Tag Archives: communication

Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting

Pool

How do you preserve confidentiality and tell a compelling story? This photo is my answer to that question in a very specific context.

Recently I have been working on a set of photographs for the Levenmouth Foodbank which will be used in a new brochure they are producing. One of the challenges of this project was to illustrate aspects of the work of the Foodbank whilst preserving the confidentially of those who use it. It’s important to be able to tell a story through these kind of images which, for me, fall into the genre of documentary.

Why the need for discretion? It’s probably well known that people who use foodbanks are not doing so through choice but because they have fallen on hard times financially, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps more long term. There is a natural stigma about this and, for the most part, no-one forced to use a foodbank would wish to be recognised as doing so. The trustees and volunteers at the foodbank, quite rightly, also wanted to protect the identity of their clients.

One of the surprising things for me was to find that there is so much more going on at a foodbank than handing out food. I can’t be sure if this applies to all of them, but the Levenmouth Foodbank also runs a café where clients can come in and get a cup of tea or coffee, a hot filled roll and biscuits or, occasionally, some cake. It’s also a social time when clients can meet with each other and chat with Foodbank Volunteers who can guide them with things like budgeting, job seeking etc.

During a shoot at the café I was attracted to the pool table where clients can have a relaxing game with one another or, typically, challenge a volunteer to a game. I wanted to be able to capture this and illustrate the importance of human interaction in a supportive way. I also had to be discrete.

I knew this would need to be a tightly focused shot (and I’m not talking depth of field here) closing in on the detail rather than going wide. The set up for this was pretty simple. I set up my light source (one speed light mounted on a light stand bounced into an umbrella) to the side of the table. I used a wireless trigger to allow me to roam around the table looking for compositions that would work.

The single light source allowed me to create a clear focal point for the image and the shadow cast by the player on the left emphasises the light on the table. I like that the eye is drawn to the action on the table and the cue of the player on the left provides a nice leading line into the composition. It’s obvious that there are two players here and, in the background, there is also one spectator clearly visible. Immediately, there is a sense of what’s going on here without having to reveal any faces.

One of the bonuses for me is that I feel the depth of foreground shadow helps to accentuate the action and perhaps this gives a sense that out of the darkness of despair, there is always the hope of light and better things to come.

 

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The things you do

How do you illustrate an After School Club without using photographs of children doing what they do in the club?

I’m working on a project for a client to provide illustrative photographs for a website redesign and this is a question to which I’ve needed to find an answer. Why? Well, the obvious thing is to take a photo of the club in action but that would require shots of children and for that I’d need to get parental permission for every child in the photograph and that’s a logistical nightmare.

So, to avoid doing the obvious, I decided to ask the basic question: what is it the website needs to convey? Answer: that there is an After School Club. That opened up the opportunity to approach this in a different way. My original idea was to photograph a sign on a school gate and add some graphics to it so I set off in search of something appropriate that would also not identify any specific school. The answer ended up staring me in the face as I drove towards a school:

School street sign

I immediately envisaged a nice tidy crop on this with a graphic treatment that would clearly say there is an After School Club.

This is the end result:

Street sign composite

So how did I get there? Let me take you quickly through the process.

I did some initial work in Lightroom which involved slight adjustments to tone and contrast, lens corrections, straightening and cropping. The rest then happened in Photoshop where I worked with layers.

Photoshop layers

I find it helpful to name the layers so that it’s easier to make sure I am working on the correct one at any given time. As I drove home, it occurred to me that the background would be cluttered and distracting so when I got back I took a shot of the clouds which I intended to use as a background. That became a layer called Background copy (it now occurs to me it would have been easier to call it sky, but there you go; wise after the event).

I made a selection round the sign and used that selection to create a new layer via copy which I called Layer 1 and stacked that above the sky layer. I wanted to create a mixed approach to this graphically so decided that it would be good to have the word “Club” contained in a box like “School”. To do this, I made a careful selection round the “school” lozenge and again created a new layer with that. This one I called lozenge (finally getting down to one word labelling!). That was OK but it still contained the word School so that needed to come out. The easiest way to do this was to make a selection surrounding the word (but not touching the letters) and using the edit menu select fill/content aware. After that it was a simple job of tidying up some loose pixels using the clone stamp tool. Next I created a new text layer and typed the word “Club” which helpfully automatically renamed the layer. I moved that layer to overlap School and adjusted font and size until I had the closest match I could find. Then I moved the Club layer into position below School.

The next step was to create another text layer for After where I used a handwriting font, and free transform to place it just where I felt it had most impact. I was almost there, but two things still troubled me.

If you look at the original image you can see that the pole to which the sign is attached is off-centre. I decided to cut this into a new layer then reposition it centrally. That brought a better balance to the image.

Finally, I felt the sky was just too distracting so applied a gentle blur to make sure all the attention went on the actual sign.

And these, my friends, are the things you do to deliver on a brief.

Travel retrospective 4 – simply being

Looking out

Watching

It was a very hot humid day on the Indonesian island of Nias, which sits just off the western coast of Sumatra. This was in the latter weeks of 2005 after the island had suffered from an earthquake on March 8 and the earlier tsunami of 26 December 2004.

I was there as part of a BMS World Mission filming team and as we were filming I spotted this couple watching us from the window of their home across the road. I was struck by their white faces, covered in a rice paste for sun protection.

This just seemed to present such a peaceful contrast to the seismic upheavals the island had endured so recently. Here was a couple of people who seemed completely relaxed and at peace in their circumstances, happy to simply sit in the shade of their home watching the world go by. Or, more specifically, watch some white westerners filming in the heat of the day. I wonder what their impression was of us.

This makes it into my travel retrospective as an expression of the simple things in life and how we can learn so much about value from those who have so little in material terms. I often think that we easily become prisoners of our material prosperity; the more we have, the more energy we must expend in maintaining and protecting it. How easy it is to forget about the joy of simply being.

This photo was shot at 1/600 sec at f4.5 on a focal length of 105mm.

 

Travel retrospective 3 – thinking in the light

Thinking in the light

Deep in thought

I recently gave a short talk illustrating different ways in which photography is communication and used this image as an example of paying attention. By that I mean that there’s an aspect of communication involving the photographer through paying attention to the subject. For me this happens at least three times. First of all in the original taking of the photograph, considering the framing, composition, lighting and exposure; secondly in the editing process, and again in any viewing of the photograph.

This photograph was taken in Afghanistan in 2003, soon after NATO had taken over security in the country following years of conflict and Taliban rule. The taking of this photograph happened very quickly as it was one of those quickly spotted opportunities. In paying attention to the subject I was struck by the thoughtful reflective pose of this older man as he sat among some friends. I particularly noticed how the light was falling across the upper part of his head, coming from slightly behind and that his eyes were looking down, essentially away from the light. Given this man’s apparent age and the recent history of the country, I wondered what his eyes had seen and what his thoughts might be. I found it easy to imagine that he was thinking about things he’d seen, things that had been visible to him because the light fell on them. He looked to me like he carried the burden of his thoughts and I wondered if this meant he was a little discomforted by the light.

Originally shot on colour film this image was transferred to a digital format allowing me to work on it in Lightroom where I decided to convert it to monochrome in order to make the feelings it evokes rather more stark. I needed to pay attention to the subject again in the editing process in order to reconnect with my thoughts on taking the photograph and to get the tones and balance right in the mono conversion.

It’s a personal favourite, and was an easy choice to include in my retrospective.

The need to communicate

AA call box

Roadside communcation

I confess I’ve been somewhat neglectful of this blog and haven’t posted for a while. My excuse is that life has been very busy recently although I am now on holiday and will soon be heading to Scotland for a break. Some of that time will be spent in the Kintyre peninsula and I am hoping to be back with some inspiring photographs.

So, planning to be away on holiday and taking some more photographs got me thinking about this blog and the need to communicate, especially as it’s my view that photographs should have a story to tell. The combination of communication and Scotland reminded me of this particular image from my collection so, pending something new from the next couple of weeks, I thought it would be good to say something about this one.

I spent my teenage years in Aberdeen and often travelled along Deeside to Ballater and Glen Muick where Lochnagar was a favourite climb. I had passed this old AA box many times and had long wanted to have a photograph of it. I think it’s the combination of the remote location at Cambus O’ May and the nostalgia that it evokes which I find attractive. So, earlier this year when I was back up there on a visit, I parked up the car and made sure I got this long-wanted photograph (actually, it’s one of a number!).

Reflecting on this old AA box is a reminder of a simpler time long before cars had phones or people carried mobile or cell phones around with them. Every AA member (my dad was one) would have an AA key which would open any AA box in the country and inside was a phone which could be used to summon an AA patrol in an emergency. This was hardly universal coverage and I suppose if you had a breakdown nowhere near such a box you were in some deeper trouble. It was, though, the provision of communication for when it was needed.

Now that we have mobile phones we can make and take calls almost anywhere and, certainly, with my own mobile phone charging in the car on long journeys and blue tooth connected to the car’s radio system I feel secure in being able to summon help from almost anywhere at any time; and that’s got to be a good thing.

What I’m less sure about is the apparent need that many people seem to have to be always talking with someone via their mobile phone. I drive by people alone in their cars who are either talking to themselves or are on a hands-free call. I regularly pass people in the street pushing a pram with one hand and talking on a mobile on the other. What, I wonder, do they have to talk about that I don’t?

As human beings we are natural communicators – it’s something we do well and have refined amazingly. I wonder though about our technology now and I am left with the question: do we control communication or does it now control us?

Finally, let me communicate the technical stuff relating to the photograph of AA Box 472.

It was shot using a Canon 70D on ISO 200 at 1/80 sec on f/7.1 at a focal length of 20mm. Some minor processing adjustments were made using Photoshop.