Assignment 3: A staged photograph

Notes for assignment 3 along with learning log and feedback from tutor


1) General overview of assignment 3

2)Tutor feedback and comments assignment 3

3) Learning log notes

4) Bibliography and Illustrations:

Research and analysis notes for assignment 3: Follow this link:

1. In exploring the theme of series and sequence building through photography I have discovered a rich and meaningful context within which to use photography. This has been my first conscious attempt at building a narrative or ‘story’ through the use of images. What I have learned is that the use of series and sequence gives scope for the photographer to build a dialogue that uses the power of narrative to explore in more detail the subject. In contrast to a one image bit of work which is always a challenge, the series gives the photographer a chance to build a story out of several related yet distinct pictures thus forming more comprehensively the narrative. One of the challenges of the one photo work is to tell the same story or guiding narrative within the single image.

Many photos produce a sense of completeness in this sense. For example: Tomoko bathed by his mother Eugene Smith (1972). Tomoko bath house in Japan. The scene depicts the aftermath of the terrors of mercurial poisoning. The image is one of delicacy and horror. The light portrays the main figures and mood effectively and concisely.

 Assignment 3: Test image 1


Here in this final assignment I made my selection from four images that I shot for the project.

I took into consideration that I wanted to produce a darkly lit situation so as to impact more on the image which has a shade of threat about it. The scene is one of gangsters. One being reproached by others. I used several sources for exploration on this theme. For light I looked at the image of Duane Michals who gave inspiration on composition from the above photo as well as lighting. I wanted to achieve a strong light and shadow contrast with the image which has to some extent been realised although I wanted to put more shadow in the image and tone down the light. The lighting was artificial, replicating strong sunlight.

I placed the light outside and covered the windows with some semi-transparent paper to subdue it.

I was presented with various challenges with this set of images. Firstly the amount of control of lighting that was necessary to gain the desired result. Secondly the ‘actors’ were not easy to direct.

Composing a credible image with a potentially violent scene proved more challenging that I had thought. The sense of movement did not seem that great, although believable to some extent. The real test was to get the sense of emotion portrayed in the image. The particular emotions needed to be fabricated at least facially which was somewhat difficult.

Assignment 3 test image 2


Assignment 3 test image 3


Here in this image I changed the position of the characters partly because I wanted the scene to involve the interior part of the building which was semi palatial. I wished to give the impression of wealth and ‘dirty business’. This is suggested in the actors, the intimidation of one by the two others. I rather wanted to suggest rather than portray violence.

Image 4 below (Chosen for assignment)


Another image reworked based on comments from tutor.

This image I worked some months later after reviewing feedback from the various assignments and in preparation for submission for formal assessment. After reviewing the images I decided to chose another example and then also rework it in order to draw out the initial feel of what I was trying to portray in this picture, which was essentially an ominous scene consisting of gangsters interrogating a fellow criminal.

How did I change the image and why? IT was suggested that the colour tones where counter intuitive (see above submitted image) and that this did not work for the context of the photo which I totally agreed with in retrospect. At the time, due to lack of experience I did not see it so clearly.

The angle of this photo is stronger and it is also cropped more closely in giving it a slightly different interpretation to the original image. The closer and lower angle gives more the impression of a threatening presence, especially in the the form of the standing figure in the centre of the frame. Using dodge and burn, film processing technique and a slight change in colour balance towards green at the end, plus a slight increase in exposure, I have placed the image more in what I would call its right position. I also added a small amount of  grain to about 6.5 uniform in order to give the image the originally intended look of film. I see that I have learned in the last few months more about elements of expression through tonal changes in colour and brightness. I have learned to apply more what I feel is a mood, to an image, which before was not so clear or determined.

Corrected and re-chosen image


The original chosen image before editing and changing. In the end I chose the image above for the assignment. What I was aiming for was a mixture of elements from the above three images placed in this composition. The figures are in debate, there is some threat. Something has not been done right in the relationship between these men. I shot the photo with a wide-angle of 19 mm to give a scale and from a low angle to create a sense of the tall figure being exaggerated to some extent. I had to use an ISO of 200 and avoided any flash light and instead used one constant light of 1000w. The space was very dark and I did not want to over light it. I added some grain into the image although not as a layer. The building was an important part in the photo and It took some time to identify the place.

I would say that the image is a partial success. The composition is quite tight which was planned and the lighting is shadowy which is what I wanted. The sense of aggression is not portrayed so well and the fact that one of the characters is tied up has to be looked for rather than being entirely explicit. The form of composition is a classical more or less symmetrical form with the one person placed in the middle of the two seated men. The light at the end of the corridor is a distraction to the viewer. The light on the head of the standing figure could have done with being more present.

There is some lens distortion at 19 mm and this has come out to the left side of the image against the pillar. On balance I think that the image is passable. It needs to be perhaps looked at more as work in progress rather than a finished item.

I took as a base inspiration for this photo the image by Duane Michals “some words just have to be said”. While my image is not the same theme, the elements I have borrowed and to some extent tried to reproduce are those of the lighting within the space.

In the final photo not enough of that lighting was re-produced as I would liked to of achieved more of a semi-lit scene. As it is one really only sees the light falling in the one figure and slightly as reflected light on the other two. The way the figures as set out in the room again whilst not exactly resembling that of the studied photo (Duane Michals) did lend itself to the way this image has come together and how I finally chose this photo.

The images shot for exercise 3.12 (visual research) were really exploring the movements, gestures and activities of these men working in the public centre. This gave me some experience in looking at how people react as you can see in some of the facial features. I wanted to do this exercise specifically with men as the main assignment involved men.

Overall Comments

“As mentioned in the Face time conversation you are doing well to continue to expand your ideas and embracing new experiences. While your experimentation may not always prove to be wholly successful you are doing well to recognise where things perhaps haven’t lived up to expectation.

What you need to do is take the next step and routinely consider what could be done to improve the outcome or at least align it more to your visualisastion of the idea/end product.

Over and above this you need to continue to develop the conceptualisation of your work. For example I mentioned the set of images showing the decaying water melon: while you images are fine in so far as they go but pointed out that you had missed out an important element of decay – the sludge that must have oozed out and on to the surface in front of the melon.

PLEASE NOTE ABOVE COMMENT RELATES TO EXERCISE 3.4 DOCUMENTING CHANGE The note about developing the conceptualisation of the my work has been a running theme throughout the course. I have tried in the final assignment (assignment 5) to address this theme more thoroughly but extending my research and then homing more clearly the desired outcome through the sequence of photos.

Also you used three images and asked you why three? and posed the question could two have sufficed; maybe more than three. Each would have presented a different perspective and you need to develop your thinking to be able to decide which would be most suitable to what you want to say.”

I think what this comment shows me is that there needs to be more scope for experimentations and weighing the effects of different outcomes against each other. As yet, at least for some of the exercises I have gone with my first thought.

Feedback on assignment and supporting work

Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity

Technical and Visual Skills
“Your gangster scenario – you wanted to convey a threatening atmosphere but your warm lighting is counter intuitive to this. I suggested thinking about changing the colour temperature – cooling it. I mentioned Picasso’s blue period as an illustration of how the colour palette can convey emotion.

Yes, I went and looked those Picasos; in fact have looked at them many times over the years. To my amazement I saw that I had been intending to do one thing and then had a result that was so different. In fact intended to use a dark scene to produce an ominous atmosphere. I had that more in one of the first trial images (depicted above) but decided not to use that image. I ended up with a warmish scene terms of colour. I have since gone back and re-choseh another image and added some major colour changes to produce more what was my original intention.

“I also mentioned body language as an important factor – in all four images the protagonists portray differences here with the resulting different interpretation. You mentioned the difficulty of getting the actors to do what you wanted and I 

suggested that it’s this sort of thing that you should be oincluding in your notes/ blog.

The prisoner – you mentioned about showing his hands being tied behind his back but in only one image is this clearly seen and it’s not your final image. Is this important? how could you re-arrange the poses to take account of this. You were pressed for time – another point to note and a learning point. Setting up a scene takes time. I mention looking at Philip Lorca di Corcia’s Hustlers – have a look at this process for setting up the scene carefully before getting his ‘actors’ in position.

The lighting of the scene – images 1 & 2 have much more dramatic lighting compared to images 3 & 4 where you shifted camera position. Images 1&2 are much closer to your original intent. I mentioned the importance of keeping your visualised image clear and uppermost in your mind at a shoot.

As mentioned in my comment above, I have observed this.

Quality of outcome
I mentioned that assignments are an opportunity of putting into practice the learning from preceding exercises and questioned whether the use of text might have been put to use. In this way a less visually obvious interpretation or posing of protagonists could be employed and the communication brought out /influenced by hand written text rather like the image by Duane Michals that was a key influence on you.

I have thought through the use of text and I think that I have an ambivalent relation to the use of it (although will employ it). I think it works with Duane Michals work because of his style of work and his form of cinematic sequencing which lends itself to a dialogue. I find it creative and challenging  within his work and with Barbara Kruger’s work also.

In the round It was good to see you experiment with this assignment. Some of it has worked but as discussed there were areas that could be worked on. It is up to you whether you re-shoot or not – I would recommend fleshing out your notes to reflect your own insight into what has worked and what has not coupled with what could be done to improve the outcome.”

“You have done well to tackle such a shoot with its location to convey the notion of wealthy gangsters.

I suggest that you need to start thinking more conceptually about your images to make them more creative and show your unique take on a topic. For example, in Exercise 3.2 the breakfast series. You have concentrated on the literal showing of actions albeit in close up. Another perhaps more creative approach would be to consider what breakfast means to you – the waking from sleep , how do you feel – are you a morning person, so personalise it and then think about how the essence of this can be shown visually – perhaps with text – may be audio. Let your mind wander and then capture this in notes which can then be worked on as a visual interpretation.

Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays

“As already mentioned your log has definitely improved from your previous assignments what you need to be including is more of your thoughts and reactions to both your imagery and that of others in relation to your interests.”

Work in progress!


 3.Learning log for assignment 3

What did I learn in general during this assignment? A great deal. I think that this particular assignment has been the most technically demanding and organizationally as I’ve had to find venues, people, props and lighting on more than one occasion. It has been somewhat useful to go through this process and has given me an insight into the day-to-day activity of a working photographer.
The second comment I will make about learning in this area is that I have finally seen that any situation can be used for photography and it is more about the way the image and the narrative are contextualised. I have spent much of my photography shooting hours out on assignments looking for the so-called ‘ready made composition’. In this module I have learned to be more observant of my day-to-day surroundings and to see the most ordinary situations as potentially photographable. There is something of a tension in this at times as one wants to make the image strongly appealing on first take. With this new way of looking at things, I think that the images can be more subtle and not always so easily defined.

In terms of producing series of photos I have also learned much. I can see the benefits of shooting a series or sequence as a way of more completely entering into the subject matter and more fully expressing the value of it through telling the story.

I learned that lighting is essential and can change the interpretation dramatically between one image and another as seen above from the two examples.

Exercise 3.2
In this exercise we had to shoot a series of images (defined as using the same subject through a set series of activities).
I chose to follow my partner around the house, partly for convenience of access. I shot three independent series of images to see how to best use the camera with the subject. I learned that using close up framing and open aperture gave best results. I used a 50 mm F/1.4 lens for all of the work in this exercise as my attention was on close up detailed work without revealing the identity of the person. What I learnt here is that close up detailed work gives clear information about the event when placed in a series. The event was clearly unfolding over in this case making the breakfast. There is no room for ambiguity and therefore the strength of communication is quite vivid and clear. I used no additional lighting for the subject as the space allowed for ample ambient light.

I had these photos up for comment from several people showing the results of three independent series. People that commented were more drawn to the “breakfast series”. The comments were positive ranging from good, nice etc to expressing a liking for the outcome of the series.

Exercise 3.3
Here in this exercise the brief was to shoot a succession of image that communicated a theme through narrative. Different from the series, the sequence requires a bit more thought and analysis. ! My sequences expressed the human condition by showing people in various activities and then some image that represented the human state not explicitly human. I await comment from my tutor on this…!

Exercise 3.4
For me this theme is a favourite. I did not have the time to invest in what I would really of liked to of done, which would have been too timely and possibly not even achievable. I settled with working with
a melon instead of someone who was dying. Its nothing to do with morbid fascination, simply to observe closely the deep truths that we are all facing…the inevitability of death. The melon had to do for this. I learned that change is an interesting theme to depict with the camera and a potentially powerful medium with which to treat the theme. I would like to explore this much further. In terms of shooting a subject in state of change one has to consider light conditions so as to not end up with white balance that is wildly different in the series of images.
Exercise 3.5
I chose an excerpt from a text by Satish Kumar from his book parabola. This piece of text sums
up a lot of feeling for me. The learning process of this exercise was just that; how to communicate feeling through the image? For me this was a conundrum and I had to think about it quite a bit.! Eventually I was led to shoot the sequence that I named “on being a stranger”. There was a lot to learn here about seeing with the camera something that perhaps is not obvious. I have not fully digested the process yet and feel that I still have much more to explore with regards to this genre
of photography. As a first attempt at the theme I reasonable pleased with the outcome. Next time I think I would like to explore different possibilities with the same theme.

What I wanted to communicate in this theme was a sense of the mystery of aloneness. The figures are contemplative, thinking it through…was is it to be human and alone. How do we connect? What is the existential aloneness about that we all experience. A resolve to be with the group but not part of it in an unaware unthinking way. The group has benefits and dangers. I decided to use a sequence of images for this as opposed to a single frame. I wanted the space to unfold the subject more fully.

Exercise 3.6

I thoroughly enjoyed this exercise although at times was frustrating as I had to learn a lot about Photoshop through trial and error. I have produced the four images for this exercise by extracting elements of photos I have taken and adding them to others. Again I feel I have a lot of refining to do in this area. My first attempts my seem a bit heavy-handed. I think that I vision for something more refined in the future. One thing that kept coming was that these images have to be credible. It’s great to mix genres but what if it’s simply not credible. Therefore I was trying to use this as a guide as I worked on the images.

Exercise 3.7

The question of whether the image has the same significance as the photo is an interesting one. For me the answer was no. The object which represents something very important is itself a representation of something else difficult even to put into words. The photo felt something like 3 parts removed and therefore a bit distant to look at. I represented it in a way that was perhaps too museum like. The latter   exercise of the significant place is more how I might of wanted to portray these objects.

Exercise 3.8

This exercise had a very particular feel to it. One of again 2 parts removed from the original object. I liked working with the person more than the still life, although both were fun to execute. Photographically I think I have work to with lighting and framing in this area. It was difficult to know how to portray the represented person throughout the image. In the end I used a sky light from about as my ‘key light’ in the photo which gave a bit of shadow and depth to the character’s face. It as intentional even if not perhaps the best lighting for the situation. I did not want to use a speed light for this job.

Exercise 3.9

Significant place. Here I shot a shrine were I regularly meditate. It is a scene with religious symbolism from the buddhist tradition. I see this spot as the place where I work to develop awareness. This is a very significant place. The light I chose was a subdued candle light with an up light in the background. I wanted to portray warmth of feeling. Not sentimental. Therefore I shot at night to allow minimum daylight.

Exercise 3.10

This exercise was based on photographing a meaningful person in the scene of a meaningful place. In this image I photographed a woman who is close to me, a good friend, someone I know well.

I did not find the exercise that stimulating as I had a time limit for getting the project done. It had ! a strange effect.

Exercise 3.11
This exercise was like a change of tac. ‘Shooting straight’ without any interpretation was itself interesting. I learnt from this in the via negative sense. I learned what I was not doing when I took the photos i.e. straight as I saw the scene, factual as requested. This when looking back was an interesting thing to do. I think I managed okay to portray the straightforward activity and myself.
Exercise 3.12
In this exercise I took the camera to a public meditation centre. worked with the staff that run the centre. Here my intention was to work with placement of people and to see what I could learn from working with a group without controlling the scene too much. I used some of what I gleaned from this in the final photo.

Concluding notes about this assignment
The production of an image that communicates value and importance or something moral is what interests me most in photography. With this way of using photography I find myself more at home than perhaps with other genres or styles. I think what I have most learned from this assignment is that in order to photograph well, once has to consider how the viewer will perceive the image. This has helped me step out from behind the camera imaginatively and identify more with the viewer.

There are some things that have gone extremely well and others that need further work in terms of general skills building and a deeper understanding of the art form. Technically (by trial and error) I have become more comfortable with some new processes of Photoshop such as cutting out and layering in new elements to an existing image (Mixing genres). I have also learned about creating a production of a series of images that tell a clear story about an event.

 Original sketch for the photo sequence



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