Sunday, February 13, 2011

Assignment 2: Submission


My first assignment for this course was a study of the modern buildings in my local neighbourhood. My approach was distinctly architectural, using a tripod mounted camera and perspective control lens to optimize colour, sharpness, and composition. This was interesting, but laborious. For this assignment my subject remains the same, all photographs are of the exact same group of buildings, however, the treatment is very different. I am shooting hand held, using a telephoto-zoom, and focusing on details of the buildings rather than trying to present their overall structure.

In planning the assignment I tried out a number of visual themes, one that was very compelling, would have been a series of photographs of trees, but not actually directly imaging the trees. The idea would be to show reflections, shadows, or silhouettes, suggesting the memory of trees that were destroyed to make way for the building pictured. As I explored this concept two things fell out; firstly it would be very difficult to produce a sufficient variety of image qualities, secondly as I worked on the idea it generated new thoughts that ultimately produced a better series of photographs. I do like the concept and may return to it later on in future on the Landscape course.

In parallel to this assignment I found myself reading E.H. Gombrich’s “The Story of Art”, having realized I knew little or nothing of the history of art. Reading about the advent of cubism and abstraction and the breaking down of scenes into fundamental components and then reassembling them, led me to think about playing with perspective and structure in my photographs. I have thus tried to create 6 photographs, each of which is a detail of a building, but also contain deliberate ambiguities and structural puzzles. I have not manipulated the contents beyond RAW processing in Lightroom.

Using a telephoto zoom gave me great freedom of movement and composition, but also demanded the use of higher ISO when the light fell. I have used the same lens throughout, the 4 stop image stabilization really getting a workout. I have alternated between the crop sensor 7d and full frame 5D2, partly to take advantage of the effective “extra reach” provided by the smaller sensor.

I shot in multiple lighting conditions, from cold overcast skies, to rich blue, into evening twilight and finally the full of night. The photos I present fulfil one or more of the requirements in terms of the lighting conditions, some better than others.

DPP2-1– Low Contrast 
“Once There were Trees!” 
Canon EOS 7D, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 90mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 200

This is the photograph that started me thinking about the ghosts of trees, although the irony is that many of my shots were made difficult by too many trees adjacent to buildings. When I took the photograph I tried to position the reflected tree trunk to align with the column, however, this was not possible due to limits on my movement. The upside is that this framing balances the background building better. The clear reflection is designed to suggest the tree that would have been there had the building not existed. The overcast day gave a very flat almost sad mood to the photograph, well suiting the scene. The darkness of the tree does add some contrast, but the overall tonality is subdued.

DPP2-2 – High Contrast 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 128mm, f/4.5, 1/250s, ISO 100

In contrast to my first image this is a vibrant glowing composition. When taking this photograph my intent was to pick of details of the Hypohaus (the reflection) as the sun fell. Looking around I noticed that there was a strong reflection in the building opposite. The Hypohaus is coated in what look like stainless steel plates, which reflect the colour of light, meaning that as the sun fell the building went from silver, to gold, and ultimately a coppery red. The reflection is disjoint showing up the fact that the opposite building is not a perfect wall, the slight variations in the positioning of the curtain wall are clearly visible in the twisting reflected column. I have cropped the photograph to produce a nearly symmetrical arrangement of the 3 mirror like panels. The contrast is driven by the direct reflection of the dying sun with shadows created by the sunlight falling on the building.

DPP2-3 – Low Light, High Contrast 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 100mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 3200

On another visit to the same location as the previous shot, I waited until night had completely fallen. At the side of the Hypohaus was a smaller office building, lights still burning as people worked late. I was interested to capture the angularity of the building through the lights in the rooms, the two downward facing spots adding some external detail and illumination. I have exposed for the internal lighting, creating a high contrast between the lights and the unlit spaces. As with the other images in this sequence, some of the windows are reflections, confusing the eyes understanding of the structure (upper right hand corner).

Unlike the other images in this sequence I have processed this to black and white. This is the first time I have ever presented or printed a B&W photograph, so it is early days for me. Due to the darkness and the very yellow cast of the lights, this was effectively monochrome already, just a sickly yellow one. The subject is also very structural with strong contrast and as such suited to a black and white treatment. Another processing issue was the high-ISO required by the limited light levels, needing noise reduction in post processing to obtain a smoother look.

DPP2-4 – High Contrast 
 Canon EOS 7D, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 300mm, f/8, 1/350s, ISO 100

Turning from strongly delineated structure, my next two photographs are deliberately ambiguous and intended to be difficult to interpret. This is a photograph through the window of a glass atrium fronting part of the Hypovereinsbank building. Currently undergoing some maintenance, builders have spread green netting over the roof to prevent falling debris, creating a strange otherworldly lighting effect. The right hand side of the photo is the glass curtain wall of an office block adjoining to the glass atrium, adding reflection to the image. The day was very bright with direct sunlight coming through the netting, requiring no processing other than a little fill light. The challenge with this photograph was to find a composition that provided enough visual interest, but still left the contents ambiguous. I took several frames trying different focal lengths and orientations.

DPP2-5 – Low Contrast 
“Reflected Chaos” 
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 300mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 100

This is my humble contribution to cubism, a photograph in which multiple reflections create a fragmented reconstruction of a crane and trees standing in front of the building. This is the same crane and building that I used in a night shot in my first assignment. The building is covered in horizontal louvered glass sheets that can be rotated to reflect the sun, either cooling or heating the building behind. The vertical lines are bars that support the glass plates. This was another cloudy day with muted colours, essential for this shot as strong sun would have resulted in such strong reflections that the photograph would be blown out.

DPP2-6 – Mixed Lighting
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70-300mm f/4-5.6, 100mm, f/4, 1/30s, ISO 3200

With daylight images processing is largely a matter of framing, small adjustments to White Balance, and boosting shadow detail a little. This final image is the opposite, there are at least 3 different types of lights contributing to this night time shot, tungsten, fluorescent, and street lighting, coupled with the designer’s use of coloured filters on some lights. The scene is the same atrium as in DPP2-4, but shooting into the space rather than the roof. The lighting presented the greatest challenge; however, there are also many layers of information in this image, starting with the trees in the foreground, through the doors, past the spiral staircase and into the offices behind. Cutting across the frame are a series of sloping walkways. I have tried to place the staircase according to a golden section and avoided a highly symmetrical structure. Again I was limited by access to good locations from which to shoot.

However, composition was the beginning of my challenge; the mixed coloured lighting presented a major processing problem. After adjusting for contrast, fill light, over exposure of the lights, noise from ISO-3200, I could not find a white balance that yielded a natural looking image. I realized that the photograph contained a distinct green cast, which necessitated using the HSL adjustments to remove. The final result is not perfect, however, the fact that some of the lights are coloured anyway means that a colour cast will remain in the image, and in fact I think the architect succeeded in creating a visually interesting space using light as well as structure.

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