The (in)decisive moment: Workflow

29th April 2021

Smell the sea and feel the sky: Strolling Down the Promenades

Contact sheets show how I work through the images. For this assignment they begin with the original photographs taken on the 17th April 2021, and then show the progression to final selection. They can all be found in a contact sheet post which can be accessed here: The (in)decisive worksheets. 

They consist of: *V1 Original images * V2 Annotated original images * V3 and V4 Selected images and selected annotated images * V5 Final selection annotated

The Brief

“Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive moment. You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’ or you may choose to question or invert the concept by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments.” OCA EYV (2014)

Introduction: Ideas

Once I had read the assignment brief, I knew that I wanted to shoot some more images connected with the work that I had produced for Exercise 3.1: Freeze, which had involved people walking in a tourist spot called Hall Place and Gardens.

I enjoyed taking the images for exercise 3.1 and I had focused on body positions and body language as well as feet positions which showed them about to be lifted or re-placed on the ground. The images for this exercise can be found on this link, here.

Another aspect from Exercise 3.1: Freeze that had influenced my choice, is how I lay on the ground to get a much better perspective for the shots as it enabled me to capture the soles of the shoes within the image. I believe that the unusual angle and looking at people walking from a low perspective gave a visually intriguing image to study. One example of these images can be seen below.

Fig. 1 Tomlin, D. ‘Terry and Dawn‘ shot at ground height for perspective

Since I was focusing on the walking stick and feet positions for the above shot I decided that I would not concern myself with capturing the whole body for added detail within this composition so my focus was below the waste. On seeing my image for the first time my decision had paid off. The composition was made stronger by the lady in the wheelchair behind the walking man and without the whole body in the shot, visually our eyes are drawn straight towards the lady in the wheelchair and then across to the walking stick and finally following the direction down the leg to the foot.

To develop this concept further I knew straight away that I wanted to focus this assignment down beside Lowestoft beach on the top and bottom promenades. These two areas have lots of footfall of people on their own and in groups as well as those on bicycles, pushing buggies and walking dogs, all of which means there will be many interesting details to capture and not just feet and walking sticks etc.

I also began to contemplate a toddlers eye view for my shots which would bring a different composition and perspective to my images, as well as visually hoping that this would focus the viewers eye on the subject walking. This concept I would need to review in camera after some trial shots had been taken on location.

List of ideas:

  • Location: Top and bottom promenade Lowestoft
  • Time of day/ night: Weekday from 10.30am to 3.00pm
  • Lens: *Wide angle 7-14mm (14-28mm 35mm equivalent), *Fixed focal 20mm (40mm 35mm equivalent) quite near to how the eye sees things plus a natural perspective
  • Theme: People walking
  • Focus: Feet, legs, dogs, buggies
  • Perspective: Low – laying and sitting (a toddler’s eye view)

Composition

I was quite excited about the toddler’s perspective for the shoot. I had already thought about this concept for some of my street photography work as I often lay and sit on the ground to capture unusual perspectives of objects and people. The seaside is a great memory for youngsters and I still remember my trips even well into my teens so I would like to present to the viewer, the seaside promenades from a child’s perspective.

For this assignment I had researched some well known photographers that had produced photographic images around seaside towns but although, for example, Martin Parr gets really close to his subjects and fills the frame completely with them, they are portraits rather than the study of people ‘walking’ and details that appear when focusing visually low, which is the theme that I wanted to capture. Faces and features are a big part of Parr’s imagery but for me I was thinking that not all of my shots had to abide by the standard rule of not cropping off slices of heads and faces. I wanted the images to feel like quick glances that a young child would take in, from their point of view the perspective predominantly means they look upwards which means that there is some degree of distortion in what they see, and also that they may only catch the persons waste and what comes below it.

I had also come across this quote in my research which discusses the ‘Depictive Level’ of photographs. Stephen Shore (2007:38) states that ‘…there are four central ways in which the world in front of the camera is transformed into the photograph: flatness, frame, time, and focus.’

Photography is inherently an analytic discipline. Where a painter starts with
a blank canvas and builds a picture, a photographer starts with the messiness of the world and selects a picture. A photographer standing before houses and streets and people and trees and artifacts of a culture imposes an order on the scene – simplifies the jumble by giving it structure. He or she imposes this order by choosing a vantage point, choosing a frame, choosing a moment of exposure, and by selecting a plane of focus.

Shore,S. (2007:37)

The above quote really focused my attention on how my photography practice should be looking at vantage point, framing, plane of focus and the decisive moment. Usually I may only thing about the vantage point and the composition within the frame which includes the decisive moment of taking my images. Reading loosely around the new concepts has been an eye opener to new concepts which have been very thought provoking and influential to my practice. I had already attended an OCA zoom lecture about the Depictive level of photography (link to blog post) which had given me lots more to think about when planning series of works.

I had also decided that I wanted to keep the backgrounds as basic as possible with very little distractions from my main subject. Having focused the shoot towards the sea it emphasised the ‘seaside’ theme and the walls, sand, sea and sky which do not attract the viewers eye as much as a busy background would have. The busy background of a seaside environment with the amusement arcades and ice-cream parlour will be an excellent series with the decisive moment shots but for this series it is really about the people, their body positions, clothes, their relationship in terms of positioning when other people are in the frame with them and the over all the concept of a young child focusing on people.


Photographers research

Due to the fact that I knew the theme that I wanted to work on for this assignment and that the location would be along the promenades of Lowestoft, I decided to research photographers that have produced work connected with people down by the sea as well as diCorcia who pre-focuses on people walking into his focal plane.

The links for the three photographers that I researched can be seen below.

I also dipped in and out of the books, 100 Years of The Seaside, Seaside Photographed, Family Photography Now and looked through my postcard collection of Lowestoft, examples of which can be seen below.

The Shoot

The diagram below shows the two promenades on a map and the positioning along them where I laid and sat for the shoot. The difference in the upper and lower promenade shots can be seen by the horizon lines.

The lower promenade images where I was laying, took in the wall, sand, sea and sky. This is in contrast to the upper promenade where I sat which takes in the wall, sea and sky.

Fig. 3 The above diagram shows where the final selection of shots were taken in Lowestoft.

Technical

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
  • Lens: *Wide angle 7-14mm (14-28mm 35mm equivalent), *Fixed focal 20mm (40mm 35mm equivalent)
  • Settings: Aperture Priority, ISO 640/ ISO 1600, W.B. Incandescent, Spot metering 
  • File type: RAW and jpg

The above diagram shows the selected eight shots and the location that they were taken along the bottom and top promenades. The differences between the images can be seen in the perspective of the people and their positioning within the frame. Compositions also differ because I used two different lenses.

The reason behind the choice of trialing two lenses is because I did not know how the compositions would emerge during the capturing of the images. The Lumix G20 which is a fixed focal length of 20mm (40mm on a 35mm equivalent) is one of my lenses that I use within my street photography work. This is used quite a lot in my practice because it is a pancake lens which means is light weight and it is free of perspective distortion which you sometimes see with wide angled lenses.

The second lens that I chose to trial for this assignment is one that I have only used twice because it is fairly new. The lens is the Lumix G Vario 7mm-14mm (14mm-28mm 35mm equivalent) and I was very eager to see how images would be captured using this lens when up close to people. This lens has an amazing 114° angle of view and wondered if this would give a wider feel to the picture plane.

I also tried a new second hand zoom lens, however although the shots were fine there is a white film over the images and a couple of blemishes. On looking at the lens I had not picked up on the fact that it has two filters on it. What these are for, I do not know, but I will definitely need to research them as I have not used filters before. As for the blemishes which are like small dark patches on the images, I will have to see if the lens is dirty anywhere and clean it accordingly.

Fig. 4 An image showing the blemishes in the sky around the cup and the milky haze layer.

My lower shots which represented the toddler’s eye view were taken laying on a step, about four inches from the ground. The second positioning was the camera placed on my lap for the shots that represented the younger child, roughly between the ages of 3 to 5 year olds.

To capture each image I had a predetermined focal area which was directly in front of my camera and I knew that I wanted my subject matter to walk into the frame with space in front of them so that the viewer would visualise the subject walking through the composition and out the frame at the other end.

In my trials I realised that if buggies and dog walkers walked in front of me that the composition dynamics changed and with it my timing and how I envisaged the composition.

This is a positive thing as I have learnt about the dimensions of the subject matters with other ‘objects’ with them. I also found the images to prove more interesting when people were pushing buggies or walking the dog as the images held more information to engage the viewers and the compositions were not as bland.

I found it very easy to judge the timings and the compositions – the decisive moment. I have used this practice many times in my street photography but I didn’t know that it was called this or even that it had a history about it or was in fact a well known technique with debates around it.

Smell the Sea and Feel the Sky: Strolling Down the Promenades

The Images

Selecting the images

While selecting the images I looked at the size of the people within each image and whether they had an interesting aspect to their composition, such as facial expressions, body movement forms, additional and additional objects. Fig. 4 shows how I annotated the contact sheets to help me focus upon interesting features which helped me to narrow down my selection of images, and note any post-processing that may be needed such as cropping.

The chosen images

After post-processing a few of the images by cropping and adjusting their contrast, I chose the final eight images which can be seen below in Fig. 5 which also shows the settings for individual shots.

Fig. 6 Image technical notes

Reflection

The shoot went extremely well although I should have really gone back and taken many more images over a period of time. This would have given me more images to select from as well as capture the different types of people which use the promenades at different times of the day. For instance my daughter cycles along the upper promenades, while others walk to get to CEFAS and other places of work, early in the morning. Therefore different times will show different light colours as well as shadows, and people will also be wearing different clothes.

By varying my times of the day and night, I could have gained a much larger representation of the categories of people using the promenades.

Connected with the time of the day was the suns positioning. Due to the fact that some of my subjects had the sun behind then as they were walking their facial features were not highlighted enough to give a good clear representation which let them down. The question I ask myself now on reviewing these images is, ‘Should ~I have only shot in one direction, which would be the figures entering the frame from the left and exiting it on the right?’

This is exactly how Walker Evans had worked in his series, ‘Labor Anonymous’. Here he photographed his subjects walking into the sun from the right edge of his frame towards the left edge.

Although I shot people from both directions and lost detail in some depending on the suns direction on them, I have to answer my question as follows. A child would view all people from every angle therefore it is only natural in this instance that the images should represent both walking directions and their corresponding natural lighting effect

Visually the shots are interesting because the vantage point is unusually low, floor level and sitting level, which I like to classify as the ‘toddlers/ child eye view’. I have been looking at whether the images fall under passive or active framing and have taken part in a number of discussions about this concept with fellow students and my daughter. It seems that many people either do not know about this concept or are quite ‘fuzzy’ on interpreting due to the way individuals perceive things and the intent of a photographer not being communicated with his audience.

I have personally come to the conclusion, whether rightly or wrongly, that the images in my series fall under the heading of both passive and active framing for specific reasons which I discuss below.

Firstly they fall into the category of active frames because the structure of the images begins at the frame and the viewer’s eyes are drawn into the composition and to the subjects, the focus for the scene. For me personally, my interest stays within the picture plane because I am satisfied with analysing the image’s content in regards of the concept of a ‘toddler’s eye view’ and the interest in the information in the picture plane. The information within the photographs is the little details that we may miss in our usual quick glances of people. I also view them for an active framing position because I, the photographer, created the images for the specific content inside the frame only, I actively chose the framing.

However, unless the viewer knows about the concepts involved in my series, I believe the majority of the audience to my images would come from the direction of passive framing.

The second category, passive framing, can be selected for the viewers that would come to the images without any pre-conceptions of the ‘toddler’s eye view’ perspective. Within this framing technique the viewer’s eyes are drawn into the picture plane, they observe the subjects but also they wonder about what is beyond the frame. They want to know what the subjects cropped body parts and faces look like which are beyond the frame and also where are the subjects going or coming from? What does the seaside look beyond the frame? Are they walking to the amusements? Are they walking home? Etc.

For some pictures the frame is active. The structure of the picture begins with the frame and works inward…
While we know that the buildings, sidewalks, and sky continue beyond the edges of this urban landscape, the world of the photograph is contained. within the frame. It is not a fragment of a larger world.

(Shore, S. (2007:62)

The technical and visual skills for this series are connected with the decisive moment in terms of timing and composition and camera settings. I believe that I have approached this aspect well, choosing the correct lenses, ISO and other settings which work with the subject matter and the time of the day that the images were taken. On creating the diagram above which shows the settings of each image, I have noticed that I changed the shutter peed and focus length. This is an area of my practice that I need to work on because the settings should have stayed the same for both shoots.

The reason the settings should have been uniformed is for fare recording of subject matter. The camera within this series represents a child’s eye and therefore consistency is needed throughout the shoot.

The visual skills connected with composition and interest of subject matter also matched my aims and objectives for this series of photographs.

Could these aspects of this series be improved upon? I believe that visually some of the compositions fill the frame too much and needed just a little negative space at the side of the frame that the people are walking towards. This would give a stronger feel of movement as the subjects are moving towards the empty space. In some of these shots though it is impossible to do this as it would mean altering the dynamics of the composition of the series as a whole. I wanted to use exactly the same focal area for each shot the uniformed compositions would be achieved which symbolise the same child seeing the compositions from the same perspectives. If I had altered the amount of space the camera was recording it would mean the child would be moving around the environment and not static which is the aims of this series.

Fig. 7 Analysis of subject and composition

Bibliography

Hogarth, S., McLaren, S. (2016) Family Photography Now. (Illustrated edition) London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

PA Photos (2009) 100 Years of The Seaside: Twentieth Century in Pictures. (1st Ed.) Florida: Ammonite

Prof. Williams, V., Dr. Shepherdson, K. (2019) Seaside Photographed. (1st Ed.) London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs. (1st Ed.) London: Phaidon

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