Truth of an Object

For our Truth Assignment we have been exploring photographic truth and what makes an image truthful or not. There are many differing opinions and some critics even suggest that truth is simply an illusion.

I chose a simple pair of egg cups and attempted to photograph them truthfully.

I guess that the last photograph is the most truthful and most honest. In all of the photographs I have shown the texture and shape of the egg cups but in each of the other images I have obscured part of them and not allowed the viewer to see the full picture.

I have photographed the egg cups from unusual angles and in the third image, unless you have been told that they are egg cups you may not even realise that that is what they are.

There is no scale in the photographs either so unless you already have an understanding what an egg cup is you have no idea of how big or small the object is.

In all of the images though I have selected the lighting, the ISO that I shoot at and the shutter speed and aperture. The very fact that I have selected to photograph these in the studio and not in their natural habitat of the kitchen cupboard means that my opinions and my ideas have caused me to represent the truth in a particular way, a way that is personal to me. I guess the question is, is my truth the same as someone else’s?

Emotions

Rankin talks about finding the ‘essence of a person’ or the ‘honesty’ in a portrait which fits in very well with out Truth Assignment. In our studio session this week we were given a piece of paper with an emotion written on it and asked to photograph one of our class mates portraying that emotion.

I was given the emotion ‘unnerved’ and asked to photograph Erin. Initially she hid behind the chair but after that I tried to pose her in a way that suggested that she had seen something (perhaps a spider on the wall) that had unnerved her. I wanted to see big eyes looking off camera and her mouth slightly open. Unnerved is quite a subtle emotion but I think we managed to capture it quite early on.

Then I remembered that Rankin uses hands, arms, hair and clothes as props in a lot of his portraits. So I asked Erin to put her hands to her face like the painting ‘The Scream’ but rather than looking unnerved I thought she looked more like she was laughing at something.

I asked her to put her hands on her head, open her eyes widely and take a sharp intake of breath. I took several shots like this, some more closely cropped but this is the one I like best. Through the fear that she is portraying, there is still a lively glint in Erin’s eye.

While I had Erin in front of the camera we talked about other things and I took the fifth image while she was looking at a friend. That is the image, with a shy smile, that shows the side of Erin’s character that I am most familiar with.

I was a little shy about doing the shoot with my classmates and tutor watching on but it really helped to keep talking with Erin while she was being photographed. It helped us try different poses and together work out the best shots. I hope too that it helped her to feel more relaxed and more confident too.

The environment of the college studio is probably more familiar to Erin than it is to me but if I was taking photos of someone who was unfamiliar with the lights and set up I would need to spend some time explaining what was happening in order to put them at their ease.

It is a good practice to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve before going into the studio and I took this image of Amanda Seyfried as Red Riding Hood as initial inspiration for an unnerved look.

 

Family Vanitas

Following on from the Vanitas project we have been working on in class, I wondered which items some of my family might choose to put in a Vanitas image.

I decided to convert the lounge into a bit of a make shift studio one evening. I set up a table, covered it in black paper and hung more black paper as a background. I didn’t want the background and table to distract from the item I was photographing and I wanted a darker gloomier feel to the photos.

I set up one soft box to the left of the table to light the Vanitas items and and set another light up behind the table to light the background. The set up wasn’t ideal but it was the best that could be done in such a small space.

A lot of the Vanitas paintings have a portrait in them somewhere so I included the person whose items I was photographing and used an old mirror frame to emphasise this idea.

I calmly talked the project through with my nieces and nephew and asked them what kind of items we might include in each of their photos. We talked about what items they might have included last year and do they think they might choose different things if we did it again next year. It was all very sensible and educational. Then I asked them to gather the things we had spoken about and all hell broke lose! The piles of items grew, the toys they chose got bigger and they even changed their outfits to their favourite clothes. They wanted to get involved in displaying their items and as they have me twisted around their fingers I gave in and my nice triangular display shapes went out of the window.

I wanted to focus on this idea of life being vapour and fleeting so I didn’t use the flash, set up the camera with a longer shutter speed and asked the children to duck out of the picture after a few moments. They loved doing it and two out of three of them took it very seriously indeed.

I find the final images a bit disturbing. These are three children, that are very full of life and that I love very much, looking like ghosts and as if they are no longer with us. Each picture perfectly describes their character and the things that they are into.

Not satisfied with ‘doing themselves’ they then created a version for mum and dad and gave me instructions for creating another for nanny and grandad. The adults were less good at ducking out of the image but I particularly like the way that the mum and dad picture has them interacting with the items chosen for them.

The final image of nanny and grandad was a bit easier to do. They still displayed the items themselves to be sure their most important items were clearly visible but with a lot more room and a large picture window on the right of the table, all I needed was a reflector in order to light the display.

 

Histograms

A histogram is a statistical graph that represents the frequency of values of quantity by vertical rectangles of varying heights and widths. The width of the rectangles is in proportion to the class interval under consideration, and their areas represent the relative frequency of the phenomenon in question (Dictionary.com).

My camera’s light meter measures how many light and dark pixels (luminosity) there are in a scene and displays them as a histogram. The blackest pixels, or the shadows, are displayed on the left, the whitest pixels, or the highlights, are displayed on the right and the other shades in between in a 256 step scale. The midtones, displayed at 18% grey are in the centre. The taller the graph is, the more pixels of that tone are in the image.

If a pixel is totally black it will be shown against the left axis and it cannot be corrected in Photoshop or Lightroom. If a pixel is totally white it will be shown against the right axis and again it cannot be corrected. This is called clipping and is best avoided.

If the photo being taken is under-exposed the histogram will be mostly to the left, if it is over-exposed it will be mostly to the right. A correct exposure displays a histogram with a good range of shades throughout.

It is always worth checking the histogram on the camera to see if all of the tones are where they are expected to be. Low key images should display a histogram with most of the tones to the left and a high key image should display a histogram with most of the tones to the right. Cameras try to automatically produce photographs with a good range of midtones so particularly when taking low key and high key images exposure settings may need to be adjusted manually.

Histograms also give an indication of the amount of contrast there is in a photograph. A narrow histogram generally reflects an image with less contrast while a broad histogram has more contrast. Contrast has darker shadows and brighter highlights to ‘pull out’ texture in an image.