th December 2011


Part 4: Light – Exercise 12 to 14: Contrast and shadow fill, concentrating light and shiny surfaces.

Part 4 : Light

Project – Photographic Lighting

Exercises 12 to 14 : Contrast and shadow fill; concentrating light and shiny surfaces

Even at an early stage the exercises in Part 4 seemed to be going on for ever to me. I was starting to feel quite burdened by them, in fact by the idea of having to do any exercises on the Course at all. I had completed many of the exercises but felt reluctant to get down to the task of writing them up and editing the photographs. I wanted to be outside and enjoying the good weather whilst we still had it! Additionally, I had become interested in film cameras and acquired two that I wanted to experiment with (this will be a later post).

By the time of writing up Exercise 5 (Light through the day) I had decided I needed to record this differently – documenting the basic exercises briefly and then using later images to evaluate how I was absorbing the learning. I felt much freer from doing that until I reached this current Project.

My preference for hand-held camera work, and the use of natural light, is a combination of two main factors. – I like to be spontaneous and technical aspects still cause me anxiety.  The moment can be lost by the time I’ve struggled to put up the tripod. And even the thought of doing it seems such a palaver even though, now, I can put it up much more quickly. Then there are external flash units, light meters and all the other paraphernalia that can go with them. They make me feel practically inept (both literally and figuratively).

I made another new decision. I would focus on the subject this time, although obviously keeping the exercises in mind, and then see how the different techniques applied.  I also had in mind some possible subjects for the Assignment so wanted to use the exercises to explore these possibilities. Additionally, my tutor had suggested that I look at the work of Edward Weston (his pepper) and also Mapplethorpe’s Flower images. I will write about these later in a separate post, but these became a part of the exercises as well.

I worked with different subjects on different days so will comment chronologically, endeavouring to link with the exercises/Handbook pages where appropriate.

Japanese Ivory figurine

I used different combinations of  natural daylight; built-in flash; overhead ceiling light; tracing paper as diffuser; reflector/diffuser and a torch.  I used a black velvet background. With the figurine on a stool in front. The following images show a few of the results:-


This was taken in daylight with curtains drawn. f/14 @ 2”. There are no shadows, but you can still see some detail and the ivory colour comes out well.


With built-in flash, which created shine on the surface. I used a small diffuser as well but it made no difference.

Next I used overhead lighting (tungsten) with diffused flash and gradually stopping down, which gave longer shutter speeds, in attempt to get the exposure just right,  Auto and tungsten  white balance made the ivory white; flash balance made it yellow and fluorescent balance made it pale pink.


I experimented more with contrast and shadow fill (Handbook, p. 135), this time wanting to create more shadow, which I thought might show better if the background was white. I was using side flash and a dark card opposite here but decided there was too much shadow,  so experimented to begin to show some texture on the figurine:


You can start to see the inlaid pattern on the dress. However, I decided that a white background wasn’t good here to then begin to experiment with form and went back to the black velvet.


Here form, shape and detail/texture are beginning to come together. I noticed with using the flash though that there was a more yellow colour and altering it also changed the colour of the background. I was also beginning to wonder whether the figurine might be too slender to show the extent of form I was looking for.  Using remote flash was more complicated in terms of anticipating the results and working out exposures.  I wondered whether I’d be better working with continuous lighting. I also turned to a different figurine which had much less ivory.

Wood/Ivory figurine


A small lightbox at the back of the figure with a diffuser in front of it.

(7) and (8)


Tracing paper in front of the Lightbox to see how different this was from using a diffuser.


Back to a black background with an led torch to cast more light on the kimono to show the patterns (p.136).

Roman bust

I still kept hankering after natural light so decided to see if I could create similar effects.


Sun behind – outdoors. It looked flat somehow.

(11) and 12


Sun on the left – outdoors.  More interesting – showing shape and form

(13) and (14)


In the conservatory, so light is more diffused, with black background. I introduced more light and colour introduced, but there was too much light and it looks blown-out. There’s shape but it looks more like a cut out. F/11 wasn’t enough to get sharpness in the beads. 


Indoors towards dusk, choosing shadows. It could have been an interesting effect if the shadows had been  a different shape. That’s the trouble with natural shadows – they don’t go where you’d like them to go!


These are just a selection from the many photographs and I haven’t included all the subjects.  I think I probably got a bit too carried away with experimenting.  Even so, I now had an idea of the effects of the various forms of lighting but still preferred natural light whilst knowing that it was difficult to produce all the effects I might be looking for. Continuous lighting might be a better alternative at the moment. I had made a comment on Flickr about lighting and one of my contacts kindly  send me some information about his set-ups. I decided not to use the bust for the assignment but to look for something smaller but with sufficient colour, detail and texture. If it was a smaller size I could utilize my light tent with various additions so I would have better control of lighting.

2nd December 2011

Part 4 : Light – Exercise 10 and 11 : Softening the light and the lighting angle

Part 4 Light

Project – Photographic Lighting

 Exercise 10 : Softening the Light

I’ve recently bought a set of reflectors, including a diffuser as well.  I can borrow my husband’s fabric soft-box as well (it’s a bit fiddly and liable to fall-off though!). For this exercise I just used the inbuilt camera flash and then a small diffuser fitted onto it.


Straight Flash. f/16 @0.3 ISO 100


Diffused Flash: f/16 @0.3 ISO 100

The Handbook states that the exposure settings will be different (p. 131) but they are the same. The RGB histograms are different though – straight flash gives R216, G58 and B94 whilst diffused gives R160, G0 and B36.

I can’t see much difference although the diffused flash version does give a softer image.

Exercise 11 – the Lighting Angle

I used a small alabaster statuette of Nefertiti for this exercise. Again I used the camera flash with diffuser fitted and went through all the different positions suggested. Here are some of the results:-


Flash in front. Good profile but it looks flat somehow.


From the side. The alabaster looks more translucent with more form to the head but there is light glare as well.

I then got very caught up in using reflectors  from various angles to see if I could bounce the light away and reduce the glare.


This was the best result, by which time I was also using a remotely operated flash unit and having help from my husband with holding the reflectors.:-


Flash raised 45 degrees at the side.  To me this starts to add a more mysterious atmosphere and the head also seems to stand out more from the background.


The above was taken from behind to one side at 45 degrees. It looks like the head of a foetus in the womb. Not a good angle for the statuette.


Behind, to one side, but not at an angle.  This view brings out more of the colour in the statuette.


The shape of the head is more dramatic shown from directly behind.


No. 4 was the best (flash raised 45 degrees at the side) at showing more form. No. 7 provides more drama to the image and shows shape. I prefer this one for this particular subject. In retrospect I don’t think that the statuette was a good subject to use with flash, even diffused.  I think use of natural daylight would be better as it would have a softer effect.


30th November 2011

Part 4 : Light – Exercise 9 : Outdoors at night

Part 4 : Light

Project – Available Light

Exercise 9 : Outdoors at night

The photographs for most of this exercise were taken during a Night Photography workshop some time ago in London. It was tiring having to carry a tripod as well as all my camera paraphernalia plus trains and underground journeys.  However, I was pleased with the results as it wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated.  I felt much safer being in a small group whilst carrying expensive equipment around at night. I used ISO 100 for all the images and so used a tripod with cable release.

One of the first ones I took at 7pm. f/11 @0.4.  I got hung up at first at being on manual and making sure it was a good exposure – not really having taken on board that it needed to be balanced in the best way for the scene. The workshop leader couldn’t understand why I was worrying so much about highlight clipping! The sun was just setting and, as the Handbook suggests (p. 127) Tower Bridge appears much more clearly with the hint of light.

f/9 @2.0. The skyline is less distinct against the dark blue sky.

Once on Tower Bridge itself the workshop leader suggested I try 8 seconds @ f/11.

First attempts at light trails from the cars

I then set the tripod up at the side of the Bridge overlooking the other bank.

The sky was very dark by now at around 8.15pm.

Last week I went to my grandson’s school to their outdoor ‘Enchanted Enclave’. The children had to take torches/lanterns. They sang songs to us first and then each had a fairytale book to take to read with their guests. I didn’t think it appropriate to take my large camera and mainly I just wanted to enjoy it all. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of shots with my compact Ricoh though which I left on Program with auto white balance.  The lighting was from a wind-up lantern and torch which give a white light.  The exposure could have been much better as there is loss of detail on the book, but it was the atmosphere I liked. The auto white balance gave 6250K.  The flash WB in Photoshop is 5500 and shade is 7500. I adjusted the images to shade because it seemed the best.


29th November 2011

TAOP Part 4 : Light – Exercise 8 : Tungsten and fluorescent lighting

Part 4 : Light

Project – Available Light

Exercise 8 – Tungsten and fluorescent lighting

I have only done a part of this exercise so far, so will add to  it in time. To begin with I have looked at the differences made by fluorescent lighting.

This is the room where my morning drawing class is held (a local village hall) and the fluorescent lighting gives poor light actually as well as in a photograph.  I found myself wanting to add more clarity in the photograph just as I want to add a more natural light when I’m in the room!

This was with the compact Ricoh on program mode and it gave ISO 400 @ 1/124 f/2.5. Auto-white balance gave a temp of 4000K.

I altered this in Photoshop to Fluorescent  which gave 3800K so pretty similar and this gave the most realistic colour quality to me. I tried the other settings as well but they looked even more odd.


I also took a photograph in the town centre as twilight was just falling.

Again on Program f/1.9 @ 1/100 with auto while balance which gave 5350 (almost the daylight setting in Photoshop). The natural light outside looks reasonably okay, although a trifle dull, but the fluorescent lights in the Keelans shop look very orange.

I then changed the white balance in Photoshop to the fluorescent setting (3800K):-

The fluorescent lights in the Keelans shop now look more natural but the natural light outside is very blue.

In this kind of situation you obvious have to make a decision as to which white balance setting is best utilised, depending on the subject.  Another way round it might be, for instance, to take a picture like the above using auto or daylight white balance but then, in Photoshop to do a copy utilising fluorescent white balance. The two could then be combined.


29th November 2011

Part 4: Light – Exercise 7: Cloudy Weather and Rain

Part 4:  Light

Exercise 7 : Cloudy Weather and Rain

As I’ve been posting this blog I’ve been listening to Elbow – their performance in Manchester Cathedral recently. Great sound and I love their music (even though they’re from Lancashire!).

The Exercises

The clouds were drifting fairly quickly and I wanted to capture the difference this made to the top of the trees. Both at f/11 with the cloudier one at 1/40 and the sunnier one at 1/13, These are different trees which probably explains the difference in f/stop. The time was around 2.30pm.

The next two are 2.45pm – the same trees this time.

f/ll @ 1/8. It looks quite dull and I can see the blueness in the ground.

f/11 @1/13. The sun is lighting up the trees and the shadows are more definite.

The next three photographs were taken on overcast days on different dates and in different locations.

Here comes the rain

It was pouring down outside and I wanted to capture the raindrops. One thing I learned about rain is that you it’s difficult to see it on a photograph unless it’s against something – windows, car windows etc, or . I didn’t ahve to get myself or my camera wet either because I could take the photograph from inside the conservatory.

It had just stopped raining here and I love the way that the colours of flowers are intensified.

This is one of a set I took the other day when I was driving back from a meeting just before twilight.  I only had my small Ricoh GDR3 with me but it’s captured the rainbow (and a little of it’s twin). I don’t think the man in the car behind me was too pleased when I stopped but I was thrilled. I think rainbows are one of Nature’s miracles even though I’ve never found the pot of gold!

8th November 2011