Assignment 2: Digital image qualities

DPP Assignment 2 Tutor Report

Task: Produce a set of images with a common theme. Include at least one each of the following lighting conditions:

1. A high-dynamic range (high contrast) scene

2. Low-dynamic range (low-contrast, flat) scene

3. Low-light conditions (with a high ISO)

4. Mixed lighting (e.g. daylight and incandescent)

Fischli & Weiss Quiet Afternoon   Source:

Deciding on a theme

Whilst reading Cotton’s book about contemporary photography I came across Peter Fischli and David Weiss’ Quiet Afternoon. They used everyday ordinary objects that we sometimes pass by without taking any notice of and arranging them in elaborate balances. For example the above image shows a wine bottle balancing precariously on a bent saw, in a block of wood, balanced on a tube pipe. At first I didn’t see the point of these images. What was the message? What were Fischli and Weiss trying to achieve? Fischli has said of these sculptures.

‘There was apparently no way to do it ‘better’ or ‘worse’, just ‘correctly’.’

Source: Tate Modern Website

My tutor had asked me to think more about visual language and to give my photographs meaning. At first there didn’t appear to be much meaning in their photographs. After some thought, I believe that Fischli and Weiss were making the statement not to take for granted objects that enable us to go about our daily lives with some ease. Taking the idea of putting ordinary objects into extra-ordinary situations, I started to consider the things that help me get through each day. Maybe not about the ordinary things, but the things that have been

The word ‘progress’ seems to be used everywhere at the moment. It’s something that I have to think about a lot when teaching. Take That have also just begun their Progress tour, so the concept is very current at the moment. We sometimes appear to take for granted how things have progressed and it is all too easy to forget what things were like before. I wondered whether I could create situations where things were presented in an old / new context, or the conflict between new objects and those that they replaced. To provoke thoughts about whether it is progression or regression. Are we better off with newer objects or with those things that they replaced?

Once I had thought of a theme for this assignment I wondered how I could represent it visually. Take That’s album cover illustrates the stages of human evolution with the increase in size and improved posture from left to right. I wanted to develop a movement in my images that went between the old and new subjects, but in more technically challenging ways than just a left to right movement. I did an image search on the Internet for ‘progression and regression’ and discovered that Mike Calway Fagan had approached this theme by photographing a taxidermied German Shepherd dog sitting on the pelt of a wolf, titled The Progression of Regression. Calway Fagan had created an image which provoked an uneasiness for the viewer

Being a member of the Royal Photographic Society I remembered about an article featuring photographer Charley Murrell (June 2010 Volume 150 No. 5 p. 276 – 277). She won a Gold in the RPS International Print Exhibition with a series of images titled ‘Child’s Play’. She uses models and constructs scenes to address social concerns. Child’s Play addressed the issue of how children are increasingly exposed to our commodity culture. Murrell’s website drew my attention to another of her personal projects, titled ‘Constructed Childhoods‘. This project explores the impact of images that surround children’s everyday life. In each photograph Murrell combined the child with an enhanced aesthetic reconstruction of the child, for example a girl in a kitchen with a box of cereal that had her image on. Murrell also used reflection to illustrate a perceived improvement , such as a boy looking at himself in a mirror after body building. I liked the interplay between the real and perceived reality that Murrell had created, using reflection and the placement of alternative images within the frame, and placing subjects in contexts that may create a kind of tension about life and death. To illustrate my theme I realised that I needed to demonstrate the passing of time in someway, either forwards or backwards. Meanwhile photographer Mishu Vass approached the subject of regression by creating an image of a tree, half in leaf and the other half bare in winter. The image had been edited to illustrate the passing of time from left to right, from life to death.

Having researched ideas for my assignment I had accumulated a set of criteria that I wanted to include in my images to address the theme of Progress to Regress. These were:

  • new objects in the contexts of things or with the things that they replaced
  • still-life arrangements that incorporate movement between subjects, either left to right or front to back, showing the passing of time
My Final Set of Images

Developing Media

1. Developing Media is a combination of how photographs used to be developed, hung to dry, and the memory cards that replaced them. I hung the memory cards high so that I could photograph them from below and fit them in the frame at a 50 mm focal length. The room was quite shaded, but I didn’t want to use a flash because it would have darkened the metal clips. Therefore I pushed the ISO up to 500. It was difficult to get the string to stop swinging, so a high ISO meant that I could use a shutter speed of 1/30 of a sec.

Charted Decline

2. Charted Decline shows a CD hanging by the tape of a cassette that it replaced. I wanted to continue the style of arrangement in Developing Media by hanging objects. This image was photographed in daylight and at first my camera was reflected on the CD. I wanted to emphasize the spectrum of colours that can be seen on Cd’s so I also used a reflector to bounce the camera flash to the right of the CD. I was really pleased with this effect and it made me realise how just the slightest change in a set-up can have a huge impact on the final image.  The way the CD is hanging my the tape of a casstte to also represent how CD’s replaced tapes and how vulnerable they are nowadays with the increase in mp3 players and music available to be streamed over the Internet.


3. Readiness is a high contrast scene that was created using the technique of taking a photo of a photo… This year Amazon sold more e-books than real books! I wanted to put an iPhone with a set of books and created a monochrome image to reflect the colour of print. As the iPhones decrease the viewer’s eyes rest on the word ‘full stop’ which has been typed using a typewriter font. The purpose of Readiness is to raise the question will it be better to replace books with e-books? Is it a step backwards? This image is adapted from a visual principle known as recursion, where an exact copy of an image is repeated with another part of the image as a smaller replica.

4. Growing to Wilt

This assignment has ‘tuned’ me into the world around me. I’ve been looking out for images to fit the theme. I noticed in a vase of flowers there were some that were still in full bloom whilst others had wilted and died, an ideal subject to illustrate how living things grow to eventually die back. Because of the clear association between life and death I thought that this would be a good opportunity to fulfill one of the assignment requirements, creating an image in low light conditions. Firstly I placed a brown piece of cardboard behind the flowers to darken the scene further and block out any background distractions. I liked how the petals were side-lit from a window on the right-hand side of the scene leaving the the withered flowers in shadow. I positioned my camera to make the most of the edge lighting. At first the composition looked static so I angled my camera on a tripod so that the stems were coming from the bottom left hand corner of the frame. With a focal length of 47 mm I opened the aperture up to it’s widest (f/4) to compensate for the low light. The shutter was set to 1/10 sec. I wanted to bring out the yellow tones of the petals so I set the ISO to 400.

After up loading the image to Photoshop I cropped away the vase so that the viewer concentrated on the flowers. With the highlight clipping on I kept an eye on the dark areas of the image to ensure no shadow detail was lost. I then increased the exposure slightly and saturation to regain the yellow tones of the petals. Some of the edge-lit petals were beginning to become over-exposed so I reduced the brightness and increased the contrast slightly to retain a dark image. Photographs of flowers are usually very bright and colourful so I am unsure how others will react to seeing this one. However I like how the light and dark areas of the image correspond to the living and degenerating parts of the subject. I found that having a better understanding of how to process the image meant that I could approach taking the photograph with a better vision of what the finished product would look like.

Pearishing Fruit

 5. Pearishing Fruit has been my most technically challenging image to create so far. After completing ‘Growing to Wilt’ I started to think about how food perishes over time and how I could document this in an image. I had just bought a bag of pairs so they were easy to hand to photograph. I had an idea in mind that involved photographing the same pear over a period of time in the same position (including eating part of it for some of the initial shots!). I set the camera on a tripod so that I could take a series of identically framed photographs. With a focal length of 56 mm and using aperture priority set to f/10 I wanted the pair to remain sharp. The room was quite shaded so I set the WB accordingly and increased the ISO to 200. I wanted to create a muted, low contrast scene which would have been blown out using a flash. Over the next couple of days I kept the camera set up and photographed any obvious changes to the pair such as changes in colour.

At the end of the shoot I had 36 images. I quickly realised that the most useful images were the first, the one I had bitten and the final image showing the brown colouring. These would show some regression in the pear. Throughout this part of my assignment I had intended to use all 3 images in a line from fresh to being brown, however I wasn’t entirely happy with the set-up, it seemed a bit obvious and I wanted to push myself further with this image. Now that I am getting more familiar with how to use Photoshop I decided to high key versions of the images by increasing the exposure to blow out the background and reduce the saturation slightly. Having used a tripod for all of the photos, the pear remained in the same position in the frame. I realised that I could place the images on top of each other and adjust the opacity, to show the stages of the pair regressing. I am much happier with this image, compared to what I had intended to use. It has made me realise that even the final part of the workflow may be subject to change.

Light Fantastic

6. Light Fantastic

I wanted my final image for this assignment to be in the style of Fischli and Weiss, by balancing objects together in an almost impossible arrangement that would defy the laws of physics. However I also wanted this image to continue the theme of ‘Progress to Regress’. Throughout this part of the course I had thought about how matches were used with candles before electricity was used and I wanted to photograph this in some way. At first I tried to light and photograph a match in front of a light bulb, but it was very difficult to keep the match alight. Then after looking Fischli and Weiss’ Quiet Afternoon images I wondered whether I could balance the light bulb on some matches. Of course this was impossible to do, even with super glue. However during the course I am becoming confident at using Adobe Photoshop. As a tribute to Fischli and Weiss I wondered whether I could create an image which looked impossible to achieve.

Having reviewed the first 5 images in this assignment I felt I needed an image with a low dynamic range. Therefore I chose a location to set up the still-life with neutral colours that complemented the beige matches and a plain wall that would display a clear shadow in the background. I used a 50mm lens with an aperture of f/16 to achieve a sharp focused image of the subject and an exposure of 7 seconds to compensate for the narrow aperture and lighten the scene. I decided not to use a flash because this would have created brighter highlights and darker shadows, which would have created a higher dynamic range.

The final image was made from 2 photographs. The first was of the two matches stapled together and blu-tacked to the ground. The second photo was of the light bulb standing on the ground.

I then imported the two images into Photoshop, using the matches as the background layer. Then I used the quick selection tool to select the light-bulb and remove it’s background. I was then able to position the light-bulb as a new layer on top of the matches. The believability of the image is dependent on the shadow of both the matches and the light bulb. Since I had cropped the light bulb there was only a shadow of the two matches. There were also two sources of natural and incandescent light from slightly two different directions. This created two shadows of the matches. In order to create a light bulb shadow I copied the light bulb onto a new layer. I then used a gradient fill shade the copied light bulb to the same colour as the matches shadow. I then scaled and arranged it behind the bulb and created a second copy to of the shadow to fit with the matches.

Once all of the image elements were in place I used the retouch tool to remove the staples that joined the matches and removed the blu-tac from the base of the bottom match. I then reduced the exposure and saturation slightly to ensure that there was a low dynamic range.


This assignment has really pushed me to consider the meaning of my images. The theme challenged my thinking and at times it was difficult to think of where to go next. One thing I was conscious of was to not to get too carried away with the concept at the expense of the technical requirements of the assignment. Whilst reading Bull (2010: 41) I was intrigued by how words can be used to fix the meaning of an image and the connotation of its content.

The act of making a photograph automatically de-contextualises what is in front of the camera and places what is photographed into new contexts.

(Bull, 2010: p. 41)

Taking this into account I have tried to create titles for the images that hint at the intention what the images are trying to say. I hope to continue this theme after I have submitted my assignment, to push myself further and develop my creativity.

Assignment Feedback

1. Developing Media

My tutor liked how the image fitted the theme of this assignment, but pointed out to me that it didn’t quite fit the criteria of low light. I also thought that because it was a parody of a darkroom I thought there should be a reddish effect. Therefore I thought this might be a good opportunity to put into practice some of the techniques I have been learning to use in Photoshop. By increasing the contrast, reducing brightness, using the ‘curves’ to darken the image, and alter the colour balance towards red in the mid-tones I was able to produce the image below. I feel it is more representative of a darkroom.

After posting the above image on Flickr I received some advice about adjusting the white point so that it resembled a red-safe environment. To do this I created a new ‘levels’ layer and moved the white tone inwards to create the image below. Although it is probably moving away from the low-light condition that I needed to create to fulfill the assignment criteria, I think that it fits the intention I wanted to produce for the theme of the image.

White point adjusted

4. Growing to Wilt

My tutor liked my approach to this image but suggested that there could be more of an indication of the darkness in the scene. I increased the contrast slightly to produce a darker version of the same image (below).

Growing to Wilt (increased contrast)

I feel that the darker background has added to the overall impact of this image and has emphasised the highlighted areas more.

Pearishing Fruit re-edited

5. Pearishing Fruit

My tutor liked how I had composed the original image but that the many greens didn’t fit with the idea of low contrast. She had suggested that the image may need flattening, which I found out when I opened it back up in Photoshop. After flattening the two layers I increased the ‘lights’ level, which has muted the greens and created a much fainter image that is more appropriate for low contrast.

One Response to Assignment 2: Digital image qualities

  1. Pingback: Is seeing unbelieving? « my digital eye

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