Sunday, 22 January 2012

Train your gaze - Assignment 8

Set texts must be a difficult thing to decide upon, course designers must have a lot of choice but finding a extant text that can even adequately match the aspirations of the course would be, I suspect, a taxing trial.

Suggested as a key text for people and Place: Train your Gaze. A Practical And Theoretical Introduction To Portrait Photography by Roswell Angier is one which has really caught my imagination. It comprises some 12 chapters and 11 of them have assignments . I shall revert to discussing the book as a whole at a later stage, but I thought I would attempt as many of the assignments as I can - given the time available - and this is the first (attempt).

Assignment 8 - Out of Focus: The Disappearing Subject.

This assignment starts with a set of specific requirements for a photograph. Think of the requirements as a mental model, or a template. You may photograph whoever you wish, in whatever circumstances, but your image must conform to the following specification:

I precis, but the essence is here in four statements:

1. Your subject must occupy at least 50 percent of the frame area. He or she must be in the foreground. ....

2. Your subject must be out of focus. Not just indistinct, but seriously blurry. Nebulous......

3. Something (or someone) in the background must be crisply focussed.....

4. ....ensure that blur from camera movement is kept to a minimum...

These are my first attempts. I have converted them to monochrome as I think for the most part, they work better that way - although there is one that I think doesn't.

The first 4 have subjects that don't measure up to the 50% rule (of course I could crop to meet the assignment requirements and may do so later).

This one definitely meets the 50% rule, but has a emptiness about it - maybe that is part of the serendipitous nature of this assignment, see later.

This "face-on" shot works the best so far - but still less than 50%.

Closest to the rule, but the background is a bit nebulous. There is a strong construction element diagonally - bottom right to top left - with the background subject taking the gaze "out of the frame".

 This one works best for me - the "in-focus" angles harmonise with the shirt on the subject, probably less than 50%, and the face coming towards to camera. the echo of the arms to the ladders. It needs a crop and maybe that is part of this genre?

Last of the monochromes - head pointing to the floor, would be better looking up.

I think this version (below) of the mono earlier works better utilising the colour contrast, it is still an abstract image of colour and shapes, with no apparent narrative.

I found this first attempt quite difficult. from a technical perspective, one needs to focus on a distant subject and then turn the auto focus off and then wait for a wandering individual to come into view. These photographs were taken at a rehearsal for the local Am Dram group. I suspect it might be even more difficult out there in the real world. but I am determined to give this a go. My expectation is the serendipitous nature of this genre will develop into a technique that could be exploited in time.
I feel the shot will work if there is a contextual link between the "blurry" subject and the "in-focus" piece and I have the strong feeling that the 50% rule is arbitrary. More work needed I think.

All photographs were taken on a Nikon D3 with an 85mm lens, f1.4, ISO 3200 and a min shutter speed of 1/400the sec and a fastest of 1/1250 sec


  1. I'm finding it especially useful following your blog posts as they are increasing my own learning as well. I'm wondering about the 50% rule which surely has some meaning - maybe it gives foreground and background equal spaces for the eye to move around. Some people might focus on the background whilst others might spend more time attempting to work out the foreground figure. Obviously ones eye muscles are moving in different ways for this. A gestalt theory might be included here perhaps.


  2. Thanks Catherine, I think the 50% is arbitrary. But it is disconcerting to physically go against received learning which is to place the subject/object in the foreground and in focus, instead of the reverse. I think Gestalt theories might play a part, hadn't thought about that.