Feedback on Assignment 5

So my last assignment has been submitted to my tutor and feedback received.  I enjoyed working on this assignment because I was able to choose a topic which interested me and this was probably reflected in the feedback I received which I felt was the best of all of the units in this course.

One of the things that I tried to do was consciously think about each of the parts of DPP, what I had learnt from that unit and try to reflect my learning in my assignment. I think for that reason, some of my discussion in the notes that went with the assignment came across as negative and lacking in confidence and my tutor picked up on this and suggested a rewrite which I have done.

Scabious with filter

Scabious with filter

I also felt that I needed to demonstrate my ability to use digital manipulation within my work even though this has not been my favourite area, and although as discussed in my last post, some of the results were odd to say the least, I  did include two images where I felt the effects were subtle enough to be acceptable.  Again though, Dave picked up on this so these images have been replaced with the original without the filter.

Greenbottle on Rose

Greenbottle on Rose





The only other point raised in my feedback was a question about whether one image really fitted with the rest as it was the only one to include an insect.  I did wonder about this when I included it within the final 12 but liked the picture so left it in, that has now been replaced too.

In terms of assessment, my tutor has suggested that I submit my work as prints using a heavy matt paper such as Hahnemühle Photo Rag  308 for this assignment.  it is now on order.

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Some of those creative filters do funny things

I don’t understand the science of how the creative effects in Photoshop and other photographic software works, nor do I really need to but I do need to understand what they do to the images.

no digital manpulation

no digital manipulation

Take this picture of a couple of stems of Crocosmia.   I liked the composition and was happy with the exposure and sharpness of the image but it seemed fairly dull with little detail in the flower.  As in the previous post, I exported it into Nik Color Efex Pro 4, added a detail extraction filter and a contrast filter to try to add some texture and ended up with the strangest results.

Detail extractor and contract filters added in Color Efex Pro 4

Detail extractor and contract filters added in Color Efex Pro 4

On the face of it, there is more detail in the second image, however there is also a strange glow around the flower and the background is no longer black.  When I edited the same picture again in Color Efex Pro 4, I found that it was the detail extraction filter that caused the problem rather than the contrast filter.  I can only assume that as well as, or maybe as opposed to adding texture it removes some of the colour pigment and this causes the glow and reduction of black.  I can’t tell when the image is saved back into Lightroom because it is saved as a new image and all of the Lightroom sliders are back in their default position.   This is more noticeable in images with a black background which just reinforces the fact that some effects work better with some images than others and you really do need to inspect the final outcome carefully before using it.

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Trying to be different isn’t easy

Initially, when I chose ‘flowers’ as my theme for this assignment I worried that it was maybe too simple.  Having researched this though, the one thing I’m finding successful flower photographers saying time and again is that it isn’t enough to take good or even excellent photographs of flowers as there are millions of them out there, you have to do something different and creative so that your pictures stand out.

A couple of weeks ago I thought I had my 10 or 12 images for this assignment ready for submission.  I had even saved them all into a folder in JPEG format and prepared the contact sheet which my tutor also likes.  But then, having gone back to the brief; ‘the final image’, ‘my best pictures’, and re-visited some of the articles I had read earlier on, I decided that some of my pictures were at best very ordinary and at worst boring, so back to the drawing board.

Heather Angel, in her ‘Learning Zone ‘ article in Outdoor Photography, Angel. H. How to take creative shots of plants and flowers. Outdoor Photography. (165), pp. 26-31, discusses how to control light using a diffuser, reflectors and flash, ways of de-cluttering the background and shooting when the sun is at a low angle in order to separate tones and make your subject stand out.  She also talks about using different patterns and designs to achieve creative compositions, where to place the focal point in the frame and getting in close to isolate interesting parts of the plant.   One thing that I did learn from this that I hadn’t considered before is that, in order to maximise depth of field in macro shots, I need to make sure that the sensor plane in the camera is parallel with the main plane of the subject.  Heather Angel’s nine steps to success include fairly basic stuff like using vibration reduction when hand holding the camera, using a long lens for inaccessible flowers and tieing stray branches back out-of-the-way, but it’s useful all the same to be reminded to take a kneeling pad with you as you are likely to have to get down on your hands and knees and also not always to take a flower as you first see it.  The example she gives here is a shadow of a snowdrop over a lichen covered rock that caught her eye and makes a really good photograph.  This is my version, not convinced though.

Of course creative can also mean digitally enhanced and although not my forte by any means, I felt that as this is a digital course, one part of which focused on digital enhancements post processing, that I shouldn’t rule this out.  As I type this I can almost hear my tutor saying,  ‘yes but that is just one of the tools at your disposal , this assignment is about your best images therefore do what you do best’ … or is that just my ‘safe’ sub conscious saying that?  Either way, I  decided to venture out of my comfort zone and have a look at what creative flower photography might look like.

My first attempts were iffy to say the least.

Various filters in Nik software and Elements - totally overdone

Various filters in Nik software and Elements – totally overdone

I took a photograph of a Chinese lantern which I thought was technically ok but boring and applied some filters, both in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and Photoshop Elements.  What I find difficult is getting the balance right, back to the old ‘how much is too much’ syndrome.  Certainly my first effort was way over the top, so I’ll undo some of it but my problem was that I had just played around with the filters without recording which I had used or by how much – lesson 1!

Detail extraction filter only - Nik Color Efex Pro 4

Detail extraction filter only – Nik Color Efex Pro 4

This is going to take a lot of practice and observation of what I think works elsewhere.  I am much happier with my second attempt using only the detail extraction filter in Color Efex Pro 4 and may even use it in my final selection.   Initially I was in two minds whether or not to leave the stem and leaves in the picture and one of the ‘critique’ team in ephotozine suggested that I lose it and show only the flower.  I didn’t like the modification he put up though and having seen it without, felt that the flower needed the stem and leaves to ground it into its natural environment.

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I’ve got a new studio!

My theme for assignment 5 is ‘flowers’ and as part of my research, I searched for ‘Flowers’ in the ‘techniques’ area of Ephotozine, of which I am a member.   What I found was a whole list of tips and guidance and a few tutorials from Ephotozine members who specialise, or at least focus to a large extent, on photographing flowers.

As expected, there was a lot of stuff I knew or at least had come across before such as making sure that the specimens you use are perfect, avoid harsh sunlight, how to avoid or reduce harsh shadows etc.  Many of my pictures have been taken indoors, some in my conservatory using natural daylight and I have also used artificial light; two flash lights with umbrellas to diffuse the light and reflectors to bounce light back onto areas of the flower in shadow and minimise shadows.   The conservatory is not always convenient though if there are other people in the house and the light in most of the windows in other rooms I could use isn’t really good enough, so when I saw that one photographer, Alison M advocated using the greenhouse as a studio, I thought I would give it a go.  A lot of Ali’s flower pictures are abstract and very artistic and I’m still practicing with that but I have found the greenhouse tip really useful as there is good light, I can close the door so that it is out of the wind, the workbench is a good working height and it is easy to stick some greaseproof paper over the glass to diffuse the light if need be.  I can see this being somewhere to work on wet and wintery days too and it doesn’t cost a thing which is even better!


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Web gallery on hold

It is a month since I last posted anything in here but that does not mean that I have not been working.  What I seem to struggle with is reading, thinking, viewing resources on-line AND at the same time writing about it here.  Maybe the sort of note-book that I can just scribble in would have been a better choice for a learning log because this type of blog needs the discipline of sitting down at the computer, putting my thoughts in order, referring to the notes I have made, etc., etc.

The juggling act between the web gallery project and at the same time working on assignment 5 has become too much so I have put the setting up of a web gallery on hold until I finish assignment 5.  Having downloaded 2 different trial versions of potential web galleries, I realise that there is very much more to this than I had imagined.  The fact that they offer ready-made templates to choose from is only the starting point, I can’t it seems, have the template I want in the colour I want so I need to work out exactly what I want my gallery to look like before I start.  I also need to learn about preparing my images for upload, thinking about landscape, portrait or whatever format I decide on and a whole host of other things.  One thing is clear, there will need to be a lot of trial and error before I get something I am happy with.  So, maybe by the time my work goes for assessment will my web gallery be set up but not before I have to submit this assignment to my tutor .


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Building my own web gallery

I have downloaded a trial version of Clikpic with a view to evaluation this as a possible host for my web gallery, it is also my intention to do the same with Photium.  The first thing to say is that there is no way I will have time to evaluate both of these systems, make all the decisions that need to be made and set a gallery up within the time frame because there much more to this than I had imagined and I want to take time to do it properly.

I don’t think it is difficult but there is a lot to think about and I know realise that although the statements I made in the last post about what I did and didn’t want need to be considered within the context of what is possible in each of the systems I am evaluating.

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I know that multitasking is meant to be the forte of women but I must admit to struggling at present working on two areas of this unit at the same time.  I’m not lacking in enthusiasm or motivation and have really been putting in the hours, even when I was without the internet for most of last week.  My dilemma is that I’m trying to finish the web gallery project and at the same time get started on the assignment.  Having been criticised in the last assignment for not enough research I have pulled out all the stops this time.  I have maybe spent too much time looking at other photographers’ web galleries but have learnt a tremendous amount.  Now it is time to move on though, explore some of the companies that offer photographers’ web galleries and decide whether or not I want to set my own up at this time.  Time will be the main constraint.

I felt that I needed to make a start on the assignment before finishing the web gallery project because if I don’t I am in danger of running out of time.  I am starting to doubt my choice of theme though, i.e. flowers, mainly because I had intended to use flowers from my own garden initially and the warmer summer means that they are no longer at their best so if I continue with this I will need to visit the florist.   Is it too late to change tack completely?  I think part of the idea here was to produce a series of images to a specific brief, so can I just write myself another brief?  The other idea that is floating around in my head is a series of images of butterflies.  One result of the warmer weather we are enjoying is that it seems to be a really good year for British butterflies and I have found an area along the side of a field where I walk the dog where they seem to be thriving.  I have already made several visits with my camera so may pursue this idea further.

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