Assignment One: Square Mile – The Shoot

Initial thoughts and reflection on the shoot.

Having come up with my plan I have now carried out a full shoot, with a couple of follow ups to deal with some difficulties encountered along the way.

Unfortunately I lost at least a  week because of poor weather – gales and rain.  Ironically, when the weather did clear the first day on which I could go out with the camera the weather was actually too good (can that ever really be possible?) and the strength of the low sunlight caused a number of problems, as I anticipated when originally considering how to approach this assignment.  In particular, in a couple of places the sun was either directly behind the subject, caused flaring across the lens, or the sky was so bright that some shaded places were simply too dark to photograph well.  I tried a few solutions but none worked adequately:  I tried exposure compensation for areas that were otherwise underexposed but this led to the lighter areas being massively over-exposed, without improving the shot at all (this was so evident ‘in camera’ before taking the shot that there was no point in even trying); in one place I tried a ND graduated filter but this was not a significant improvement and, in particular did not deal with the flare, which even a large lens hood could not prevent.  Ultimately all that worked was going back later in the day to reshoot when the light had softened and the conditions were more overcast.  The reshot images are much better than the attempted fixes.

These problems apart, contrary to my original expectations, some of the shots do, I feel, benefit from having a stronger light, though over all I am still of the view that overcast conditions are better suited to the effect I wanted to achieve.

Another change is that I did decide to include a few views beyond the narrow confines of the route itself.  Particularly I decided to include a couple of views of street signs/road names as they help to orient and ground the series of pictures.  A couple of them also usefully as a way-markers, at points along the route where alternative, on this occasion not taken, routes offered themselves as possibilities.  These open up the possibility, in due course, of including alternative loops and routes, expanding on the depiction of a wider ranges of the places where I walk the dog.

I also included a water filled trough, fed by a nearby spring the also supplies a well that gives that part of the route its name, as this is somewhere that my dog invariably stops for a drink.  Without originally realising it it struck me that Jodi Taylor’s work, that I referred to in the first post on this assignment, actually has a stronger resonance.  This particular, small and otherwise fairly unobtrusive place on the walk has in fact already acquired a sense of importance and significance in the context of the walk, not least from the point of view of my thirsty dog!  On that basis I felt it was worth including in the shoot (though whether it makes the final cut remains to be seen).

How did the experience of walking round with the camera compare with walking round with the dog?  Completely and utterly different, which has implications for how I view the activity, as I will come to below.

Firstly, I was of course without the dog!  In some ways being without the dog made me more attentive to certain aspects of the walk (the views, sightlines, and so on) but in other ways I missed so much more.  I paid less attention to what was going on closer to ground level; the changing surfaces – road, muddy path, unevenness, stones and tree roots, vegetation, drifts of dried leaves.  It was in some ways a less rich experience, visually and physically.

My encounters along the route were different from what they would have been if the dog had been there.  Many interactions occur because of the dog and because of his presence they take on a certain character – he is often the centre of attention.  This time, in his absence, it was more the presence of the camera – which could hardly be avoided, mounted on a substantial tripod – that influenced the nature of the encounters, mediated them in a very different way, and on occasions simply got in the way.

It was also simply less fun!  Walking with an inquisitive, energetic, super-friendly, ten month old Border Terrier is much more engaging (though not without its own challenges) than lugging round 4 kilos of camera and tripod, together with a bag of extra bits and bobs (spare battery, filters, etc.).  At times the walk actually became a bit of a chore!

It also took a great deal longer – almost three times as long: extra time was needed to set up each shot, adjusting position as necessary; eating from time to time to let cars/walkers/horses pass to avoid them being included in shot.  And that time does not include having to go out twice more to get better shots in a couple of places!

I should perhaps have thought about this when planning what I was going to do but in fact this exercise does not in fact record the activity of walking the dog (in the way that Richard Long’s photograph is a direct record of him having walked back and forth along his chosen line).  In fact it takes me much more towards the Tom Phillips approach of recording places, and Jodi Taylor’s record of places with significance.  What I have recorded is not the walk but the route.  It just happens to be a record of a route over which an activity has taken place.  Nevertheless none of this in any way changes my satisfaction that it is a valid approach to the assignment but it does at least represent a shift, and perhaps not such a subtle one, in the way I think and how I feel about the significance and meaning of the final images (once chosen).

One technical change:  I stuck to my original intention of keeping the aperture set at f16 for the right depth of field, and remain happy with this approach.  (Before the day of the shoot I did as an experiment try f11 as well for comparison but did not feel is made enough of a difference to warrant taking a full set of alternative pictures.)  I did though go for a much shallower depth of field for the road signs, to make them more the subject and reduce the visual significance of their backgrounds.  In a number of places (but not all) I also experimented with a focal length of 35mm as well as 50mm.  Just from viewing these shots on the camera’s screen at the time of taking them I was not convinced that they made a sufficient difference to the outcome of the shot to make them worth persevering with, or that they were achieving the view I wanted to capture.  Some at least were just what would have been achieved at 50mm but from a different location.  I will though make a final decision on this in the next entry where I will look at the pictures themselves.

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