Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Portrait Element: Glynn Thomas

Today I carried out a portrait shoot with Glynn Thomas, a Suffolk printmaker who specialises in etched prints with stunning colour. Both my family and I are big fans of Thomas, and several of his prints hang from the walls in our house. His abstract landscapes depict a world with a perspective flipped on its head - roads appear to begin in the sky; huge chunks of towns and villages are flipped on there heads in a conglomeration of architecture and natural scenery. I was lucky enough to gain access to his studio, where Thomas creates his works on a traditional Victorian replica printing press. 

Thomas was born in Cambridge in 1946 and studied at the Cambridge School of Art from 1962 - 67, specialising in illustration and printmaking. He then taught printmaking at Ipswich School of Art for twelve years; now, Thomas resides in the sleepy village of Capel St. Mary in Suffolk, working as a full-time artist. He has illustrated a number of books and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers; at the Society's 1983 annual exhibition, his etching 'Honfleur', was awarded the Davys' prize for the best print.


Glynn poses next to his traditional Victorian replica printing press.

I felt that this shoot was far more successful than the one at the Pinkuah Arms last week - above are a few examples of the portraits I took using my DSLR (as with the previous shoot, I will not be able to view the film exposures until I return to University). 

There was far better light in his studio than in the Pinkuah Arms, and the room was infinitely more photogenic. With Glynn I felt a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident in using the flash gun, I was also far more proficient in the positioning of the subject. Furthermore, I was far more aware of composition, spending  more time on each shot - making sure I bracketed (when shooting on film) and taking the time to talk to Glynn between shots to create a more comfortable atmosphere. After about ten minutes I was shooting without doubt in my exposure or composition.


Above are my three favourite portraits taken on my digital camera - if I was to decide an ultimate favourite from the three similar frames, it would probably be the very top image, simply because of his more relaxed stance and the way I shot from below, giving a far more interesting composition.

I am particularly proud of these shots because I believe they are the first time I have managed to truly use the Metz flash to its fullest potential - the subject is well-lit by the flash, but not overpowered by it. To help create the softer light I covered the flash head with a piece of white clothe held in place with an elastic band, helping to create a nice tonal range and a softer light, with dark hues of brown, green and blue. 

The final three portraits are of Glynn standing with his traditional Victorian replica printing press, which he uses to create his prints. I think these images are very successful, as they are well-lit and serve the purpose of environmental/formal portraits well. Again, I used the Metz flash with the make-shift soft box to create a more ambient light. Here, though, Glynn was also lit by light coming in through a window, which illuminated the scene nicely, picking up the details in his clothes and in the frame of the printing press. 

All in all, I am very happy with the results of this shoot, and I can't wait to see how the films process. Next week I am heading to Manningtree for a portrait shoot at the sailing club there - I am exciting to continue using the Metz flash more and more to keep on improving my portraits. 


Monday, 26 December 2011

The Portrait Element: The Pinkuah Arms

Christmas has come and gone, and it's been about two weeks since I last updated this blog. For this I feel slightly guilty, yet at the same time not, as until now I have had absolutely nothing to report. Amongst all the festivities and catching up with family and friends after returning from university, I am proud to say I have finally made  a start on my portrait project. This came in the form of Mike and Laura - a couple who run a local pub near to where I live: The Pinkuah Arms. They are a brilliant pair, and I have worked with them in the past. 

This was the first time I had undertaken a portraiture shoot, so I was quite nervous when working with Mike and Laura, even though they are not strangers to me. Because of this I found myself turning in to a blabbering mess and generally forgetting how to take a good photograph. I'm not quite sure how or why this happened, but it caused me to make some stupid mistakes - let's just say that if it were not for the wondrous, life-saving editing capabilities of RAW, this photograph would not look the way it does now. Nevertheless, I managed to get a few good shots, as seen above taken on my DSLR. Unfortunately the majority of the shoot was taken on film - as the project brief dictates - so I won't have an idea of how they turned out until I process them.  

I think my downfall with this shoot was confidence - or rather lack of confidence. I was concentrating so hard on getting the right exposure whilst using the Metz flash, I almost completely forgot about composition and building a successful rapport with my subjects. I will be returning to Mike and Laura again on Wednesday to shoot some more, so hopefully I will be able to build on what I have already done in a more relaxed nature, and not choke when it comes to stringing together all the elements for a good portrait.


Friday, 9 December 2011

the story so far: contact sheets

The Person at Work

John and Diana Edwards - Penryn boat yard

Shoot 1

Shoot 1

Shoot 2

Shoot 2

Shoot 2

PCSO Fiona Gamble

Falmouth Harbour Commissioners

The Establishing Image

'Community' - Remembrance Sunday

'Industrial Coast' - Fugro Seacore 


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Metz Flashgun

As my new assignment dictates that at least two of the finished portraits need to be lit by artificial lighting - be it flash or studio lights - I decided do some experimenting with the Metz flashguns that the photography centre has here on campus. I have never used flash with digital cameras, let alone film, so the thought of photographing with flash on my Olympus was quite a daunting one. However, I know feel more confident after having tinkered with the Metz - turns out flash is nothing to be afraid of after all!

Fill-in flash

The difference in lighting between the sunlit and shadow areas in a bright, sunny scene is often too much for film to handle, particularly when using colour film. If you expose to keep the highlight detail, the shadows will be black and empty. Using fill-in flash supplies extra light evenly across the subject. This has little or no effect on the brighter areas, but boosts the shadows dramatically to give much more preferable results. Correct use of fill-in flash should not be noticeable, and if anything will make the subject look healthier. It will also help to liven up the subject on those dull, Cornish winter days.

The general calculation for fill-in flash is 1.5 to 2 stops below the ambient light reading. For example, if I had a light reading of 1/60 at f/8, I would set the Metz flash, in 'auto' mode to f/4, and my camera to 1/60 at f/8.

Flash as main light

If the ambient light is insufficiently illuminating the subject, an alternative is to use the Metz flash as the main source of light. By simply reading of the scene, I could set the Metz .5 to 1 stop brighter than the reading, and set the camera likewise. For example, if the light reading is 1/60 at f/4, I would set the Metz, on 'auto' mode, to f/5.6 and set the camera accordingly at 1/60 at f/5.6. This will make the subject stand out on a dull and dark day.

Flash to make daylight look dark

As an aside, I could consider turning daylight considerably darker by setting the flash to 4 stops over the ambient aperture reading. This will create the look of 'night-time' in daylight. So, for example, if my ambient reading was 1/15 at f/11, this would now become 1/250 at f/11 (setting the shutter speed four stops faster). This will be difficult to achieve with a 35mm camera due to limited synchronisation speeds, but could be considered nonetheless.

My flash testing

Below are the results from my play-time with the Metz flashgun...

Straight flash:

The straight flash gave quite a harsh lighting effect, with all depth in her facial features completely blown out. I was also getting this rather annoying dark line appear at the bottom of the frame - I was later told that was due to using such a wide lens (18mm) and that the Metz work best with a 50mm prime. 

Bounced flash:

The bounced flash gave a lot more of a three-dimensional image and a more diffused light.

I will not be going on any more shoots until I return home to Suffolk for Christmas, so for now I am just getting my head down to some research and experimentation.


Seba Kurtis

Seba Kurtis

Seba Kurtis is an Argentinian photographer whose life and work has been heavily influenced by his experiences as an immigrant. His prints are often created from old or damaged negatives, which give the majority of the photographs a bleached, worn out effect.  His series of photographs titled Drowned consists of a series of prints created form negatives which were literally thrown in to the same sea which thousands of African’s crossed – and often died – in an attempt to reach the Canary Islands for refuge.


The images could be considered to be quite a conceptual form of photojournalism; however, I see the technique of ‘drowning’ as giving the viewer a smaller, tantalising snapshot of the land these people have given their lives to reach – the fleeting outline of a palm tree, or the seaside resort bleached by the damaged negative. I think Kurtis’s intention was to create a narrative from the immigrants’ point of view with these photographs, giving them the same sense of urgency and desperation that the immigrants undoubtedly went through. It is obvious that Kurtis feels passionately about this subject; on his website he tells of how he faced deportation whilst working in Europe after an 8-year battle with “lengthy bureaucratic bullshit, mind games and loop holes” to gain his legal right to stay.

Immigration Files

Kurtis’s online body of work is accompanied by ‘immigration files’, scanned copies of immigration forms for when he was battling to get access to Europe. I think this gives his work more depth, and reinforces the fact he too has been subject to legal battles, deportation and immigration.


Another body of work, Shoebox, is a collection of Kurtis’s old family photos. They were retrieved from a shoebox after their home got repossessed in the 1980s – the shoebox was the only item in the house to survive; the photographs had been damaged by a flood. These flood-damaged prints form the entire body of work, giving a unique insight in to his family history, tainted by the water damage, which for me represents their tumultuous existence. 

They are a really intriguing set of images, which have documented the everyday life of Seba’s family. The caught-in-time feel to the photographs, combined with the washed out effect from the water damage gives an eerie feel to the collection. I think Seba is somewhat of a refreshing character in the world of photography, and indeed photojournalism, approaching subjects that are close to his heart, and producing bodies of work which reflect the subject at hand in a graspable, physical manner through the eyes of the perceived narrator. 


Monday, 28 November 2011

The Portrait Element: Research - Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson is an internationally recognised photographer, whose main approach to photography is complete integration and empathy with his subjects. After a long period of working as a documentary photographer in some of the world’s most troubled areas, Nelson has recently turned his attention to Western culture, with a more conceptual approach to reflect on contemporary social issues.

Gun Nation

Nelson’s first published book, Gun Nation looks at America’s deadly obsession with the firearm. The collection of work consists of observed, environmental, formal and detail portraits.

 - Formal portrait
- Medium format
- Neutral background
-Waste-to-head shot

- Observed portrait
- 35mm
Busy background giving context
Nelson spends a lot of time getting to know his subjects, and I think this shows through the relaxed nature of the subjects, in both the formal and observed portraits. On his website each photograph is meticulously captioned, often accompanied by a quote from the subject or a quote from something relevant – for example, a detail of a Magnum handgun is accompanied by Dirty Harry’s “are you feeling lucky” line.

Love Me

Nelson’s second book, Love Me, looks at vanity, beauty and bodily improvement which are fuelled by Western media. It deals with the way Eastern cultures are paying to ‘Westernise’ their bodies – “surgical operations to 'Westernise' oriental eyes have become increasingly popular, so the beauty standard has become increasingly prescriptive. In Africa the use of skin-lightening and hair-straightening products is widespread. In South America women have operations that bring them eerily close to the Barbie doll ideal, and blonde-haired models grace the covers of most magazines– says Nelson’s description of the work. Again it consists of environmental, observed, formal and detail portrait elements.

 Above is an environmental portrait of plastic surgeon Ox and wife Angela in their Rio apartment.  I think that photographing people in their home environment, and what Nelson does so well, is that it picks up on peoples’ personalities, in that every what is surrounding them is to their taste. In this case it is a very clean and sterile apartment building – perhaps representing their personal ideology of perfection – with a lot of white. The white, for me, again represents perfection and cleanliness, and again tells the viewer about the subjects’ personalities – they obviously look after their health and looks, with perfect tans and expensive-looking clothes. The two perfectly groomed poodles in Ox’s hands are almost like a incarnate of themselves as a couple, with poodles being the ‘top dog’ associated with celebrity and pedigree.

The quote which accompanies this photograph is: “We live, as Naomi Wolf once observed, in a surgical age. Everybody’s doing it. Soon, the only people who won’t have any kind of cosmetic surgery will be the poor.  Money will be the last barrier to the scalpel when allothers – gender, ideology, morals, politics – have gone.” – Maureen Rice, writer.

Tear Sheets

Disappearing Britain  
Disappearing Britain

Gun Nation

The Portrait Element

The Brief

The third assignment of this semester is titled The Portrait Element

Portraits are an important aspect of any photo story, and there are four ways of going about them: observed, formal, environmental and detail. By making pictures for each element the viewer can gain a far wider understanding of the people being profiled. The assignment dictates that we create two "compelling" portrait profiles; one man, one woman, using all the elements mentioned above. The subject matter is entirely up to us; we must undergo research and arrange shoots so we can go back more than once to build an on-going study of that particular person and to refine the content of a successful image.


At least two of these portraits must be lit by flash, either in the studio or on location. The project, as with the this entire semester, must be shot on 35mm black-and-white film. The contacts, work prints and final prints must be done traditionally, i.e. in the darkroom.

My Thoughts

I am really excited about this assignment, more so than The Establishing Image brief, which I am yet to fully complete. I have not had a lot of experience within portraiture, and it is something that recently I have wanted to get more in to having seen some really great work by numerous practitioners and course-mates. 

I already have my female subject in place - Hannah Tonkin; three-times married, mother of four living in a council estate in Penryn. I have photographed her family previously, during the Person at Work assignment when I spent the day with a community support officer. She is the mother of the child who was receiving threatening texts from another eleven-year-old. I visited their house again over the weekend, and asked if I could carry out my portrait assignment on her and her family; she was happy to help and very enthusiastic about the whole thing. I am to start photographing her tomorrow afternoon. I am really excited to get to know this family and build up an interesting story which will hopefully be compelling  and detailed. 

More work to follow soon.


Friday, 25 November 2011

The Establishing Image: 'Industrial Coast' - Fugro Seacore

On Tuesday 22nd November I spent the morning at Fugro Seacore, an offshore drilling company based in Brickland Industrial Estate here in Falmouth. I was to be given a 'tour' of the complex - upon hearing that dreaded word my heart immediately sank, and thoughts of a very 'health and safety' restricted shoot came to mind. That, however was not the case, the man who showed me around, four-year employee of Fugro, Sean Mitchell, was quite happy for me to wonder and 'do my thing' between him explaining what everything I was photographing was. I was taken around the numerous workshops and 'lay-up' yards which  the enormous complex consisted of. The following pictures are what ensued: 

The Fitting Shop

The fitting shop from atop a step-ladder.

Fugro employee Sean Mitchell shows me the inner-workings of a 'doghouse',  where the drill operator will sit.

The 'fitting shop' is where components of drills, rigs and doghouses (above) get serviced, cleaned, and generally checked. This was right at the beginning of the shoot, and so my creative juices weren't quite flowing, so the pictures aren't amazing - certainly not of 'establishing shot' quality, anyway - (bear in  mind that the establishing shot needs to encompass everything about the 'story' that theoretically will be written, in this case, about offshore drilling). 

The Fabrication Shop

'Derrick' sections of an R100 rig lay sprawled across the floor of the fabrication workshop.

Welding gear set atop a steel girder. 

The fab. shop was my favourite place of the whole shoot. There was a crazy amount of work going on in this building, mostly welding and fixing components. Huge steel 'Derrick' sections (top image) lay across the workshop floor like giant skeletons, with workers ducking and dodging in-between the monstrous steel girders. This part of the complex was where sections of drill rigs, such as the ones above, are welded and fixed together, ready for transportation.

I was getting in to my photographic stride at this point - still no establishing shots, however.

The Lay-up Yard

Drill rigs 'parked' in height order in the lay-up yard.

The doghouse of a drilling rig in the foreground, with a second rig in the background. 

Sean Mitchell stands as an example of scale adjacent to a drill head festooned with football-sized drill bits.

Sean takes a break in the seat of a doghouse, as other workers get on with their day.

Initially, when I first saw the lay-up yard, I was very excited about getting plenty of wide shots of the Goliath machinery, and it was here where I thought my establishing image would come from. However, after processing the films and printing the contact sheets, I was quite disappointed with my exposure values. Ironically, it was in the dark workshops where my best exposures came from. Having said this, I think there is merit for an establishing shot in the second from top shot of the doghouse.

The lay-up yard is essentially where "all the bits get put together", and then kept for future use. It was like walking through a forest of steel trees here, and I got a bit carried away with the picture-taking, burning my way through a whole 36 exposure roll of film in about 5 minutes. 

The Paint Shop

Quite simply where components get a new paint-job. This was a pretty cool building, the giant wall at the back of the workshop gave a great backdrop to the Fugro employees. When taking this shot I was very much aware of the amount of negative space in the frame, with plenty of room for a magazine title and accompanying text in-mind. I like the shot, but it isn't an establishing image - there is not nearly enough context.

The Blast Bay

Sean holds out rough granules which are used to literally blast drilling components - sandpapering on an industrial scale.
The blast bay lay just adjacent to the paint shop. In here, drilling components are literally blasted by rough granules fed through giant 'hose pipes' and cycled round again as they fall through the grated floor, acting in a giant cycle. Again this was a very large room, and I wanted to make this apparent in the very top image by placing Sean in the bottom left of the frame. It is a good shot, but again lacks the context for an establishing image - it is more like a photograph which would precede it. The same can be said for the above image of Sean's hand; it is a nice detail shot, but not a story-opener.

Seacore Gweek

Fugro employees working on metal ladders destined to be fixed to the side of a drilling rig.

Football-sized drill bits lay side-by-side in the Gweek workshop, waiting for distribution.

After finishing the Brickland Industrial Estate tour, I was taken down in a company 4x4 to the Seacore complex in Gweek, a small harbour town twenty minutes from Falmouth. It was basically the same as the first complex but smaller. Having said that, I think some of my best shots came from this part of the shoot, including a few candidates for the final print.

The Final Shots

As I was nearing the end of my visit at Fugro, and the the end of my rolls of film, I noticed the perfect shot just outside the Gweek workshop (above). I only had three exposures left, and so I took about 5 minutes composing each shot as carefully and meticulously as possible. I am very happy I got these shots, as the above landscape I believe will go on to become my final establishing image. Drills, boat, rigs, worker: Industrial coast. Perfect.

Cameras used:
 - Olympus OM-2n

 - Minolta 7000 AF

Film used:
 - Kentmere 400 (pushed to 800 ISO)