For this assignment I was to produce between 7 and 12 images to illustrate a magazine article, telling the story with the range of images. One of the images needed to be more illustrative, to be used as the “cover” photo, whilst the other 6 – 12 images should be more narrative, covering aspects of the story.
The suggestions for possible topics were:
- A commodity – the production of something in a narrative format, or maybe symbolic implications of owning something.
- Light – it could be the progression of light over a landscape, or the way light can transform a subject.
- Holidays – it could be either a conventional narrative of the subject, or something more abstract.
- Personal choice – I could also choose something of my own, which is the route I went down.
Planning and Preparation
From the beginning of the Narrative and Illustration section of this course, I had a particular topic in mind for my assignment. A few months ago I volunteered to be a photographer at the Special Olympics Great Britain Games to be held in Bath at the end of August, and in the run up to the main Games, I’d offered to go along to the Equestrian event in late July. I knew that this would be a fantastic subject to document, both for this Assignment, and also for the athletes involved and everyone involved with the Special Olympics GB.
Having covered a number of events in the past, of varying sizes and importance I was pretty happy with what I would do. My aim was to capture as much of a flavour of the day as I could, and having spoken to the organisers before the day I had a good idea of what the event entailed. The athletes would be competing in a couple of different disciplines and on the day I was there they would be taking part in dressage, inside an arena, Working Trails which would be outside, and Knowledge and Care of Horses, which would mainly be a question and answer session inside a stable. I would also photograph the medal ceremonies at the end. Having this knowledge prior to the event meant that I could be prepared with the kit I would need and also some of the challenges I would face with exposure and shot types.
As I would be spending the day running around the Equestrian Centre at Hartpury College, Gloucestershire, I wanted to keep my equipment to a minimum. I knew that opportunities to use a tripod would be pretty much non-existent, so that saved me having to take that, although I did have it in the car – just in case! I also had the Nikon SB-910 in the car, but due to not wanting to spook the horses I didn’t take it in as the chances to use it again would be non-existent. In the end my rucksack contained:
- Nikon D800 DSLR
- Tamron 28 – 75mm f/2.8 Lens
- Nikon 70 – 300mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 Lens
- Tamron 10 – 24mm wide-angle lens
- Pen and paper for taking shot notes and athletes details.
- Spare battery
- Spare SD and CF cards
Execution and Results
On the day I met with my contact on arrival and was shown the different locations for the events and requested a timetable, which included the athletes’ names, so I could keep track of the names of the people I was photographing. I then headed out and covered the day in the way I felt captured it all. I wanted to ensure that I covered the day fully – not just showing the athletes competing, but to also show them getting kitted up, relaxing, preparing for competition and a few close up detail shots.
The images below tell my story of the day, hopefully giving a good flavour of what it was all about. (click on each image for a fuller description and my thoughts on the image)
Nikon D800| ISO Rosettes and medals ready to be presented to the athletes during the medal ceremony. ISO 4500| 1/125th Sec| f/3.3| 42mm focal Length
An Athlete gets kitted up for his next event.Nikon D800| ISO 360| 1/250th Sec| f/9.5| 155 mm focal Length
an athlete passes the judges during the Dressage competitionNikon D800| ISO 6400| 1/250th Sec| f/6.7| 70mm focal Length
Celebrating with team-mates and spectators at the end of a successful Working Trails event.Nikon D800| ISO 250| 1/180th Sec| f/16| 95mm focal Length
A spot of last minute revision before Horse Care and KnowledgeNikon D800| ISO 140| 1/250th Sec| f/13| 200mm focal Length
During the Horse Care and Knowledge section of the competition an athlete answers questions on different aspects of looking after his horseNikon D800| ISO 1600| 1/60th Sec| f/11| 55 mm focal Length
A Working Trails competitorNikon D800| ISO 160| 1/250th Sec| f/9.5| 300mm focal Length
Volunteers play a huge part in the successful running of Special Olympics events.Nikon D800| ISO 100| 1/250th Sec| f/9.5| 82mm focal Length
High Five at the end of Working TrailsNikon D800| ISO 100| 1/180th Sec| f/8| 30mm focal Length
Checking the final results before the medal ceremonyNikon D800| ISO 1400| 1/180th Sec| f/13| 70mm focal Length
After the medal ceremony Nikon D800 |ISO 1000 |1/60th Sec |f/2.8
The Special Olympics logo groomed into the flanks of one of the horses.Nikon D800| ISO 6400| 1/180th Sec| f/6.7| 55mm focal Length
Overall I’m pretty happy with how this assignment has gone; my main complaint about myself is the length of time it has taken me from taking the images to writing up the assignment! I’ve had so much going on that putting aside time for me to do the work has been a challenge.
Looking at the assignment, in relation to the assessment criteria set by the Open College of the Arts, I need to assess myself on a number of criteria.
Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills
- Overall the technical aspect of the images was handled well, although due to the extremely poor light levels in the dressage arena, and the fact that I was unable to use flash because of the horses meant that I had to uprate my ISO to pretty high levels, bringing quite a lot of digital noise into the images, which detracted from the interior images a little. This meant that I used less of the interior images than I would have liked.
- Compositionally I think the images work well on the whole, and there is a reasonable mix of shot sizes, with some close ups, some medium shots and a couple of wider images, giving more of a location context to the feature.
Quality of Outcome
- The images in this feature give a pretty good flavour of the day, and I’m quite happy with the variety in the images, both in shot size as mentioned above, and in subject matter, with a variety of action shots of riders, still life images, behind-the-scenes images and additional shots to support the feature.
- I think ordering the images chronologically suits this particular feature, telling the story of the day, and think that it shows my experience of the day, as well as the experience of the athletes and their supporters.
Demonstration of Creativity
- As it was more of a documentary feature the images are mainly of uncontrolled action, but I think in terms of creativity I’ve covered the subject well, using opportunities for a little bit more creativity where possible.
- Looking at my Learning Log at http://heidibocalog.wordpress.com/ I still need to look at other photographers work more, and reflect on it, rather than looking at others work and not logging it. I also intend to start looking out for more exhibitions to visit, to look at and reflect on the work of others.
- As this type of feature work was something I had some experience of, I didn’t maybe look at enough of the work of others, as I felt in my comfort zone, both prior to and during the shooting phase of this feature.
- Other than a lack of research on the Learning Log, I am pretty happy with how this section of the course has progressed, and the exercises leading up to the Assignment were very interesting, and enjoyable to do.
Now I’m at the end of this part of the first element of the degree course, The Art of Photography, I’m quite happy with this assignment, Assignment 5 and the four previous assignments. Overall I’ve learnt (and re-learnt) so much, and am starting to get a feel for my “arty” side, which has had to remain suppressed during my RAF photographic career! I’m now looking forward to moving on to the next phase of the course – assuming that I successfully pass this assignment of course!
The “Also Rans”
The gallery below contains some of the images that I considered but decided against.
Congratulations on completing the course. You have produced good work throughout and there has been a growing confidence in your approach and strong development in your sense of composition and technical ability.
For this final assignment you undertook a challenging project which required a good deal of preparation and knowledge and the final images provide a good narrative of the day’s events and in particular the special circumstances of this sporting occasion.
The narrative works well, but I would look at presenting the images as you might a photo-essay, with perhaps a brief written overview and minimal single sentence captions (which you have). Perhaps this is something you could produce in hardcopy – to provide a sense of the narrative as it might be presented to a commissioning editor or reader – and send it to me prior to submission for assessment so that I can give you feedback?
You mention in your self-assessment that you didn’t do as much research as you might given other commitments. For a subject like this, an equestrian event, and perhaps one with which you are not that familiar, there is a real wealth of available material to study, and I do feel you would have benefited both technically and creatively from further study and exploration of this sporting genre.
Taking away nothing from your work here, there doesn’t seem to have been much of an audience (a genuine shame) and so the set is lacking a little in that festive/competitive atmosphere. Perhaps one (highly selective) image of an enthused crowd would add to that?
One other image that is missing in the narrative is a sense of context and place – a wide shot of part of the setting at least, and this might give it an extra sense of occasion.
From a technical point of view, the images vary a little in terms of quality; this is partly down to the variable light and conditions (as you discuss in your notes) with the need for a high ISO in places and the resulting noise, but also I think you need to look at both the colour and contrast balance throughout the set. Some of the images are lacking considerable detail in the darker areas, and in general the colour tends to be a little flat.
Detailed feedback for the individual images follows
Feedback on assignment
This works very well and provides the necessary information as well as the much sought after sporting ‘gong’. You make good use of selective depth field to bring attention to the event title in a well-composed shot; extending the focal depth to include the whole medal, title and logo, might have worked a little better.
The second image of the competitor preparing for the event works very well with a good view of his expression and the assistance he receives from the volunteer. In any given article, this is perhaps a place where you might use an image to establish the setting or place.
I think you point out all the inherent problems with this shot, the level of noise from the high ISO, and the awkward composition resulting from a difficult camera position and lack of accessibility. The judges are small in frame, the back of the horse and rider dominates, and there is too much negative space around the subjects who are cramped together in the centre. In situations like this my rule is ‘don’t use it’. Better to focus on other areas of the competition rather than cover everything with shots that you aren’t happy with.
Again, you offer your own critique in your notes; ‘a great chunk of dead space in the middle..’ This would have worked better with a larger crowd, a longer lens to compress the space, with two shots covering the celebrating rider and helper from the front, and an enthusiastic supportive crowd. In this shot, the celebrations of both are diluted by angle and distance.
This candid shot of the competitor revising for her next event works very well. It’s cropped a little tight, cutting through her body and feet – if you have a wider version take another look – and this is a good example of the high contrast level eliminating any details in the shadow areas – out it through a ‘levels’ filter and adjust the middle arrow – see the difference.
Not knowing the space you were working in, it is hard to suggest a wider angle to include the whole horse in the shot; this version feels half way between a medium close and a wide shot. But the narrative element works well with both the amiable judge and the competitor stroking the animal. There looks to be a touch of motion blur here, or a little variable focus.
This is a lovely shot which captures both the action in close detail, a real sense of movement, and the joyful expression on the competitor’s face. Again, from a technical point of view, a levels adjustment would enhance the detail in the darker areas (and further define and separate the horse from rider), and a touch more vibrance and saturation would bring it to life. I noticed you have a couple of very strong action images in your Blog.
You discuss in your notes how you would like to have used a volunteer in a volunteer’s shirt, and I agree. Here, you have the back of two people and a distant out of focus event in a very awkward composition – the back of the small girl’s head at the bottom left of frame…. If in doubt, don’t use it. The information on the back of the T-shirt we already know.
This image of rider and fellow competitor celebrating works very well, capturing the moment. You’re right, it might be a second to early, but the gesture is anticipated. I expect this is the whole frame as shot – inevitably, in capturing that moment; we may have to settle for some problems in the composition – the cropping of the right hand subject in this case.
Checking the results.
The problem here is that you have to tell the reader what they are looking at through the caption – results, and a relationship that we couldn’t know. It is a literal part of the day’s narrative, but not one that works – stretched across the frame – or is particularly visually engaging. It’s never possible to cover everything, and best to focus on strong composition, action and visually compelling material.
This shot works well; it brings together competitors and winners and shows their pride and happiness at success. It’s a little cramped in the frame, and a touch flat – try boosting the vibrance and saturation.
The final shot of the competition logo groomed into the horse’s coat is a nice touch, and a possible alternative for the cover image. I wonder though, here, whether, as one of twelve shots, it takes the place of something more informative and relevant to the day’s events?
Think about my notes, and the possibility of replacing a couple of the images and making the necessary post-production adjustments I have suggested. While your narrative works well, you may find it improves if you simulate a genuine layout for a reader.