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.