Monthly Archives: May 2014

a couple of hours in the necropolis

looking east from the necropolis, glasgow

Pentax Spotmatic F. Jupiter 9 1:2/85 1/250th sec @ f11. Fuji Superia 400 asa

(Notes on my shoot for the fourth exercise in part 1 – using different focal length lenses from a fixed position)

This weekend I had a couple of totally free hours that I filled by going to the Necropolis for the first time in around 30 years. Back then it was all fairly dilapidated – I think you weren’t even meant to go in in case a vault collapsed under you – but now it’s been cleaned up, made sound and become part of the tourist experience.

As I spend a fair amount of time in Glasgow, I keep a Pentax Spotmatic-F and a set of lenses there to cut down on the amount of luggage I need to take with me when I travel up from London. Glasgow is also where I get film developed, at the Snappy Snaps on Byres Road, so if I finished the film I already had in the camera, there wouldn’t be a delay in viewing the results.

The Necroposlis sits on a steep hill separated from the cathedral by a steep valley and if you look back as you follow the twisty path up towards the monument to John Knox, there is a fine view west. I realised that this was probably as good a place as any to work through lenses with a variety of lenses:

  • Super-Takumar 1:3.5/28
  • Super-Multi-Coated Takumar 1:2/35
  • Super Takumar 1:1.4/50
  • Jupiter 9 1:2/85
  • Super Takumar 1:3.5/135 (2 shots, the second with a x2 teleconverter)

The camera was on a tripod, but some adjustment was made for composition as the frame tightened. All exposures, 1/250th second at f11. Film used 400 asa Fuji Superia.

The picture at the top of this post was taken later, on the other side of the hill looking east. It may form part of Assignment 1.

getting to know your camera # 3 – focus at different apertures


All three photographs were taken with a Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 AF-D lens on my Nikon D50. Focal length equivalent of around 75mm on a full frame camera. ISO was set to 200. Shutter speed varied according to the aperture.


f1.8: A very narrow depth of field; almost everything except for a narrow band down the centre of the image is out of focus; moving out from the focussed strip the quickly becomes very blurred indeed.


f6.3: A wider area of brick is in focus, stretching with a greater increase to the right of the image, where the wall was further away from the camera. The entire image is now readable as brick.


f22: The strip widens again, and – unless you look closely – most of the picture seems clear, if not completely sharp. This time the increase seemed evenly spread on either side of the original in-focus area, which suggests maybe I knocked the point of focus off to the right when I was changing the aperture.

Nothing to add to this really; the smaller the aperture the greater the depth of field. It’s always interesting to do exercises like this and see in practice what the theory says…

getting to know your camera # 2 – focus with a set aperture

For this, I made more than one series of photos, trying to get different relationships between the in and out of focus areas, and to try different types of subject matter. In all cases, I used a 50mm lens at f1.8 on my D50.

First I tried framing something with no obvious subject that demanded focus – a section of my neighbours’ privet hedge, focussing on different areas of leaves, working from left (near) to right (far):


None of them particularly wows me, but the third, with a narrow in-focus area to the right of the frame is the least interesting with the nearer, out-of-focus leaves creating a sense that I’m pressed up against something, trying to see beyond it. It might work if there was an obvious “thing” that was partly obscured, giving some sort of spying/surveillance feel to the shot, but here there’s nothing to suggest that sort of narrative. The second (focussed on the middle of the frame is okay, but unengaging; the first comes closest to working by dint of having an identifiable, in-focus subject (some foreground twigs) and also, I suspect because I am conditioned to scan pages (and pictures) from left to right and here I don’t start off with an area of no focus before settling on an in-focus area to the right of the page.

Next I took a subject where the planes we more obviously distinct – a swing in a playpark – and focussed on the textured matting beneath the swing (far) the swing itself (middle) and one of the supporting ropes (near):


There is something to look at and treat as a subject in each of these , with the texture of the in-focus area helping to settle the eye, but the middle picture with the swing in-focus between two out-of-focus planes is probably the most easy to project into some sort of three dimensional space while the other two are less complex, consisting of something on top of, or in front of an in-focus object. This preference is probably enhanced by the strength of the blue and red versus the more muted colour of the faded red rope and the green matting.

My final go at this exercise involved setting the focus on different people in front of me on the long escalator down from the 2nd level at Tate Modern:


Again, all three work in the sense of giving subject status to the thing in focus with the least successful being the one where that subject is not doing something (the one on the right, which was in fact the first to be taken). The centrally focussed picture with the man kissing his girlfriend is  probably the most comfortable to look at; the one on the left with the young man looking off to the upper right of the frame is also good, but there is an element of tension introduced by the man on the up escalator  (who I wasn’t really aware of as I took the picture) who is equally in focus and looking up into the frame, causing the eye to move back and forth over the central out of focus couple.

In all three series there is a sense that the thing in focus needs to be worthy of the attention before the picture works. Where this happens, the viewer is placed into a relationship with the subject that locates both of them within three dimensional space. Further to this, there is also a sense that other elements – colour, contrast, the possibility to construct a narrative – can support or undermine the effect of where the area of focus starts and stops. Lastly, there comes a point where the in-focus area can be too close to the edge (the third swing picture with the focus on the rope is a good example) where your eye is drawn out of the picture, away from the centre and other side of the frame.

Jane Bown – Looking For Light

You’ll know at least one photograph by Jane Bown; she took the picture of Samuel Beckett staring into the camera like an eagle in a white knitted polo neck. And it’s in the small exhibition of portraits taken by her for The Observer at the Guardian Offices by Kings Cross Station marking the release of a film documentary about her. Continue reading

A toe dipped into the ocean of criticism…

I started at the first suggested stop on my tutor’s list of places to go for thoughts on the current state of photographic theory, The Ethics of Street Photography – Joerg Colberg 03/04/2013 (Conscientious Extended) about whether Garry Winogrand’s profession that he never asked permission to photograph people was ethically ok (Colberg felt that no, really it wasn’t) Continue reading

So Soon?

It was a spectacularly lovely morning with the sun beating down from a cloudless sky, and I realised as I set up the tripod for the first exercise of the day, that my D50 was beginning to show its age when it came to its ISO range. Not able to go lower than 200, meant that anything slower than 1/30th of a second was beginning to burn out. This was fine for the two exercises (and anything slower than 1/15th second ran the risk of the moving subject disappearing totally, like it was Paris in 1830-something) but if I ever want to do something like this for people to see, I need to either get a camera that can do lower ISO speeds or – far less exciting – buy some ND filters. There are various things that argue for a new camera – the 3000 x 2000 pixel image isn’t that big any more; I got it in 2006 so it’s obsolete by now; it’s nice to have new gear – but I hadn’t expected to be thinking quite so seriously about upgrading for a year at least…

And then there’s the issue of the two spots that are apparent on the sensor when you shoot something tonally flat, like the sky:


I can clean the sensor (or pay for someone else to do it), and I can clone them out when they’re annoying, like here. But, ugh. So soon…

sunday on the marshes

Walthamstow - Shutter Speed and Motion

Nikkor 35mm f2 AF-D; 1/60th; f22. ISO 200.

A good, productive morning, taking the pictures for the last two Getting To Know Your Camera Exercises (the movement ones) and also managing to get raw material for the first two of the Framing Exercises.

I headed down to the Lea Valley Marshes and spent the best part of an hour with my D50 on a tripod, focussed on a t-junction where there was likely to be a fairly steady stream of cyclist, joggers and people walking dogs, working through shutter speed and aperture combinations, and then crossed the river into Clapton, sat on a bench set a little back from the navigation’s tow path and panned with cyclists as they went past.

For the second framing exercise (Objects in Different Positions in the Frame) I took advantage of the numerous flight paths that cross the Lea Valley and the cloudless blue of the sky to take pictures of planes as they went overhead. Startlingly difficult, using a long lens (the full extent of my longest zoom is 300mm) to keep it all steady, shoot, reframe and not lose the (auto)focus. I think I have the pictures I need, but took way too many…

Then, on the way home, for the first of the framing exercises (Fitting the Frame to the Subject) I noticed a unit (?) a stockade (?) – it certainly isn’t a shop or a garage –  selling tyres, with a fair amount of signage outside, and decided to try a sequence of pictures of it, rather than go out again later and use a nice, orange and west-facing (so not lit yet) corner shop as the subject of the exercise.

I’ll write up each exercise separately, once I’ve edited the pictures for them…

So, a lot of ground broken, but plenty to do in terms of analysis and writing everything up. Two immediate thoughts on the days shooting: the first ties into the ethical question of whether its ok to take pictures of people in public spaces  the other regarding my rather tired digital camera. Both of them are covered in other posts, here and here