Archive for ‘Books’

May 23, 2014

Book Review: The Photography as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton

by Suzy Walker-Toye

I found this book very interesting & thought provoking. It’s split into 8 chapters, Cotton really packs a lot into each one. These chapters divide up contemporary art into categories or themes to “avoid giving the impression that it is either style or choice of subject matter that predominantly determines the salient characteristics of current art photography. [p7] The chapters try to group together photographers who share common motivation & working practices to understand the ideas that underpin contemporary art photography before understanding them visually.

The first chapter, If This Is Art, challenges the stereotypical lone-photographer-snapping-away-at-life notion by introducing artists who have created performances and happenings  (I love that term) especially to photograph them. This style, conceived in the conceptual art of the 60s, works because the photograph is the intended final outcome (the object presented as the work of art). The photographic style can play on the notion that these are only casual documentary photographs of the event. This challenge lifts these out of the documentary photography category and into the art category.

Some of the photographers introduced in this chapter include:

Philip-Lorca diCorcia who set up a flash on some scaffold in the streets of New York which would be triggered by random passers by so that he could take ‘portraits’ with a long lens of people who do not know they are being photographed so they do not compose themselves.

Sophie Calle whose blend of artistic strategy and dally life compelled her to eat (and photograph) only food of a single colour per day and to follow a strange man she’d accidentally met twice in one day all the way to Venice and document the journey he unwittingly led her through. For her work The Hotel she took a job as a chambermaid and documented guests person effects to discover (or imagine) who they might be.

Shizuka Yokomizo who sent letters to strangers houses asking them to stand at the window at a certain time so she could photograph them from the street, the opposite of diCorcia, these people are all shown posing in anticipation of being photographed by some unknown woman.

We are looking at strangers looking at themselves in photographs, for the windows act as a mirrors as they anticipate the moment they will be photographed. [p32]

David Shrigley who’s work uses shock & witty visual puns.

The anti-intellectual form of photoconceptualism relies on a fast turnaround of ideas and, for the viewer, an immediate comprehension and enjoyment of their meaning. [p38]

Mona Hatoum whose (rather unpleasant looking) work Van Gogh’s Back, [p40] plays on the association of the swirly patterns in Van Gogh’s starry skies with the swirly patterns in the hair on the soapy mans back. Also, the interplay between various 2D and 3D representations (back vs painting and back vs photo of a back).


The second chapter, Once Upon a Time, focuses on story telling within art photography and the how contemporary artists use ‘tableau’ photography. I was introduced first to this style of photography in the seduced by art exhibition (I wrote up my study visit too this in my part 2 PDF), where photographers (especially in the 18th & 19th century) would stage photographs in the way of paintings to make use of common cultural understanding that those paintings had already provided in terms of props, composition, symbolism etc. This chapter also carries over from the last, emphasising that the final photographs often come together as a result of a collaboration, where the photographer is the artist, producer and directer in a whole cast of actors, crew, stage and props.

Artists introduced in this section included:

Jeff Wall (who was also featured in the seduced by art exhibition) is one of the leading practitioners of tableau photography. His photographs often play on the idea of staged scene vs casually glanced at scene so that often his photographs appear to look like straight reportage, however he uses compositional devices that might be found in Renaissance paintings.

Wall sets up a tension between the look and substance of a candid, grabbed photographic moment with his actual process, which is to preconceive and construct the scene. [p50]

Also, he chooses to display his work on giant light boxes, not quite a photography, not quite a painting but by its spatial & luminescent qualities suggest the experience of both. For example the one he showed in the Seduced by Art exhibition, destroyed room, was made on a transparent film, a very large one of a kind print, a unique image (like a painting would be). It pays homage to a large painting in the Louvre, Death of Sardanapalus by Eugène Delacroix, see my write up in the part 2 PDF notes for this exhibition.

Philip-Lorca diCorcia is again featured, this time Cotton talks about his Hollywood series in which he pays men he meets in the area to have their portraits taken and names the photographs with the name & age of the man and how much he was paid to pose. This encourages a kind of storytelling in the mind of the viewers.

Liza May Post’s images are surrealistic and dreamlike. She makes strange props and the figures are often in contorted, slightly off balance poses, such as in Shadow [58].

One of the great uses of tableau photography is as a format that can carry intense but ambiguous drama that is then shaped by the viewer’s own train of thought. [p58]

Frances Kearney whose series Five People Thinking the Same Thing depicts people doing ordinary  domestic tasks facing away from the camera. This title starts you wondering what it is that all these different people are thinking about, these thoughts are not revealed and you as the viewer are left to let your imagination run free from the clues within the pictures.

Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Charlie White take photographs that border the gap between art & fashion, which is where my mind went when I saw the title to this chapter (it made me think of Tim Walker who was not mentioned).

The physical beauty of the prints, combined with the moral ambiguity of the narrative, makes for an unnerving visual pleasure. [p65]

Gregory Crewdson, builds highly detailed sets in which he stages strange and disturbing happenings to photograph.


Chapter three, Deadpan, relates to a type of art photography that has a distinct lack of visual drama or hyperbol… instead these photographs have a visual command that comes from their expansive nature and scale [p8/9]. Well damn, how is one to really appreciate what Cotton is saying about these images when they are reduced down to such a small scale to be reproduced in the book? I haven’t seen any of the images mentioned in ‘real life’ so I would have to just imagine their image if they were huge. It does really bring home that some images are photographed almost exclusively for exhibition though, in this internet generation its often easy to forget this and make snap judgements on images you see reproduced so small. This brings to mind the Flickr effect, where images are judged first and for most by their thumbnail size impact. None of those images in this chapter would do well don flickr 😉

Some of the photographers introduced in this chapter include:

Andreas Gursky, whose huge images are often 2m by 5m to stop you in your tracks. At this size they can be packed with detail that simply cannot be appreciated when they are shrunk down to be reproduced in a book, see Chicago, Board of Trade II [p84] for an example of what I mean, I have actually seen this in a gallery space (I recognised it but I can’t remember for what exhibition, I thought it was prix picket but he wasn’t in the 2012 one I went to) and it was most impressive.

Gursky often places us so far away from his subjects that we are not part of the action at all but detached, critical viewers. [p84].

Jacqueline Hassink, whose images of boardrooms I got to see during the study visit to the Prix Pictet exhibition (see write up here).

The results of her systematic approach spell out the generic links between corporations, regardless of the nature of their business, and the values that each corporation attaches to itself through the demarcation of space. [p91]

Joel Sternfeld, whose images from the series When it changed featured in the same study visit to the Prix Pictet exhibition, the following quote from the book equally applies to that series as to the image on p108 to which it is referring.

Joel Sternfeld’s portraits do more than raise the question of what we can assume to know about the sitter from their outward appearance. They also propose the facts of what has transpired [p107]

Ed Burtynsky, whose images have also featured in previous Prix Pictet competition themes, I’ve only seen online and I’m books (more’s the pity). I wanted to make it to the flowers gallery exhibitions of his series Water  which looked amazing (even on the internet) last year but I didn’t get there before it finished.

While social, political and ecological issues are embedded into his subjects, they are visualised as objective evidence of the consequences of contemporary life. [p86]


Chapter 4, Something and Nothing is a funny one, its a chapter about how images ordinary every day objects can challenge the viewers perceptions of photography, i.e. how contemporary photographers have pushed the boundaries of what can be considered a credible artistic subject. Ranging from window reflections to discarded clothes these images are more about the subject (and lack thereof) and how they are conceptually altered because of the visual impact they are given by being photographed and presented as art – its the R. Mutt of photography.

 All the photographs in this chapter, in subtle ways, attempt to shift our perceptions of our daily lives. There is something anti-triumphant and open ended, yet still resonant, in this form of photography [p126]

Artists introduced in this section included:

Peter Fischli & David Weiss, who’s Quiet Afternoon series is a selection of images of ordinary objects stacked up in a surrealistic and often comedic manner.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who’s untitled billboards [p118] are required to be displayed (by the owner) on at least 6 billboards at any one time and depict an unmade bed, with the imprint of the couples bodies still visible on the sheets.

 The photograph’s depiction of such an intimate scene is given its drama by being placed into the public contexts of urban streets and highways for the scrutiny of passers-by [p118]

Anthony Hernandez, who takes photos of abandoned buildings, documenting what is overlooked (socially and politically as well as visually).

Wolfgang Tillmans, who’s images are all very different (in both subjects and processes) have many recurring motifs such as the spontaneous sculptures made by clothes have have been casually discarded – either hung up or dropped on the floor.

Jeff Wall, crops up again, this time with an image of a mop & bucket.

Wall’s careful construction of a grouping of peripheral things prompts questions about our own relationship with photographs: Why are we looking at this? At what point in history and our own lives did a corner of a floor represented in a photograph become iconic, worthy of our attention? [p131]


Chapter five, Intimate life, concentrates on photographs revealing personal relationships.

We generally take pictures at symbolic points in family life, at times when we acknowledge our relationship bonds and social achievements. They are moments we hold onto, emotionally and visually”[p137]

Using the style of a family snap, many of these images seek to capture moments during which a camera wouldn’t ordinary be brought out. Some of these images could be said to be sensationalist however, the photographers are somewhat immune to criticism of exploration of their subjects because of the autobiographical nature of this style of photography, the subjects are typically friends & family of the photographer and sometimes the photographer themselves. This chapter was my least favourite, probably because I couldn’t identify with the photographers or their subjects, why would you want a camera in your face during those moments (as the subject)? And I couldn’t conceive of getting a camera out during those moments as a photographer, it seems so crass, intrusive and emotionally detached to be taking pictures during those moments, does that make me less of an artist – probably – but a nicer human being.

Photographers introduced in this chapter included:

Nan Goldin, who’s ongoing series of images of friends & lovers pretty much started off this style of photography.

The Ballard of Sexual Dependancy, for example, was a personalized contemplation of the nature of subjects such as sexual relationships, male social isolation, domestic violence and substance abuse. [p139]

Nobuyoshi Araki, who’s images are seen as a visual diary of his sexual life featuring young Japanese women in various states of undress.

Richard Billingham, who’s images are of his family in their cramped and untidy council flat in the West Midlands. I actually saw some of these in the 1997 “Sensation” Exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Ryan McGinley, who is following in Nan Goldin’s footsteps, by recording his lifestyle (in the same area although 30 years later).

Yang Yong, who’s images are staged as a collaborative effort of him and his friends to starve off boredom.


Chapter six, Moments in History, takes a look a the work of photographers who bear witness to the ways of life and events of the world. It is primarily documentary photography and its use as art. Starting with ‘aftermath photography’, where photographers go into war zones and sites of other social and ecological disasters to photograph what is left.

In the literal scarification of the places depicted, contemporary art photography presents allegories of the consequences of political and hunan upheaval. [p9]

The chapter also touches on how documentary projects about isolated communities which once would have graces the pages of editorial magazines are now turning to galleries to present the work.

Artists introduced in this section included:

Sophie Ristelhueber who has documented the aftermath of conflicts in Beirut, Kuwait and Iraq and is seen to be one of the most influential photographers working in this mode.

In some of her starkest visualisations of the decimation created by war, burnt tree stumps act as metaphors for the loss of life as well as the ecological richness of the region. [p168]

Paul Seawright, who’s commissioned work (by London’s Imperial War Museum) responding to the conflict in Afghanistan is reminiscent of the early war photographs by Roger Fenton from the early to mid 1800’s.

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, who’s work I was introduced to by these videos on What is Conceptual Photography, and then again later in the Deutsche Borse 2013 study visit.

In this chapter of the book, Cotton touches on their work with reference to Benetton’s Colors Magazine and work from the series Ghetto (2003).

The fact that the activity in the prison was edited out and slowed down long enough to be visualised on Broomberg and Chanarin’s large-format camera relates the project to nineteenth-century documentary photography , and also serves to detach it from the conventions of photojournalism. [p177]

Martin Parr, who’s brightly coloured images from his Common Sense series test the boundaries of documentary photography, taking hundreds of photos and editing them down into a narrative about British cultural idiosyncrasies which may be dying out.

Common Sense epitomises photographic promiscuity – the taking of hundreds of photographs, which in their combination offer one dynamic and subjective image of the world. [p183]

Luc Delahaye, who’s images from Various works 2008-2011 won the 2012 Prix Pictet competition on the theme ‘Power’ (see my write up on that exhibition here).


Chapter seven, Revived and Remade, explores the postmodernist photographic practice of exploiting our pre-existing cultural knowledge base of imagery.

This includes the remaking of well-known photographs and the mimicking of generic types of imagery such as magazine adverting, film stills or surveillance and scientific photography. By recognising these familiar kinds of imagery, we are made conscious of what we see, how we see, and how images trigger and shape our emotions. [p10]

Why couldn’t Barthes just boil it down to a simple sentence or two like that? Anyway, this type of photographic practice raises all sorts of interesting questions on concepts such as originality, authorship & photographic veracity. This chapter also touches on reuse of existing images, which brought to mind the study visit to the Deutsche Borse photography prize. Mishka Henner, Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin and Cristina De Middel’s entires into that prize would all feel at home being mentioned in this chapter and I was reminding of each as I read through.

A few of the photographers introduced in this chapter are:

Cindy Sherman, who’s work typically sees her pose in her own photographs portraying generic female characters. For example, her Untitled Film Stills series is sixty-nine images of scenarios that depict a single woman figure and could be from stills from black & white fils of the 1950s & 60s.

One of the most startling aspects of the series is the ease with which each feminine ‘type’ is recognisable. Even though we know only the gist f the possible film plots being staged, because of our familiarity wit the coding of such films, we begin easily to read the narratives implied by the images. [p193]

Nikki S. Lee, who’s work is part performance, part photography. The artist changes her appearance (her weight, hair, eye and even skin colour) to assimilate herself into a certain social group by scrutinising their clothes, mannerisms, social conventions and body language. The photographs are either taken by a friend or a member from the group. Her projects have ranged including Hispanic,Strippers, Punk, Yuppie and Wall Street Broker .

Vik Muniz, who appropriated Hans Namuth’s famous photograph of Jackson Pollock by recreating it in chocolate syrup and then photographing it (p190). Muniz has also make similar illusions with other substances such as chocolate, thread, dust, wire, sugar, soil and even spaghetti.

This suitably dripping re-presentation of the famous artist makes for a dynamic mental relay: we recognise this as a photograph of a drawing of a photograph of, what has become, a syrupy mystification of the creative act of the artist. [p191]


The final chapter, Physical and Material, is focused on photography where the nature of the medium is part of the narrative of the work. For some photographers this simply means to use analogue technology rather than digital when creating an artwork, for others this is appropriating existing images to find new meanings (although you could argue this is curation and not photography). This chapter also touches on artists who only use photography as one facet of their various media practice.

“There has been a shift in the current understanding of what photography encompasses and what it means to propose photographic works of art. More than ever this involves some sort of disclosure of the context and conditions that have shaped the completed artwork. Contemporary art photography has become less about applying a pre-existing, fully functioning visual technology and more concerned with active choices in every step of the process. [p219]

Artists introduced in this section included

Sherrie Levine, who appropriates the work of Walker Evans, rephotographing famous his photographs as objects, mounting them, framing them and presenting them in contemporary galleries. This is akin to Marcel Duchamp granting iconic status to ordinary found objects (except these photographs were already famous in their own right so it still seems like cheating to me).

Christopher Williams, who has an obsession with corn and corn byproducts and how they infiltrate every aspect of our lives, even photography (where a by-product of corn is used as an ingredient in the lubricant used to polish lenses and also in the chemicals used to make fine art photographic prints).

Sara VanDerBeek, who makes small sculptures which include appropriated images and then photographs them with dramatic lighting as the finished work (she doesn’t exhibit the sculptures themselves).

Michael Queenland, who makes art installations for which large abstract photographs are just one part, a “transformative tool of quotidian objects and experiences” apparently.

Within pan-media practice, photography is used in various ways, as an ingredient that can either intentionally disrupt or consolidate the overall narrative of an installation or artwork. [p227]

Eileen Quinlan, whose on-going series Smoke & Mirrors is a personal reflection on making analogue photographs and the luck and happenstance which goes along with that physical process.

Jason Evans, who’s online project The Daily Nice, is a photo a day project of something visually intriguing with a happy tenor which responds on how web behaviour can shape the scope of contemporary photography


The conclusion of the book is a relatively short and upbeat paragraph so I’ll keep mine short too, we are encouraged with the introduction to these artists to engage with the wonders of life and to recognise the beauty and magic that is still to be found photographically.

In an era where we receive, take, and disseminate as well as tag, browse and edit photographic imagery, we are all the more invested, and more expert, in the language of photography than ever before, and we have a greater appreciation for how photography can be a far from neutral or transparent vehicle for bridged and framed moments or real time. [p240]

Well after reading this book I now I am. Recommended.

April 1, 2014

Book Review: Behind the Image – Research in Photography by Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana

by Suzy Walker-Toye

basics creative photography 03 behind the image research in photography book cover I’m not sure why this book even got put onto the reading list. To me it seems to go from one obvious and belaboured point to the next. The first two chapters could have been condensed down into one or two good introductory paragraphs and a bullet list of ideas. For example do we really need to be told to visit galleries on a photography course? Do people in the modern age really need to be told what a bookmark is and how to use one? I was expecting to flip to the front and see that this had been written in the early ’90s but its actually from 2012.

It starts off nice and specific, ie you have something to research or you want to do a specific project which would need a proposal then it gets a bit wishy washy and seems to be suggesting places that arnt really specific research places as such. Galleries for example are great for inspiration and interesting exhibitions but unless they happen to have one on your topic it’s not really targeted research for your own projects.

The book is split up into 6 chapters, Planning, Development through research, Practice as research, Compiling your research, Research and practice and the Impact of research.

The first part of the chapter on planning was quite interesting, the idea of making a research proposal (or brief) is one which could transfer into one of those useful skills that all clients need but newbie freelance photographers often lack the practice in. This chapter brought to mind the recent Miss Aniela Creative Live workshop (which I recently blogged about here), and her concept of making a pitch document for the client and supplementing it with mood boards once the time comes for shooting. In fact several times while reading this book her workshop sprang to mind.

Basically a research proposal comprises of a title, a topic or theme, target audience, suggested practical approach to how you intend to carry out the work, any details of local access you might need (and other organisational details and permissions), funding proposals, summary considerations for social media, timetable & budget and proposed research references.

As much as this is important, I can’t help to think it sort of sucks the fun out of the creative photographic process, nailing down details up front might put some people off doing the project entirely, especially if its a personal project where you are your own client. It seems like it would be very easy to have a method of working which overanalyses things and loses that spark of spontaneity that some projects need to get off the ground.

The idea behind the approach and methods section reminded me of what I was doing (unofficially) with my pdf learning logs. Basically giving myself a history of where the ideas where coming from as they evolved. A useful exercise if a bit long winded for normal (non-assessed) work.

The Being Informed parts of this chapter I think could have just been summarised into a few interesting bullet list of ideas. Looking at photographers histories, books, magazines, journals & gallery visits all seem pretty obvious if you are researching something photography based.

I thought the case studies were interesting, they gave a good context to what the book was trying (and often failing) to express and keep the reader engaged with.

Unfortunately, the second chapter almost made me put down the book in exasperation. As I’ve already mentioned, no one in this day & age needs whole sections on why the internet is useful and what to do with bookmarks. There really was no need to go into that level of detail in stating the obvious (again). Its almost as if the publishers had given a page count and the authors felt some padding was needed (that apparently the generous whitespace and photos throughout didn’t give already)? Do yourself a favour and skip over this chapter.

Chapter three, “practice as research” started off seeming a bit random, touching on a few main places where you might take photos (the studio, street photography) – So? Eventually it got to its (very long winded) point of trial and error photography as a journey to new ideas or finished work. The same with Post Production and the types of things you could decide to do to your image. The self-evaluation form section was mildly interesting (we basically do this in the course at the end of each part anyway) but I think this whole chapter was a bit outside the scope of the book, long winded and not very well written. Sorry, just my opinion.

Chapter four, is useful if you read this at the beginning of TAOP course but with a bit of trial and error you come up with your own ways of organising your research materials (most people use blogging and personal workbooks for the course).

Chapters five and six see the book winding down and concluding by repeating fairly obvious themes and conclusions from earlier chapters.

In conclusion, read the contents page and imagine what each (very interesting sounding) heading might talk about. Expand on that logically in your mind. Close the book, reading no further.

October 7, 2013

Book Review: The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally

by Suzy Walker-Toye

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes: Creative Applications of Small Flashes (Voices That Matter) by Joe McNally This one isn’t technically on the reading list but was recommended to me. You know it’s going to be an interesting read when you learn something new in the first 12 pages. The HSD, unlike the other flash books recommended in the course notes is not a manual on how to shoot flash – Joe even states that on the into page xiii – This Is Not The Manual. This is a book you can sit down with in the train or with a cup of coffee and read like a normal person. And just who is Joe McNally, well as a National Geographic, Time, & Life photographer and internationally acclaimed American Photographer he knows a heck of a lot more about different light situations than I ever will. 😉

“Light is quicksilver. Magic. It is here, then it is there. Then it is gone.”

Its basically a book filled with different lighting examples and the stories of how they were shot, this makes it sound pretty dull but I found it really interesting to read. I tried to make notes on it as I went along so I would be able to refer back to my book review when I needed to look stuff up for reference (hence the page numbers throughout the review).

The introduction is all about the nuts & bolts of what Joe uses and why. What was the thing I learnt in the first 12 pages? Well, on p11-12 he is explaining the importance of EV. Mostly when I’m using my camera for underwater work it’s in manual mode, since my flashes are all manual so was my camera (this however may change now with my new Olympus set up), I rarely use Aperture priority so didnt have to understand this EV thing. EV is exposure compensation. In Aperture mode you are selecting the aperture and letting the camera select your other settings but what if you wanted it slightly darker or lighter than the camera suggests? That’s where EV comes in. You can compensate for the extra brightness or darkness you want.

Bright backgrounds will silhouette your subjects, hence you know to program in some plus exposure in order to brighten things for them. (p11)

Flash has independent EV controls because the camera EV is scene wide, a global input, which is both available light and flashlight. So if you dialled in some over exposure to the camera you have dialled in the over exposure to the flash too which would need to be corrected or the whole scene would just be darker than you anted (assuming we’re using TTL, which is sort of automatic mode for flash).

Upfront he lays out the very basic settings he usually uses and the reasons why. The book is very Nikon-centric but I’m sure it’ll translate into Olympus (or anything else) once you understand the gist. After twenty or so pages you might start to tired if the witty americanisms but push on because the content is worth it. He writes in a conversational tone but somehow gets the facts over. I found the little section on rear curtain sync (and why not to use red eye pre-flashes) on p14 interesting because I did have mine set to rear curtain but was finding the recycle time too long for the tiny hotshoe flash which my strobes optically slave from, I now have it on 1/64s power – more experimentation needed I think.

There is a section at the start on flash concepts which clearly lays out the terms Joe uses throughout the book, eg TTL (through the lens metering), CLS (creative lighting system – this is Nikons name for it) etc. He talks a lot about zooming the flash (so that your flash coverage is edge to edge even when you zoom in your lenses). I must remember to check out this feature if I purchase a topside flash, it seems important throughout the book (introduced on p22). There is an interesting introduction section on gear, gels, light modifiers etc that had me reaching for google to check out extra info on them. Given the price on some of this stuff, I think careful consideration on exactly what you might need and what might be DIY’d will be in order. Given that he isnt saying you need any of this stuff, he’s just explaining what things are that he uses so when he talks about them later in the book you arn’t left scratching your head wondering what he’s on about.

Once you set one of these puppies off, light goes everywhere. It’s up to you to tell it where to go. (p27)

Joe goes into quite a bit about colour, specifically balancing the colour of the flash (which is usually neutral white daylight) with whatever the available light happens to be. This is going to come in handing during the end of Section 4 of the course. On pretty much every photo he examines he explains which colour gel he put over his flash & why which I found really useful.

Light can be hard, soft, wrapping, harsh, slashing, sumptuous, glowing, ethereal, muddy, muted, brash, poppy, brassy, contrasty, clean, open – it’s a little nuts. (p38)

I found the explanation of how Joe shot an image of a Tanzanian woman (below) on p56-57 really interesting – balancing the natural (harsh) window light with his flash. He makes the point that straight flash would destroy the mood and atmosphere of the scene, the lighting from the window reminds me of the “cathedral” lighting I often see in caves, shipwrecks and under jetties.
Joe McNally p56

On p61-67 Joe goes through a couple of the pitfalls of on camera flash and iTTL (intelligent through the lens), and gives a good explanation of EV, gels & colours, again explaining that he adds a CTO gel to warm up that flashlight and he moves the flash off to onside, right near the subject to produce a more flattering light. On p70 & 71 he talks about adding Magenta filters to the lens to offset the overall greenish tone to a city night scene but then having to green-up his flash with filters to offset the magenta filter and blend the light with the available light (in digital you can just use the fluorescent white-balance instead of the magenta lens filter). One great effect this has is the dusky sunset gets more magenta – which made it look even better. On p83-85 Joe goes over why you might use fill-in flash, what exactly it is, and how such small nuances may effect the mood and story of a photo.

You know why they call it “fill”? ‘Cause the glass is already just about full. All you have to do is pour a little more in. (p84)

And what, pray, is a Lastolite All-In-One umbrella? Being new to topside flash I’m amazed by the variety of accessories and lighting modifiers. On p96 Joe goes through why he was using this umbrella and its various features to shoot a girl in a hoodie at twilight. He goes further with teh accessories on p98 where he basically overpowers the natural light with flash to recreate the sunset!

The ballerina photo on p102 is a really nice example of using shadows of things that are between the light and the subject to tell a better story in the photo.

The smaller the light source relative to the subject, and the farther away it is, the sharper and harder the shadows will be. (p104)

He gets serious with lighting delicate hospital moments (and how to over come the banks of hospital overhead florescent with a Lumiquest 80-20 attachment) on p109 and p130.

The moment is more important than the light. (p110)

The next few sections cover topics such as light texture (lacey light to get that net curtain effect), working without strobes and introducing them slowing in an on-site scenario (although most of us wouldn’t get to document behind the scenes at NASA), various times when putting the lighting outside the windows creates great effects, lighting on water in just a plastic bag – eek, mixing neon, flash and tungsten light sources and some other interesting stuff.

Seedy motels mack of illicit liaisons, last stands, one-night stands, and desperate deeds done in the dark. Great photographic fodder. (p153)

On page 155 he goes into lighting without messing up the atmosphere of the scene as it stands. Increasing the punch and depth of the shadows by zooming the light through old dirty windows seems to be a favorite technique that he uses again and again.


I want to get this posted up for my tutor to see what I have so far, so I’m leaving this unfinished to come back & edit to when I’ve finished reading… to be continued.

October 3, 2013

Book Review: Light Science Magic

by Suzy Walker-Toye

Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

This is Nice simple introduction to lighting principles. I like the way they don’t try and narrow it down to using flashes and get too bogged down in the equipment right out of the gate. That is often off-putting to a beginner like me, when you pick up a book about lighting & flash. However here, they acknowledge that the same principles apply whether you are using the sun & clouds, desk lamps & DIY diffusers or high-end studio lighting. They are teaching the physics behind it (but in a practical and useful manner whatever your equipment).

For me personally I found this book very useful because I have only used flashes underwater (where the physics is a little different due to the water column, depth away from the sun, particles in the water catching the light (backscatter) and a host of other factors). On those flashes (two Inon z240 strobes), they come with two types of diffusers (but I have only ever used one set) and I have DIY red gel filters so that I get nice blue backgrounds. Colour drop off due to depth & distance is not an issue on land of course. When I shoot on land I use desk lamps for macro with official diffusers (just a little DIY tracing paper). Quite often I use shiny surfaces as backdrops so the explanations in this book will help me to master the glare and reflections to achieve the photos that I want rather than my previous trial and error approach. I’d recommending reading this straight away if you are doing this course and not waiting for section 4 (the lighting section).

They go through examples of photographing things and what sort of set ups would work and why. Such as photographing artwork & other flat surfaces (great for OCA students)! Also, shiny surfaces such as metal, transparent objects like glasses (the subject I found most useful considering my first assignment ideas) and photos that would need a mixture of surfaces catered for. Also, chapters on lighting people with one or more lights. Also, lighting for difficult extremes such as black on black or white on white.

I’d recommend this as a must read to anyone new to lighting or someone who’d only read lighting books that explained the who & what but didn’t get around to the why. This is a nice companion to the course and I’d say the most practically useful book so far. It’s also nicely laid out for reference, I shall be dipping back into this as a reference for years to come I expect.

April 22, 2013

Book Review: The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman

by Suzy Walker-Toye

I’d highly recommend this book for beginners. And although I did learn a thing or two from reading it, I think there are slightly more sophisticated books for the advanced amateur. However as a companion book to the OCA course it’s unbeatable. The course is clearly based from it and written by the same author so you get more context for the exercises & assignments. If I had one criticism though it would be that throughout the book Freeman often makes sweeping generalisations. My brain immediately thought up exceptions to these and that cast all the rest of the well reasoned concepts & ideas into doubt in my mind.

The book is laid out well into the following easy to follow chapters and illustrated beautifully throughout. Chapter 1: The image frame is all about placing your scene within the frame of the viewfinder. Chapter 2: Design Basics takes that a bit further discussing balanced compositions and other concepts of choosing & framing your scenes. Chapter 3: Graphic & Photographic Elements goes over the effects of various lines and shapes in your compositions. Chapters 2& 3 together partners with the second section of the coursework on elements of design and reading them along with the exercises pads out the coursework text to give you an insight into the authors intensions with each exercise. Chapter 4: Composing with Light and colour goes through colour theory and touches on black & white imagery. It pairs closely with section 3 of the course on Colour which is the chapter I’m currently working through at the moment.

UPDATE 16 Oct 2013 – the review continues…
The book seems to side step the issue of flash & lighting as a main topic (but there are other books on the reading list if guide you through section 4 of the course).

Chapter 5 & 6 (Intent & Process) both pair well with section 5 of the course (which I’m doing now). They cover basic storytelling through compositional choices, hunting for a situation or story to tell, whether your images should be obvious or challenging to the viewer with respect to making them work for the story. The processes or workflows one might adopt getting or constructing the shot, anticipation, reaction times, patience & persistence. Also an outline of a basic set of templates that an image might fall into based on perceptual psychology. Of special interest with regards to the final section of the course are the sections on photo stories & layouts, juxtaposition & returning to a scene.

The last two sections of the book are about post production & how various films & printing, and later digital & photoshop, has affected the syntax of photography over the years. You do shoot differently if you know you have options to change things later. HDR is touched on as more recent option too. I think these two sections are sort of what the next module of the course are about (digital photographic practice).

One criticism I would make is that it ends rather abruptly. One moment you are reading about photography syntax and the next page is the index! Leaving you with a feeling of ‘oh, it’s finished?’ A bit like this review 🙂

June 13, 2012

Introducing my bookshelf page

by Suzy Walker-Toye

With the course comes a reading list (as you would expect). I’m currently slowly making my way through the list. I’ve added a bookshelf page to this blog where you can track what I’m reading now, what I have read and what I’m reading next. As I finish each book I shall update the links from the books (they currently link to where you can buy them on amazon) to a short review post. Not all the books I read will be from the reading list but hopefully they’ll all tie in and be interesting. You can fund my page in the menu above.

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