Assignment 9: Portraits

1. Portrait technique: Fill the Frame
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with Fill the Frame.  This was just after the sun went below the horizon, so the tones were soft and pastel. I had her smile and turn towards the light so her face was lit. I adjusted the aperture to the lowest setting to achieve a shallow depth of field for the blurred background.

2. Portrait technique: Play with Backgrounds
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with backgrounds. Just after the sun went down, the light was a cool blue and looked interesting as a juxtaposition to the orange house. had her stand on a table so her head was at the point where the lines from the roof met in order to break up the geometric shapes to draw more interest. I raised the aperture to a medium level so it’s still clear what everything is, but the main focus is still on the subject.

3. Portrait technique: Experiment with Subject Expressions
In the portrait below of my brother, I experimented with subject expressions. It was a cold and cloudy day so the light was white. I had a high aperture so some of the buildings in the background could be seen, and the smile and orange barriers bring happy warmth to the image on the cold day. 

4. Portrait technique: Obscure Part of Your Subject, Experiment with Lighting
In the portrait below of my brother, I experimented with lighting and obscuring faces.  The sun had just come out, but was setting, so it cast light at an interesting angle. The light was harsh, and I decided to take advantage of the effect it created by telling him to move his head so the light only hit half of his face. I decreased the shutter speed and ISO while keeping the aperture low for the shallow depth of field, and I exaggerated the shadow on his face. 

5. Portrait technique: Looking within the Frame
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with looking within the frame. She got distracted and started looking at a bright blue bird that had landed in the tree, so I decided to take a picture–the relationship between her and the tree and the mystery of what’s in it adds more depth to the story the photo expresses. 

6. Portrait technique: Introduce Movement
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with introducing movement. I turned to the plain background of the wall, a boring and stationary subject. Then I told her to move around to bring some life and purpose to the photo, and she started doing cartwheels around the frame. I caught this photo right as her foot aligned with a post on the wall.

7. Portrait technique: Focus Upon One Body Part 
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with focusing on a part of the body besides her face.  Taking a photo of something other than a face can tell a story less directly–we don’t have the cues of happy or sad from the face, so we instead can infer purposes through actions. Here, my mom was leaning on the window, so I had her jump up to capture movement of just part of her body. The sky looked interesting and was complementary to the wall, so I also included it in the shot. 

8. Portrait technique: Change the Format Framing/Get Your Subject Out of Their Comfort Zone
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with changing the format framing. Most of my photos were taken in landscape, but I decided to take this one in portrait to capture the length of her body. I also had her get out of her comfort zone by doing the headstand, something that makes photos more interesting.  It was the late afternoon and a clear day so the light was very warm and soft. I had her hold some pine tree branches that had fallen on the ground in the direction of the light source so they cast a shadow on her face.  I adjusted the aperture to the lowest setting to achieve a shallow depth of field for the blurred background.

9. Portrait technique: Alter Your Perspective
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with altering my perspective. I noticed that the dark, muddy part of our lawn contrasted a lot with my mom’s hair, and the cool blue tones of dusk gave her hair an interesting highlight. I climbed on top of the wall between my house and my neighbors, and got this shot from above so the contrast between her and the lawn was sharp and focused on. I had her look away so we could still see her face, and there was some mystery as to where she was looking, but her hair was still the focal point. 

10. Portrait technique: Take Unfocused Shots
In the portrait below of my mom, I experimented with taking unfocused shots.  I was about to head inside after taking photos of her because it was getting dark out, but I noticed that the screen door made an interesting blur effect. I decided to take an unfocused shot of her doing a natural action, hanging the tree. This technique made this really seem like a snapshot from a story in someone’s life, and the blur makes it clear that the person’s life is something separate from ours and worth preserving. I put the ISO as high as I could, put the aperture as low as I could, and decreased the shutter speed quite a bit, but my camera has a particularly hard time with darker shots. 

11. Portrait technique: Looking Off-Camera
In the portrait below of my brother, I experimented with looking off-camera. Although we can see the background, because his eyes are obscured we don’t know exactly what he is looking at among the scene. We also can’t really tell his facial expression, possibly a smile, so we’re not sure of his reaction. Because we can’t see what he’s looking at, it adds another level of interest to the photo. 

Assignment 8: Cyanotype

The cyanotype is a cheap process for producing photographs with light sensitive chemicals, producing a blue tone with the mixture of two chemicals (ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferrocyanide). The process was invented in 1842 by John Hershel, an astronomer trying to figure out a way to copy his notes easily. The process was popularized with its first commercial use by Anna Atkins in her book British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, a collection of photos of algae and ferns that comprised the very first published work to utilize a photographic system for scientific purposes. Following this, the cyanotype method became popular among common people who couldn’t afford professional photographs, but wanted their family photos to be captured in a low-cost way. Because it is low-cost, it was also used to produce mass copies of architectural drawings, like the iconic “blueprints” that every worker building a structure needed to have. Though the process has become outdated for everyday purposes, it is still used as a unique and artistic form of photographic production.

To make a cyanotype, one must first find the photo they wish to use. Next, it should be inverted in photoshop (command+I), and levels should be adjusted to produce a high-contrast, sharp, detailed image. After adjusting the levels to satisfaction and without drowning out any features, the image should be changed into black and white. Finally, save the image as a JPEG, then print it. Once the image is printed, put it in the printer’s input on the top. In the load tray on the side of the printer, place a transparency sheet. When printing, select “transparency” as your preference, make sure the correct load tray is selected as your input, and press the green “OK” button on the front of the printer. The negative of your image will be produced, but now the whites are clear on the transparent sheet. Next comes the process of preparing your cyanotype. There will be two bottles of chemicals labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’. Put A and B into a container with a 1:1 ratio, then use a roller to spread an even layer on a piece of durable watercolor paper. Place the paper in a dark room to dry so that it does not get exposed. After 5-10 minutes, take out the fully dry paper. Clip your negative transparency over it so that it sits flat and does not move. Finally, place the cyanotype outside for 1-1.5 hours. Next, bring it inside. Gently rinse the paper with water for no less than two minutes. Your image will appear in a light blue. Next, to intensify the blue, put a splash of hydrogen peroxide on the paper, carefully spreading it around with your hands. Finally, let the paper rinse for another two minutes, then hang it to dry. Your cyanotype is complete!

One thing I particularly enjoyed about making cyanotypes was how unique they were compared to regular photos. An entirely new mood and atmosphere could be added to the photo that wasn’t present before. I especially liked that a real cyanotype can’t be done digitally. There was something unique about being able to know that the only way to truly see the cyanotype image was to have a physical copy, and it made the cyanotype special.

Though I enjoyed working with the cyanotypes, the process certainly had its challenges. One issue I experienced with my second cyanotype was that, even though I left my paper in a dark room, it became exposed, probably due to some sunlight leaking in through the cracks in the door. Another issue was keeping the transparency flat on top of the watercolor paper, which we somewhat solved by putting glass plates over them. When we used clips, some parts of the negative were higher up on the paper and created blurred figures. Also, in my second cyanotype, mine was more yellow and less intense than everyone else’s, and it didn’t react at all to the hydrogen peroxide. The color you can see on the edges is what the color should have been. I’m assuming I made an error somewhere in the process, but I can’t be sure where. Overall, the major negative of cyanotypes is that they are both time-consuming and finicky–everything needs to go right to get that perfect, bright blue image.

For someone making a cyanotype for the first time, I have a few tips:
1. After adjusting levels in photoshop, un-invert the photo (command+I again) to see exactly what your photo will look like when it’s printed. This will prevent taking the contrast too high.
2. Be precise. It’s easy to mess up a cyanotype, so ensure you’re paying attention during every step, and take as many precautions as possible if you want to get that perfectly bright and sharp image.
3. Use the smoother side of the watercolor paper: we found this produced more clear images.

This first cyanotype ^ was brighter in real life, around the color of the edges of the photo below, but the lighting when taking this photo of it wasn’t great.

Assignment 7: Field Trip Post

In our Photography class, we went on a field trip to Gulou and Hohai Lake, north of the Forbidden City and home to beautiful scenery and some of the best-preserved hutongs in Beijing. The central attractions, the Drum and Bell Towers, were a few of the interesting sites in the area. We practiced our street photography unit by walking down the streets and alleyways, taking photos of people and things for this assignment and to have a change of scenery.

On this trip, I most enjoyed having unique and new subject matter to photograph. While we do most of our assignments either at home or on school grounds, being able to take photos of people’s everyday lives outside our own world was crucial to expanding our real-world photography, and finally giving us subject matter to photograph that was actually interesting to us.

A lot of the suggested techniques worked very well to take advantage of the dynamic street environment, and panning and anticipating the moment worked best for me. The scooters, bikes, cars, and tuk tuks zooming around us gave us so many options for panning. Also, the variety of locations we walked past and the bustling environment provided great opportunities for setting up a frame and then anticipating the moment someone interesting would walk through it, waiting occasionally for minutes at a time to try and catch the perfect shot. For both of these methods, I had to keep timing in mind to get a successful photo.

Being able to get a glimpse at life in the hutong neighborhoods was a pleasant surprise, since I just moved here, and had never been before. The neighborhoods were well-preserved, and there was always something exciting and new to photograph around every corner.

One challenge on this trip was taking portraits, because most people had strong, yet diverse reactions to having photos taken of them. Few people liked having their photo taken, and most would shoo us away, put their hand up, scold us in Chinese, or shoot us skeptical looks, resulting in photographs of angry or annoyed people all the time. However, others went to the opposite extreme and posed, smiled, or even asked to have their photo taken, resulting in posed and unauthentic photos. Generally, to avoid a gallery of mostly angry faces and posed pictures, I found the best strategy was to try to be as inconspicuous as possible, either taking photos far away, with my camera down at my chest, or while the person isn’t looking. 

Overall, this trip, gave me a new perspective on photography since I got to be in a new environment and photograph unique subjects. I also learned how to use manual mode with varying lighting throughout the day, and to use and break compositional guidelines in the real world. This experience was incredibly valuable and gave us a glimpse at the lives of a street photographer and of people in the hutong.


Assignment 7: Depth of Field/Aperture

Aperture is the size that the iris of the camera is open, and controls the amount of light that directly enters the camera, as well as the focus range, or depth of field, that is achieved. A smaller aperture, or wider depth of field, is represented by a higher number, and a wider aperture, or narrower depth of field, is represented by a lower number, so sometimes this inverse relationship may seem confusing.

A higher aperture would be used for landscape photography to ensure all parts of the image are in focus, or in high light situations to limit the amount of light entering the camera. Because the iris is so small for high aperture, it produces a starburst effect of rays when photographing small spots of light.
A lower aperture, on the other hand, would be used when you only want one object in focus, and want everything in front of it or behind it to be blurred, or when you are in a low light situation and need more light. For small spots of light, this wide-open iris produces a blurred bokeh effect.

When setting a high aperture, one must be careful, especially in low light situations. Because a high aperture decreases the amount of light entering, photos can be underexposed unless other adjustments are made. On the other hand, for lower aperture, photos can sometimes become overexposed due to the high amount of light entering the camera. One also must be aware that, if you want to keep something in the background in focus, automatic focus may not cooperate, and will focus on the foreground object. In this case, manual focus must be used. Some ways you can avoid the possible exposure problems of extreme apertures is by adjusting the other points of the exposure triangle–shutter speed and ISO. If you have a low aperture, and not too much light is entering, you can decrease ISO to lessen the sensitivity, and shorten shutter speed to lessen the exposure time. On the other hand, if you have a high aperture, and not enough light is entering, you can increase the light sensitivity by raising ISO, and you can increase exposure time with shutter speed.

Understanding the many functions and effects of adjusting aperture helps me understand manual mode better because now I can thoroughly ensure a photo is well-exposed with manual settings. This extends beyond the typical point-and-shoot knowledge of automatic mode, and helps me take more specialised photos.

Assignment 6: ISO Collage

ISO stands for International Standards Organization, and it is a standardized scale for measuring sensitivity to light. Changing the ISO changes the light sensitivity of your camera, with a higher ISO meaning higher sensitivity. In the Exposure Triangle, its role is as one of the three points, so it has a relationship with shutter speed and aperture.

I would use a lower ISO number when I have more light. The sensitivity would need to be low because there is a lot of bright light, so the camera doesn’t need to be very sensitive. An example of this would be taking a photo on a sunny day. A high ISO is used for indoor or dark settings, when you actually need a higher sensitivity to even pick up the lower light levels. An example of this would be an indoor setting or a night setting.

There is a negative side effect for using a higher ISO, however. Generally, a higher ISO results in graininess in a photo. Ideally, the ISO should be set to the lowest possible setting (with your subject still lit and clear), to ensure the best quality possible. If you need to set the ISO higher to compensate for low light, but it is coming out grainy, one thing you can do is set the ISO lower, but make the shutter speed longer–such is the versatility of the Exposure Triangle.

ISO is one of the three key points in the Exposure Triangle, which are the basics of manual mode. The foundation of setting up your camera to capture a moment is getting the right exposure, and ISO is one of the three factors that work towards getting this exposure. Understanding ISO allows me to begin to take photographs with better exposure for a certain setting, and understand the settings of my camera better.

Assignment 5: 1 Object/30 Times

In our Photography class, we were assigned to take 30 unique photos of one object. In order to help make these photos vary from each other, we learned about the ten basic Compositional Guidelines. We were asked to give each of our photos a unique composition, not just changing the setting, but changing the actual composition and feel of a photo.

The purpose of this assignment was to learn how to look for ways to incorporate the ten Compositional Guidelines, which are: Focal Point, Fill the Frame, Frame within the Frame, Figure/Ground separation, Simplicity, Leading Lines, Point of View, Rule of Odds, Give space to moving objects, and the Rule of Thirds. With this assignment, we learned how to take photos that exhibit each of these rules, and take more visually pleasing photos. This assignment also taught us how to take a variety of photos despite having the same object or scene, reenforcing the idea that we should take many photos, and then choose the best ones from the many we take. We were also given some other features to practice in these photos–silhouettes, shadows, and reflections, to teach us how to further diversify our photographs.

It is important to understand the Compositional Guidelines because they teach us the rules on how to make an aesthetically pleasing photo. These basic guidelines are ones that all photographers know, and they encourage us to think like a photographer. If we want our work to look professional at all, or have a similar professional, refined feel, and portray the feelings that we want them to, we need to understand these guidelines thoroughly, like any photographer would. The Compositional Guidelines also teach us, however, how to break the rules. Sometimes, although photos that follow the Compositional Guidelines can be visually pleasing, they can feel repetitive or boring. It can be important to break the rules on occasion, and learning these guidelines taught us both how to follow and break them, increasing our skillset.

The most challenging part of this assignment was trying to make each photo unique. No matter how different one photo was from the next, in my mind, it often felt boring or repetitive, especially when they were of the same subject. I overcame this challenge for the most part, and the Compositional Guidelines helped me make the object look different or be portrayed in a different way. For example, by using different points of view, I could give my object an entirely different shape. I also realised that the object I was photographing did not necessarily have to be the point of interest, and did not have to be incredibly close to the camera, which allowed me to play with even more ideas.

My biggest takeaway from this project was learning how to take photos of a specific subject, and learning how to take photos that look different from one another, not just in subject, but in composition. I think this helped me grow as a photographer because I now have the basic knowledge of composition that all good photographers have. I used to just take photos because they “looked good like that”, but with these guidelines I have rules to follow for inspiration, and rules to break as well. One thing about my photography is that I generally prefer to photograph scenes rather than specific objects, so I definitely took photos that I wouldn’t have otherwise thanks to concepts from the Compositional Guidelines. Ordinarily, I prefer to use principles like rhythm, movement, or lines, and those end up being my favorite photos, but for this assignment, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone, which I think worked to my benefit.Before this unit, I would have been more compelled to take a photo of how the light looked on the wrinkles of the sheet, but with my object as a focus and the rule of odds in my mind, I took the above photo, which is one of my favorite ones from this project.

Overall, this was a valuable and informative unit that ultimately helped me be able to control my photos more precisely, and view scenes and objects from new perspectives.

Assignment 4: Principles of Design

Recently, our Introduction to Digital Imagery Class learned about the Principles of Design: Balance, Emphasis, Movement, Rhythm, Unity/Variety, Pattern, and Contrast.

Balance is when the weight of the objects of the photo feel approximately visually equal. In symmetrical balance, the sides are perfectly mirrored and identical, while in asymmetrical balance, the sides have different objects but the weight is balanced. In radial balance, there are multiple lines of symmetry centered around one point. Emphasis is when one object stands out more than others in a photo. Through color, size, or another factor, the attention is drawn mostly to that object. Movement is the visual flow of artwork, and can be expressed with lines for the viewer’s eye to follow, or with a blurred subject in motion. Pattern is a clearly repeating visual trend/cycle of elements or objects. Rhythm is a beat and common tone that is expressed in a photo, and can appear in many different ways. Unlike pattern, rhythm tends to gradually vary over time, not always following one specific pattern. Rhythm can be chaotic, progressive, flowing, or alternating. Unity/Variety are. Unity is a central theme that ties together a photo, while variety is the small differences that keep the photo interesting. Contrast is when different or opposite elements, colors, or objects are placed next to each other in a photo.

In the discussion and critique of photography, these principles are helpful because they help us refine our word choice when speaking about a photo, and specify how well a certain principle was expressed. The Principles of Art further allow in-depth discussion about photos, making one able to name what is likable about a photo, or what makes it interesting. Discussion and critique are pointless if there is no basis or common ground to discuss, and these principles are another layer of the basic foundations of art.

From this unit, I learned about the seven Principles of Art, which take the Elements of Art to another level, demonstrating the ways the elements can be utilized. Rather than just identifying what makes up a photo, like with the Elements of Art, we can see how those elements are used to create some basic principles. Through this, I learned another way to make my photos interesting to look at. The principles taught me how to decide what angle to take a photo at or what to take a photo of to make it visually stimulating. I can now control my photos more concisely. Rather than just taking photos on a whim, I can control which elements and principles I want to include, and have better control over the feelings and ideas expressed in my images.

My favorite photo from this unit is the one I took of this wall for the principle of movement. Now that I am aware of the movement that can be expressed simply by lines, I was able to see the movement in this wall and capture it.

Assignment 3: Burning House Project

Name: Mira W
Age: 17
Location: Beijing, China
Occupation: Student

Scrapbook. This scrapbook is currently one of my most treasured items–my friends made it for me before I moved, and it’s filled to the brim of photos of us and captions/pictures they drew in. The sentimental value of this is what would compel me to take it with me.
Pillow Pet. I’ve had this Pillow Pet for years, and it always brings a feeling of home and comfort wherever I go. If my home were to burn down, this would be one of the things I would bring with me to lessen the blow.
Laptop. I would bring my laptop for its usefulness–it is an extremely versatile and high power piece of equipment, and has files and photos on it that I would like to have. In addition, I got it for my recent birthday, so it would be a waste if I had to buy another.
Dice. These dice are a gift given to me by one of my best friends, who also happens to be the Dungeon Master for one of my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I visited him this summer, and this was one of the parting gifts he gave me before we move again. These are important to me because of their functionality and sentimental value.
Notebook/Pen. I would bring my notebook and pen to draw and write in. It has a lot of miscellaneous information and writing in it, and I would keep it for its usefulness and for the convenience of always having paper and a pen.
Book (Catch-22). Although I still have my laptop and phone, which I could put ebooks on, there is nothing like a paperback book to keep oneself busy and to relax with, especially one as good as Catch-22.

Assignment 2: Elements of Art

In Introduction to Digital Imagery, we studied the seven elements of art: line, shape, form, value, color, texture, and space.

Line comes in various thicknesses, directions, curvatures, and colors. Line can create shapes and perspective, or draw the viewer to an intended focal point. Shape is often created by lines. Shapes are two-dimensional, and can be either organic, like a natural leaf or flower, or geometric, like a circle, rectangle, or square. Form, like shape, can be organic or geometric, but form differs from shape by being three-dimensional. Forms are the objects with depth and dimension that we see in life. Space relates to form in that, sometimes, it is three-dimensional. The feeling of depth created by perspective is an example of space. Space can also be two-dimensional, which often occurs when positive and negative space are exemplified. Positive space is the space the subject occupies, while negative space is the larger empty area around the subject. Texture is an element of art that always has a three-dimensional feel. Although the photo is, of course, smooth and two-dimensional, the shadows, highlights, and depth created in materials is captured in photos with texture. Although the photo is flat, the characteristics of the subject make it feel bumpy, rough, silky, spiky, or any other sense of touch. Color consists of the hues that make up a photo, whether vibrant or muted. Some photos use color as a focal point, some fill it with vibrance, some find colors that complement each other, and some remove it entirely. Often, in the photos that are black and white, value is exhibited. Value is the scale of how light or dark the objects captured in the photo are, and black-and-white makes this easier to see.

In the discussion and critique of photography, these elements are helpful because they help us identify what makes up a photograph. All of these elements are the foundation of every photo–no matter what, at least one element will always be present. With these elements, we can point towards specific pieces of the photo that we like or dislike. Without the vocabulary of the elements of art, discussion and critique are bound to be far more general and subjective. With these elements, we can judge whether or not an element is exemplified, and how well it is exemplified.

From this unit, I learned about the significance of being able to identify certain characteristics in photos and name them specifically. These elements help me be more inspired to take photos, and know what I am photographing and why it is interesting. I now have a basis of what to look for to take photos, and I can control my photos more concisely. Rather than just taking photos on a whim, I can control which elements I want, and take hold of what I want conveyed in my images.

My favorite photo I took for this unit is one that I took by crawling under some playground equipment and using the sky as a backdrop. This photo exemplifies the elements of line, shape, and space.  The silhouette of the playground creates lines of varying weight, curvature, and direction, with the thickness and layout of the poles and ropes making for dynamic and nonuniform lines. These lines are placed over the negative space of the sky, which breaks the sky up into various geometric shapes. The main reason I like this photograph is because it doesn’t have one specific focal point, which makes it interesting to me. While the sun seems to draw attention to itself, the lines of the ropes create a different focal point. I also like the fact that the photo is somewhat abstract, so it isn’t immediately clear what the photograph is of.

Assignment 1: “Falling Man”, Richard Drew, 9/11/2001

Falling Man
Richard Drew

Richard Drew’s “Falling Man” was one of a series of photos taken on 9/11 as a man tumbled down through the air during the 2001 terror attack. It is unknown whether the unidentified man jumped to escape the dangerous conditions or fell while seeking safety, hosting an air of dark mystery around the photo.
This photo appeals to me because of the emotions it fosters. The situation is so disturbing and mysterious, but the artful composition makes it hauntingly beautiful. When looking at the moment captured in this photograph, I feel the hollow despair that many felt on that day. Qualities of the photo like the architecture’s geometric, uniform feel and absence of vibrant color contribute to a dreadful and harsh atmosphere. Also notable is the contrast of the left and right sections of the building, and the body interrupting them when they collide, making the man the interest point.
I feel that this photo is important because it conveys the bleak realities of 9/11. When this photo was first released, it was restricted, but I believe it should have an audience. Many who saw the photo when it was first published described it as disturbing and inappropriate for the press, but in my opinion, sometimes you need to see the unsettling parts of the world to really understand it. The complete feeling of hopelessness in a bleak world and acceptance of hopelessness make this a powerful photo that reveals the tragedy of the day. In particular, this photo also focuses on an individual. Many people make themselves apathetic to tragedy by thinking of the death count rather than the individual ways that people died, but this shows one man’s hallowing experience. Rather than focusing on the American triumph of seeing the rescued and those that survived, “Falling Man” expresses much of the hopelessness that terror attacks bring about, which I think is important to understand. This photo is important because it shows its audience the eerie reality of terror attacks and the terror and hopelessness caused by them.