Sunday, 15 May 2011

Project 17: The user’s point of view

It proved harder than I might have expected to come up with suitable ideas for this project.  The brief says “... a particular activity that is undertaken from a specific, distinctive position.”  Taking that literally (and I’m not saying one must) there aren’t too many places that fit the bill – toilet (no!) ...  However, I think I’ve come up with three suitably diverse situations – one domestic; one ‘public’; and one that is probably best described as art.
Starting with a fairly obvious, domestic space, this photograph is taken from the point of view of a diner in a kitchen/dining room (one could obviously do something similar in a restaurant, bar, or whatever).

The camera is on a tripod, more or less at eye level, where someone would be sitting, looking out across the room.  Height is a fairly straightforward decision here, but there could be variations on the camera angle and the focal length, and both might vary depending on whether one included other people in the picture.  In an otherwise empty room, and maybe even if there was someone cooking in the background, the wide angle (this is c16-18mm in 35mm equivalent terms) seems most appropriate here (and indeed, most of the time when simulating the human viewpoint in a room like this).  If there were other people dining at the table on the other side, then the user is more likely to be focused on them, with the room somewhat secondary in the background, and one might come up with a different answer  (albeit it might not then be about the use of the room – or maybe it would?).
The second example goes out into the public domain.

This is a bus shelter in the centre of Holmfirth.  It doesn’t totally fit the brief, in that there is a choice of places where one might be sitting, and the ‘user’ might even be standing.  However, I do think it illustrates the user’s point of view.  Height-wise, I have gone for the sitting position again and the camera angle is, naturally, looking in the direction from which buses would be coming.  I did think – should I wait until there is a bus in view? – but truthfully, the user spends most time looking at an empty road, waiting.  The camera angle is quite a wide one again – 24mm equivalent.  Again, one might say that the user would be looking out onto the road, so I could have used a longer focal length, leading out of the shelter.  Apart from the fact that this would have made for a messy composition, I think it’s also fair to say that the user’s line of sight would be taking in the electronic sign in the top of the frame, and that they would also be aware of the graffiti on the seat.
And the final example, I suggested, is a work of art.  It is James Turrell’s Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – see here – and I have photographed it from the point of view of the human ‘user’, not the deer!  It is a space that provides an opportunity for cool, quiet contemplation (most of the time – never been in during a thunder storm, for example!).  Appropriately for a photographic project, it creates art out of light – changing light.  I did consider photographing it for Project 18, but I don’t anticipate spending a whole day there, interesting as it might be.  The ‘skylight’ is square, of course, but its shape is distorted by the wide angle – 16.5mm equivalent – and the patch of light on the right hand side is the direct sunlight penetrating the space in the roof.  I have tried to capture the softness of the light in the space that is then broken most strikingly by the sky through the roof void, and the harsh sunlight on the side.

Quite an interesting project, this has focused attention on a viewpoint that one doesn’t always consider when photographing a ‘space’.  All my examples have ended up using a wide angle, which, as I mentioned above, feels like the natural route to go when simulating human eyesight.  I was trying to think of exceptions, and I guess that if one was taking a photograph that looked into the space occupied by the user, and then onward into his/her line of sight, then a longer focal length would work perfectly well.  The following is a terribly ‘noisy’ and uninteresting example that I have just shot in the living room, but it illustrates the principle – 72mm equivalent focal length, but still representing, more or less, the viewpoint of someone sitting on the sofa that is just visible in the foreground because it is shot from a distance behind the sofa.


  1. I think one thing that's often overlooked is that the idea of a 'standard lens' is based on one eye, whereas we see with two eyes and have a sense of the periphery too. I've always found that something between 28mm and 35mm FL equates more to the sense of our field of vision.

    This has practical application when you're doing something like 'street' photography. Working between those focal lengths when you see some potential you can raise the camera to your eye and be seeing what you saw without the camera, not suddenly finding your self in a strange land where all the relationships are different and you have to scuttle about; prime lenses rule! Hahahaha

  2. I was partly thinking, in this exercise, about the potential difference between what the viewer can actually see, with head perfectly still facing a specific direction, and what the viewer perceives or is aware of, given that (unlike a camera) we rarely keep our head/eyes perfectly still for any length of time. I feel that the first shot presents a realistic impression of how a 'user' would perceive the room, even if it isn't an accurate presentation of exactly what he/she would see at any instance.

  3. A very interesting project. I think the picture of the deer shelter works well. Lovely kitchen too!

  4. Oh yes the deer shelter shot has 'moment'. It would be interesting to see it with a little bit of litter 'punctum' on the floor, replacing the nondescript crap. ' }

  5. 'Litter punctum', that's a new one! Actually, it seems to remain relatively litter-free - just leaves and debris coming in through the skylight. Unusual for it to be totally empty of people, though. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a fantastic, free space; well worth a visit.

  6. 'it seems to remain relatively litter-free'

    You could always kick a bit in there. Ooooo controversial, tampering with the evidence. Hahahaha

  7. Not even any bins at YSP - and no litter either - hmmm? (Quite a few sheep, though, with 'consequences'!)

    Interfere with reality? But surely it's photography, how could I do that?