Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Assignment 5: Applying the Techniques of Illustration and Narrative

So this is it, last and final assignment and its taken me a year to get here! It’s been a very eye opening year as far as my photography goes, and I hope the improvements are clear.

In this assignment I was asked to choose a subject that I could create a sort of magazine story for and produce some pages that told a story in images using the skills I have developed through this latest section such as juxtaposition and symbolism. I decided to choose a subject that was close to home, and with the Christmas period arriving I thought that trying to document the day would be a good opportunity to test out my narrative photography skills. It would be a challenge with everything going on and two young children! I chose to make a photo book online so that the images appeared more professionally presented and so that I had a book design to work to with the images.

I’ll start by saying I’m not 100% happy with this assignment, I can see my failings easily but the good news is I also understand what I should have done to correct it, but Christmas is one of those days that is very hard to try to repeat without spending hours trying to get people to pose artificially, and what I was trying to achieve was a set of photos that were more candid than forced. After studying the works of Tony Vaccaro I really wanted to try to replicate the sense that he gave of capturing a particular moment in time and the emotions that were attached with his images. I think in some of my shots I’m almost there, but others could have been much better if only I had thought about them a little more critically.

So here is what I produced:


The cover image had to be a strong one to make sure the person picking up the book would know exactly what this was going to be all about, even if there wasn’t a title involved. After much consideration, I decided on the images of the presents under the tree. It may not have been one of my stronger images technically, but I felt that the symbolic nature of unopened presents meant that it would be clear there was more to come once the viewer opened up the book, and it would be very obvious that it was going to be about Christmas and the opening of the presents.


I started off with an image of the Christmas door hanger with the ‘Welcome’ text above it to state that the story of the images would start with entering the house. I think possibly the crop was too close and maybe a shot of the entire door would have got the message across more clearly, but I liked the shallow depth of field focusing on the Santa’s face that draws you in almost through the door.

The next two images were supporting images to show the idea that everything was prepared for the Christmas morning. The tree came out much darker in print even after I had carefully metered the light to show off the warm glow of the lights yet still trying to retain the dark green of the tree. Again a shot further away which showed the entire tree would have worked slightly better with the accompanying photograph of the presents below to indicate the relationship of the tall proud decoration and the presents it was hiding below.


I used the next two pages to show the arrival of the family and the connection between their emotions within the two photos. The far away shot shows the smiles on everyone’s faces, and then the close up as Holly runs towards the house really helps to focus in on the my meaning between the two.


Although I like the candid nature of Holly greeting her Grandparents, I think I made a mistake putting so many portraits of the same size together across two pages. I should have pulled back from the scene to give the viewer the additional detail of the over all feel of the occasion so that the narrative behind them was clearer as there is nothing else Christmassy to influence the point of the photos in these pages. I do like the close crop of the portrait of both Holly and Joseph together, they have a lovely look in there eyes which appeals to the viewer of there close relationship.


The next two pages work much better in terms of close up and far away photographs to illustrate what is happening in this part of the story. I’m not sure I chose the right image on the left hand page to be the most prominent image as it doesn’t really show any emotion being from the back of Joe’s head. I do like the expression I have captured in the bottom right image, it works well with the unfocused figure in the foreground who is also studying the interesting present he has just opened.


I like the expression on Holly’s face in the first shot, and her eye line draws you into the doll in the pushchair to enforce what it is that’s making her so happy. The next shot was supposed to compliment the first with another expression of how please she was with her present, but I don’t think it came across this way and again I needed a shot that would have included all of Holly and not such a close crop.

The photographs of Joe building his new toy again would have made great supporting images if I had managed to capture one of him in a different position and including the entire fire engine and possibly him looking at the camera instead of away. I’ve learnt the hard way it’s not easy to get kids to pose for you when you’re trying to get a specific image as they will always do the opposite of what you ask from them! I think this is the issue with a lot of my shots in this assignment, I had chosen a subject i had absolutely no control over and was hoping for the best without being able to go back and re-take shots!


This next image of Joe works much better at symbolising how much boys enjoy there toys with a classic thunderbird model in his hands.

For the same reasons that the previous page with two photographs on Joe did not work, these also fall into the same trap of being too similar with not much connection or contrast between the two to make them dynamic enough to be interesting to look at.  I like jaunty angles which contrast with the rigid construction of the Lego models, and the discrete eye lines in each shot do make them slightly interesting photos as you follow what Paul is looking at. Over all though there is not too much interesting happening technically to make them work together.


The first image of Holly was another one of my attempts to capture emotion in a scene without the people being present noticing so that I could replicate raw feelings and not rigid posed photos. The lighting was quite bright and the highlights on Holly’s face do attract you to her features, but it also creates far too many shadows which detracts from the important parts such as the eyes.

I very much like the juxtaposition the following two images creates with two classic examples of what Christmas is all about. The first showing the two older mean looking at something they seem slightly perplexed over being new technology, and then the contrasting image of their bright faces with the age old pair of socks as a gift. The similarity of the images, but the contrast in expressions and the subject matter gives a note of humour to this page.


These pages are the ones I feel are the strongest in the book. The reasons for this are that the correlation between the images is very apparent and the contrasting views makes a strong dynamic. You are instantly drawn to the eyes in the larger picture and the pleasing look on her face, and then as you scan the pages and look at the other images the meaning becomes clear as to what looks so yummy! Again I like the shallow depth of field on the vegetables so that they become the focus in the frame and objects around them become suggestions of Christmas rather than struggling for attention. The lay out of the image is also very creative in that the colours work well as they contrast and draw you round in circles by there placement on the pages so that you are looking around in a loop so that the story behind them is reinforced every time you look around.


Again some more natural shots towards the end of the evening are included. I had asked the kids to pose in front of the tree and I ended up with a funny shot of exactly what children do when you want them to look at you and smile nicely – pull a face and look the other way! I included it as it was a lovely contrast to what you would like to be the traditional family portrait, and to contrast with this again I used the photo of Holly and her dad in a very touching embrace. It wraps up well the illustration of what a family Christmas should look like.


The last page had to be an image that tied the story of neatly so I chose one of Holly waving as there is nothing more symbolic than a wave to show a greeting or departure. The supporting image of the candle was to try to portray the idea that it was evening time and the day was drawing to a close ad the discarded decorations around it and wrapping paper enforced the idea that things were finished for Christmas day.

So to wrap the entire assignment up, I will start by saying that there were a few fairly decent pieces involved, but as you have seen in my descriptions much more to improve on! I feel that I understand how to create a narrative picture essay very well, but in practice it is much harder than it seems, especially when you pick subject matter that you cannot influence very easily. It takes a lot of planning to capture images that really work together and stand out alone to show what they are trying to illustrate. I can see clearly that I have taken far too many close up images which are great for showing emotions and getting across to people’s sentimental side, but they would have been far more successful had there been other images that showed what else was happening around the subjects so that a relationship between people and place could be created.

I have found with this assignment I am much more creative when given an abstract idea to deal with as I can delve into symbolism and other narrative elements to create more unique and interesting images, where as straight forward narrative photos without this extra layer to them as much harder to get right. This book, although it is fine for a family shoot to record memories, may not have been so successful if it was to be shown to the masses as they will not make the connection between the subjects as they do not know them personally. I need to work on how much I attach myself to my subjects as I feel it will hinder my work in future if i cannot detach myself and think outside about how other people see the images. On the plus side I think I am doing much better at capturing those little moments between people without them noticing so that the images become very natural and emotive.

Sunday, 19 December 2010


This was a bit of a tricky one, firstly because we’ve had no rain and nothing but snow for ages! And also because the one day we have had rain recently I was at work so only had a half hour lunch break to grab some shots! That said I did try experimenting with some other ideas that I could achieve without having to wait around for a dull rainy day.

The task was to get a shot which would be suitable as a magazine cover based on the title of Rain. I needed to look at ways that it would come across in a strong image that was original yet still would be recognisable for the subject it was about.

So to start with, seeing as real rain was far from on its way I tried a few ideas at home. I wanted to get a really fun image of someone jumping in puddles, so proceeded to try and flood the front garden, but the ground just kept soaking everything up! I did get a few rough shots but nothing I thought was worthy enough.




They didn’t really conjure up the idea of rain at al, more one of farmers wellies in a muddy spot! The only thing I was fairly pleased about was the capture of the movement of the water.

After this I tried a few different ideas in the bath with the shower running. I felt these were slightly more successful.


These were taken with a piece of clear perspex laid in the bath and the shower running over it to try and catch the droplets and the splashes it made.


I liked this one a little more than the others as the darker patch in the background picks up on the droplets of water. I do like the effect of the droplets, but they needed to have something behind them, like seeing through a window to give a better impression.


I tried using a piece of an old blue shower curtain behind the perspex  and a blue filter to try to pick out the droplets a little more.


I also used the built in flash on the camera to try to add a shimmer to the water.

On the day it finally did rain I dashed out on a lunch break so didn’t really have enough time to walk around and capture anything I thought was particularly striking. I took a few abstract shots:



Neither of them really screamed ‘rain’ at me but I like the way the droplets were the centre of attention.

I tried to get some street shots, but I found the rain wasn’t really all that heavy so everything just looked a little damp and I was hoping for more of a downpour for a dramatic impact!


I really like the shot of the lights reflected on the pavement, just a shame that more rain or water isn’t apparent. The other shots are more obvious what the weather condition is like as the use of props such as umbrellas symbolises this easily. I was looking for something that had a symbol but also a but more movement of the actual water itself to really amplify the meaning behind the photo.

In the end I played around with a couple of the photos with text overlaid on it too look like a magazine cover to see how it would work:

Magazine cover 1

I guess in the end it depends on the context in how the image is being used determines how successful it will be at getting the message across to the viewer. By choosing to talk about rain and society, the inclusion of people in the photography really backs up the message.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


Symbolism is one of the best ways to promote ideas in your photography, but there is a fine line between a creative idea and something that come across as a cliché. Looking at the words below I had to come up with an idea for more than one symbol for each to show different creative ideas:

Growth: Plants and different stages of development such as the seed, saplings and flowers in full bloom. Babies, eggs or any type of young or juvenile adult could also symbolise growth.

Excess: A money jar overflowing with coins, or a board showing the growing profits of a company on a chart.

Crime: A shot of a man in a balaclava would make a strong image. Guns or other weapons  and drugs would symbolise crime very clearly.

Silence: A library is always a quiet place, or someone with tape over there mouth would show silence.

Poverty: A beggar on the street is a very strong symbol of poverty, with outstretched hands would make it more meaningful. Something that is torn or broken may also show poverty and the inability to afford new things.

I also took a photograph that although may appear cliché, i thought was a slightly more interesting take on the idea of love:


I used a lamp behind the ring to create a love heart shadow on the pages, and a large aperture to focus only on the area of the dictionary where the word love appears.

Hearts a very definitive symbol of love, as are wedding rings so although it may seem a clichéd image, the way it has been taken it slightly different with the abstract shadow and the words included. It was an idea I took from one of the photography magazines I have been reading.

A Narrative Picture Essay

Photographing an event and choosing photos that work together as a set takes a lot of preparation and planning. The variety of your images helps to make the selection much more interesting and work better on the whole. Also the lay out and size of the photos helps to impact on how they come across to the viewer.

I took an event to photograph and tried to capture a series of photos that showed the event in an interesting format as though it was part of a magazine spread with captions etc and try to get across the feel of the evening where Joe and Holly are Trick or Treating. I didn’t spend as much time planning as I would have liked, and kids are quite unpredictable!


Joe and Holly get ready in there Halloween Costumes



What a scary bunch!


Trick or treat!



Mmmm yummy sweeties, thank you!



It can be quite difficult to get the photos in the right order and how make them look more attractive and draw a reader in, but if you get the perfect mixture you end up with a set of photos that really pop out of the page! If they are good enough then a lot of the time you wont even need the captions to say what is happening in the picture.

I am going to be shooting some weddings for friends next summer, so I understand how much planning will be involved as I need to know what kind of photos they would like, where the location is, how many people I will be dealing with. Finding out about the location and going to view it first is a must if you can, so you can find different view points, see where the lighting falls at different times of day and help to improve on any ideas you might have for the shoot. It would also be beneficial to take some practice shots so that you can get a feel for the area.

When events happen in a sequence it is quite easy to use the photos in this way and produce a story of them, where it is more challenging to take one photo that tells a story. its all about the appearance of the photos afterwards that impacts on their story the most as even the most interesting images can be let down by there lay out. Also the amount of variety within the images such as horizontal and vertical, different techniques, lighting, angles etc all help to make the set of shots come together with interest and diversity.

Evidence of Action

This next exercise was to take one photograph that had a story behind it. This kind of photo is good if you are doing a still life portrait as you have more control o composition and lighting, subjects and objects that you would like to use to get your message across. Usually a picture of something happening or a hint of something that has just happened work the best, and additional props can give off hidden signals to a viewer that may not be clear or apparent on first appearance. By creating this kind of hidden relationship between objects and or subjects you can put a lot more emotion into your photograph and give it meaning.

It was suggested that an image of something half full or a broken item would work well. I choose to use a wine glass as I thought this could conjure up a few different emotions in different people, depending on how your outlook is. I tried a few different ideas and at first came up with this:


It was slightly out of focus which I thought might have made it have a feeling of drowsiness, and the shadow in the background of the hand could show either a dependency on alcohol, violence through alcohol or possible a cry for help. Although the initial though process behind the way the image would come across, the composition and layout of the items didn’t really appear to work. It looks far too artificial and the glass in the middle looks too static.

I tried another approach with the same ideas about alcoholism in mind and decided it needed a more personal subject involved so that it would feel more realistic to the viewer:


This worked a little better with the glass in focus to make it more predominant in the image, and the sleeping face just behind. I was happier with this kind of set up, but still wasn’t entirely pleased with the position of everything. Also I felt that in colour it looked too dream like as if the person was having a lovely sleep and hadn’t just passed out. Not quite the emotion I wanted to provoke.

In the end I finally settled for this image:


Converted to black and white to stop the colour from distracting from the subject matter, and with the face slightly hidden but turned in towards the glass creates a tension between the empty glass and back to the face again. Also I liked the position of the subject this time as you could see the way the body is splayed across the bed in a hap hazard manor. I had under exposed the image in camera but also tweaked the shot on the PC afterwards adjusting the contrast so that the highlights became more pronounced and the shadows were darkened so that the reflections on the face and glass were picked out making the connection between them stronger. I finally cropped the image so that the more rectangular frame makes the shot feel like you are laying down at the same level as the subject, and the elongated frame exaggerates the line from the glass to face. This back and forth tug of war in the frame creates tension so it amplifies the ideas of becoming dependent on alcohol and the struggle of getting out of that cycle. I also like the fact its not clear that the subject is drinking for emotional issues as the monochrome colours and laid down position makes it appear like an old school romantic holly wood movie shot, yet at the same time a grimy dark despairing feeling as though it could be something more serious such as addiction.

Tony Vaccaro

Whilst searching for famous photo journalist who made a big impact on photography and showed the world to others in a different light, I came across Tony Vaccaro and I must say his shots are some of the most emotive I have ever looked at. He captures things in there rawest state, sometimes without having time to think about how he is shooting, but just being there to capture the moment. it just goes to show that not always the most technically brilliant photographs are the ones that stick in your memory.

He fought in World War II during 1944 and 1955 as a scout which left him some time to take photographs during the day. By the end of the war in Europe, Vaccaro had become an official photographer for the division's newspaper.

Sad homecoming 1st mar 1946

Sad Homecoming, 1st March 1946

"I wanted to collect evidence against the war, the futility, the destruction ... I said to myself, do not worry about how good the photo. When the eye sees it, do it ... The photos that I the front was, I developed night, in our helmets. The soldiers looked often and talked with me. Some died of the next day. "

Liberatiion of St Briac 15th aug 1944

Liberation of St Briac, 15th August 1944

"The camera has helped me to survive this war. I wanted to hold this hell, because I thought that believes us later, no one, how awful it was. So I ran many times faster, I tried even better from the bullets of the Germans to protect and yet at the same time to see everything. "

- quotes from Tony Vaccaro

The price of war 31st dec 1943

The Price of War, 31st December 1943

This last picture is possibly one of the most disturbing I have ever seen from this time period. The hole torn in the soldiers eye is dramatic enough but it is the lasting expression on his face that captures the pure horror it must have been for our serving men and women during this time.

The white death

White Death — Requiem for a dead soldier. Bihain, Belgium. January 12, 1945

Vaccaro won an award for the above photo, here is a video here of him explaining the true story behind the image:

Narrative and Illustration: Putting the subject first

Ok, last and final assignment to go! So as the title suggests, I’m going to be looking at how photos tell a story or get a message across. Photo Journalism is something I’m quite interested in, how pictures tell events or how symbolism affects the style and influence of the image. It is important to understand how the subject and the treatment of the photograph in terms of composition, lighting etc can be measured and what the best balance of each is to a narrative photograph. To some extent it really does depend on what you are using the image for or what message you want to get across; a photo that is taken as a technical exercise which is of little interest to yourself might actually be the perfect image to portray the subject of which it was taken. For example a photograph of a detailed study of light shining through some leaves might have been quite uninteresting as a subject if you were only trying to find settings in the camera to adjust the light, but for a gardening magazine it might be a perfect backdrop to one of there articles.

Getting the balance right of subject and handling of the image is purely a personal thing, some of the worst taken photographs of historical news events are sometimes the best ones that capture the moment of chaos, but sometimes photos that have taken hours to prepare for are also just as good as getting the right emotions across to the viewer. For example here are some photos that I think are at there most extreme in terms what has been the most important element: subject or technical ability:


This photo was taken on my holiday to Spain, I just picked the camera up and took the shot without really thinking about the composition as the dancers were moving quickly, but the costumes and positions they were in were the most interesting part so I felt it made a good shot, even though I took no time to consider light, direction or any other skills I had learnt so far.The only thing I would say is that it was luck that there eye line draws you back and forth to create a more dynamic image.


I think this is on a technical basis one of my best pieces of work. Its not a particularly interesting subject as the road is quite bare and there is no definitive subject, but the composition of the lines in the frame and how they move, the implied triangle in the road amplifying the way the light disappears into the distance and the very long exposure and how it plays in the lighting all make for a very technically well put together image. It wouldn’t make the most interesting shot to hang on your wall but you can appreciate the skill and time that went into it.

So the age old discussion of subject versus design continues, and not just in photography; a piece of art work that is just painted lines can be adored by some yet hated by others as lacking any skill or emotion. So for this next assignment I will be looking into how well a story is told by the images that have tried to capture it, be that by a series of photos or one single shot that can say a multitude of words. In my opinion its the single shot photos that stir up real evocative emotions in the viewer that are the most profound and expressive photographs, they don't need any extra evidence to support or describe the story any further and are usually the most successful.