Assignment 1: Contrasts

So to conclude part one this is Assignment 1, contrasts.

The objective of this exercise was to identify subjects expressing extremes of different qualities using pairs of photographs. The following eight pairs of photos were taken from a combination of my existing library and new photographs taken specifically in consideration of this exercise. In each case I’ve sought to use the learning from throughout part one, cropping, balance, etc. In some cases its meant some interesting reconsideration of photos taken in the past and in one case revisiting the scene of a photo to retake in light of my new knowledge. Against each pair I’ve noted my thoughts and intentions with the photo,.

Contrast – Thick/Thin

To me, when I think of ‘thick’, tree trunks always come to mind. Easy perhaps to feel the need to fill the frame I thought instead to try and emphasise the thickness of the trunk could be better served by showing it relative to the rest of the tree. This photo is actually a vertical panorama, then cropped to generate a frame similar to a regular shot. This allowed me to get in close with a wide angle lens, use the distortion it generated to move the trees behind away from the foreground.

In contrast, thin. Here I took advantage of a major tidy up exercise in the house which amongst other things involved shredding vast amounts of correspondence. I got lucky when I spotted we’d circulated various coloured sheets presenting a subject with perhaps a more obvious foreground by picking out one of the coloured shreds. I took the opportunity to bring out a almost ‘delicate’ nature of the subject plus the interest of trying to make out exactly what all the shreds were part of, emphasising the ‘thin’!


The first shot (representing high) is a shot from altitude. The scale is strengthened by the meandering road ways and the massive mass of the mountains. This is further emphasised by the tops of the mountains sitting in cloud. The shot was from my library, taken during a pan Europe car rally last September (2011). I think this is Italy! I cropped the original to remove the sky as this took something away from the scale.

For the low shot I lay down at ground level and used wide angle to capture the furrows of the field at a height where they had a profile. I used a depth of field through control of aperture to ensure the first set of furrows were in focus. The monotone nature of the field was reduced and the photo took on more texture through a black and white conversion.


A view of Florence, Italy from above. A shot previously languishing in my holiday archive from 2011 but with a fresh pair of eyes cropped this removing the obvious focal points to instead concentrate on the huge number and variety of rooftops. To emphasise the many, I did try to avoid any notable landmark buildings but there is till enough variety to make the shot interesting.

Possibly stretching the concept of few, I chose this shot as having a single point of focus. I felt citing the single glove on a repeating pattern of the wall emphasised the solitary nature of the ‘lost’ glove, the glove being kept as the point of foreground interest by use of a shallow depth of field around the glove.


‘Continuous’ competed with ‘curved’ for the first shot of this pair but ultimately won out as the white line, central to splitting the bridge between pedestrian and cycle way, was the strong focal point. Given its purpose, the continuous nature of the line is important. Even at night (with deployment of a black and white conversion), even with the lighting competing for attention it is still the foreground drawing me to the shot.

In contrast, intermittent is represented by this arrangement of steps in Hampstead Heath. This shot needed a careful crop (and patience due to the vast number of walkers in the park), depth of field was kept relatively shallow to draw sharp attention to the texture in the leaves in the foreground.


An unexpected offer of a test drive (without the sales pressure) in a Lotus Evora sports car and opportunity to photograph afterwards gave me free reign to examine the cars many interesting curves and angles. This shot I chose as to me eye every line in the car bodywork and detailing here is a curve. A grey day generally and a silver car meant a black and white photo was an obvious choice but the detailing in the light cluster made a good opportunity to bring the one complete circle to life in the shot with a colour ‘pop’. Shallow depth of field prevents surrounding distractions drawing the viewers attention.

The straight lines in the second shot come courtesy of my local multi-storey car park. With my favourite wide-angle lens deployed once again, I was able to use a wide shot to emphasise the straight lines, distorted by the lens. I chose a side of the car park catching the sun to offer a different colouring (and at the extremes a different texture) to the repeating uprights. The car park is a monochrome of concrete and white so a black and white conversion has simply made it easier to emphasise the contrast and textures on offer.


Gorgeous under tree textures and colours are ripe sites for photography when the light breaks through into the frame. I chose a fallen silver birch, a tree with great bark texture anyway, to emphasise rough.

The brave angles of the former Equitable Life Assurance Society buildings in Aylesbury gave me the second shot, ‘smooth’ steel and glass emphasised by a less than clear but bright day. A depth of field keeping the building in focus through its height was important for the effect as the smoothness is emphasised by the crisp angles of the building.


The first image (Aylesbury’s Waterside theatre) makes maximum use of a really clear but windless day. It was so still I was able to capture a near perfect reflection of the scene in the canal waters.

In contrast, a dull grey day at Donington circuit. I spent an age at the chicane waiting for someone to properly clip the curb and give me this shot. I tried to get a shutter speed that retained the blur (less in the wheels in the air than those on the track). A crop enabled me to really focus on the car, achieve a better balance in position and remove the distraction of the bright (and over exposed sky).


My final pair. The butterfly was so delicately balanced between the flowers (in themselves delicate) giving a real sense of ‘light’. Some experimentation with shutter speed was required to freeze the butterfly which never stayed still for more than a few fractions of a second. I decided the square crop was the way to frame this, especially given the butterfly was the ‘balance’ with his/her balancing act on the flower.

In marked contrast comes the austere and heavy concrete structure that is Aylesbury’s County Hall. It is a substantial and weighty structure in almost brutalist style, raw concrete and glass quite typical of the mid 1960 through to 1970s. It is a heavy structure, concrete overwhelms glass to increase that feeling. like the butterfly I framed this centrally as there was nothing else to offer a balance.

The final shot brings the contrasts together in a single frame, for me the photo below brings light and dark together in this way. Shot at Westminster Bridge using the footpath under the bridge I used the darkness to silhouette the figures but the light to show the bridge and Big Ben giving instant recognition to the scene.

Full size versions of these images can be viewed here -

Exercise: Cropping

An exercise in cropping. For this exercise I dipped into my library of photos (well the last 18 months worth as anything prior is snaps!!).

This photo was taken just off the main square in old town Marrakesh. I liked the repetition of the phone shelters although they were in constant use so I couldn’t get a people free shot.

I reviewed the whole shot and considered my original intention (repeating telephone shelters) and looked at where a crop could restore what I intended.

The cropped shot then, when I applied the crop I found the lone figure walking up still in frame. I liked this, it seemed to add a bit of story to the shot without taking away from the telephones. Overall then, closer to the original intention but with perhaps a bit more ‘story’ to it?

A distant shot of the windmill at Pitstone (windmills a popular subject for me). Although I liked the framing, the shot looked like potential material for a crop.

I played about with various options, considered cropping the top and bottom away but I liked the balance of land to sky, nearly 50/50 so decided to retain that.

The finished crop then, I kept the path to the windmill to give a leading line from the bottom left hand corner. I considered cropping more from the right hand side but this just seemed to work and the windmill was less ‘lost’ in the shot overall without losing the feeling of breadth.

Ah, Boris’s bikes. Plenty of opportunity for repeating patterns although this was on a shadowy street on a sunny winter day in London.

I experimented with various crops for this shot, what did it offer. I decided there were two elements worthy of consideration. The obvious repeating pattern of the aligned bikes was best represented by the rear wheel mudguards, made all the more easy because all the bikes have the same wheel size. However there was a different photo in the varying heights of the saddles, in many ways in sharp contrast to the first potential crop whilst benefiting from the saddles being the same size, colour and construction.

Saddles crop first then, conceptually I liked this but the overexposed sky and building in the top right corner were a distraction. I’d probably try to shot this if (when!) I’m in London again.

This crop whilst perhaps more obvious, is my preferred shot. Interestingly it brings to life the one bike that hasn’t been put away properly (top centre) bring the shot a bit of unexpected variation.

A really interesting exercise then, these were three photos I’d kind of filed away as nothng special but with a crop, there was something else there I had missed on first inspection. Its also made me think about some of my framing and opportunities to frame differently in the future.

Exercise: Vertical and horizontal frames

This was an interesting exercise pushing the photographer (me) to break out of the natural inclination to take photos with the camera always with a horizontal frame. The setting for this assignment was Worthing using the pier as my central theme on a short and cold January afternoon and early evening.

The first pairing, a classic British seaside resort shelter. In the vertical frame I’ve placed the subject quite central using the frame to obscure as much clutter from the shot as possible. the downside is the shelter is hardly frame filling. The horizontal frame allows the shelter to better fill the frame and so is my choice here.

The second pairing. As the tutorial suggested without really thinking about it I’ve put the ‘weight’ of the vertically framed shot towards the bottom half of the frame, very noticeable when compared to the horizontal framed shot. That said, because of the cloud details I prefer the vertically framed shot, helped by the fact it was easier to get a good exposure with a narrower frame!

In perhaps sharp contrast to the previous pairing, this time the vertical frame sees me pushing the obvious ‘foreground’ (the pier) towards the top of the frame. That said I did a similar thing in the horizontal frame. On reflection perhaps the foreground is actually the sun glinting off the water! I prefer the vertical frame again, largely because of that reflected sunshine taking centre stage.


In this pair of shots a subject that rather fits the vertical framing. As a consequence my initial preference was the vertical frame. On review, what makes the shot interesting are the reflections in the water the subject is sat in, as a result the horizontal frame is the better shot for me with a better balance of foreground and background.

Time to move onto the pier, not exactly bustling for a Saturday afternoon but it was January. The refreshment bar was doing brisk trade in tea! Both shots (wide angle lens) exhibit that typical pier/wide angle lens effect of pulling the viewer in. I actually found it quite difficult to select a preference but the horizontal frame wins me over as the rule of thirds wins out!!

So as the sun began to fall the light was changing virtually by the minute. Another shot emphasising the point that in vertical framing the natural tendency is to put the ‘weight’ of the shot in the bottom third of the frame. Without anything really strong to pull the viewer in I prefer the vertical frame as you get a better view of the dramatic clouds.

Mrs.A thought it was rude not to have an ice cream as we were at the seaside. Here again I’ve pushed the interest into the bottom of the vertical frame. As a result the horizontal shot has much better framing. There is enough going on the fill the width of the frame whereas the vertical frame has a lot of sky that isn’t adding much to the shot. Thanks to the model.

In this pair I like the content in both, both seem to have balance. Picking is tough, I think my choice is the vertical frame as the figures look like they are walking out into the shot and contained in the boundary of the vertical frame this is how my eye is drawn.

The pier then, with the light falling away the frame was already in shadow. Both shots benefit from cloud following a similar line to the pier. Assuming the shot is of the pier, the horizontal frame suits the subject allowing it to dominate the frame. The vertical frame again carries a disproportionate amount of sky to achieve a good balance to my eye.

With the light all but gone, I took to photographing the seafront features. The horizontal frame again is my choice here, just too much concrete in the vertical frame and in the horizontal frame I used the shelter to balance the hotel and the lights taking centre stage.

A fascinating exercise, perhaps the seaside isn’t the best location for testing the vertical frame in composition but some shots like the groyne certainly work better that way around. They key is to remember to try and frame both ways around as you might be pleasantly surprised. One thing that was certainly beneficial as well on this day was to in effect narrow the field of vision allowing easier exposure control on a day where a low bright sun was a constant challenge.

Exercise: Positioning the horizon

This was an exercise in dividing the frame into two or more distinct areas. A scene with a strong horizon was required and having selected a view I then shot a series of potential ways to frame the scene in a way to potentially capture the elements in a photograph.

This takes the framing to one extreme. With the horizon close to the top of the shot the texture in the recently harrowed ground dominates but on reflection, the shot doesn’t look balanced and the sky looks almost pointless (and over exposed). Probably would have been better with no sky at all.

By introducing more sky, a 1/4 sky and 3/4 field, balance feels better and the hedge starts to to draw you in. Lots of texture from the field which is one of the key points of interest. I like this shot because te texture of the field balances the simple sky.

Almost at the other extreme, lots of sky, probably 3/4. This looked great in the viewfinder because of the sky but actually doesn’t look as rich here, probably a bit over exposed in the top right. The impact of the lines in the field has been all but lost, the field just looks flat and the hedge doesn’t draw the viewer in as I hoped it would.

This is better, the field comes more into the frame, the hedge line starts to pull the viewer in again.

This is a 60/40 view in favour of the field. This for me is the most effective shot at capturing the field texture but the impact of the hedge is compromised by being chopped too far into the shot.

My favourite shot, I like the height of the hedge running the the full extent of the vertical axis, enough of the field to get the lines and texture all then offset by the clear sky. The frame is nearly 50/50. All the elements are in place, field, sky and the hedge which along with the lines in the field, pulls the viewer in almost like an arrow.

Another fascinating exercise, without moving position, changing lens or even focal length the framing of the shot can be changed dramatically and the impact of each element changed significantly, most noticeable for me was the impact on the hedge.

Exercise: Balance

This exercise was all about understanding balance. I’ve used 6 of my most popular (!) photos and tried to assess the balance in each shot, looking for the dominant features and how that is balanced by other elements of the shot.

This shot, taken at Ivinghoe Beacon, uses strong lines to pull the viewer in from the base of the shot. The furrows are sharply in focus but with a shallow depth of field, the strong lines are softened as the photo rapidly falls into increasingly softer focus. There is also a clear line almost halfway up the shot running horizontally which aids the balance of the shot.

Something completely different. In this shot (Brill Windmill), the windmill dominates the right hand side of the photo but the balance comes from the family sat on the bench with plenty of clear sky above them. Its a scale thing, the space and simplicity of the left hand side of the photo balancing the apparent mass of the windmill.

In Burnham Beeches, a shot taken straight into the sun using the contrast between light and shadow to balance on the horizontal line splitting the photo,

A shot I found much harder initially to see the balance in. I think the simplicity of the green leaf is in contrast to the detail of the insect captured in this macro shot.

This shot, taken at the Kop Hill hillclimb in October 2011 has the dominant motorbike and rider crisply in focus set against the blurred background giving the sense of speed. The black and white conversion creates strong contrast between light and shade but actually its the central placement of the foreground object that creates the balance in this shot.

Millennium Bridge, December 2011. A long exposure shot, there are strong lines created by the bridge, these would dominate were it not for the strongly lit St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. Although the horizontal ‘sky line’ is splitting the photo 2/3 to 1/3, this is the line of balance separating the bridge from the rest I think. I’m not 100% sure in this shot like the insect shot earlier.

This was a fascinating exercise and really made me think about my photos. Some I scanned through were extremely obvious, others much tougher to identify, perhaps because although I like them they don’t exhibit great balance. Its certainly true the simpler the shot, the easier it was to see the balance.

Exercise: Object in different positions in the frame

This exercise, as the title implies was all about placing the subject matter in different places in the frame. The photos are of Brill Windmill in Buckinghamshire.

In this first shot the subject is basically central in both the horizontal and vertical panes. The subject is the complete focus of the eye dominating the frame.

In the second frame I’ve shortened the focal length pushing the subject toward the top right corner of the frame. This gives the subject a more distant feeling in the shot, brings foliage into the frame (left hand side) and gives a greater sense of the journey to the subject. This is my least favourite shot as the surroundings (especially given the weather/lighting) were not interesting and I’d rather see more of the windmill.

The third shot a a tighter framing sees the subject moved to left off centre. The subject can bed into its surroundings more easily whilst remaining the focus of the photo. Losing the foliage to the left gets rid of the distraction of it. My favourite of the four shots.

This final shot places the subject far right. This gives the sense of the windmill almost looking out over the view it faces. From this viewpoint that isn’t a greatly interesting view so although I like the idea of this shot and the extra space framing the windmill in this way has given, I prefer the simplicity of shot 3.

All photos were shot on a Tamron 10-24mm wide angle lens at F8.0.

Exercise: Focal Lengths and different viewpoints

This was a simple exercise in understanding potential impacts of using different lenses to view the same scene but change the perspective by moving myself. In the pair of photos below of Brill Windmill in Buckinghamshire, the first was shot on at a 70mm focal length using a zoom lens, the second at 16mm on a wide angle lens.

Whilst I tried to frame the shots so they contained the same image, the perspective has changed quite noticeably. In the wide angle shot the bench is noticeably bigger although the windmill looks pretty close to the same size, the zoom lens has made the scene look similar but actually compressed it. The result is the wide angle shot does feel like you’re closer to the bench but not the windmill. Also its noticeable that in the wide angle shot the bench and windmill are either side of the frame but in the zoom shot, despite the windmill appearing the same size, there is space to make it more central as the bench is so much smaller.

This was an interesting lesson for me in using the zoom lens to effectively increase the content in frame. Equally, its a reminder that the wide angle lens allows you to simplify a scene if you get in close.

70mm focal length

16mm focal length

Exercise: Focal lengths

In this exercise  the aim was to appreciate the effect of changing lenses from one focal length to another. Using a favourite subject of mine, the BT tower in London (formerly known as the Post Office Tower), I found a spot (Goodge Street) where an area of demolition has (as of December 2011) opened up a relatively clear view of the tower.

I shot first at 50mm with my prime lens, this allowed me to see most of the visible tower.

Moving next to a 24mm wide angle, obviously the field of view has been significantly broadened although the shot was taken from exactly the same position on the side of the road and at the same height.

Finally at the other end of the spectrum is this shot at 210mm, although I had a potential 300mm range I wanted to keep all the tower in shot although obviously I’ve had to make a choice and select a part of the tower as at this focal length you couldn’t frame more than you can see here.

This exercise acted as a great reminder that the lenses I have give a massive opportunity to vary the composition of a shot by simply using the focal length.

Exercise: A sequence of composition

In this exercise the task was to pick a situation involving people and record the scene from the moment it first caught my attention through to the final best image. This runs contrary to my (and I’m sure most peoples) approach of working out the best shot and then taking it only when everything seems right.

I decided to go somewhere where there was likely to be people related activity, Covent Garden in London always comes to mind in this situation and you can never be sure quite what you are going to see. I arrived to find an act already part way into a ‘show’ and proceeded to record what I saw from the moment I arrived.

As I arrived, a complicated conversation was taking place between the street performer and a small German child, picked out of the audience to operate the music but with apparently no command of English. I started with my 18-55mm lens, trying to capture the whole scene although in retrospect I wasn’t focusing on anything particularly to grab attention.

In this shot I went a bit closer, the situation wasn’t improving and I actually quite liked the ever so slightly tighter framing emphasising the communications gap between the parties, emphasised by the street performer’s facial expression and body language.

I moved location in the crowd and went to portrait to capture the unicycle, this shot wasn’t the best as the street performer is slightly cut out.

Still with my 18-55mm lens but now with music controller and performer now working in harmony, the show could begin and I framed them together as a result.

I began to realise that this show wasn’t about the stunt, it was all about the character of the street performer so I went to my 70-300mm zoom as with the crowd growing, I wanted to be able to get closer. This shot is probably one of my favourites of all of them as I liked the crowd looking on, slightly softened by a shallow depth of field and the smiling performer sharpely in focus.

The street performer began an extended routine of getting undressed for the eventual act, I zoomed out to get all of him in frame.

A slightly tighter show, I did wonder in retrospect whether going even tighter for just the lower half of the body would of been funnier.

The street performer pulled from the crowd a ‘volunteer wife’ to hold his machetes! I slowed the shutter slightly as I wanted to get a bit of sense of his constant and manic movement (hence the blurred feet). There was so much going on at this stage I switched back to the 18-55mm lens when a gap in the crowd allowed me to get closer to the action.

I decided to go back to the zoom, the character continued to be the key focus providing the interest. It was clear at this stage the actual circus stunt (juggling machetes on a unicycle) was indeed a very small part of the show. This is my favouite shot, grabbing the street actor with those mad wild eyes.

The debacle of getting aboard the unicycle began, three further volunteers to assist. With my 70-300mm zoom, I was a bit too close to get the whole unicycle in shot even after switching to portrait again.

I decided instead to make the most of the zoom.

Finally he was aboard.

I moved back in the crowd trying to ensure I still had a clear view. Getting behind a few small children gave me line of sight so at 70mm I could get the whole unicycle in using a slower shutter speed to get a bit of blur and create the sense of movement.

I was caught by surprise when the umbrella opened and out came confetti, just managed to grab this. Shot slightly overexposed in the sky.

And so, with his ‘wife’ looking on, the machetes were passed up for the juggling (which lasted all of 30 seconds). Wrong lens again for this shot really!

So better to get in tight although I didn’t quite get all the machetes in the frame.

I like this, again shows the character is the interest. The downside however is without the unicycle (and for the casual observer), its not obvious what you’re looking at, could be a man just standing!!!

Just to prove he really juggled. Shot a bit too tight as you’re left with just cut off heads in the crowd.

This was taken back with the 18-55mm after another swop, the performer descended from the unicycle. Again I wanted the ability to get the movement and the crowd and I could see what he was going to do so a quick lens change and a move in my position in the crowd gave me this view. Although its not as tight on the performer, I like this as he’s still clearly the focal point.

And finally he gathers the spoils, the facial expression says he’s really quite human after all!

I really enjoyed the exercise although it presented me with a number of challenges, I swapped lens way more than usual and I found that the way I saw the scene changed, there was no right answer as to what was best as some shots needed the tight framing and others the space of wider shot. Overall however I think its the performer himself that was the star and looking at these shots again now, its those that capture him that look best to me.

Exercise: Fitting the frame to the subject

In this exercise a series of photos were taken of the same object, in this case a lone bench located alongside the Woodland Walk of Tring Park. The bench was full of interesting textures so made for a good base subject despite the slightly overcast day. The aim of this exercise was to look at the differing ways of filling the viewfinder with the subject.

This first shot I quickly took having found the bench, apologies for the sun blemishes but this captures my initial feeling of how to use the bench in the frame.

In this second shot I thought about options to fill the frame with more of the bench. The light here wasn’t good as the contrast between light and dark made the exposure tricky so the sky is probably a bit blown out in the jpeg version. In terms of framing, I decided to emphasise the length of the bench filling the frame at least length ways.

For the third shot I went much closer to the bench so that the elements in shot were much more frame filling and you can’t see the shape or form of the bench.

For the final shot I took a step back and immersed the bench into the shot much more than any of the previous three. To me, the bench, which does look a bit out of sorts effectively sitting in the middle of a field, here blends in better.

I enjoyed this exercise, it forced me to stop and think much more about the subject matter and the key object and its role in the photo. My favourite shots are 3 and 4, I like the close up with its texture, I also like the bench set in its surroundings, interesting given my initial framing (shot 1) would be the default image I would normally have taken.