Assignment 5 – Photography is Simple

The Brief

“Take a series of 10 photographs of any subject of your own choosing. Each photograph must be a unique view of the same subject; in other words, it must contain some ‘new information’ rather than repeat the information of the previous image. Pay attention to the order of the series; if you’re submitting prints, number them on the back. There should be a clear sense of development through the sequence.”

What is it about?

This is about my view of the world in miniature. I wanted to explore the possibilities of this ‘secret world’ with my camera, and enjoy a feeling of being lost inside it, as a kind of escape from the ordinary. This idea isn’t new. I wonder what the fascination is and why we seek to re-create it?

Humans have explored this other realm in a variety of ways. Sometimes with human made items, such as dolls houses, miniature villages, replica boats and ships with every detail recreated, many crafted to precise scale.

 “It always seemed to me that the miniature was the most effective solution to experiencing visions of worlds and new perspectives that otherwise could not be achieved in life” – Matthew Albanese, miniature artist and photographer

“In my experience, working at a small scale invites viewers into a personal, intimate relationship with the piece. At the same time, the very nature of small scales keeps us at a distance, unable to fully ‘enter’ the work…. A place where time has stopped” – Thomas Doyle, miniature artist and model maker.

Little People Project from the book Global Model Village by Slinkachu.



Mar Cerda creation for Wes Andersen’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’


Miniature scenes inside a toilet roll


I have been interested in ‘miniature worlds’ from an early age; I have vivid memories of visiting the model village at Bouton-on-the-Water, Cotswolds. The village itself is not only recreated as a scale model, but at one end is an even smaller model village; a replica inside a replica. This has always reminded me of looking into parallel mirrors, stretching into infinity.

Away from human made scenes, the miniature is a strange, unreachable world that we can only glimpse, where nature flourishes quite happily in its own secret dimension. It was this I wanted to explore, within my immediate surroundings. I found myself perfectly absorbed, glimpsing spiders, tiny snails smaller than my little finger nail, luscious flower petal texture, raindrops shimmering, on both natural and human made objects.

Perhaps one source of inspiration could be music? If so, this subject reminds me of Suzanne Vega’s track “Small Blue Thing”.

Today I am
A small blue thing
Like a marble
Or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you
I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
Your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky
I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
– Suzanne Vega

There is also a piece of fiction which unfortunately I can’t quite remember where its from – I think its by the American author David Leavitt – where one of the main characters says to his lover not to be afraid as he be will ‘curled up inside your pocket’.  Small can be powerful too!

In seeking inspiration from professional photographers, I particularly liked the work of Heather Angel. The images are beautiful, and often so close up that the subject becomes a delicate network of repeating pattern.



I also noticed Grahams Wen’s nature images, which are stunning – I particularly like the brown trout captured in water.



Whilst I can’t hope to emulate the quality and complexity of this kind of professional work, hopefully I’ve managed to convey small hints of this fascinating miniature world within my own photographs. I certainly enjoyed making these images very much.


My Images

The vast majority of these images are shot with manual focus – but it turns out they just aren’t properly focused. I used the tip of using live view and enlarged the screen to try and check my work, but I wasn’t accurate enough. It eventually dawned on me that I had been trying to focus outside of the focal range of the camera. I swapped to auto focus and respected the ‘bleep’ to let me know it could lock on. This helped quite a bit (!)

Some further problems were that I’d chosen I very bright, but changeable day so the exposure was tricky. And as the majority the images were taken outside, the wind had fun whipping the delicate plants around all over the place. Not easy!



My Images

As when I tried macro photography a little earlier in the course, I found it pretty challenging. As I don’t have a macro lens, I used my macro filters, stacked on my camera. It does make focusing very difficult, as obviously the depth of field is tiny.  Unlike previous assignments, before submitting work to my tutor I have used as much post processing as I know how (using a combination of exposure, levels and curves) to alter exposure when my images were under exposed. In some cases, such as the snail images some areas remain quite dark. I really do like this, and would want to see this range in tone in an illustration, but I understand that this means some of my work remains a little underexposed.

I may well have used too much sharpening on my red rose, I love the ridiculously gorgeous velvety folds of the petals, but I don’t think I managed a sharp enough image. I’m a bit embarrassed just how few of my images are actually even approaching useable but I guess it just takes time. Still. I really, really tried and thats all I can do!

Looking  1/30 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


In front of me 1/250 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


Simplicity  1/125 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


Complexity 1/80 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


Beauty 1/100 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


Cruelty 1/100 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


Perfection 1/125 sec;   f/4.8;   ISO 200


Secrets 1/80 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


Revealed 1/160 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


The Small World 1/320 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


Please click here to view Tutor Report ruth-arnold-513075-photography-1-expressing-your-vision-assignment-5

Revisited Work –

“See My Small World”

After receiving feedback from my tutor, I have reviewed my selections slightly, with a view to strengthening and re-enforcing my ideas. The suggestion of drawing my images together under the theme of ‘Love Hurts’ didn’t really appeal to me – I’m not one of those lucky people who have never had my heart broken believe me – but this piece is about life and my experience of living with chronic illness. This theme has cropped up in my work before,  and its really difficult to avoid, as my  choice of photography subjects throughout the course have been restricted to where I can physically manage to be. In this case, the available world was my garden. I hope this revision in some way expresses a narrative that makes sense to other people. Here goes….

  1. See My Small World 1/30 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


2. Look down 1/250 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


3. Is Beauty in the Details? 1/125 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 200


4. Or A Perfect Whole 1/100 sec;   f/5.0;   ISO 200


5. Life Is Complex 1/80 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


6. Fragile 1/100 sec;   f/5.0;   ISO 200


7. Beautiful 1/100 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


8. Painful 1/100 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


9. We All Feel Pain 1/100 sec;   f/4.5;   ISO 200


10. This Is My Small Un-Seen Life









Exercise 5.3

Exercise 5.3

“Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare


It seems the pivotal point of this photograph is the frozen step. My eye moves from the striding man, to the reflection, around the ‘white space’ of the water and back to the man.

Before I started this course, I hadn’t actually even heard of Bresson, so my response to his work is still reasonably fresh. Its really unsurprisingly he is so celebrated, as his images are ridiculously beautiful. I feel a sense of time travel, particularly when viewing this picture, as this is certainly a frozen moment. The sense of atmosphere and balance of dramatic light and dark tones add to the drama. I’m curious – was Breton himself influenced by previous artists or photographers? Well, his contemporaries included other pioneering folk such as Robert Doisneau and Brassaï but what went before is usually the more formal portraiture we associate with the Victorian era.

There are a few ‘natural’ moments captured before Bresson. This picture is of course a static pose, but what a lovely glimpse of her personality.

And again here – this is posed, but more playful and imaginative than the standard images we are used to seeing from early photography


Casting further back, Bresson would have been familiar with the tradition of narrative painting, for example, a classic plot device, the letter…

Vermeer, The Letter


And dramatic tension!

Artemisia Gentileschi Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes


Hogarth’s Gin Lane shows an alarming decisive moment, due to the perils of drink


Some victorian social documentary photography captures a moment. Here’s some examples from ‘Street Life of London’ (1876)

by Radical journalist Adolphe Smith in collaboration with photographer John Thomson.


These images – such as this poor little girl searching for her parents amongst the drunken customers, were deliberately intended to shock, and highlight poverty and social inequality.


So was Bresson concerned with social issues? Probably not in quite the same way. But I have read criticism of him as being ‘cold’ because his composition is so perfect and elegant. I really disagree, I think he loved humankind and had a empathy for his subjects.

Bresson has influenced so many people since, it’s hard to condense so much ‘post Bresson’ work. However, as an example, using a form of ‘visual haikus’ Rinko Kawauchi is concerned about capturing ‘A moment about to happen. This feeling of catching the tail end of a whisper or the beginning of a storm is more important to her than planned composition.’ – Lucy Andia

Her work differs from Bresson, in that it is more about the story, and less about the perfect shot. I get the feeling that many modern photographers feel that ‘perfection’ has been done, and its time to move forward with a more edgey approach. Kawauchi seems to almost serve as an opposite to Bresson – if he presents a perfect pure note, she counters with a challenging discordant one. And so any art form shifts and explores subject matter in different ways, sometimes referencing what has gone before, sometimes rebelling against it.

Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001
Untitled (from the series: Uatatane), 2001

I think Bresson had an extraordinary eye that cannot be ignored to this day. His framing, and pure instinct for capturing this moment made the camera his perfect medium.

Exercise 5.2

Exercise 5.2

“Select an image by any photographer of your choice and take a photograph in response to it. You can respond in any way you like to the whole image or to just a part of it, but you must make explicit in your notes what it is that you’re responding to. Is it a stylistic device such as John Davies’ high viewpoint, or Chris Steele Perkins’ juxtapositions? Is it the location, or the subject? Is it an idea, such as the decisive moment?

Add the original photograph together with your response to your learning log. Which of the three types of information discussed by Barrett provides the context in this case? Take your time over writing your response because you’ll submit the relevant part of your learning log as part of Assignment Five.”

I’ve chosen to look at landscape photographer, Rachel Burch. She has kindly allowed me to display some of her images here.





Rachel Burch trained before digital took hold, at a time when all photography students learnt to use a dark room and produce their own images from scratch. She tends to publish her images without post processing, avoiding techniques such as image stacking, or altering the colour balance. The light captured is natural, and to me totally suited to the subject matter. ‘Hyper-real’ images can look stunning, but I think its sometimes a technique thats over used, and can perhaps be a little cliched.

The mood of these images vary. You can see the first two are in bright, rich sunlight. I’ve deliberately displayed them changing in tone as you scroll down the page, where they become more softer and more dream-like as you go on. Its is this quality of natural light that I’m responding to – the lovely reflective nature of the water lying on the sand, gently sparkling sea,  the light diffused through cloud, and entering the mouth of a cave. I think it shows a love of the natural world, and captures a stillness and sense of atmosphere that is understated.

This is what I hoped to try and capture, especially as I now live less than 10 mins drive from the sea (or estuary, strictly speaking). It was lovely to be able to get outside for this one and enjoy the gorgeous view. I just had to take pot luck when health allowed – but I got very lucky with a beautiful day!

Here are the results:


Rachel Burch inspired images

I had to include this picture, simply because I loved this house nestling in the dunes!






For these last three images, I’ve got the sun behind me, and these lovely boats are conveniently arranged on the sand! This was taken mid afternoon – inevitably the light quality is different from some of Rachel Burch’s photos, but I hope I’ve managed to capture the mirrored quality of the water…


Perhaps more so in these last two.  I like the drama better with this image, but I think the smaller boats are a little distracting.


Final Choice

I did notice my horizon is pretty much half way up this picture, not ideal… Despite cropping this one,  but I didn’t want to loose too much land or sky! I quite like the way it heightens the horizontal sweep of landscape though, being narrower.






Exercise 5.1

Exercise 5.1 The Distance Between Us

“Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.”

I had a little trouble choosing my subject for this one as I couldn’t think of an object I had empathy with…then I realised the most obvious choice is to take pictures of my partner. This was quite challenging, as he is currently madly busy doing up our house, which meant I grabbed my camera with no preparation or time to think.

Its quite irritating having someone waving a camera around when you are in the middle of working, so I just had to get on with it. but I think this caused me not to over think what I was doing and maybe that helped my creativity. As you can see, some of the images are underexposed. I used my on camera flash as a spur of the moment fix.

contactsheet-001 contactsheet-002

Unexpected things

This is a mistake I like: I know this is underexposed, but I like the tinge of blue back light.


I’ve been telling him Crocs are evil for quite some time, but he still wears them… I prefer the stance of the feet facing front, though I’m not sure why. Maybe its because you know the subject must be facing you, but we are looking at his feet. You can see the light by his left foot has blown which isn’t ‘good’, but its pretty (to me!) Other details have crept into the frame – workbench,  chairs and his bike.


Cropped close up. The more images I took, the more I got drawn into looking at texture. Can I get away with the frame being in focus not the person? I hope so…I like that he’s frowning!


Completely distracted now…I was drawn to the wood, metal and flaky yellow paint


The background is very mottled and grainy – but I love the patina on this old pipe. pipe

Through a gap in the wall again – this time ignoring texture and having my subject in focus


Love the texture again here – and the blue paint with the ‘orange’ tones of the brick and his face


I should add this is not staged; he was in mid phone call which allowed me to get a more natural facial expression




The ISO is up to 800 on some of these shots, and I did have difficulty taking pictures indoors with limited light, also the exposure was particularly tricky when shooting through the hole on the wall. I did up the exposure in photoshop for some of these images. If you’re being picky, I gather some people would re-work the catch light – to add one to both eyes and re-position at two or ten o’clock.

As I type this, the hole in the wall is already boarded up, and the opportunity to return to the same view point has gone. I got really drawn into this subject, it was so interesting to see what happened within the frame, and also how much I was drawn to texture every bit as much as capturing my partner…Using the relationship between him and his surroundings,  allowed me to shift emphasis from him to the fabric of the building and back again.




Assignment 4 – Languages of Light

“Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time.
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you’ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your ‘process’ (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link in to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.”

Re-visiting Studio Lighting

I really wanted to re-visit studio lighting (exercise 4.4), as it frustrated me a lot! I wasn’t at all happy with my pebble photos, and it seemed a good idea to look at this topic in more detail.

I wanted to focus on the subject of ‘food’, which I know is particularly tricky (!) Why? Because I want to be able to apply some of my new found er…’skills’ to my other visual communications studies. In particular, I noticed that a future graphic design assignment will be a 12 page brochure on the subject of food. So it seems perfect to try and produce my own images, rather than seeking permissions elsewhere…Thats the theory anyway!

Consequently, I asked my fellow students what sort of equipment they used for an inexpensive basic ‘studio set-up.’ I received some excellent well considered answers – particularly in reference to using flash and soft light box tent cubes. Drawing on this advice, I went ahead and bought a few items which allowed me some control over my lighting – namely a small pop up tent to diffuse the light, and a small pair of lamps. Plus I have a speedlight to attach as a better flash.

My influence comes from one of the photographers mentioned in our course notes; Jean Baptiste Huynh. The studio lighting is very beautiful, and although its dramatic, it retains a quality of softness too. As I was expanding on the rather mundane theme of food, I was drawn to his series ‘Vegetaux’, which includes a lovely image of (judging by the title) a celeriac. (The website is in French, and I’m not a veg expert so I’m making a reasonable guess here!)


On a more practical note, I’ve also been reading a how-to manual by photographer Tony Northrup. The ebook comes complete with hours of instructional videos that I’ve been watching avidly. He and his wife Chelsea are so unfeasibly attractive, with such a perfectly lovely home it would be easy to hate them. But luckily I don’t. Which is good because there are a lot of videos.

Happily, I have picked up a few tips from them about still life. As I’m aiming for a high key effect, with a white background; I’ve gathered I need to light the background as strongly as possible, and overexpose the white cloth behind my object. Of course the tricky part is not to overexpose the subject itself.

I shot these pictures over a few days, taking note of what did, and didn’t work. After some experimentation, I decided my lighting was pretty puny, so to get a good enough background, I needed to use my tripod and a slow shutter speed, sometimes in combination with my flash, which can be angled above, or to the side if needed.

Some of these images turned out OK. Of course, ideally no photoshopping would be needed – but I made an error with the back cloth – I now realise I should have ironed it! That doesn’t account for all the problems, but it hasn’t helped.

Fruit and Veg – Contact Sheets 

For my main body of work, I simply concentrated on trying to get reasonable quality images. Here’s the contact sheets.

(NB Left hand side, second row down – its a post processed apple – shouldn’t be part of the contact sheet! Sorry!!!)


Some items were easier than others – I found the onion, lentils, peppers and spinach the best to work with. On the other hand, each time I tried with the brie, or cheddar, its blown on the top. And the bananas have seriously wrinkled fabric. I don’t think I could be bothered to photoshop to that extent!


I used a total of 5 lights: both sides of the cube, back, above (just a light bulb), and in some cases, flash or the tripod and a low shutter speed (such as a 1/4 second) and a low/lowish f stop.

There are numerous photos of bread, as this was my second afternoon of shooting, and I spent a lot of time working out my lighting/settings before moving on to other food. I tried to pay careful attention to the results by stopping and viewing bread pictures on my laptop.

I took such a large number of pictures, it took a while to sort through them all and decide on the best ones – a few almost made it, but had rather wrinkled backgrounds that I wasn’t quite able to eliminate whilst shooting. These have been lightly photoshopped, but would need quite a bit more to look OK



My Final Images

Bread  1/25  f13  ISO 200



Citrus Fruit 1/6  f10  ISO 200


Lentils 1/6  f10  ISO 200



Onions 1/6  f10  ISO 200


Sandwich 1/4  f13  ISO 200


Spinach  0.5 f10 ISO 200


The images that made the final cut, are all made without flash, and a slow shutter speed. I found it helpful to move away from a very shallow depth of field, as it can be a little limiting. I did notice with the lentils, the nearest to us aren’t in sharp focus – I’m thinking this isn’t ideal, and something I should have spotted at the time.

At this point, I felt I had achieved what I set out to do (not having to source some free stock photography for my future graphic design work) but of course I’m now in danger of being labeled The-Most-Boring-Student-Of-All-Time.

So, as an antidote to all this blandness, I decided it was time to let my hair down. The next series are playful, and a little less conventional. I simply gathered together items I found interesting, to interact with the food. Here are the results.

Contact Sheets Again


Final Images The Sequel 




Foot in Mash


Clockwork Apple


More Time


Lost Property




During this exercise, I feel I’ve learnt a lot about low and high key lighting as you can see from my pictures. The low keys ones looked fine on my computer, but now I’ve uploaded them, I think I should have made a small adjustment to bring up the lights. What is it all about? Well it’s really up to you!

Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.”

I began the exercise by not thinking ‘creatively’ at all(!) This was a conscious decision, as I wanted to understand how to light my objects, and produce them for use in a graphic design project. Its understand that this approach – producing generic bland pictures, seen countless times on stock photography websites, is something that goes against the spirit of our process of enquiry. However, simple images on plain back grounds do serve a specific function, and one that is useful to me. I feel this is a legitimate exercise, as its furthers an area of learning that works for me as part of my Visual Communications studies. On a more practical level, obviously it would be difficult to shoot food on a coloured background, as a coloured tinge could be rather off putting for a general audience. This set of images will be useful for graphic design purposes, as they work work easily as a set, can be cropped, or altered to portrait, to assist ease of layout. I can also envisage combining the images with some illustrations for a booklet on healthy eating, these images are unlikely to ‘fight’ or clash with other elements. They could play a supporting role, and I’m happy with that.

So what inspired me to move on to a different approach? Well, I’m aware that I have spent a great deal of this course learning basic camera skills – rather like a musician playing scales, its an important grounding. But at some point, its good to ‘play a tune’. This often comes more easily at the moment when you have done enough practise to perform basic co-ordination skills without it using up all your available attention. This is beginning to happen for me. I enjoy being creative, and I think like most people, when inspiration strikes, its a pleasure, and a discovery too, as ideas can veer off into unexpected tangents.

The best things happen when you let yourself play. I found my ideas came pretty quickly by simply glancing around the room. I scribbled down my ideas on a piece of scrap paper first, as I knew I wanted to incorporate various items of food and objects, but was initially unsure which to ‘pair up’ . You could for example stick a plaster on any fruit, as as apples bruise, some of these ideas developed quite easily by themselves. Again, the title came quite easily, as they were inspired by the narrative of the images.(Do they have a narrative?) For me, they do, and I will try to explain my thoughts behind each one:



Bruised – Obviously I enjoyed the absurdity of protecting fruit, and the suggestion that they have feelings. I like the wrinkled fabric, and rather clinical setting while the apple has obviously received some medical attention. Ouch.


Foot in Mash – When I was reading up on food photography, one of the things I learned was that mashed potato is a common stand in for various types of food, particularly ice-cream. I quite often suffer from a lack of props (who has that many interesting items hanging around?). But as it happened my partner had just dug up a couple of mysterious items from our garden – a plastic snake, and a small black boot. Perfect.


Clockwork –  Perhaps this begs the question ‘What is real?’. There are so many photoshopped images, it was fun making this series from real objects instead. I like the combination of the organic with the mechanical. I think I often enjoy a sense of the absurd, which may be a linking theme for these images.


More Time – Here I’ve switched to a black cloth, and explored the possibility of making more time. To my surprise, I find this a bit poignant, not really my intention, but time is a delicate thing. (Perhaps that should be the title?)


Lost property – What if all our lost possessions end up being snacked on, by something pretty weird? (Just saying….) This is often where my mind wanders. I like the sense of a parallel universe just out of our reach, and I’ve really never outgrown the impulse to image strange creatures, talking objects, odd events.


Fake – Enter the plastic snake, brooding amongst a pool of lentils. I just don’t have to justify this. Its silly. Maybe some of our fears are too?

Have I succeeded in expressing my creativity? Yes I think so. We are often asked (or urged) to be experimental – Theres plenty of scope to push this in other directions – blurred images, pictures of my rubbish bin etc, but this style works for me. I’d also like to point out when you are a complete beginner everything, even the very mundane is out of your comfort zone. The scariest but most satisfying part of this course so far has been switching to manual, and grasping the possibilities it offers.


I’ve already mentioned Jean Baptiste-Huynh, but I also drew inspiration from these images:

I’m quite drawn to both dramatic pictures, and ones that appear to ask questions or tell a story. Apologies, I don’t have full information about this image, its from Pinterest

Escadas para o Céu” (Stairways to Heaven).


This woman passing through a door is also very dramatic, and leaves the viewer to create their own narrative,


Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois was an artist, often returning to the theme of spiders in her work. (Said to represent her mother) Her sculptures have been photographed many times, all over the world. I particularly like the drama created by using black and white, and the use of scale.


Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual artist. She has often used photography in her work, most often to capture her series of slogans. An antidote to consumer culture. Its interesting that many conceptual artists use photography in their work, and in Holzer’s case, attempt to communicate quite directly with the viewer – no obscure metaphors here. I can’t help thinking photography is the perfect medium for this kind of work.


And general inspiration on still life and food photography

For humour and absurdity, I love Terry Border


Tutor Report

View PDF of Tutor Report here

Response to tutor report – I really feel I upped my ‘game’ here, and had the chance to become a bit more creative. However I am kicking myself VERY HARD that I didn’t ask my tutors advice before attempting food photography, as he is very experienced in this area, and at commercial photography in general. Doh. Instead, I chose to rely on my trusty ebook (stunning digital photography). Unfortunately I got the idea that I was supposed to blow out the background. Whimper. In the instructional video of shooting still life with a white background they even turn the the ‘blinkies’ indicator, so the camera flashes in the white areas. The video wasn’t specifically about food but I thought it was applicable!

So, this is the point tin the course where exposure is beginning to make sense to me, only for me to deliberately mess it up. Sigh. I also wished I had looked more throughly at how to light low key lighting – as my tutor explained this isn’t the same as simply underexposing!

I’ve altered some of the dark ones to my preference, though I understand they aren’t really ‘correct’ – as my tutor showed me, as correctly balanced they look pretty ugly! I used a combination of levels, curves and exposure in photoshop, plus masking some areas to maintain a black background for the snake picture.

I’m certainly not an expert when it comes to post production, but I have also deliberately avoided relying on it too much. Its quite nice to attempt to tweak my work though, as it gives it a helping hand!

Altered Exposure




As for the overall comments, I was quite pleased, and feel that I have gained in confidence, experimentation and skills.


Exercise 4.5


“Make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or any ordinary subject such as ‘apple’ or ‘sunset’. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images.

Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the ‘Creativity’ criteria at the end of Part One. You might like to make the subject appear ‘incidental’, for instance by using juxtaposition, focus or framing. Or you might begin with the observation of Ernst Haas, or the ‘camera vision’ of Bill Brandt.

Add a final image to your learning log, together with a selection of preparatory shots. In your notes describe how your photograph differs from your Google Images source images of the same subject.”

Here’s a google image search for ‘shoe(s)’


What’s immediately apparent is most shoes are displayed on a white background, as a pair, with no other distractions. Sometimes the shoes are worn by someone, but not that often. Although the purpose of the image is probably clear, its fair to say they are a little boring!

My experiments with shoes mostly revolved around my available footwear, which is a pair of boots and flip flops. So for the sake of accuracy, heres a couple of specific searches


Flip flops are a bit more fun – I like the image with the row of them on a washing line.

My image

I just had fun with this. It was good to focus on being playful rather than thinking about whether I was using the camera correctly.


As it turns out, wearing your flip flops on your arms isn’t that effective. I liked the idea of garden a ornament wearing my boot, or of course a garden bench. These are my favourites:




Exercise 4.4

“Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object. Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form…”

This exercise was very challenging for me. I’m keen to learn how to use artificial lighting, but of course its a very technical subject for a beginner, and I really struggled.

Here’s the contact sheet…we were asked to sketch our lighting set up, but it seemed just as easy to photograph it.

ContactSheet-001 ContactSheet-002

I’ve picked out a few pictures here to show my lighting set up. For my first attempt, I mostly used one light, with a white paper background, and card covered with tin foil.


Overhead light obviously reduces shadow


Lit from the side, I could vary the depth of the shadow – its quite gentle in this shot


Experimenting with the distance of the light source…


Changing the direction




The addition of a very small fill light



For the second attempt, I added a second light, in the shape of a head torch (no, I wasn’t wearing it!) and a cloth background. The head torch was brighter than I expected for its small size, so I rather lost control of it as a fill light, which was my original intention.


As you can see, it was possible to direct the lighting into the shadow of the pebble


In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lighting and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.”

Although the types of lighting we have been looking at are very different, there are some common factors we can see emerge. The stronger the light source, with a high contrast between light and shadow, the more we can see form. If the light is quite diffuse, the effects are more subtle, and objects can appear flatter. Direct overhead light from either midday sun or a lamp causes a small pool of shadow. Whatever the light source, the laws of physics apply!




Exercise 4.3

“Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your notes try to describe the difference in the quality of light from the daylight shots in Exercise 4.2.”

Before beginning, I had a look at the work of some photographers.

Richard Silver – this caught my attention, as it seems to represent a transition between the previous exercise (when we were asked to photograph a scene throughout the day), to this current one – working with artificial light. This image moves from daylight, to an atmospheric night time scene – using both natural and artificial light. The slices perform a really effective sweep of different light and colour textures, combined in one picture.


Andy Frazer – Although there are plenty of images showing headlights as streams of light, I think the composition of the blank background, the upright posts, and curved road are particularly effective. The action appears suspended in stillness.


Karekin Goekjian – A more staged nighttime scene, beautifully atmosheric. I feel we are peeking at an instant that forms part of a mysterious narrative. The lighting is warm in colour, and the texture of the building appears soft, drawing us into the picture.


It was suggested we look at Brassai, who was particularly known for his pictures of night time Paris. He seems to have been drawn to both urban landscape and character studies, with beautiful dramatic lighting.


I think many of the images look like film stills, particularly film noir. This shot from ‘The Third Man” echoes Brassai’s work.


Back to Brassai. Here you can see our interest is drawn to the focal point of the picture by using very high contrast between darkest darks, to sharply bright highlights. The midtones are secondary – they are not part of our main focus, and are present in the lesser parts of scenery.


A totally different style comes from Sato Shintaro. This is a bright, vibrant modern image, the colours jostle for our attention, its a lot for the eye to take in, and we may find our eye moving restlessly through the image, just like the energy of the city depicted in this scene.


By way of a massive anti-climax, here’s my work…

As you’re probably bored of me saying by now, I’m new to all this. I decided to keep things relatively simple and experiment with dramatic lighting using candles and solar powered fairy lights.

I wasn’t sure how to capture candle light, in that the low lighting requires enough exposure, but the slow shutter speed meant the flame wasn’t that sharp. I don’t feel I have solved this dilemma but it was interesting to try. It was good to see which ideas worked as I explored this theme. My least favourite was candles against coloured fabric background. But I noticed that candles on a dark background (such the electric hob, with a dark vertical background) looked the most dramatic so I ran with this.



My best bits…These are the images I’ve selected as being the most interesting or effective.

For this row of candles, I was paying attention to the light meter, however, I wanted to be more dramatic with even less mid tomes, so for the next image I let the exposure drop down to being underexposed.


Although this is now very dark – and my light meter wasn’t happy, I feel this makes for a more striking (if not terribly original) image.

1/40 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


Again, no points for originality, but I was pleased with this one, as this continues the theme of the reflection caused by the candle flame. I like the utter blackness surrounding the light.

1/15 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


This took a while to set up, and I have to thank my partner for the idea! This is taken looking through a glass and metal table, with the lights positioned on a pile of objects (a cookery book, bowl, and metal tray) to get the correct height. I’d like to think this has resulted in a rather interesting and atmospheric image?!

0.3 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


Here I was experimenting with holding the candle. Hopefully you can see just enough of my hand to make this image effective.

1/6 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


This was tricky to take, as I was juggling how to position my arm effectively. You can see the little lights cast a red glow onto my skin.

1/6 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


I think this one works slightly better, as my hand is a little more curved around the lights, my intention was to make them look like they were falling.

1/6 sec;   f/5.6;   ISO 800


Lastly, because of the red glow on my skin, I decided to alter the colour just to see how this would alter the appearance of the image.

Here it is in black and white (with a little tweaking using curves)


And a change of colour


So have I captured ‘the beauty of artificial light’? Hmm. Well, yes to the best of my ability! Improvements? Greater originality would be good, and of course better developed technical skills. I think this could be developed further by using a greater variety of lighting (such as different coloured lights) or shooting a scene that has been shot with artificial lighting, where the subject is not principally the light itself, but more about the effect it creates on both objects, and the mood of the scene.





Exercise 4.2

“In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to ‘work into’ your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of light in each image.”

I think viewing light for the purposes of photography overlaps with art/painting quite a lot. A flat image isn’t much good for reference, contrasting tone really helps to show form. Returning to the same image in different light makes you think of Monet’s haystack series. He was clearly deeply absorbed in observing the quality of light each time he painted these.

Monet Haystack Series

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to start my photo sequence at dawn, which I understand is an important time of day for photography, but I have done my best to observe the light from the morning to dusk.

Taking images of the same subject and paying attention to the light meter was excellent practise for me to begin to grasp how to make the appropriate adjustments. As the day progressed, I was beginning to find it more natural to check the light meter through my viewfinder (I could then easily twiddle the dial to alter shutter speed without moving my eye away away from the scene). After shooting I then referred to the histogram, which is becoming a useful tool rather than a baffling piece of data.

9.30 AM 

1/400  f 9  ISO 400

The light appears a little flat here, but in fact this is due to my poor photography skills – there were shadows present I just didn’t capture them! I feel this is the least accurate picture in terms of what I was seeing in real life.


11.30 AM

1/200  f18 ISO 400

The weather has worsened a little, and the quality of light was genuinely more dull here. You can see the sky is more grey



1/200 f18 ISO 400

I’m quite pleased with this picture. The weather has brightened again, and you can see the sun is high in the sky from the shadow cast by this tree.



1/320 f18 ISO 400

And we’re back to overcast again. You can count on British weather. I feel the greys look ‘richer’ in this image though and there is an amount of drama (perhaps?!)


5.30 PM

1/250 f20 ISO 400

I think my ability to get the exposure right has hopefully improved as the day has progressed. Here you can see the sun has moved to the left, as the shadow is now falling to the right and has lengthened. It seems to me the colours look ‘true’ with a full range of lights and darks.


7.30 PM

1/4000 sec;   f/3.5;   ISO 400

Dramatic evening light, with longer, deeper shadow. I upped the shutter speed too much, which has resulted in this being underexposed…


Here’s the histogram. I’m still experimenting with aperture and shutter speed to see the different results


8.20 PM

1/30 sec;   f/11;   ISO 400

No spectacular sunset – and if there was I’d need to rotate to my left. But you can see subtle orange tones, and a sliver of light on the corner of the house and catching the top of the tree.


8.50 PM

1/30 sec;   f/7.1;   ISO 800

According to the internet, sunset is about 8.50pm. Everything has gone grey now, and I’m not sure its quite so easy to guess what time of day this is.



1/30 sec;   f/3.5;   ISO 800

Its just beginning to get dark, and the lamp post is starting to glow. Consequently this is my last pic of the day. Here the image has a bit more richness to it again. The darks are quite velvety, and with light becoming scarce, the tree becomes closer to a silhouette.


This has been an interesting day. By this time I have earnt the reputation amongst my neighbours as being that weird woman who just moved in. Taking multiple photos of a 1970s cul-de-sac does look a bit odd. Happily enough I met a new neighbour this morning who introduced himself as Clive. He didn’t ask what I was doing.

I’m sorry I missed sunrise (currently about 5.50am, it being the height of summer)… I promise to pop out another day if I have insomnia(!) Despite missing this crucial opening part of the sequence, its actually been surprisingly good to pay so much attention to the day unfolding, even from such an ordinary viewpoint.


Exercise 4.1

  1. “Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful ‘grey card’) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it’s not necessary to focus). Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.”
  2. Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid- tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter scale with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either the left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations.”

    Auto Mode

    1) A White Wall. You can see that the histogram is actually a little off centre here, but it was a very sunny day. To be honest it wasn’t until afterwards that it occurred to me that I could have set the white balance to direct sunlight, I’m guessing this might have helped.


    2) Grey Paving. In our notes we are told that a variation in tone can cause a slightly wider histogram – and here it is


    3) Black Trousers. The histogram is firmly in the middle, and the trousers appear bleached out compared to their ‘real life’ colour.


    Manual Mode

    Well, I’m sure for many actual photographers having proper control is really their preferred way of working, however for me, I’ve never used it before and its a bit daunting! Happily the way the course is written, everything has laid the ground work for me to take off the ‘training wheels’, so here I go…

    1) A White Wall. 1/640  f 6.3 ISO 400

    Wow! I can’t believe the difference. This is SUCH useful information both for this course and more broadly for my student work… Whenever I have photographed artwork,  I’ve never understood why the paper always looks grey. The alternative is of course to use the scanner, but this sometimes bleaches out the detail, and you can lose subtlety. Back to photography – the histogram is peaking right at the limit, and I don’t know if I have overdone it here, but you can still see the texture of the wall and some variation in tone.


    2) Grey Paving 1/640  f 6.3 ISO 400

    I kept the settings the same to understand how this works for a mid tone – and here’s a nicely centred histogram to match


    3) Black Trousers  1/640  f 6.3 ISO 400

    This first image is taken without changing settings, so I could understand more fully what is happening. Obviously its now very dark and all detail is lost, which is echoed in the sharp spike of the histogram.


    I did just explore whether it was possible to rescue this in photoshop – it was, but of course I want to learn how not to rely on post processing


    Here’s my second picture which is 1/40  f 36  ISO 400 and I think this is reasonably successful


    And a final experiment 1/40 f 9 ISO 400 The histogram is a sharper spike, and I suspect technically this is too dark, however it is very close to the actual trousers in real life


    I have learnt a lot from this exercise, as I’ve been struggling to understand how to draw on the information provided by a histogram. I gathered that although some advice tells you a ‘perfect’ histogram is one very like the centre curve of the grey paving, but it depends on the subject. So far I have had the option to leave the White Balance on auto, or change the setting – but with variable results. I haven’t got to grips with exposure, and some of my previous images have been underexposed. This is my first glimpse of how to gain better control – I don’t feel for a second I have fully grasped it, but its an important part of my learning process. I hope to build on this now as I mov through the rest of the course.