Simon Lewis

P&P Part Four

Selective processing and prominence

Selective processing

For this exercise I restricted myself to using Aperture rather than Photoshop. Nevertheless I’m pleased with my ability to produce 2 alternative versions to the original image.

The 1st image, above, is the base image. This was taken during an earlier part of this course about people unaware. As you can see there is quite a lot going on in terms of conflicting colours, contrasts and textures. Focus was even across the frame meaning that both foreground and background were equally in focus. This image has not been processed in any way.

The middle image has been retouched. The shop assistant’s yellow top has been made much duller as has the food in front of her and the lettering at the front of the display. Selective areas of the image were treated to reduce brightness, contrast and vibrancy.

In the final image work has been done to improve prominence. Selective colours are more vibrant and punchier–notably the yellow jersey and the food. Contrast has been applied to differing parts of the image in different amounts. Parts of the image have either been sharpened Audie focused in order to add prominence to the food and the Seller by separating her from the nondescript background. Part of the background have also been dulled down.

Overall you can see there are 3 clear treatments of this same image.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this exercise:

– While pretty much every text I’ve read stresses the importance of getting shots right in camera (and the reasons for doing so are pretty clear), it’s good to see that there is still plenty that can be done in post processing to enhance an image in various ways.

– So the question must become “what is the purpose of making such an enhancement?”. The answer will be to adjust the meaning of the image in one of several ways. One of these ways will be to remove certain elements of clutter. Perhaps these were not visible at the time or perhaps they were noted but it was not possible to reframe or crop in camera and avoid such distractions. Yet this exercise seems to be more about treating the entire photo to enhance or reduce prominence rather than to edit out unwanted detail. Again this is about meaning. In the example images above we are able to apply digital techniques to have the food seller and her wares standout. In another example we may have found that certain elements (maybe people) were just too dominant. These 2 can be selectively adjusted to enhance the overall look and feel.

– So by extension we must question the look and feel that the photographer is trying to achieve. It seems to me that the instruction and encouragement to get shots right in camera is equally to do with pre-determining that look and feel as it is about keeping a close eye out for unwanted distractions.

- It must therefore be the photographers duty to decide what he wants from an image before he even unpacks the camera.

Balancing figure and space -- [[NOT DONE YET]] --


Making figures anonymous

DSCF2010 DSCF2029
Two images taken at Heathrow, both showing figures anonymously.

In the first image the large wall of light from behind casts two members of staff nicely into silhouette. This creates a pleasing abstract, enhanced by the reflection and overall composition. At the time, I watched the pair carefully and only pressed the shutter when I was sure they were each outlined by the panes of glass to their rear. Too close to the camera and they would have bisected either the vertical or horizontal window frames, reducing the overall effectiveness of the image. I also had to watch carefully to left and right to ensure no other pedestrians walked into frame: no easy feat.

In CS5 I cropped the image to ensure the lines in the floor tile ran from the very corners of the frame towards the two walkers. Cropping also allowed me to ensure I made good use of the rule of thirds in the final composition. I also adjusted the image to ensure the picture showed a true silhouette.

The 2nd image would have worked quite nicely in the exercise “balancing figure and space”. However I chose it for this exercise because the figure is clearly, by virtue of having his back to the camera, anonymous. That the image is also nicely balanced in composition is an added bonus.

Here's what I’ve learnt in this exercise:
Interesting things happen when making figures anonymous. Whilst anonymity removes personality it adds a dynamic component that can be used purely for compositional purposes. In the examples above, anonymous figures have been placed to enhance and emphasise composition. Whilst we cannot identify the people or determine anything about them as individuals they become important–maybe even vital–aspects of their environment.

With the silhouetted walkers we can only guess about who or why, yet that becomes far less important than our ability to register their presence in their environment. They add to the environment without us needing to have any further information about them. In the 2nd image we know as much as we need to about the individual: he appears to be a businessman and he appears to be working. This is the only information we need about him. Everything else relates to the context of his environment. In other words we understand that he’s not working in his office – here he’s found an Internet cafe in a public space. This gives us more information about him. Although the background is reasonably blurred we can register enough information about it in order to ascertain his location – an airport. His location in the frame and his choice of seat in the Internet cafe allows pleasing asymmetric balance. Once again the overall result is effective even though we cannot see the businessman’s face or his work.

Busy traffic

Heathrow Terminal 5

Off on my travels again. But what better location for finding and capturing busy traffic than Heathrow on a typical morning? There’s no shortage of choice for a subject like this at an airport as the images above and below illustrate.

What I like about the image above is how the yellow sign dominates. It is an integral part of the image for illustrative purposes in that it clearly announces the context of the image. It reveals the location, the purpose and implies the need to hurry. Yet it also appears as the visual the focus - not just for the businessman heading away from us - but for us too. Direction of movement, floor tiles and rhythm of the ceiling detail all lead toward the signs. I wonder if the sign and interior designers realised it at the time?

The slow shutter speed helps to enhance the feeling of speed (1/8s f9 ISO100 9mm compact) but brings it’s own problems of not just holding the camera steady but also ensuring the timing works. I took over a dozen images of this scene but rejected most as not being busy enough.


I’m quite keen on this abstract image too. I had to shoot through glass hence the reflections lower right, but I like not just the sharp angles of the architecture but also how the escalators, lift shafts and walkways head in every conceivable direction. The fact there are throngs of people adds to the sense of busy confusion - yet notice the three concentrations of people and how they move; single static man, many static passengers and crowd of people rushing. Brilliant!

Here's what I learnt from this exercise:
- It takes time to watch, analyse and consider spaces. It’s a rare skill which allows these things to be known instantly. So better to watch, wait and plan than just shoot.
- People tend to move in waves. Not sure why but it’s important to tune into local nuances to identify this wherever possible.
- My first reactions to each place tends to be ‘there’s nothing to photograph here’. Again, it’s better to stop, take a deep breath and absorb the scene slowly.

A single figure small


I quite like the image of this single traveller waiting for his flight. He’s in partial silhouette caused by the intense light streaming in through the window. There’s enough light coming in to add a nice reflective sheen to a fairly dull and dark floor tile. Unfortunately I did not have enough space (or wide enough lens) to make the traveller as small as I’d have liked. This is, I believe, the essential element to this exercise.

At Hastings New College (below) we see a dramatic change in scale. The building towers above the subject on the sofa at the base of the stairs. She - and her baby - are tiny by comparison: much better. Although the exercise calls for only a single figure I have chosen this one (with two) as, without the baby’s bright clothing, the adult get’s lost among the furniture.

I’ve tried to use composition and the rule of thirds to emphasise the figures further; an implied line runs down the lowest flight of stairs to the mother and her position on the sofa intersects an imaginary division of the image into thirds.


So here's what I’ve learnt from this exercise:
- In this exercise the image is about space and how people use it. The individual in this type of image is little more than an accent.
- However it’s the accent - the person or people - and what they are doing, that make the space work and show it in context.
- Scale is vital. Figures above a certain size chance the focus and meaning of the image. I’m not yet sure where the dividing line is between having that person’s size revealed as ‘just right’ or ‘too big’, but aim to find out.
- Creative tools are needed to ensure the individual does not get lost in the background. Composition, timing, colours and contrast are all factors, as are the specific action the person is engaged in. In the image above, the playing mother adds some life to an image that would be dramatically different if she and her infant were asleep, for example.

I found it quite hard to find the right place and time to shoot this exercise, however I am happy with the result.