Gaslight Photography

The Prints

I mentioned earlier that I’d gone through a fairly lengthy process to choose a print shop and ended up following the recommendation of a professional photographer, Andy Skillen, who had recommended Genesis Imaging. It transpired that I’d just needed to ask my tutor since he used them and would recommend them as well, talk about making things difficult for myself!

Both Andy and David, my tutor, had mentioned Mark at Genesis, basically stating that Mark knew far more than I did and just follow his recommendations. That’s stating it simply but that’s roughly what David in particular said and after experiencing the service at Genesis, I totally agree. Mark was extremely helpful at every step of the way and, critically, was helpful in removing a magenta colour cast in some of the images before printing.

It’s something that’s really puzzling me since it was very noticeable on some of the images when shown on Mark’s monitor. On my monitor, calibrated but not of the same quality as Mark’s, there was no cast at all. Now that could just be put down to faulty calibration or to a poor quality monitor (not really the case) but when I print the images at home, just using a generic ICC profile from the manufacturers (Permajet and Hahnemühle), there’s no cast at all, certainly not t the extent seen at Genesis. By my way of thinking, if there was a cast in the images, even if it did not show up on my monitor, it would have shown up in the print if I’d used a generic ICC profile for the printer/ink combination – but it didn’t. I need to do some more research into this but I thought that I understood colour casts, ICC profiles etc – obviously not!

Collecting the images was a stressful experience! It was the first time during my OCA course that I’d used a print lab so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. This was made worse when I arrived because of the quality of some of the prints on show at Genesis. As an example, behind the counter at reception is a huge print of one of David Yarrow’s iconic images, almost literally filling the wall together with a volume exhibiting very large prints of some of his work. Inspecting my prints with Mark was a bitter-sweet experience since I was really impressed with Mark’s work but couldn’t help but compare my work with Yarrow’s – I lost!!

I had wanted to created a grid of the images with my “Artist Statement” below on A3 paper but was wary at the thought of spending £60 for a box of paper when I needed one print. Luckily Mark was happy to cut a couple of off cuts down to A3 size so I could go ahead. I’d envisage using this as the “entrance” to any exhibition of these images – if I ever get that far! In the meantime it will be a good front page for the assessment.

As we were expecting the prints which, unsurprisingly, were faultless Mark suggested that he really liked one of the images, the last one in the series looking at the pond through the trees. This was mildly encouraging but I had no intention of asking him what he thought of the other eleven. More seriously, it led onto a brief discussion on how most of his customers invariably went for the Picturesque images whether they be commercial artists or amateurs. The former went for them because they sold to the mass market whilst the amateurs just liked them better!

I don’t think that my portfolio is overly Picturesque, though my tutor thinks that it’s leaning that way, and friends and colleagues certainly don’t think so. Mark, who has seen an enormous amount of work go through his lab, also doesn’t think so but I can see what my tutor means, especially when compared to his work.

As I mentioned before I think that it’s unavoidable to have a touch of Picturesque in my portfolio given the area but, equally, I haven’t gone out of my way to be so. besides, I feel that the movement away from Picturesque to being “gritty” at all costs has gone too far and, so long as the images in this case, depict reality, what’s wrong with them being mildly attractive rather than ugly. The key point is that they tell the story that I want, they show what lies just off the established path and show the way there.



The Final Portfolio

So having discarded the images with a distortion in the corners, reshot some Autumn images and added some Winter images I was left with the task of narrowing them down to my final portfolio. As usual this was the hardest part despite having the majority already half selected from Assignment 5.

After frequent revisions I got it down to the final 15 though I really wanted to finalise on 12 images for a variety of reasons. Having narrowed it down to 12 images on at least 5 occasions with different results I put the gallery of 15 up on the web and solicited comments from a number of friends, some of whom were photographers and some not, some with knowledge of the area and some without, some with an artistic background and some without etc. They were all asked the simple question – which three would you remove?

Basically I felt I couldn’t see the wood for the trees <pun intended> and felt that it would be useful to get some external viewpoints, after all it wasn’t me that would be the intended viewer of my future exhibition (which will go ahead assuming that the assessors don’t laugh too much at my portfolio!), it would be a mixture of friends and the general public so why not get the opinions of a sample of the prospective audience. In addition it was fascinating to see the different comments – some of which were impressively perceptive and others surprising in their obviousness (which I’d totally missed!) – though all were welcome and useful.

I’d included a mix of seasons in the selection and it was interesting to see that the gloomier winter images were the favourites for removal and a number wanted the sequence to finish on the bright, cheerful autumn images so as to finish on a high. That must say something about human nature I guess 🙂

A couple really picked up on my objective of ensuring that there was a glimpse of the way forward, beyond the “boundary”, but identified a couple of the images which just looked like a dead end rather than leaving an option for the more adventurous tourist or walker. Another picked up on the inviting nature of the light on the bracken in two of the early stages, describing is as beckoning one forward – exactly what I wanted.

One person really picked up on images with similar angles and structures, allowing me to reorder the images to make use of these connections, improving the visual flow between those images.

A couple of others picked up on tonal differences between the images. This was interesting because the autumn and winter images, in particular, were tonally different and I wanted that difference to emphasise the seasonal change. However, this academic exercise or emphasis was at odds with the aesthetic presentation of the series. In the end aesthetics partially trumped the academic exactitude since I decided that a tonally discordant image just looked wrong even if it was an accurate reflection of the real world.

Another minor issue was that a couple of the images seemed out of place simply by not adding anything to the series. A really simple, blatantly obvious point that needed somebody to point it out to me!

Another interesting and related comment was the fact that one of the images, being largely in shadow, created a gloomy or intimidating image. Whilst I wanted the contrast I’d obviously gone too far since the comment continued “It almost has a sinister feel which I don’t feel in any of the others.” So this one stays but there’s now more detail in the foreground and it’s all a bit lighter, less sinister I hope.

Anyway, there were a number of really useful comments which significantly helped me rationalise the final selection – even if I didn’t blindly follow their comments (sorry guys 🙂 ) – so a public thanks to all of those who helped in this exercise.

The final selection (I hope!) of 12 images is below and the final image in the series (also see above) is one of those most selected for removal by my esteemed panel of judges. Only one person really found that one interesting or liked it, correctly surmising that it was green algae on the pond and finding it intriguing, encouraging a person to go forward and investigate. However, I wanted to keep it in, albeit with a slight tonal change, because it reminds me of Jem Southam’s works, The River – Winter and the Painter’s Pool, both of which were instrumental to the direction that I took with this portfolio. Also, it’s very typical of the winter views in this area of the Park which should suggest that it’s not a paddy field that’s visible through the branches as one of my reviewers suggested but a small pond :-). To me it sums up the portfolio in that it shows a glimpse of that which lies beyond.

The final selection can be seen at http://www.gaslight.me.uk/final-selection/  or just looked at in the images below.




Printing decisions

To emphasise the passage of time thereby increasing the sense of place I need some winter images. The trouble is it’s not winter yet! While I’m waiting for he leaves to fall and the frost to arrive it makes sense to firm up on my decisions for presenting the portfolio for assessment.

I’d already decided to keep it simple, just a series of high quality prints at, roughly, A2 size to bring out the detail in the images. Given that they’re all of dense woodland there’s a lot of detail that’s lost at smaller sizes. The tones of the images, unsurprisingly, vary through the seasons. Some are golden and others are very harsh.





Most have a large amount of black, either the tree trunks or dense shadow, so I need to print in a way that cope with varied tones and bring out the detail in the darker areas of which there are a lot.

During this course I’d looked at the different type of printing methods and papers available and thought that I had a good grasp of the options. Now that I need to get it right I’m not so sure and need to go back to basics.

I did a lot of research, looking at the printing methods first, primarily C Type prints and Giclée, going back to square one and comparing the pros and cons of the two. Most of the professional printing shops have a guide to the two methods so a summary according to my interpretation seemed a sensible approach.

In terms of price then C Type prints win hands down but, within reason, that’s not going to be the constraining factor here. I remember one of the OCA tutors commenting some years ago on a forum when somebody complained about the cost of their assessment submission prints and his view was that if a “penniless” student at a physical university was prepared to spend their last pound on getting the best prints that they possibly could achieve for their final exhibition then we could certainly take the same approach. I’m pretty sure that that tutor is still around so I’ll take his advice 🙂

As far as paper is concerned then Giclée wins hands down given that it can print onto just about anything, particularly a wider range of papers, different thicknesses, whiteness and textures. Of course this is only relevant if the finish that I want is not available in C Type.

Colour is an area where I get confused but to get it straight in my head – my understanding, backed up by guides on the websites of the printing houses, is that C Type handles more subtle tones but Giclée has a wider gamut and can therefore handle brighter colours.

Some people say that prefer the continuous tone of a C Type but in many ways this is just aesthetics given that the gap between dots in Giclée is now microscopic so, in all practical senses, it’s as continuous as C Type. Then it just becomes a case of aesthetics as to which somebody prefers.

As far as archiving is concerned then the archival characteristics of both are easily good enough for my work though Giclée wins here.

So both types would be suitable – having got things straight it was time to look at the samples at a print lab. Choosing a print lab was the next problem since I really wanted a recommendation. Luckily, some months ago I met Andy Skillen of FaunaVista (www.faunavista.com) which is well worth a visit if you like wildlife. He recommended a lab in London which was easy for me to get to so after a quick phone call I had a free session organised with a technical consultant to go through my requirements.

From here the process was simple – having shown him a sample of my images, not the final selection since I’m still shooting, we looked at a sample pack with a variety of papers, both C Type and Giclée. Fortunately, the sample image was similar in tone and detail to some of my images so that made the selection easier. Immediately I realised that the continuous tone of the C Type didn’t look right for the images. It must have been my imagination but it seemed to lose some of the detail. I’m sure that this was just a personal view, aesthetics coming into play as I mentioned above, but it just didn’t look right.

Another point that was immediately obvious was that the black areas of the sample image had more depth when printed on Giclée, something that I’d been aware of but hadn’t felt it before. Given the dark areas in most of my images this became a key point.

At that point it was down to the paper and again it was a fairly easy decision as I settled on the Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta paper for purely aesthetic reasons – not too textured with just a hint of gloss. Critically, it was one of the best for bringing out the detail and depth in the black areas, a key point for my images. I’m sure that some people (or assessors 🙁 ) will not like the touch of gloss but I think that it works with these images so we’ll see.

The next step was to get some sample prints which were duly delivered a few days later (see top image).

These prints were on the Baryta paper that I’d initially selected and a couple of different Photo Rag papers. Not for the first time in this course I changed my mind and went for the Ultra Smooth Photo Rag though I had a hard time deciding between that and the normal Photo Rag. Basically the Rag showed more detail that the Baryta and when the papers were side by side the Baryta was too glossy for me. In fairness, in isolation, the gloss was nothing like as obvious.

So – decision made it’s now a case of putting the final touches to my portfolio and getting them printed on my chosen material.





Assignment 5 Revisited

My last tutorial for Body of Work has been and gone, It was a bit of a roller coaster but ended up as a success, at least in my eyes – I’m not so sure about David’s view !

I’d printed the portfolio at A3 because the type of image only really works at a large size. For the assessment I’ll be getting the images printed at around A2 size but for the tutorial I wanted the images to be large enough for the impact of their size to be apparent. Since A3 is the maximum that I can print that would have to do for now. It was lucky that I did because David’s first comment was that I had a technical issue that was apparent when printed at the larger size but not at A4 size which I’d printed at for the earlier assessments.

At that point I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to reshoot everything in the next couple of months, at the same time losing the change of seasons that was essential to the portfolio. The issue was that the images were soft at the edges and this detracted from the whole image. It was obviously a technical issue when David pointed out but what was I going to do?

Luckily, when I pressed David as to which particular images were affected it was obvious that they were the autumn images that I’d taken earlier with a walkabout lens and crop sensor, fully intending to reshoot them with a full frame body and better lens for the assessment. I’d been intending to do this to ensure they’d be printable at A2 but hadn’t registered the problem in terms of the soft edges.

The full size image shown here doesn’t really show the problem but if I really zoom into the top left corner the issue becomes apparent

The issue was obvious once David pointed it out but luckily it was only apparent of those images which I intended to reshoot so panic over.

There was a minor issue with the white balance on a couple of images causing the two to stand out from the others. One had the technical issue so was being discarded anyway but the other didn’t really have a problem with the WB in the sense that it was “as shot”. Nevertheless it stood out from the others so needed to be adjusted or discarded.

A really interesting suggestion from David was the idea of shooting (or cropping) at 5×4 ratio instead of the default 6×4. David’s view was that the 5×4 ratio connoted high end imagery through it’s association with larger format cameras and also made the portfolio stand out from the norm. He admitted that it was very much an individual and subjective choice but it made me think about it.

After playing around with a couple of crops I realised that the 5×4 images actually worked better for my theme in the sense that they created more of an impression of a “portal” than the standard, landscape 6×4. I appreciate that it’s totally subjective as David suggests but in comparing  the two forms of the image below I feel that the first (6×4) creates a sense of vista whereas the second (5×4) creates the portal impression that aligns with my intentions.

A portal isn’t the main message of the image but it does align with my intention to show the imaginary barriers or boundaries that lie just off the main tourist paths.

David made an interesting comment when he suggested that my images were similar to some that he was making for his current project, they were just “prettier” than his. That puzzled me for a while since it wasn’t my intention to make “pretty” images and I certainly hadn’t done so in the past. Then I realised that my aim was to show the attractive or interesting areas of the Park that were available to those who stepped of the tourist route so, by necessity even if by accident, I’d made the images more attractive than would be my normal method of working since without that attractiveness there’d be no incentive for the tourist to explore.

I’d been slightly concerned about my intended approach to the Assessment – I’d intended to just make sure that the images spoke for themselves with a series of c12 high quality images at a large size, professionally printed. I’d notice that other people were doing things around the images e.g. books, accessories etc and was concerned that my approach would be regarded as too simple (though I still intended to take that approach). Comfortingly David agreed that it was the best approach for such a portfolio – concentrate on presenting the images, keep it simple and focused.

There were a number of other, useful comments made during the tutorial but one final suggestion was to look at Fay Godwin’s “Paesaggi” on YouTube ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JE8I44Ak7o ). It’s a video of her talking to the camera while out at work on a portfolio. It’s a fascinating video of a true master at work and well worth a view. It’s subtitled in Italian which, if you understand the language, creates an interesting, sometimes alternative, interpretation of Godwin’s work.

So overall I was pretty satisfied with the way that the tutorial went. I feel that I’ve got a reasonable portfolio to present at assessment and I’m content with the way that I intend to present it. At the present time I can’t ask for any more than that!








Moving On

So what is the connection between a bear and my portfolio looking at boundaries in Windsor Great Park?

I suppose that here’s a loose connection since, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Disney took over my hunting ground to film Christopher Robin or Winnie the Pooh Mark II but that’s tenuous at best. The real reason is that my original aim in starting this course a number of years ago was to improve my wildlife images through understanding other areas or genres. While waiting for my feedback on Assignment 5 I was in Canada, photographing grizzly bears during the salmon run. The main problem being that there were scores of bears but no salmon as the run was late!

However there were plenty of images of bears to capture but I found that I was just as interested, if not more so, in the opportunities for stylised or slightly abstract images of the surrounding mountains.













Now I’m not claiming that these images are great art or anything but I found it interesting to examine why I was taking these images rather than just concentrating on the bears  (which were the point of the trip!). It was then that I realised that a number of things from the successive courses had come together over the course of the Body of Work module.

Throughout the various courses there’d been this constant phrase “finding your voice” or style, genre, method etc. Various tutor and assessor comments suggested that I had my own style but I had no idea what it was, possibly because I found so many of the genres interesting. Then, as described before, this module had been a messy and disjointed in terms of progress but that had meant that I did a lot of exploring around my theme and a lot of related research in Contextual Studies. Somewhere in all that it seems to have gelled, I no longer feel as though I’m following somebody else’s direction (though I’m happy to follow people’s guidance!) but, instead, I’m happy to go my own route and actually create something that I want instead of what the course requires.

I’d obviously researched numerous portfolios for other modules but during this module I found the research more relevant to what I wanted. I think that this is because in previous modules there was an element of constriction, my research was for a particular purpose or end i.e. the aim or subject of the module. Here my research was freer, less confined to a particular purpose, so it was more relevant to me and my directions and thoughts.

Two in particular were Awoiska van der Molen and Ingun Alette Mæhlum  both of which I described in earlier posts. The two were very different but both created that undefinable sense of place that I was looking for and, I think, had always interested me without understanding why.

The images above are a direct result of these two and of Jem Southam’s work in that they are my interpretation of the place. The mountains and trees are obvious characteristics of the area (British Columbia) but using the mist and light in a (semi-)consistent portfolio is my interpretation of what it felt like to be there.

In summary, the rough and unedited portfolio above is a crucial indication to myself that I’ve actually learnt something from this whole course, not just “learnt” but learnt something relevant to my photography and what I want to do.

I’m still waiting for feedback on my last assignment let alone the results from the assessment on this module but, irrespective of those, however good or damming they might be, I actually feel as though I’m getting somewhere that I’m happy to move on with after the course finishes.