Category Archives: Part 1

Exercise 1.4

The Task

The final exercise of this project makes use of the viewfinder grid display of a digital camera.  This function projects a grid onto the viewfinder screen to help align vertical and horizontal lines, such as the horizon or the edge of a building, with the edge of the frame.  Take a good number of shots, composing each shot within a single section of the viewfinder grid.  Don’t bother about the rest of the frame!  Use any combination of grid section, subject and viewpoint you choose.

When you review the shots, evaluate the whole frame not just the part you’ve composed.  Take the same approach you used to evaluate the point and line exercises: examine the relationship of elements to the frame.  Composition is part of form and formal analysis will be a useful skill for your exercises and assignments as you progress through the course.

Formalism: prioritisation of concern with form rather than content.  Focus on composition and the material nature of any specific medium.  (Wells, 2009, p.347).

Select 6-8 images that you feel work individually as compositions and also as a set.  If you have software for making contact sheets you might like to present them as a single composite image.  Add the images to your learning log together with technical information such as camera settings, and one or two lines containing your thoughts and observations.

For the first part of this exercise I went to Peel on the west coast of the island and decided that I would use the orange life buoy to compose my photos.  I placed it approximately in the centre of each section of the grid.  I used a Canon 40D camera set to Av mode f16 in order to keep sharpness.  As it was a very gloomy day I set the ISO at 400.  This gave a shutter speed of 1/80 so I also placed the camera on a tripod and used the panning handles to change the position of the life buoy.  I did find it difficult to ‘not compose’ the rest of the photo in each case.

The photos are shown below:contactsheet-exercise-1-4

The first three photos are taken with the buoy in the top of the grid – the buoy does catch your eye in the first two but the placement toward the edge of the frame in the first one is the more pleasing.  The third photo with the pole in it tends to lead your eye to it rather than the buoy although it does eventually travel to that edge of the frame.

The next three photos were taken in the middle section of the grid.  The same thing happens with image 6 and the pole.  Number 4 again with the buoy to the left is the better composed picture.  Number 5 has the buoy very central although the eye does go there due to the colourful wheelie containers to the left.

In my opinion the bottom 3 are as overall pictures badly composed and also over-exposed on these camera settings.  The eye tends to see the water and dirty harbour wall before looking at the life buoy.  Number 7 is the best of these as you see the buoy and then the people add some interest.  In Number 9 your eye does go left to right with the sign on the wall, then the wheelie bin followed by the life buoy.

For the second part of this exercise I chose to travel around the coast of the island taking photos of the various lighthouses as shown in the contact sheet below.  I chose to convert the photos into black and white as the weather conditions were gray and murky on both days these photos were taken on.


As far as possible I tried to find lead in lines to each lighthouse; in some cases where there was more than one light house I used the actual houses as the lead in to the next one.  I tried to place the main tower of the lighthouse slightly off centre to the right to help the eye travel through the photo.  I find image 2 discordant in terms of both individual and in the overall composition having both taken the photo with the lighthouse virtually central and then placing it in a central position in the contact sheet.  I like the last photo the best as I feel like you are being lead in through the gate to view the lighthouse.  I found it interesting that when taking image 5 the lighthouses tended to cluster round the centre of the picture and although the one at the back is the tallest by far it ends up appearing presumably due to the distance as being the same size as the one at the front and there is more sky than I would have envisaged.

I think this is an exercise that could be built on – for example by taking the lighthouses at night using a slow shutter speed and tripod; however for the current purpose and using Av mode I didn’t think this would be successful.

For anyone who may be interested the names of the lighthouses are as follows:

  1. Langness
  2. Lower lighthouse Point of Ayr
  3. Port Erin beach
  4. Ramsey pier
  5. Lower & upper lighthouses Point of Ayr
  6. Upper lighthouse Point of Ayr
  7. Maughold lighthouse
  8. Peel pier
  9. Douglas Head lighthouse

Shore (2007:38) talks about the ‘depictive’ level of a photo and I think the exercises in this part have been trying to demonstrate the first two of these: flatness and frame.  The other two he refers to are time and focus and he sees these as the way in which the ‘world in front of the camera is transformed into the photograph’.


Shore, S. (2007).  The Nature of Photographs.  London: Phaidon Press.





Exercise 1.3(2)

The task

Take a number of shots using lines to flatten the pictorial space.  To avoid the effects of perspective, the sensor/film plane should be parallel to the subject and you may like to try a high viewpoint (i.e. looking down).  Modern architecture offers strong lines and dynamic diagonals and zooming in can help to create simpler, more abstract compositions.

Review your shots from both parts of Exercise 1.3.  How do different lines relate to the frame?  There’s an important difference from the point exercises:  a line can leave the frame.  For perpendicular lines this doesn’t seem to disrupt the composition too much, but for perspective lines the eye travels quickly along the diagonal and straight out of the picture.  It feels uncomfortable because the eye seems to have no way back into the picture except the point it started from.  So for photographs containing strong perspective lines or ‘leading lines’, it is important that they head somewhere in the frame.

I had been having some difficulty with finding things to fit this second exercise – On the Isle of Man there is little ‘modern’ architecture’ and the height of buildings is generally low – not to mention anything over two stories usually only goes to three and is a government building – I only have access to one of these which is currently covered in scaffolding so any views are minimal!

I didn’t have much more success in Glasgow in finding subject matter in the area I was in as many of the buildings in the centre are also low and relatively low – I did find one to do a more abstract photo as shown below:


This picture also came out very flat.

I was able to find some high spots in Edinburgh which I visited the following day around the area surrounding the train station at Waverley.

This one was taken from South Bridge and it slightly flattens the lined roofs with the train tracks receding into the distance with the cars on the right appearing much smaller.


This photo was taken from the opposite direction and showed trains leaving the station with the lines running into the platforms.  Again I was probably not high enough to truly show a ‘flat’ picture.

I was aware that opportunities back on the Isle of Man for this type of photo were even less likely as there are no buildings over about 3 stories and I was unlikely to be able to access these.  However, I was flying from Glasgow back to the island on the Monday so tried to take photos out of the plane window that would meet the requirements of this exercise.  As I was taking these through glass without the benefit of a filter they are not always completely sharp.

I felt this photo was in many respects similar to the photo by Atget (Badger, 2001: p.83) I referred to at the end of the first part of this exercise in that it gave spatial depth with the river flowing out of the photo.  Diprose and Robins (2012, p. 303) state that a lead in line going to the corner of the frame can be particularly strong as is the case in this photo.  The bridge and cars are somewhat flattened due to the plane’s height.


In terms of getting a flatter affect I felt this was probably the most successful and is of Glasgow from the air – the houses look the little boxes on the ground – the photo also has the lead in line to the centre of the picture.


This again was Glasgow from the air and showed some leading lines – however the motorway going out of the picture is unsettling as it seems to go nowhere.


This appeared to be an old quarry and it was the circular line around it that attracted my attention – however again it meant that the eye tended to go round in circles without stopping.


One of the photos from the air which has a good flattening effect is as the waves which,in the photo appear very textured, divide around the point of Ayr at the northern tip of the Isle of Man.  While this area is generally quite flat anyway there are some high shingle dunes and 3 lighthouses in the area which don’t appear on the photo.


This photo is of Peel Castle on the island from the air.  Unfortunately being in a plane made it impossible to take the angle with the causeway as a lead in line from the front.


However I have also taken one from the ground with the lead in line to the castle:


I think these two photos do illustrate the difference that I was trying to achieve with the two exercises – this second photo shows the depth that can be created by lines whereas the aerial shot is far flatter.

The first exercise does show how the photographer can create depth by the use of lines and perspective while the second exercise was demonstrating how lines can also flatten a picture either by focussing on the abstract or by taking the photo from a height.

Exercise 1.3 (1) Line

These photos were all taken on a day trip to Glasgow with a Canon 40D and standard kit lens 17-85.  Unfortunately my 6D had developed a fault with the lens mount and the purpose of the trip was to drop it in for repair.

The task

Take a number of shots using lines to create a sense of depth.  Shooting with a wide angle lens (zooming out) strengthens a diagonal line by giving it more length within the frame.  The effect is dramatically accentuated if you choose a viewpoint close to the line.

This picture has lines going in several directions – what gives it the depth as shown in the course book (p.24) is the lines through the glass which head diagonally into the distance.


Again in this picture there are a number of vertical lines receding in the distance towards the railway station – it may have had even more depth if I had stood to the left of the seat.


This one has two areas of depth – the eye is drawn to the centre of the subway structure and one can imagine the steps going down into the subway but there is also depth with the building stretching behind the subway suggesting further street areas.


This next photo there is some depth leading into the glass panelled wall and then one catches glimpses of further wall on the right hand side leading into the distance.


The following picture I think has some of the uncomfortableness talked about in the course book in that the line of the road while going into the distance doesn’t seem to go to any particular point and so your eye keeps traveling back to the beginning:


Whereas this photo does lead to the building at the end of the street – on reflection there were further photos I could have taken in this area to create some more abstract shots (particularly with the building on the right) as needed for the second part of this exercise:


I have looked at the photos taken by Eugene Atget (Badger: 2001) around areas of Paris and the sense of depth in many of the photos – often this was achieved by looking down narrow lanes to buildings at the end or through open doorways or through windows.

The reproduction of one of Atget’s photos on page 31 shows a narrow cobbled street leading into buildings.  He has also made the photo interesting in that he has some ‘points’ or punctum with the old wheelbarrows.

On page 83 (Badger:2001) there is an image of a bridge over water – the photo also includes grass to the front and a wall to the side which helps lead to a sense of spatial depth.

 There were no such narrow lanes in the part of Glasgow I was in to my knowledge and unfortunately I was restricted for time.  However I think the above gives an idea of ways to create depth if you look hard enough. In fact Clarke(1997, p. 75) speaks of the ‘visual complexity of a city as both an image and an experience’


Badger, G. (2001).  Eugene Atget 55.  London: Phaidon Press Ltd.

Clarke G. (1997).  The Photograph.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Exercise 1.2

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)

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

Exercise 1.1

The Task

“Take three or four exposures of the same scene.  Don’t change anything on the camera and keep the framing the same.  Preview the shots on the LCD screen.  At first glance they look the same, but are they?  Perhaps a leaf moved with the wind, the light changed subtly, or the framing changed almost imperceptibly to include one seemingly insignificant object and exclude another.  Time flow, the moment of each frame is different, and, as the saying has it, ‘you can’t step into the same river twice’.

Now bring up the histogram on the preview screen.  The histogram is a graphical representation of exposure – the camera’s sensitivity to light.  As you page through the images you can see small variations in the histograms.  Even though the pictures look the same, the histogram data shows that in a matter of seconds the world changes, and these subtle differences are recorded by the camera.  If yourefine the test conditions – shooting on a tripod to fix the framing, moving indoors and closing the curtains to exclude daylight – still the histogram changes.  Probably some of the changes are withinthe camera mechanism itself; still, the camera is a sensitive enough instrument to record them.

Add the sequence to your learning log with the time info from your camera’s shooting data as your first images for Part 1”

My Learning Log for this exercise

These four photos were taken with my Canon 6D, Lens 24-105, mounted on a tripod.  As instructed the camera was set to auto.  They are of the Swing Bridge in Ramsey.



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IMG 786 29/09/2016 15:46

  In looking at the histogram it is very difficult to see any changes initially between the first and last photos.  I looked at the article online by Steve Patterson, How to Read and Understand Image Histograms in Photoshop (accessed on 3/10/2016).  He describes a histogram as showing the ‘current  tonal range of an image so we can evaluate it and, if necessary, correct it.’  He goes on to describe tonal range as being the brightness of the image and that it shows the amount of pure black, pure white and the range in between.  Colour also can have a huge impact on the image.  So relooking at these photos I can instantly see that they have been clipped at the white end of the histogram which means there is likely to be blown out highlights which have lost the detail.  I can also see at the peak of the small bump in the histogram subtle changes in the yellow and red channels.

The height of the bumps in the histogram show the level of brightness in comparison to other levels of brightness.  So the taller the ‘mountain’ the more pixels there are at that brightness level or where there are none there are no pixels at that brightness levels as at the very left on my photos.  A ‘good’ histogram would have an even spread across the range of the histogram – thus my camera set on auto has not taken a good tonal range as it is clipped at the right end of the histogram and has an empty space at the left.  This means the auto setting has over exposed the picture.  This can be seen in looking at the photo – there are burnt out areas both in the water and the sky and both lack detail.


Patterson, S.  (date unknown) How to Read and Understand Image Histograms in Photoshop.  Accessed on 3/10/2016.