Assignment 3: Monochrome

DPP Assignment 3 Tutor Report

Task: Choose a theme, conceive and shoot it in black and white. Bring out the qualities of form, tonal contrasts and texture. Experiment with key.

Searching for a theme

During Assignment 2 I was conscious that my there was often a conflict between the theme I wanted to cover and the image qualities I was expected to illustrate in the assignment criteria. When I first looked through my DPP course file this assignment was one of the ones that immediately jumped out at me. I’ve often had a go at processing my images in black and white but often disappointed with the grey blandness of the final image. This assignment would give me an opportunity to improve my editing skills. I am writing this assignment up in October but I actually took the images for this assignment way back in March. At the time I was recovering from glandular fever and under doctor’s, fiancee’s, and mum’s orders to get out and about in the fresh air!

I searched Google for famous black and white photographers, in need of some inspiration. I came across Hiroshi Sugimoto‘s seascape photography. His images were very simple, with clear distinctions between tones. Sugimoto’s inspiration for this subject was that without water and air we would not be able to exist. His photographs show water and air existing calmly together.

Hiroshi Sugimoto Seascape

It was whilst I was looking at Sugimoto’s images that I thought the coast would be an ideal location for this assignment, having many possibilities of showing texture, shape and form in monochrome. I have many colour photos of the coast in the summer, but I had never taken pictures earlier in the year. The windy weather and grey skies of March seemed like perfect conditions for monochrome.

Redcar in March

It was a particularly windy day when I went to Redcar beach. Redcar is probably most famous for being the location for the Dunkirk scene from Atonement. The tide was in and the sea was quite rough. It was a huge contrast from Sugimoto’s peaceful seascapes. It was very exciting and I started to think back to Sugimoto’s opinion that:

Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

I was presented with a very different scene. I started to consider how I could compose my shots to capture the energy and interaction between air and water, that there is not always a simple horizontal line dividing the two.

Below are my monochrome photographs for this assignment. For each image I followed a very similar procedure that I had read about in Digital Camera magazine. First of all I increased the saturation and contrast slightly in Photoshop CS5. Then I created a black and white adjustment layer and used the ‘maximum’ black setting. Then I created a levels layer and increased the white as far as it could go before the highlights were blown out. Finally I used the adjustment brush to slightly darken some parts of the image, enhancing texture and form.


1. This shot sets the scene. I liked how the people at the water’s edge and the outline of the factory appear dwarfed by the clouds above.


2. This image goes against Sugimoto’s unbroken horizon with the outline of the 4 ships at the top of the frame. I also wanted to show the textured quality of the waves. I liked how the small sky space created tension in the image.


3. The waves were very powerful and so I wanted to illustrate the energy of the water crashing against the wall, whilst the gulls look on unfazed by the conditions. The bold dark tone of the wall cuts through the harsh waves.


4. The waves looked like fingers trying to grab the birds at the edge. I set my camera at 1/250 sec to blur the water slightly. I also angled my camera to split the frame diagonally into a dark and light half. Again I wanted this to contrast with Sugimoto’s still horizontal seascapes.


5. I was intrigued by the various shapes and patterns being formed by the waves and how they contrasted with the very clear horizon line.


6. Whilst I was editing these images and looking at tone, I noticed how light and dark tones were divided. There is a clear division between light in the upper left half and dark in the lower right half of the image above, with the energy of the water and birds running diagonally between the two.


7. Again there is a clear division between light and dark areas in this image. I liked how the railings appeared to have imprisoned and calmed the sea across the middle of the image.


8. This is the lightest image in this assignment. Monochrome has shown the shape of the surfer walking towards the sea. The tones of the sea and sand are almost identical, creating a calmer image. I also liked how the building on the right gives a sense of scale, dwarfing the surfer.


9. I used the vignetting tool to darken the corners slightly. Again I chose this image because of how the tones are split into 3 bands (black, white, grey). When I was taking this photo I waited for the man on the beach to be ‘framed’ by the railings, to add to the sense of loneliness.


Photographing the beach in the winter has really added to the greyness I was wanting to achieve and the strong contrast in tones. However the lack of sunshine has meant that there are no bright blues and yellows in the original images. Therefore there was little scope to adjust colours into tones because the range of colours were not available. I was particularly pleased with my framing of the images and keeping in mind what I wanted to achieve by how the light and dark areas of each image were located within each frame.

I was intrigued by the textures and movement of the water so photographed sequences of still images to be played as a stop motion film. I also created some music with sound effects to try to add to the atmosphere. You can view the film here.

Tutor Feedback

Being able to get tutor feedback is an excellent aspect of the OCA courses and I’m always nervous/intrigued/hopeful of the feedback I’ll get for each assignment. I’m very pleased/relieved to say that my tutor thought I’d submitted an excellent set of images, especially those including the steelworks. It was very fulfilling to know that I’m heading in the right direction with my photography. I am now taking less photos, which is good because I’m now out of the habit of taking hundreds of photos. However the suggestions my tutor has made have helped me to realise I need to spend more time thinking about what my images say now that I’ve got a grasp of the technical side of photography. To give my photography a voice I need to broaden my research and reading around what influences me and also take more time reflecting on my own work and my photographer’s mind.

Therefore the purpose of this section of my assignment is to use my tutor’s advice to give more depth to my work by linking it back to Sugimoto and considering the work of others. Also in response to my tutor’s feedback I’ve created a page here containing some of the images I didn’t use and my reasons for not using them.

My tutor mentioned that I could have been guided by Sugimoto’s philosophy. The Art 21 refers to Sugimoto’s philosophy of photography being a time machine, preserving moments in a snapshot. This intrigued me, to think about photographers having thoughts beyond their photographs. Maybe studying both TAOP and DPP has enabled me to grasp the technicalities of taking pictures, but this is only half of the story of what a picture says. In addition to this, the internet has made it so easy to skim and scan through a vast amount of images that it is easy to neglect time to reflect on a single image, to ‘stand behind the camera’ and to think about what has come before the photographer clicks the shutter.

My tutor also suggested that I reflect on what the images I take mean to me. At the time I was at the beginning of my recovery from glandular fever and I had mentioned at the beginning of my assignment that I was drawn to Redcar because of the time of year and the different tones and textures available to photograph. Now that I have had the time and focus to reflect on this assignment further I feel there may have been a subconscious element to my choice of location and photographs. Anyone who has had glandular fever will know that it such a tiring illness, during which even the most simple tasks are exhausting. Bearing this in mind, whilst looking back through the photos I took that day I could see how they contained the energy of the sea that I was lacking and the dark, dullness mirrored my mood at the time. I’m pleased to say that I’m now completely better. My tutor also suggested that I look at Chris Killip’s work, In Flagrante, which I have done in a new blog post.

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