Sunday, 6 March 2016

Prompts - The background in the image

The background in an image is important. Sometimes the background can say as much about the person as their clothing and their facial expressions, it's often a part of the narrative of the image.

Back in 1988 when I was studying photography I was interested in Stock Photography and I read a book (Title and author I can't recall) on the subject. One of the most Important things I learned from the book and still use today was a formula that can be used when you're shooting images for picture editors with the intention of securing sales. The formula - which I still teach is...

Person + background + involvement + symbol = picture

All of the components are important, but the background element is very important.

For example have a look at this image here of my son...

You're told "Go and take a picture of the 14 year old kid that took six wickets for 15 runs in an adults cricket match". You come round my house, you look around and you see this wall and you shoot this...

If we examine the image and start deconstructing it what can we see and what can we start making assumptions about if we analyse it? (See prompts in the side bar).
We're concerned with the background at the moment, but we can't ignore the rest of the image. What can we see...

  • He's a white westerner.
  • From the clothes and the haircut we can see that he's not destitute and that he's possibly either working class or middle class.
  • He's fairly tanned and the environment looks warm, so he probably lives in a temperate area of the world or warmer.
But can we say anything about the background? Well it's kind of fairly neutral as it's breeze block. Breeze block would be usually associated with basic forms of architecture, in my own experience - social/council housing as opposed to private estates or anything 'posh'. Looking closer there's no designer labels and he's wearing grey track-suit bottoms which kind of reinforce the 'Working class' assumption. But, there's nothing in this image that tells the cricket story, even though it is the kid in the story.

This image represents an improvement in that there's some visual clues although they're a little esoteric the style and colour of the shirt and the inclusion of the Slazenger brand name and logo indicates an association with a sport. If you have some knowledge of sport you might be able to recognise the kit as being related to cricket and the image combined with the text now makes a little more sense, but the plain wall doesn't.

This is the image your picture editor would liked for you to come back with if you couldn't get an action shot (Or a smiley version). The background in this image albeit still fairly esoteric would be recognisable immediately when combined with the text relating to story "14 year old boy takes 6 wickets for 15 in an adult crickets match" because of the detail on the background - the grass and the pavilion. The ball though is probably the clincher to the narrative as it's the 'Symbol'.

Could it have been improved even more? Could the background have been even more 'Crickety'?...
Something like this?

This image uses the formula mentioned earlier...

Person + background + involvement + symbol = picture.

Backgrounds therefore are important as they are integral to creating the narrative. You can simplify them and then make the narrative ambiguous.

Simple backgrounds e.g. a solid colour or black and white still have connotations that can be read and made sense of. Alternatively a simple background focuses the attention on the subject and in many instances the inclusion of the simple white, grey or black background is of little significance. But these colours can also be made sense of in complex ways -


Saturday, 5 March 2016

Putting together your practical work

What do you write and what do you include when putting together a response to your practical work?

Here's a suggestion as to how you might go about it, needless to say adapt to your own methods if you don't like all of it, but if you're completely lost as to what to do and write, this may offer a solution. One of the key points of this approach is the use of a display folder, as it means at any point you can edit and remove pages to improve the folder in any way.

This method is ideal for your work at the developmental stages - test shoots, trials and experiments. Remember your work must be developed over a series of stages as your work out what you're going to do for the final product.
The Blue section should be your 'Planning' what you intend to do, your resources, where, when and who? Needless to say the more details the more indicates your levels of planning and organisation. The Red section is also 'Planning' but more visual - a lighting plan, showing where the light sare and included a key to explain what the components are. Generally most photography courses want 'Visuals' diagrams and sketches and if you can include these that'll be great.
The Green section is examples of images from the shoot, you can use contact sheets/thumbnails, but I've made mine slightly bigger and selected some of the images that were typical from the start of the shoot rather than all of the images, showing that I was working with poses. The text in this section deals with the colour of the background and the poses and the decisions I was making as the shoot progressed. Keep the details simple at this stage, just write about what you were trying to achieve or was expecting to happen.

Page 2 (below).
Top left - more images from the shoot either selected ones or the whole contact sheet, it's up to you, showing how the shoot comes together and ideas are developed. Right-hand side ringed in Green images of how you've set up the lights. Always step back and shoot images of your light set ups either with the camera you're using or a phone or whatever is at hand. This gives you the opportunity to add details about the equipment and is good for future reference if you use the lighting again and want to replicate the lighting.

Ringed in Blue is the image that influenced the shoot with the lighting we're trying to replicate. In this instance I've not done a lot of research into the image, but potentially you could find out who shot it and do some research into the photographer and possibly add additional images from the same series. I've written about the light and the exposure, but more could be added relating to the fact that it's high-key and the composition and a lot more (See prompts in side bar).

Page 3
This section is potentially the part where you're going to pick up loads of credits that meet the criteria. The way we advise you to do this is to structure the response to your own work using he Gibbs Reflective Practice Model which works with either 5 or 6 prompts (I've missed out no.5 "Conclusion" in this instance). Reflecting on your work making sense of it, criticising it with the intention of identifying areas of strength and weakness is an essential aspect of your work. Making sense of it and analysing it is essential too and Gibbs steers you through the process in an orderly manner and is a dream for your lecturers/assessors to mark!
Most of the sections can be relatively short and concise, the parts you do want to focus on and produce more written material around are the analysis and  planning sections. The planning part leads you into the next round of work.

Page 4
On this page, I've chosen what I felt was one of the better shots and I've taken the time to reproduce it at A3 set in a white surround. You could if you wished have it printed as a full bleed image covering the whole page. The choice is yours.
I would advise as when you produce these final shots you do so at the best quality you can stretch to and keep the approach that you use consistent.
* Note (For my students for 5135 - Fashion promo and WN25) if you do this as you go along and you engage with the process fully you should end up with a pretty useful folio of images as we'll be using some really top quality lighting techniques. The images will be massively improved if in each session your models are styled appropriately. I had to rush this example so wasn't able to get hold of a blonde model and make the images as high-key as the Kate Mosss Vogue cover.
Don't like my approach? Have a look at these here - some of the best from all around the world.