Thursday, 13 January 2011

Assignment One – Tutor Feedback etc

I got the feedback from my tutor last week and have exchanged further e-mails with him since then.  The first thing to say is that the report was detailed, constructive and considered which is pleasing and certainly very helpful.

There were some positive indications – ‘a good collection of images’; ‘a variety of techniques and styles’; ‘fits the brief to a “t”’; ‘well executed’; ‘a definite idea of what you want to achieve’; ‘a good grasp of lighting’ – which is OK, but there were some general comments that indicate the need for further development – ‘need to develop your skills in putting people at ease’; ‘more work on developing your own style’ – which I would also agree with.  I had done virtually no portrait photography when I began this course and although I think I’ve made progress, there is still plenty of way to go if I am going to develop my portraiture skills.  In relation to developing my style, my tutor brought out all sorts of detail issues with, for example, the first image (below), comparing it to a similarly-located Mario Testino picture, and indicating how much more I might have been able to get out of it with things such as ‘use of the angle of the shoulders’, ‘a hint of what the arms are doing’.
I think this illustrates the ‘gulf’ between the professional photographer, with a professional model, and the relative beginner, such as myself.  Not surprisingly, experience can teach you to think of all the details and nuances that make the difference between ‘fitting the brief’ and making a ‘dynamic image’.  Fundamentally, it needs more practice, more thought, and attention to detail.  I feel that I can handle most of the basic technical requirements (something that I wasn’t entirely sure about when I started out), but there is a lot to learn in terms of style and creativity.

Another piece of general feedback related to this learning log, where he feels that I need to be more reflective – more indications of why I chose one image over another and more attention to where I need to strengthen my skills – so I’m trying to do that, including in this post.
Taking the individual images in turn, he felt that there could be a better crop of the first one, making the drainpipe less dominant, and I agree.
He also asked whether I had tried alternative camera angles, different poses etc.  The answer is ‘yes’ but to a very limited degree (back to the earlier comment about attention to detail).  I said in my notes on the images that the smile and positive look on Isobel’s face has a reassuring effect.  His question – quite rightly – is why would I want to reassure the viewer.  What if I wanted to unsettle them.  The truth is, of course, that I am being cautious with this image and not wanting to show Isobel being frightened, alarmed, provocative, or whatever in this seedy looking location.  And that is why I have made this choice.  I did have some alternatives, with minor variations, as below.
On the whole, I still favour the cropped version of the original, accepting that this is partly down to my own ‘caution’ and preference for the ‘positive’.
Feedback was positive on the second image, but my tutor had an alternative crop for this one, too, with which I also agree.  I wrote about the surrounding foliage framing the subject, but the tree in the top right does distract to some degree, so I go with the tighter crop.
On the third image, he liked the different style, the conversion to black and white, the sharpness in the eyes, and the ‘great expression in the face’.
He was less sure about the depth of the shadows and felt that the eyes could be lightened; suggested that the skin tones were a bit flat and could do with more contrast; and again had an alternative crop. I have struggled with trying to specifically target the skin tones in Photoshop and come to the conclusion that this particular tweak is probably a step too far, at present. I did try the lightening of the shadows and the eyes, plus the tighter crop. 

For me, the lighter version looks a little too much like dirt on the face (something I had been concerned about in my initial post).  That might just reflect my (lack of) skill in making the change, but I think I prefer the higher contrast version with the dark shadows.  The lightened eyes look OK in the lighter version, but didn’t quite work in the original, more contrasty version.  The crop, on the other hand, is fine.  So I end up with this one.
The fourth image proved to be well-liked.  He did comment on the slight shadow behind the face and felt that the image might be slightly under-exposed.
My original notes did refer to the shadow, which I had not originally wanted in the image but which I found acceptable & even felt that it provided a little bit of contrast.  Positioning my subject further from the background would have eliminated it, but that wasn’t an option for this session, working in limited space. I did produce the following version, with slightly higher exposure.
We have had a little bit of debate over the fifth image, the original of which is below.  My own notes had questioned whether my subject might be too small in the frame and whether we could see enough of her face. 
My tutor felt that the treatment was valid, and that the crop was right, but shared the reservations that I expressed, wondering whether I might have gone for a different situation e.g. grooming the horse, where there was scope for more of an intimate shot.  I agree, but on the other hand, I was chiefly aiming to show Isobel working hard in a challenging environment, rather than creating an intimate portrait of ‘girl with horse’. I did have some other images of her with the horse in the field, but felt that they had not come out right from the technical point of view – not sharp enough; some lens flare; etc – because I was having to work ‘on the hoof’ (pardon the pun!!) as she led the horse into the field.  Here are those two.

I also took some others of her doing other work in the field prior to the horse coming out – see below.
My tutor thought that a version of the last shot, but with all of her shadow in the frame, migh work well – true, but not captured at the time, unfortunately.  Another approach, with hindsight, would have been to get closer for the shot of her leading the horses.  I have done some very tight crops of the oroiginal to show what might have been possible – though as crops, the second one pushes the pixels somewhat!

On the whole, whilst there might, on reflection, have been better images that I could have taken.  Of the ones I did take, I think I made the right choice, albeit I accept that it does test the boundaries of what might be considered a portrait.
The final image, I chose to some extent on the basis of its composition.
My tutor agreed, but also commented that it demonstrates the problems with using on-camera flash – the shadow below the arm – and that perhaps a lower camera angle, showing more of her face, would have worked better.  The latter is probably true, and I was only working with the flash because the light was so poor in the stable and my D80 can become very grainy/noisy at high ISO settings (which would have been necessary to ‘stop’ the action as she worked).  That said, ‘grainy’ might have worked!  I did take a lot of images in this sequence, and there were others that I might have chosen, a selection of which are shown below.

Perhaps, looking back, I might have chosen either the second or third of these for my submission – as more interesting images that retain the context and the concentration in her face, but do show more of her face.
So, there is plenty to reflect on here.  It has left me a little overwhelmed, if I tell the truth, but I have to remember where I started out with portraiture just a few weeks ago.  If I want to pursue this further, either later in this course, or as part of Level 2, or even Level 3, then I have a lot more work to do.  As a starter, I’m not too unhappy with what I’ve done, and it’s time to concentrate on ‘People Unaware’.

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