Assignment 1 : Response to Tutor Feedback

Response to Tutor feedback on Assignment 1

My feedback came quickly with helpful comments (some positive  – some less so) and suggestions. It seems to have taken weeks though for me to get to grips it – well not the feedback exactly but this Module itself.  A part of it I know was letting go of AOP and still feeling ‘unfinished’, as I was doing a lot of reading around various writers’ views of the meaning of fairy tales and contemporary critiques.

I’ve done work towards most of the exercises in Part two so have several folders of images waiting for my attention but keep distracting myself.  I’ve also acquired some more of the recommended books for ‘People & Place” such as Charlotte Cotton, Geoff Dyer, Caruana & Fox and David Levi Strauss  and several more books on photographers – Saul Leiter, Duane Michals and Keith Carter.  So far as the photographers are concerned I think I’m still searching for a style or concept that will fit my personality, philosophy and feelings about the world and build me a stronger bridge towards People & Place.  I’m not feeling entirely negative because I have felt more enthusiastic about the Course these last few days and so it really is time to address my tutor’s comments and move on.

Some aspects of tutor feedback

Positive comments regarding my first image of Matt in the stable but the other portraits not as strong for a variety of reasons.


My tutor had noticed some problems  with a hint of blue colour cast and we had a discussion about this by email. Basically, the prints looked pretty much as they do on screen so it didn’t appear to be a calibration problem (I use Huey Pro). He had also queried whether I worked the images in Photoshop or were they jpegs straight out of the camera. In fact, I nearly always shoot RAW  and then go into PS.

Image 2.(10)

suggests a bit of a ‘lurking in the undergrowth’ look and  might have been better  substituted for this one

which was on my contact sheet and has a more natural look –  with some modifications; eg being cropped along top and left side and where moving to the left a little could have avoided the tree coming out of his head. I could also have used a shallower depth of field. The depth of field is actually f/5 and, of course, I hadn’t put this in the final selection because of the tree problem. Hadn’t thought of cropping though so I’ve had a go

Image 3 (15)

Good strong eye contact and serves well as a headshot. Suggestion I might have asked him to remove his hat for a slight difference in composition and maybe used some off camera fill flash to add a catch light. Points taken. There was a slight problem here with the colour (cyan cast) and my tutor helpfully made some alterations to this so I could see the difference – removing the cast; cropping a little tighter and increasing the contrast slightly.

Image 4 (22)






This was the one where I wanted a more somber, contemplative shot where it was darker in the trees (and the hat is removed) and I’d used flash as well. Comment was made that  it seemed redundant with the presence of Image 3, but could benefit if cropped as a much tighter head and shoulders shot, without the trees. Here is is with alterations:-


Photographs inside the house

These were considered to be less successful overall. Whilst my tutor thought it was good to experiment with the Holga lens which added another dimension, he suggested getting the basics down before experimenting.  He wrote that the main problem was the lack of eye contact. This is where I felt confused because I’ve looked at many portrait shots  that don’t have eye contact, including the examples in the Module Handbook and also portraits at the Out of Control Exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (e.g. some of those by Katy Grannan).  Also in the assignment brief we were told that the portraits should be different in type and style.

However, my tutor thought the introduction of the mirror was an interesting element and it might be worthwhile exploring this in the future.

Suggestions of Photographers to look at

Along the lines of my introduction of a mirror, it was suggested I look at the work of Brian Griffin .  I thought these were very interesting and distinctive – should also add that not all of them show direct eye contact with the photographer. I’ve copied several of them into my paper log for reference. There is one of George Melly wearing rings like eyes on his little fingers as he holds his hands up to his eyes (quite surrealistic). Len Deighton holding a book aloft and standing in between a computer and  printer (very contextual). Martin Parr – a blur of movement as he opens a door whose edge is sharp and clear. Another one is of Howard Hodgkin, painter here which has an unearthly look. the skin on hands and face is pale and paper thin and he almost looks at the point of death. You can see the hands of a woman (I think) standing behind him – right hand on her right breast and left just gently touching his shoulder. There’s a narrative there but of what?  I did a search on Howard Hodgkin and looked at an interview from 2010 – although his hair is the same colour of white his skin has much more colour. Does this mean that Griffin processed the image to gain a desired effect?  Were they talking about light/dark, thoughts of death?  The tones are wonderful and I keep looking at it..  Oddly enough there’s something about it that reminds me of ‘The Blade Runner’, where Rutger Hauer is crouching on the parapet, ready to die,  and looks almost like an angel.

Considering the work I’d done on ‘Tales with Valeria’ for AOP my tutor thought I might also like to look at Griffin’s ‘The Water People” – a series of portraits Griffin made for the Icelandic Water Board, shot through a pane of glass with water flowing over it  here . The concept is an interesting one although these images appealed to me less – the effect of dissolving has too sinister a feel for me.

Another suggestion, in respect of environmental portraits, was to look at the work of Peter Marlow,  a Magnum photographer.  The website didn’t allow me to click into his portraits to see them in larger size but it does enable one to download a pdf of his general portfolio, which contains portraits.  These portrait are less ‘styled’ with slightly more of an air of ‘caught in the moment’ whilst travelling in a car; sitting at the desk at the office; walking etc – perhaps more concentration on the person of the subject as opposed to making a creative statement for/about them.

Post-Assignment work

I’ve already written up the 1:1 session I had on simple lighting . Following this I bought a speedlite and,  new wireless trigger and set up a practice session with my husband in the garage. Here are three of the results


At least I’ve been practising, despite still continuing to believe that portraits aren’t really me! It’s a chicken and egg thing I think. I don’t want to have people pose patiently for me and then produce something mediocre, but the fact that the portraits are relatively ordinary leads me to think I’m pretty rubbish so I feel even less confident and that it’s not worth trying.

Other aspects I need to take into consideration

These are more general considerations for writing up assignments, following on from additional tutor comments.

In the exercises leading up to Assignment 1 I wrote that I had taken 327 photographs overall on the three long sessions I had with Matt, which I then whittled  down to 34 before filtering even more down to 16 and the final 7.  However, I wasn’t explicit about this in writing up Assignment 1 and so my tutor thought I had only shot 34 photographs and commented that this wasn’t enough.

  • I must remember to include this type of information in my Assignment write-ups as my  tutor and Assessors will  concentrate on looking at my Assignments (and re-runs of them) with much less time available to them to sample/scan exercises etc.

My tutor wanted to see more evidence of other work I’ve looked at and reading around the subject. I read Train your Gaze for the Assignment and did look at other images but wrote little about this.  I think this is a fair indication of my diffidence regarding portraits. In terms of general reading and research – this is a new blog and so this information is expanding all the time. My Art of Photography blog has a lot of this type of information and my concern is that, in a way, this is going to be redundant now in terms of evidencing my development unless I find a way to link this in wherever possible.

16th July 2012


Assignment 1 : A Portrait

People and Place : Part One

 Assignment 1 : A portrait

I remember at the beginning of People & Place writing that I didn’t feel that portraits were ‘me’.  I’m still not sure about this but do now feel somewhat more confident.  I enjoyed the whole process of reviewing and selecting images.  In the previous post I wrote that I had selected 16 out of an initial selection of 34,

I had had hopes of the other horse shots but decided they weren’t good enough for ‘portrait’.  A dark horse in sunlight creates exposure problems, plus, as Matt was preoccupied with the horse, you couldn’t see his face.

Choice of final selection were:-

16 contacts to choose from

From these I chose numbers 1, 10, 15, 22, 30, 31 and 34(when I emailed the contact sheet to Matt his preference was 1, 7, 10, 11, 15, 21 and 29 whereas my husband’s preference was 2, 6, 7, 11, 17, 21, 25, which just goes to show!).

7 Portrait images

(Original number from 34 initially selected also given in brackets)

No. 1 (1)

f/8:  1/20:  ISO 1600: 32 mm zoom @ distance 5.2mm

A full length portrait of Matt at 11am in an environment he loves – with two of his horses, in the stable on a very bright and sunny day. It was gloomy inside despite the light streaming through the windows so I compromised with the exposure, using centre-weighted average,  and did adjustments in PS and with Nik software. I didn’t want to use flash as I didn’t want to spook the horses. The black horse is Ties and Matt is training him in dressage using the Spanish method. Ties is very large (Matt is around 6’2” so you can see the scale) and, to be honest, I didn’t want to get too near to him even though he’s quite friendly. The other horse is Goliath.

No. 2 (10)

f/5: 1/125 : ISO 200: 53mm zoom @ 5.4m

A torso shot on the Common on a bright day towards mid-afternoon. It was shady in the wooded area and  I metered centre-weighted average. I wanted the dof to be sufficient so that he didn’t disappear into the trees. He is looking at me rather quizzically with his head angled slightly to the side.

No. 3 (15)

f5.6 : 1/40 : ISO 200 61mm zoom at 2.6m.

I metered using centre-weighted average again. Smiling this time with direct eye gaze, although slightly sideways in posture. There is some shadow on his face from his cap brim and I did use ‘dodge’ to lighten this in PS. I could have used flash but chose not too.

No. 4 (22)


f/10 : 1/200 : ISO 400 : 78mm zoom @ 2.4m

I wanted to try a more somber, contemplative shot where it was darker in the trees. I used in-camera flash to brighten his face slightly, which did produce some shine.  Well – it is a little more broody which isn’t that easy with Matt because he has an open face, is generally cheerful and smiles a lot.

No. 5 (30)

Using fixed f/8 Holga lens on Canon 500D. ISO 400: 1/13.

I was keen to try my Holga lens for portraiture and took several photographs. Here he is seated in the conservatory, looking at his ipad (after another horse to buy). I’ve learned from experience that the light needs to be coming from behind the camera and I spot-metered on his face for the exposure. This could have been better on a tripod but he kept moving around from chair to chair due to the amount of light and sitting so that the window frame appeared straight out of his head. I therefore had to catch him at the right moment, without trying his patience too much.

No. 6(34)

Holga lens again. I wanted to include his wedding ring and watch, as part of his persona, so asked him to raise his hand, at which he put his hand over his eyes! I’m including it because it’s another style of portraiture, using a Holga lens,  and it appeals to me.

No. 7 (31)

f/6.3 : 1/30 : ISO 400 : 31mm zoom @ 2.4m

In the kitchen where it was more shady.  I like reflection shots and wanted to try it for a portrait so took several and gave myself a choice of two from the final 16. I chose this one because he is looking straight at me, whereas the relfection gives a sideways posture. I spot-metered on his reflection because I wasn’t sure what effect the mirror might have.


I was lucky to have a patient, main subject (most of the time) who gave me time to experiment.  I have to acknowledge that at the start of Part One I’d regarded portraits as rather a chore but actually enjoyed the sessions much more than I’d expected.  Although my leaning is still more towards people in their environment, rather than portraiture, I certainly feel a little more confident and am looking forward to the workshop on lighting. Looking at them again I’m now thinking that maybe I didn’t choose enough variety of posture, but there are the beginnings of different styles which I could develop. I had thought of black and white conversion and did attempt some.  No. 7 worked quite well because it contains more tones, but the others much less so.

I realise that I’m at the beginning of a portrait journey as this is new to me and will post more on my blog as the Course continues and I develop more of a style with which I feel comfortable.

2nd June 2012