Reviewing further exercises : B

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Reviewing further exercises : B

Projects : A portrait sequence; focal length and pose and stance

I asked my youngest Matt if he would be my subject for the Assignment as he is the only one of my three children who is quite happy to be photographed.  He has also recently taken a keener interest in photography himself which he is sharing with one of his twin sons, Lewis.

I will be discussing choice of focal length, pose and stance in more detail in my write-up on the Assignment so, in this post, I’ll concentrate mainly on the process of review. Overall, I took 327 photographs.  I took 83 photographs on 16th April when I stayed overnight with Matt and his wife on the way back from Wirksworth.  We went to the stables on the following morning so I could meet his latest horse.  Matt came for a weekend stay the following week, bringing  Lewis who was spending the weekend with him. We went on the local Common on both days as I wanted to take some photographs there and also introduce both of them to geocaching. I also took photographs in the house, including several where I used my Holga lens on canon 500D. That weekend’s total was 244. If it’s said that a total of 327 is too many then I will probably agree. I think this was due to several factors:

–      Once I get started taking photographs I get so engrossed that I want to keep taking them.

–      There were varying exposure problems on the different days and I wanted to do my best to meet the challenges.

–      I was concerned that I only had a certain amount of time so wanted to make the most of it.

–      I should also add that Matt got hold of my camera and took some photos of myself and Lewis whilst we were looking up clues etc on my computer (it was a Harry Potter based geocache). He’s therefore partly to blame as well!

–      The more photographs I took the more confident I felt about asking Matt to adopt various postures.

Reviewing a portrait sequence

Firstly, I quickly eye-scan all the images once they’re in either Photoshop or Lightroom.  Then I’ll label likely ones with one star, choose them for another folder and so on. I chose an initial 34 from the 327 total and printed them off in contact sheets.




Having looked at the contact sheets I then went back into Photoshop, starred 16 of them and, again, created a contact sheet so I could make my final choice of 7.

1st June 2012


Reviewing further exercises : A

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Reviewing further exercises : A

(i) Thinking about Location (Project : Setting, backgrounds, locations)

Even at this stage in the Course I’ve realised that the types of settings I normally find attractive don’t necessarily suit portraits or, at the least, provide challenges in dealing with exposure settings.  For instance I used my son Matt as a subject for the Assignment images and one of the locations was the Common.  The Common has dark, wooded areas which, on a sunny day, contrast with sunlight as it streams through the trees.  On a bright, but overcast, day, the sky is white against the dark trees leading to highlight clipping.  Dappled shade is lovely to look at with the naked eye but  can look patchy in a photograph.

In the previous exercise I commented on the problems I had in the garden where there seemed to be distracting objects wherever I turned. Our conservatory has good light later in the day but not in the morning if there is bright sun.  I’ve commented more than once recently (to deaf ears) that it would be great if we could replace the glass roof with an opaque plasticised one which could act as a great diffuser.

I’ll comment in more detail on the backgrounds and settings (and how I dealt, or not, with them) in discussing the assignment images.

We were away in Brittany recently.  Sitting in a café in Guerande on a lovely day and I wanted to attempt one of those shots where the foreground subject is in focus, with the background just enough blurred  so that you can see people in the background (people – unrecognisable as in Part 2?)

I did a fair amount of shopping and, in Piriac, we met a a very nice couple where the husband had acquired an old school photograph of Burnley school in the 1950s. Here they are posed in front of it (and the US flag as well).

Here he is again with his daughter this time (she also has a shop). They are back-lit so the raw image needed a fair amount of work in an attempt to balance the exposure.  I should have used flash!

I will be doing further work on light when I’ve been on my half day Workshop in June because I know I need much more practice.

(ii). An active portrait and pose and stance

I attempted several of these in Wirksworth, and have posted a few already in my write-up on the workshop weekend.  Here are some more.


Looks of intense concentration

Conductor of the ladies’ choir guiding with her expression as well as her hands.  I couldn’t get close enough (physically or with longer lens) to really focus so this isn’t as good as I would have liked it to be.

(iii) Eye contact and expression

In the photographs taken in Brittany (above) I ‘directed’ my subjects. I asked my husband not to look at me, explaining the type of framing I was aiming at – that’s another of his ‘patient’ expressions. With the shop owners I was using my limited french to engage them whilst I composed the photographs.


31st May 2012

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

The introduction to Part One suggests that we photograph people we know best for these projects who are nearby and available.  In one respect that makes perfect sense.  However, most of the adults I know best dislike having their photographs taken, will turn away, sigh loudly or even make faces.   My grandchildren are quite happy to have their photographs taken but that brings me into another problem which is putting their photographs on my blog.

Train your Gaze, ( 2007) arrived some time ago and it’s been sitting waiting patiently for some attention from me ever since until today. I have to admit that ‘portraits’ just don’t seem to be me.  However, the Introduction gave me a clue as to why I might feel this way.  It describes the word ‘portrait’ as,  ‘Portentous, loaded with gravity and subtle persuasion…..It may influence the behaviour of your subject, opening the door to anxiety and trepidation….It can discourage playfulness and experimentation” “It depends upon the subject’s agreement to be photographed” (Intro x).  I’m thinking of various examples here. Sitting in a studio and having to pose; walking down the street (often at the seaside) where a photographer often used to be waiting to ‘take your picture’ and getting someone else to take the picture for you.

The other aspect is the sometimes cruel effect of millions of pixels cameras which enlarge every pore, line, wrinkle and blemish, unless you’re under the age of around 12. So many of my female friends groan loudly when they see a portrait of themselves which is ‘straight out of the camera’ before any embellishments have been applied. This is reassuring because I groan too but it just gives me another reason not to want to create portraits of people because there are too many self-image hurdles to overcome.

I prefer natural light but I know that artificial lighting  can achieve many other effects.  I’m still uneasy in the presence of artificial lighting and remote flash though, so I’ve taken the plunge and organised a one-to-one session during June.  I’m behind on my schedule for the first Assignment which I really need to get completed but at least I’ll know that improvements can be on their way.

I received the Course workbook at the beginning of April this year and, since then and being mindful of  both Parts One and Part Two, I’ve taken many photographs of people both aware and unaware. I’ve been on a residential workshop and also, more recently, on holiday to Brittany.  I took notes with me on the Projects and Exercise requirements so what follows will be an overview of what I achieved.

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

My understanding of a ‘portrait’ fits with that described in the Introduction to part One. It is something derived from some sort of  agreement between the sitter and the photographer and it is deliberate and considered.  I suppose that this, in essence, is what distinguishes a portrait from a snapshot.

Something else which has exercised my mind about portraits much more so than other types of photograph is the question of whether they should be in colour or black and white.  Normally it would be a case of either/or for me but I’ve decided to do a mix and look at the effect  My husband was my ‘willing ‘subject in the following which were taken in our garden:-

Cropped in close.:  f/7 , 76 mm focal length at 0.5 mm.

I couldn’t decide which part of his head to crop with the frame so tried several, such as showing his chin; his full profile or this one which seemed to work the best from my perspective.

Head and shoulders : f/7.1, 61 mm focal length at 1.8mm

The background probably needed to be more blurred here as you can see the garden shed,  On the one hand the background ‘should’ be relatively unobtrusive but, then again, this does show more of him in his context. A viewer might start to make some assumptions about his lifestyle and mood from the setting; his expression and clothing. He is gazing into space rather than looking directly at something Is he worried; smiling; contemplative; biting his lip etc.

Torso : f/7.1 50 mm focal length at 2.6mm

By this time I was aware of the problems with the background. There was the garden shed behind; a bird-feeder on his right and the greenhouse on his left. My persuasive efforts to get him to move forward away from it all only partly worked, although at least I got him away from the green garden waste bin.  I could have used an even wider aperture but here, with a more pleasant background, I did want to show some context.  This is where he spends a lot of time and effort.

Another problem was that of exposure. I cropped as much as possible to exclude the white sky but there was still the exposure difficulty between his grey/white hair and his dark sweater. I played around with the colour version in PS but still couldn’t get it right and so converted to b+w.  Next time he’s going to have to wear lighter clothing!

Seeing more of his torso provides more information to analyse. His gaze appears kindly, maybe patient. It’s hard to get him to smile in photographs for some reason but he’s trying.

Full figure : f/7.1 46 mm at 4.4m

I have cropped this as the green, garden waste bin appeared on his left. I couldn’t crop out the bird feeder though as it was too near and content-aware/healing brush etc didn’t work.  Instead I opted to add a slight vignette although, unfortunately, it has drawn more attention to the bird feeder instead of less.

Overall, lessons learned here about clothing and background.

Here are some other photographs I took of ‘people’ aware and in different locations which follow the same pattern of head, head and shoulders, torso and full  figure:-

On the Common. His name is Bruno and I asked him to pose for me. This is actually from last year but I’m including it because it was the first time I asked a stranger to pose.


Eco Fair, Wirksworth. I had intended to take an ‘unaware’ shot but she saw me so I waved my camera with an, “Is this okay’ smile.” It was interesting how her posture became more fixed. I cropped the image slightly but wanted to leave enough of the context to indicate the setting. I like the way she is looking straight at the camera.

Railway volunteer, ‘Wirksworth.  A lovely man who was willing to be photographed.  This was an ‘unaware, aware” photograph if you see what I mean, taken when he was absorbed in his task. I know now that I should show what he is actually looking at.



Eco-Fair, Wirksworth. This lady appeared in a previous post.  I was pleased here because firstly, I asked her to pose and, secondly, I took another photograph and asked her to move. Again, this shows her in the context of selling her lovely creations.

On the Common at the end of April.  It was pouring with rain but the dogs needed their walk.  This couple had found a geo-cache so we had a chat about that and I asked them if I could take a photograph, using my iPhone which was all I had with me. I think this is more of a snapshot because I just let the iPhone do its own thing and it was quick because of the rain.

28th May 2012


Angier, R, Train Your Gaze 2007), AVA Publishing, SA

A brief look at family portraits


People and Place – Part One : People Aware

A brief look at family portraits

Patricia Holland (2009) describes family photographs as, ‘the medium through which individuals confirm and explore their identity ( L, Wells, 2009, p. 123).  Certainly, I have about four boxes of family photographs dating back to the late 1800s.  All those grandparent; aunts and uncles; cousins and, now, my own children and grandchildren.  This is going to be a brief look but I’m hoping that I can comment both as a “user” of the photographs, bringing a wealth of surrounding knowledge, and also a “reader” teasing out meanings. (ibid p. 122).

Holland also writes that taking pictures has become, “an increasingly flexible medium for the construction of ordinary people’s accounts of their lives and fantasies (ibid p.120) which is an interesting point given the way that memories can work.  I’m not only having to take into account the vagaries of my memory but also those of my parents and grandmothers as they related family stories to me.

My maternal grandfather aged around 16. I think it’s a studio portrait with an unobtrusive background and stuck on a thick board ‘frame’. It has a handwritten number on the back (627) but I don’t know whether that relates to the photo or not because my grandfather had a habit of writing messages etc on the back of photographs which weren’t related to the photograph. Anyway it’s a  classic head and shoulders pose, slightly sideways on and gazing into the distance. He looks older than 16 I think and serious. He was one of 13 children and the family were very poor. Are there any clues to that here?  Just a young man having his portrait taken but I’m wondering why given his family circumstances.  Maybe he was going away to work.

The First World War saw a boom in camera sales which peaked in 1917. Parents and wives wanted to have a photograph of their husband/son as he went off to fight.

This was  my great-uncle Daniel Donohoe who was killed in action in Flanders on 18th November 1916. He was killed at the point when my great-grandfather had been trying to get him out of the army because he’d originally enlisted under-aged.

Holland asserts that most family collections are dominated by time spent away from home on holidays or days out – what she terms, “The domestication of the unfamiliar”.

This my mother on holiday with her parents, aged around 12/13 and obviously not enjoying herself. No way was she going to smile for the camera.   I think I remember her telling me that her dad wouldn’t buy her an ice-cream. The background is quite faded but the casual clothes and balloon mum is holding holding give a clue.  In terms of composition, I like the way you get the sense of movement and there’s something similar about the posture of my mum and her father. My grandad looks relaxed and comfortable in his stance whereas there’s some tension around his two ladies. I can see a family resemblance between my mother here and the portrait of her young father.  There they are on holiday not knowing that my grandfather would be dead within a couple of years – something my Nan and mother never recovered from really.

“Children, especially, have very little say over how they are pictured, and this discrepancy is the source of many of the conflicting emotions analysed by writers on family photography” (P. Holland in L. Wells, p. 122).

Me aged around 3 outside the house opposite to where we lived with my Nan. I think a distant relative of my grandad’s lived there. They had a male visitor who wanted to take a photograph of me holding my doll.  He said he would give me a shilling. I can actually remember this and me feeling very cross and saying, “I don’t want your money!” My mum was horrified, “Ooh Catherine.” The event became part of family legend, “You’ll never believe what our Catherine said when ….. wanted to take a picture of her”.  They couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t want some money.  Goodness – what would I do with money when I was only 3.  Sweets were rationed then so I never ate or wanted any. Looking at the photograph I can still feel that sense of annoyance. I’m sure I had more important things to do at home.  Maybe I’d taken an instant dislike to him and didn’t want to be beholden. I’m certainly refusing to smile. The occasion has stuck in my memory because when I went back to Sheffield last year I even took a photograph of that house.

I mentioned above the importance of photographs in the First World War.  I think that such photographs had another importance as well. They could carry a message of love and also be a object of transference for children.


These are some of the photographs exchanged between my parents when my dad was in the Army in Egypt after World War II. Loving messages are written on the back. My father could see how I was growing up and I could see him – “Here is a photo from daddy who is somewhere far away but he sends his love”.  I think he was talked about so much that, with the photos and letters to me, he was alive in my head and so never really ‘absent’.


A holiday in Scarborough with me around 14 and quite happy to pose.  It rained nearly every day. It’s good to see the context as it places it in time and a place. Stripes were obviously in fashion then. Note the coy pose – imitating a film star maybe.

The same holiday, with my parents. My mother was thrilled to get a photograph of all of us together, as my father was usually behind the camera.  Note the way I’m posing with that slightly coy, to the side look again None of that straight look at the camera that I gave when I was 3! I think this was early evening as we’re wearing smarter clothes, and that dad asked a passer-by to take this. I always find it quite frightening when someone asks me to do this in case I make a real mess of either the photograph, their camera or both!

I began by writing that this would be a brief look.  Well, I’ve covered the first half of the C20th! Holland is right when she says that family photographs kept are treasured less for their quality than for their context.  These ones are important historical documents to me which place me within my family and help to carry personal and narrated memories. I don’t think either that these particular photographs embody any ‘fantasies’ about that family life.

8th May 2012


Holland, P, (2009) Sweet it is to scan, in Wells, L (ed) Photography, Routledge, Abingdon

Wells, L (ed) (2009 ed) Photography, Routledge, Abingdon