Saturday, 11 November 2017

Planning your work

Planning your work (Photography & Art)

If within your assignment you have a requirement to plan - the following guidance may be helpful.

Dependent on what course you're doing there will be several units that require that you identify that you have planned parts of your work, there may also be a component that asks for you to clarify your intentions.

Planning should be identified at all stages when you undertake the production of work... Photography or Art. I would always suggest that you do this within an organised format based on the Gibbs Reflective Practice method (See here for details or in the sidebar to the right).

Use these prompts below to generate your plan

1. Clarify (Describe) what the intention is e.g. why you're making this work, making a direct link with the assignment content.

2. Where - say where your making the images - studio, location, explain why you're doing it there - strengths and weaknesses of the location/studio. Problems you might encounter what you'll do in advance to alleviate those problems. 

3. When - The date, time, explain why at that time, especially if on location - as the light will be dramatically different at different times of day. Be as technical as you can when talking about the light. Write about the time in terms of urgency and the assignment deadline.

4. What with - What camera and equipment are you using, what focal length lens, what tripod, what additional equipment will you need - will you have a back-up camera? Use a check-list in your book, have everything on the check-list - Empty SD card, charged batteries, additional batteries and SD cards. Tripod plates, cables, hotshoe adapters, light meters, extension leads, flash heads and other studio kit (Use the names/brands of the equipment).

5. How (Technique) - Explain how you're going to shoot the images, what approach will you use, how do you want it to look? Is it going to like or borrow something of a famous photographers style or technique? How are you going to ensure that you get the exposures right - what method will you use to do your light readings - maybe explain what metering pattern you use and say why. What are you going to do about your backgrounds? Do your backgrounds play an important part in the images visual language/narrative? How are you going to use the back-grounds - out of focus or in focus? How do you intend to use depth of field generally? What shutter speed will you hope to be using and why? What white balance will you use and why? What file type will you use and why?

6. Who with - Models, assistants, make-up artist, stylists, drivers etc. Who will you use as the model, could you find models? Are you using the same model again and again - why? Do you think that when you show your folio to prospective employers or Universities they might view this negatively? Have you used anyone else to style it or do any of the other roles in photography - see the image below of a Location shoot I witnessed as well as the photographer and the 1 model (Yasmin Le Bonn) there were at least 12 other people... Stylists, Make-up artists, hair-stylists, 4 x assistants, art director. Could your images be improved with more effort and attention to detail?
Whoever you do involve - say what their role is going to be as part of your plan.

7. Using what light Before you shoot, you should have some idea of the kind of light you want, what do you want the light to do - define shape, form and texture, or do you want light that wraps around the subject with low contrast? Again, make connections with other photographers work... I want to get the same effect as photographer a and b and write about the light using the correct terminology. With the light you should write about the time of day and weather and what you're hoping for - you could support this with weather reports - with images of charts showing the weather you'll probably get and then also include a weather contingency plan.

With the light - if you're in the studio use a floor plan diagram and add images or diagrams of the lighting equipment you're going to use and explain why and what effect this might have on the outcome.

8. Health and Safety Many of the units have a requirement to address H&S, so within your plan make sure you write about the H&S aspects that you have to deal with and explain what you do to ensure you, your model and any others that are involved in your shoot are also safe.

9. Weather Mentioned earlier - the weather has a massive effect on location shoots, you might want a particular type of light for your shoot that meets your creative intentions if the light isn't right, explain what you'll do to deal with the light being not quite what you want.

Finally, if you've looked at this check list and thought "What the hell"? because, you don't usually think of or include much of the above, that means at the end of the assignment when you write up your reflection/evaluation and detail what more you need to learn in order to improve you can mention some of the above.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

BTEC L3 Photography Materials, Techniques and Processes – Photo-copy paper

Materials, Techniques and Processes – Photo-copy paper
Most of the student photography we see produced in their sketchbooks is now produced on photo-copy paper. So, this makes it one of the most frequently used materials that they use. With that in mind, it should be identified as one of the key materials that they use.

As with all of these materials, the first thing students should do is find the brand name of the paper they’re printing on and then go onto the manufacturers website by searching “Product data sheet” followed by the papers brand name…


You should go onto the website and download the product data PDF file for the paper you use in your college. Read the document identify the information relating to its properties and characteristics.

 General observations relating to these papers that you might include… (See over page).

·         Extremely cheap and economic.

·         Ideal for interim images and research images in sketchbooks

·         Ideal for reducing and scaling up using photocopier

·         Potential for mixed media application at basic level – finish is usually matt, so that the paper takes many mark-making media such as graphite pencils, biro’s even paint with the potential for buckling if used too wet.

·         Two basic sizes A4 and A3.

·         Comes out of the machine dry and with the image fixed.

·         Potential in art applications such as degrading and damaging, tears easily and works well with sellotapes for re-fixing and re-configuring.

·         Once screwed up maintains a 3D aspect.

·         Glues well.

·         Is semi-transparent so useful for over-laying and tracing.

·         Clean and white

·         Good for digital contact sheets.

·         Quick and easy.

·         Software on most advanced printing systems allows for nesting of images – MS picture viewer system had excellent nesting configurations for quick handing of images.



·         Buckles and distorts when used in conjunction with wet mark making media such as water-colour paints/gouache.

·         Not suitable for final images and portfolio use.

·         Images lack colour vibrancy because of the matt finish.

·         Easily damaged and ripped.

 Look at the relevant data sheets for further details.

To take this a step further you’re advised to use a number of different mark making media – pens, inks, high-lighters, different grade graphite pencils, paints – oil, gouache, acrylic, poster, water-colour; Different pencil types – charcoal, conte’, wax and other soft types and use them on the paper.

 Try smudging, smearing and wetting to show what effect you achieve with these media on this paper. Discuss what you have learned about the properties of the paper in conjunction with the potential of the mark-making tools/media. Is there any potential to use these media in conjunction with mixed media approaches in photography or combing the use of images and text?

Have a look at this link here too




BTEC Art and Design Photography - materials, techniques, processes and equipment - TLR camera

TLR camera (Through the lens reflex)

·         Firstly, this is a fantastic looking camera that draws attention to you as the photographer, and you simply using this camera says… I know what I’m doing, I’m an artisan with advanced knowledge of photography.

·         Looking down psychology. People don’t like being scrutinized through the lens of a camera. With SLR cameras, your face is on the same plain of focus as the lens and the subject often feels uncomfortable and uneasy about the apparent level of scrutiny implied through the use of SLR’s. With a TLR you focus with your face and head pointing and looking down and not at the subject. This has a potential effect in that they’re not so aware of being photographed and may feel more at ease and potentially a better result may evolve?

·         Prime lenses – they don’t use zoom lenses, all of the lenses that come with these cameras are fixed focal length and therefore prime lenses with better optics.

·         6cm x 6cm negative. This is a big negative that produces a very high quality image if used with the right films, processed correctly and printed on the right type of papers.

·         Focus on need to get the shot (12 frames). Again, this is another psychological factor, the whole process or making images using a camera that only has 12 frames per roll focuses the photographer’s attention on the job at hand. The process of making the pictures becomes slower and more measured and potentially better for it.

·         Requires use of hand-held meter – again another set of skills and it looks more professional and people potentially take you more seriously – you look like a photographer and you should be telling them you’re an artist… Digital photography is for snappers and amateurs.

·         Requires more advance knowledge of photography – filters out the cowboys and the wanna-be’s.

·         The square format also makes you think about the space in the image and creates further awareness of backgrounds in images.

·         Enables and encourages darkroom skills and a greater under-standing of the relationship between exposure, light and the print.

·         Enables you to shoot and create images in the style of the greats such as Avedon, Bailey and Penn through the use of techniques such as the inclusion of the border, again making you consider the frame. (Shooting full frame).

·         Working with such cameras demands and identifies more advance skill-set and increases potential to attain higher grades.




·         12 shots on a roll – although can be seen as a positive aspect (See above)

·         Lens parallax error – what you see through the viewing lens doesn’t correspond with the ‘Taking lens’.

·         No internal metering system

·         Bellows extension factor – with different lenses at different focal lengths and the closeness of the subject, the camera has a bellows system to facilitate focusing which affects the exposure. This needs to be factored into the exposure calculations.

·         You have to know about film in order to expose properly.

·         Need to have access to 6x6 format enlargers.

·         Need to additional skill-set of processing and printing skills/knowledge to get full advantage.

·         Size and weight – cumbersome.
Cost factor - film is expensive, photographic paper is expensive too.
Environmental factors - Film and photographic paper is full of sliver and there are issues with regards to discarding Fix which is one of the key parts of processing procedure.

BTEC Materials, techniques and processes - Flatbed scanners and photo-copiers as a camera.

Flatbed scanners as a camera

Something that many people over-look is the potential to use flatbed scanners as a means to create images. See the two links below for examples...

Scanners produce good quality images at quite high resolutions, with a unique feeling of their own. Ideally suited to flat-copying, but they do have the potential to create renditions of 3D objects too. In addition because of the way that images are scanned by a slow moving capture system, there's loads of scope to play around with movement in conjunction with the images, creating potentially very creative outcomes.

  • Normally associated with 'Art' applications in photography, rather than commissioned photography.
  • Can be used adapt other types of photography for instance Pinhole photography produced on photographic print paper on small scale can be scanned at high resolutions and therefore digitized and scaled up.

  • Lack of mobility, need mains supply.
  • Limited in their ability to render and record 3D objects
  • Requires expensive software packages such as Photoshop to work with at post production stages.
  • Limited to A4 capture size although A3 scanners do exist.

*Note - The photo-copy machines at college have a scanning function via the menu. Select the 'Scanning' option and click the 'email' option as well as the resolution and colour settings. Also choose what type of file type you want your scan to be sent to you as. I would generally opt for a TIFF file. Once your scan has been made, you'll be sent a digital file to your college email address.

BTEC Photography Materials, techniques and processes - DSLR cameras

DSLR Cameras - characteristics and their properties.

Why use one camera over an another, what are the benefits of using different cameras and how does it effect the image and meaning?

Within the context of your BTEC qualification this is a re-occurring question and one that you have to address. This post helps out with that aspect of the course. Remember though - do not copy this, read it and write it up in your own language and add to it, if you're looking to attain higher grades.

Digital SLR's

Why use one? One of the key reason's is that you're on a photography course and the majority of professional photographs are shot using a digital SLR and therefore as an aspiring photographer you need to be fully conversant with how your DSLR works. Other reasons include the following here in this list...

  • Versatile - DSLR's are extremely versatile and are able to cover most photographic jobs, they come with hundreds of attachments enabling them to be used for scientific photography in labs to under-water photography in situations such as Surf Photography using camera housings.
  • If you use either Nikon on Canon, you'll find that wherever you are in the world, there's usually somewhere near by in a big city that can service the camera and sell you components needed for your work.
  • They relatively cheap.
  • Small and light weight, relatively tough.
  • They're able to be fitted with a huge range of lenses going from super wide Fish-eye lenses to super long telephoto lenses used in sports and wildlife photography that cost thousands of pounds.
  • They're simple to use with auto and program modes that anyone can use.
  • They're extremely creative tools once you're able to work with them manually - over-riding the auto and program functions.
  • They use digital storage cards, usually 'SD' cards onto which literally thousands of images can be captured and stored. In comparison with shooting film this is a massive advantage both from a cost point of view and enabling you to get 'The image'.
  • Light colour in the image is controlled in-camera via 'White balance' settings - no need for sets of filters as the case for analogue cameras.
  • The images can be see on the preview screen on the back of the camera enabling checking of composition, white balance and lighting to some extent.
  • There's a tendency for students to produce images from digital files using Photo-copy paper or poor quality and expensive digital prints using ink jet printers at home. So their prints produced for the assignments are very low quality with limited use.
  • Everyone thinks they're a photographer and people with very limited knowledge are setting themselves up as photographers, under-cutting real photographers and putting people out of business.
  • The fact that images are unloaded off the camera and then stored on digital devices and never seen. As opposed analogue cameras that traditionally when the film is processed you end up with hard-copy prints to be shown and shared between people - a more tactile sharing experience.
  • Technology advancements, with newer technology, sometimes the format of the files (Images) becomes so advanced that there are no longer computers/software that are unable to view the 'Old' outdated file types. This is in opposition to traditional photography and the use of prints.
  • Susceptible to damp, moisture, dust, grit, extreme cold conditions.
  • Reliant wholly on batteries.
  • SD cards and storage devices including Hard - Drives on computers, DVD's etc susceptible to corruption and all of the images lost.
  • So many images/files a great deal of time is required to catalogue and file them.
  • Perceived that you also need Photoshop as a part of the 'Package'. Photoshop cost several
Note - look up your own camera on websites such as and to find out the specific details about your own camera.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Materials, Techniques and Processes - Disposable cameras

Many of the new 2016/17 BTEC Units require students to work with, explore, use and identify the use of Materials, Techniques and Processes (MTP's). P.S. Add equipment to that as well.

What options are there and what can you do?

Use your digital camera at the start as a note book rather than the equipment that you produce your interim and final images on.

Across any unit that requires the use of MTP's aim to use as many different types of camera in the production of your project to demonstrate control and use of a range of camera (You are aiming to be a photographer after all)! The options include...

Disposable cameras
The use of these cameras will get you using a very basic method of shooting that produces 24 colour prints. The film inside the camera differs from camera to camera giving you the opportunity to then research the films characteristics and properties via the films. Once you know what the film is inside the camera, search using the name of the film in Google followed by "Product data sheet"...
Fuji Reala Product data sheet
Then click on one of the PDF files that you're presented with. Print this off, read through it and use the general information about the films properties and characteristics. (Write up in your own language). Similarly do the same for the camera as the camera will have limitations that you need to be aware of before using. See here 

So for instance around Feb/Mar time our students have to shoot a brief where they produce a Typology of small buildings and structures. Ideally this is one of the easier methods to use to start the project and whilst shooting on this camera they can potentially shoot the images on their Mobile Phone cameras and do a very similar things side by side. At this stage these are just test shoots that they use to explore the idea and develop the approach that they might use towards the end of the project when they then need to print the images in a digital photobook.

What you should do...

1. Plan and propose...

Explain what you're going to do, usually it's a good idea to be flexible with your initial idea. You know you're going to shoot for instance bus stops, corner shops, pubs or similar, but once you start you may change your idea realising that another option might be more realistic or better. In your plan say when you're going to do it, what type of light your hoping to shoot in (you could include weather reports), what problems you envisage, how you might compose the images (use a diagram), what camera you're going to use and why, how you might use it, what you're going to be taking pictures of and how quickly you hope to turn this part of the project around. Personally I'd advise shooting the images in one day and get it processed the next and then get in your sketchbook the same day - again this can be a part of your plan.

2. Shoot the images...

Go out and shoot the images - experiment with the idea, shoot some upright, some horizontal, some close up, some further away, remember at this stage you're just experimenting and coming up with ideas, it doesn't have to be right, this is just a test. The important thing is you're trying things out and experiencing different ways of making images and looking at  the potential of this method. Try and get all of the images shot - don't waste the film and if necessary shoot a different theme or idea if you run out of subject matter.

3. Process the film

Get it back to the *shop or lab you bought it from and have it processed as soon as you can. If they ask if you want it digitized say no, you just want the prints and the negatives. *Boots is probably the best and most efficient at this.

4. Put the images in your sketchbook folder.

As soon as you can get the images stick them in your book. Don't necessarily stick every single image in the book, just those that allow you to show what you've done and have been successful. Include those that haven't been successful, but don't dwell on failures too much. Annotate the images if you feel compelled to do so, but keep annotations brief because the important part is yet to be done. It's useful if you number the images too.

5. Reflect on your work using the Gibbs method.

This is the important bit, this is where you need to look at the Unit criteria and start to write up your Gibbs reflection looking to address the criteria. The first sections of the Gibbs cycle see below...
Description, feelings and evaluation can be written up with just 2 or 3 paragraphs each, but the bit you need to focus on and write up in detail is the analysis section. Suggestions as to what you might write definitely need to include discussing expectations based on the camera and the films product data. The manufacturers say the camera and film will do x, y and z, but what is your experience now having used it?
Observations relating to Parallax error - is your thumb over the images - why?
Upright or horizontal - what worked best why?
Could the images be cropped square - consider Photobook format?
How did the camera cope with the light - exposure?
How did the light effect the image - what might you need to consider during subsequent shoots?
Do the prints show the characteristics as described in the product data sheets?
Do your images or the approach you've used look anything like the images/photographers you've researched, what aspect of their work/approach have you tried to include?
Discuss the context of your research and your images that you're now making - why might these images be interesting as a final product, what's the potential of your project?
Are you images affected by converging verticals - does it matter - what might you do to alleviate this issue?
What is the print quality like of the prints - could they be enlarged?
What do you reckon to these cameras - do they have any potential - explain?
Conclusion - Keep this simple or omit if you've drawn conclusions in your analysis.
Plan the next shoot using a different camera and repeat the process again.

Contextual Influences BTEC and UAL level 3 Art and Design

Contextual Influences

If you're looking to attain good grades in your Art and Design course, one area that you need to demonstrate that you've investigated and learned about is the contextual aspects. This is one of the aspects of your research that you normally have to read more to grasp and make sense of and therefore will gain you additional points as such. More importantly it leads you to looking at wider subjects and therefore accelerates your learning.

Currently for what I teach (Photography) I break it down into 3 sections...
  • Operational context.
  • Historical context.
  • Zeitgeist context.

(1). Operational Context – This is where you identify and explain the working context; is the work you’re looking at art photography/personal work where the photographer/artist has full control over every aspect of the process, chooses the subject and Materials, Techniques and Processes and the work is usually produced over months and years. Or is it Commissioned Photography/Art where the work is done to a brief set by someone else (Client/ad agency) using MTP’s that they stipulate and is produced within a time scale and you’re paid a set wage for producing the work for them. Or is it Amateur work – where it’s done for pleasure and isn’t usually sold to provide a living wage for the artists/photographer?

(2). Historical Context – This is where you read about the photographer – interviews or critical reviews and discover who the photographer is influenced by. Using the images of the artist/photographer that they are influenced by, you have to identify connections and look to see if this is a re-occurring theme within the art/photography world.  Is it being used in similar ways historically? Ideally you should make direct connections with other forms of art especially paintings.
For an example in practice see here (Note the inclusion of the older images alongside the main Testino images)
See this example below...
The most recent image (A) is a Mario Testino image from Vogue 2011. (B) Is a David Bailey image from the mid 1960's and (C) Is a Jan Van Eyck painting from 1434 "Arnolfini Wedding".
You can see that there is potential to refer to all of the images if you're looking at any of them because of their similarities. The Testino image no doubt refers to Van Eyck as they not only reference the pose, but also the clothing and the whole 'Dutch Old Masters' theme. Whether Bailey referenced Van Eyck is speculation, but as a student, if you're making these speculative comparisons, what it demonstrates is a very broad knowledge of both art and photography showing how one can influence another. Not only that, it also demonstrates you're looking at important historical art and photography as opposed to images and photographers of no consequence whatsoever.
The key point here is that if you were to research any of these artists/photographers you would find endless research material from which you would potentially learn a great deal. By delving a little deeper for instance into David Bailey, you might then start to learn about the things that were happening around him at the time in wider society...

(3). Zeitgeist Context – This is where you examine the photography/photographer and look to evidence that the work has been produced in response to something that is happening now as opposed to events happening at the time when the work was being produced (Historical). You might look specifically at political, social, environmental or cultural events that may have shaping or inspiring the photography in some way.

As an example when writing Donald Trump rescinded on some of the measures that Obama had started to implement with regards to oil exploration in Alaska and Dakota. There were concerns about the rights of Indigenous North American Indians and the fact that a pipeline was due to be built within their homelands. Oil as you’re probably aware is one of Ed Burtynsky’s main themes in his photography, so there’s the potential to look into this further and make connections between Ed Burtynsky’s concerns and work and the events unfolding off the back of Trumps presidency and seeming disregard for the environment.

This may then lead you into delving into what was the trigger for Burtynsky – what inspired him to produce the Oil project? Is Burtynsky still working with the theme Oil, or has someone else taken up the challenge, or is this a theme that you might like to explore more locally?
Conclusion - The conclusion you need to draw from this is the more you know about contemporary and historic photography of consequence e.g. the work that is written about, reviewed, critiqued and analysed by experts, the easier you'll be able to make such contextual connections. This involves reading and studying - primarily books as a starting point finding the names of the relevant photographers and artists. At the start of our courses we advise you to buy a book to help with your studies "Photography the Whole Story". Once you have the names of the photographers and artists that are worthy of your time, you can then add internet research.


Note When you write this material up in your book