Exercise 1.2 Point
“There are essentially three classes of position [to place a single point]: in the middle, a little off-centre, and close to the edge.”
(Photography 1: The Art of Photography, p.72)
- Take two or three photographs in which a single point is placed in different parts of the frame. (A ‘point’ should be small in relationship to the frame; if it’s too large it becomes a shape.) How can you evaluate the pictures? How do you know whether you’ve got it right or not? Is there a right place and a wrong place for the point? For the sake of argument, let’s say that the right place shouldn’t be too obvious and that the point should be clear and easy to see. As there’s now a ‘logic’ to it, you can evaluate your composition according to the logic of the point.
As you look at the pictures you might find that you’re also evaluating the position of the point by its relationship to the frame.
- Take a number of images in which a point is placed in relationship to the frame. Can you find any place where the point is not in relationship to the frame? If it’s in relationship to the frame you can place a point in any part of the picture and the picture is balanced.
You could think about the two parts of this exercise in a different way, as ‘test pictures’ versus ‘real pictures’. The only purpose for the test pictures is the exercise: you can analyze them according to the criteria and get the expected answer. But ‘real’ pictures are not so easy to analyze. What are the criteria for ‘relationship’? (We’re hoping that you’ll shoot the rest of the exercises in this course as real pictures, not test pictures!)
As you review your photographs, observe the way your eye ‘scans’ the surface of the
image. Note how:
- a point attracts attention out of proportion to its size
- the eye looks for connections between two points
- placing a point close to the edge seems to animate both the point and the frame.
Print out two or three of your point photographs and trace the route your eye takes over the surface with a pencil. Then try the same with a selection of photographs from newspapers or magazines (or the example above). You should notice that each photograph seems to have its own tempo. Add the traced photographs to your learning log together with brief observations.
My learning log from this task
These were the test pictures using a mouse with the table as a frame. I found that my eye was more drawn to those at the edge of the frame rather than the one in the centre.
The task I then gave myself was to go for a walk along the south coast of the island and deliberately look for points in the landscape – I found this quite a difficult task as I am more inclined to look at the whole landscape rather than individual elements that make up the landscape.
The first thing I came across was similar in some ways to the picture in the course book in that it involved a seat – in this case a memorial seat with various things placed nearby; for the purpose of the exercise I removed the 2 dead flower containers (I did put them back after I finished photographing).
I think in both photos your eye gets drawn first to the heart shaped stone before then traveling up to the seat. In the second photo there is also a lamp – is this a shape or another point? In this one I find my eye still seems to go to the white heart first, then the lamp and finally the seat.
My next photo has two small rocks leading to the larger Sugarloaf rock in the distance:
Both small rocks could be points that have a relationship to each other with the second then having a relationship with Sugarloaf. The order however feels a bit unnatural as you end up reading the photo right to left which is different to the way in which you would read a book. Perhaps the points are the smaller rocks closer to the shore.
On my way back to the car I turned for a last look at this view and found another couple of points:
In this case to the left of Sugarloaf we have a couple of kayaks and then behind the main mass of rock there is a little boat slight off to the right. This is a more natural progression for the eye – Diprose and Robins (2012) discuss this in their section on Visual Issues (pp32-33).
The next three photos are where I have traced the path my eye took on 2 photos from a local newspaper and one photo from a photography magazine:
All of these photos had my eye start to the bottom left, travel up through the middle and to a point about ¾ through the picture before heading to the right and out of the picture.
John Ingledew (2013: 14) talks about how our eye works compared with that of the camera. In some ways they work the same but in others are very different for example the focusing range of a camera lens has no lower limit. Our eye will focus on what catches our attention – the point in the above pictures. He states further on (p.201) that ‘composition can give great stability to a photo, with the elements arranged in a parallel or unified manner…on the other hand, a photographer can create pictures that are deliberately unstable and unsettling.
From my first assignment my tutor suggested reading Camera Lucida(Barthes, 2000) and to look particularly at his writing around punctum which he defines as ‘sting, speck, cut, little hole’ (p.27). This is similar to the notion of point as this exercise requires us to identify. It is something small in the photo yet our attention is ‘pricked’ by it.
Clarke (1997:27-39) devotes a chapter to reading a photograph and in this chapter goes much more into the meaning and interpretation of a photograph. Indeed he states that while on the surface a photo can seem simple in fact it is full of ambiguities. There is the interpretation of both the photographer and the viewer. He also refers to Barthes writing in Camera Lucida and to stadium – the passive response to a photo or object while punctum which is a ‘sting, speck, cut, little hole’ allowing for a more critical reading of the photograph. In thinking about this I was reminded of a photo I took for Assignment 1 which shows a deserted beach in the moonlight which as I was doing a theme of the Life cycle I labelled as the empty nest syndrome or loneliness. Without this label others may have thought of desolation. In fact just prior to taking the photo a couple had been walking along hand in hand and I sat to put the camera back on the tripod with the idea of using it as a romance picture. By the time I was organized the couple had disappeared but I took the photo anyway. My own emotion at the time as I sat there in the moonlight was one of peace – I am used to being on my own and seldom feel ‘lonely’. Thus the ambiguity of photos and where much is up to the interpretation of the viewer.
Barthes, C. (2000). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. London:Vintage Books
Diprose, G. & Robins, J. Photography: The New Basics Principles, Techniques and Practice. London, Thames & Hudson Photography.
Ingledew, J. Photography . (2nd Edition). London: Laurence King Publishing.