Part 5

Exercise 5.3

The Decisive Moment revisited

Cartier-Bresson’s image: Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare shows a snapshot of a man jumping a puddle.  What is surprising is that Cartier-Bresson said that he couldn’t actually see what he was photographing as all he could do was put the camera at a hole in the fence.

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Looking at this photograph, I feel the “pivotal point” is the jumping person and his reflection.   The fact that the man is out of focus reinforces the movement, and it is the movement that forces the eye to return to it again and again.  If Cartier-Bresson had managed to get the man in focus, then the effect would be different.  The eye would not necessarily be drawn to him.  It could be towards the more central figure in the background, or the railway sign.  But as the only movement in this photograph is of the man jumping the puddle, the eye will always be drawn to him.

I took a series of photographs on a wet day in Oxford, one of which is shown below.  I took several photographs of people walking over this puddle, but I selected this one because I cannot tell whether the person is about to step into the puddle, or skim over it.  I can’t remember the detail as I took many that day, so I have to guess the outcome.  I believe the foot went into the water, but I will never know…………….

IMG_5387 copy
A wet day in Oxford


Part 4

Exercise 4.5

Oxford as it really is!

If you ever Google “Oxford” you will be presented with a beautiful picture postcard set of images.  From these images, you would get the impression that this is the real Oxford.  A beautiful University city, with wonderful old buildings and a culture to match.  But in reality it is only half the story.  I was inspired by two photographers: John Davies and Chris Steele-Perkins, both of whom photographed Mount Fuji from various different viewpoints, showing the juxtaposition of the beautiful mountain, and the factories and suburban life going on around it.  I have included examples of their work, and a photograph taken from Google showing the usual image with blossom and petals around it.

Chris Steele-Perkins
© Chris Steele-Perkins 2001
John Davies
Fuji City – 106, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, March 2008 © John Davies
Google Image
An image taken from Google showing the usual viewpoint of Mount Fuji and the beautiful blossom


I went into Oxford City Centre to take some photographs showing that Oxford does not consist only of those majestic old buildings seen on Google.  These well known buildings cover less than a square mile in the centre, and just around any corner are many more traditional buildings interspersed with modern 60s buildings.

First I Googled “Oxford”.  Below is a screen shot of the resulting search.   Anyone who hasn’t visited Oxford would see these  images and assume that’s all there is.

Oxfords Dreaming Spires
The Dreaming Spires of Oxford


And here are my photographs showing the other views of Oxford.

Of course I realise progress is essential and there are some beautiful new buildings tucked carefully in between the old and traditional buildings, such as the new Maths building and the new Physics building, both shown below.   But like John Davies’ and Chris Steele-Perkins’ images of Mount Fuji, images can be created to give one impression, when the reality is different.

Department of Physics, University of Oxford
IMG_2064 (2)
Institute of Mathematics, University of Oxford
Part 4

Exercise 4.4

Studio Lighting

This proved to be more difficult than I first thought because the subjects I tried first turned out not to be suitable for showing the distinction between the location of the studio lights.  My first attempts were with a bunch of grapes but because all the surfaces are curved, the shadows appeared soft regardless of the position of the lights.  (See photographs below).


I then photographed an aloe plant and because of the shapes of the leaves, was able to demonstrate the difference in shadows depending on the proximity of the lights. Here are 6 photographs with a information on the lighting for each one.

Natural light from a window either side of the plant


Natural light from a window either side of the plant but the windows have been shaded.
All natural light blocked and an off-camera flash located 140cms from the left of the plant and a reflector to the right.
All natural light blocked off and an off-camera flash located 90cm from the left of the plant and a reflector to the right.
All natural light blocked and an off-camera flash located 60cm to the left of the plant and a reflector to the right.
All natural light blocked and an off-camera flash located 20cm to the left of the plant and a reflector to the right.

I had the camera set on auto white balance, and in the camera the background appeared the same colour.  However, when I downloaded and printed them, the photographs taken with a flash were pale pink.  I could have changed the white balance post production, but decided to leave them as they were to show that auto white balance does not always produce consistent colours.










Part 4

Exercise 4.3

Artificial light

The main difference between artificial light, especially at night, and daylight is that it is constant.  As shown in exercise 4.2 light during the day changes.  It may be because of the time of day and the position of the sun in the sky, causing shadows to lengthen or shorten, or because of cloud cover, masking the effects of the sun.

The photograph below is of a canalside pub, showing the lights and reflections in the water.  This was a challenge because there are different colours in the pub lights, and large areas of dark.  I had the ISO low and a the white balance setting on auto.  The camera was set to aperture priority, which increased the shutter speed.  I hand held the camera but was able to balance it on a wall opposite the pub to ensure the photograph was in focus.

Rock of Gibralter Pub

I then took a series of photographs of our local golf club buildings and buggies. The camera settings were the same as for the above photograph.

Finally, I stopped on a motorway bridge to film the traffic.  The results were not as clear as I had hoped because it was extremely windy and even the tripod was shaking.  I will be returning at a later date, and I will take something to secure the tripod to the railings!  Hopefully I will be able to produce clearer images of the traffic.





Part 4

Exercise 4.2

Moving Light

The word Photography comes from the Greek words phos (meaning light) and graphie (meaning writing), so it is no surprise that light is an essential element in photography. Photographers vary in their preference for the time of day and the type of light in which they take their photographs.

The Golden Hour: this refers to the hours just after sunrise and just before sunset, when a golden glow often floods across the landscape and shadows are longer than during the day when the sun is overhead.  Many photographers prefer these times of day.  Sally Mann preferred the afternoon/evening lighting as can be seen in her landscapes.  Below is one of her landscapes showing the long soft shadows.

Deep South, untitled. © Sally Mann 1998


Other photographers prefer the mid-day light where the shadows are shorter or non-existent.  Atget, in his early career, preferred the mid-day light as he felt it would give the images more clarity.

Eugene Atget


In the 1920s Imogen Cunningham had developed a reputation for creating portraits in the soft-focus pictorial style.  She then went on to explored the patterns and shadows created when photographing plants.  Instead of the soft-focus images of the portraits, she created sharp focus images in black and white.  The time of day was less relevant than a strong natural light.  Below is an example of her work.

Imogen Cunningham
Imogen Cunningham circa 1920



Moving Shadows

We were moored up on our narrowboat at Cropredy, north of Banbury on the Oxford Canal in open countryside, so on a bright day I put a small plant on the roof of my boat and photographed it at intervals during the day. I would have liked to set up my camera on a tripod and used the remote shutter to take a series of shots, but as we were moored on a towpath, I couldn’t leave the camera out on its own all day!

I set the camera with a wide aperture so that the background fields would be blurred, and just the plant in focus. In each case the ISO was set to 200. In the distance of each image there is a white van, blurred, and incidental to the photograph. However, I actually found this useful to compose the image each time it took a photograph, to maintain consistency of view.

Initially there was some cloud during the morning, but at mid day the cloud had dispersed leaving a vivid blue sky, only to return during the afternoon. The last photograph was taken at 16.41, and shortly after rain clouds moved in making further photography for this exercise impossible.



Image 1, taken at 6.20.  The roof of the boat (actually cream coloured) looks grey. No definite shadow can be seen around the plant because the sun is rising behind a tall hedge and only the tips of the leaves have any light on them. However, across the field a line of sunshine can be seen as the sun starts to rise above the hedge.


Image 2, taken at 7.36. The plant is still in the shade of the hedge, but the as the sun is rising higher in the sky, the shadows are moving across the fields opposite. There is a slight reflection on the roof of the boat, and dappled patches have now started to appear as the sun shines through the top of the hedge.
Image 3, taken at 10.29. Here the sun has almost risen above the hedge, areas of the boat roof are now in sunshine and the fields opposite are in full sun. The sky is still slightly hazy, but not enough to prevent the appearance of clear shadows. A small shadow has started to appear to the right of the plant pot although the plant itself is still in shadow.
Image 4, taken at 12.04. The sun is now overhead, and a clear, but foreshortened, shadow can be seen to the right of the plant, with the plant itself in full sun. The sky is no longer hazy, and is now a deep blue, and the cream roof of the boat is close to its actual colour.
Image 5, taken at 13.09. The fields opposite have changed from a bright golden colour to a deeper green and the sky is still a bright blue. The shadow cast by the plant is longer, and at a different angle from the previous image.
Image 6, taken at 13.55. The shadow has moved very little since the previous photograph was taken, but the sky is less blue.
Image 7, taken at 15.09 The shadow has lengthened and started to move around the plant.
Image 8, taken at 16.41. The sun had started to go down and the shadow had lengthened further. I had to zoom out to be able to include the shadow, so other items on the roof of the boat have appeared. This was the last photograph I took on that day because rainclouds moved in and shadows were no longer visible.