Category Archives: Assignment 3

Assignment 3: Assessment Notes

This submission consists of eleven A4 prints.

The filmstrips below are intended to help the Assessor to see what changes have been made to the original set of images in response to feedback from my tutor (see previous post).  A larger version of this is also included on the Assessment Google Drive here.

IandP_Assignment 3 Filmstrip

This Assignment has been particularly insightful to understand the impact that individual images, and their position within a set, can have on an overall work.  Having decided on the final selection and order using draft 5×4 prints, the final submission was then printed on A4 paper.

Assignment 3 Tutor Feedback

• Good feedback on the subject matter, offers an interesting insight into an alternative culture.  Raises personal questions about grief and loss.  The ‘celebration of a life’ angle comes through in the images.

Boy with the flower: would have been good to have had the option of the flower in focus and boy soft. Learning: take more shots and options to choose from later on.


Learning: include the assignment brief at the top of the blog post to help the tutor or assessor.

• Good sequencing of the images.

• While the first image gives context, it’s not the strongest.  To be effective it needs to be displayed large.  Consider: removing it.


Consider: include the image of the altar, the one with the two photographs of the deceased.  Maybe this as the first image?



Image 4 – the lady playing the musical instrument (shruti).  To the uneducated it looks like she’s holding a box to hard to contextualise. Consider: removal.


Consider: adding the photo of the back of three people, arms on shoulders. Poingant and interesting angle on the idea of support and comfort


Consider: inclusion of first image (blue table).  Has a theatricality to it. Tissues are a useful signifier.  However the shadow detail of the dark Ganesh statue is lost – recoverable in post processing? Perhaps between images 10 and 11.


Consider: shot of balloons from below is striking but not helpful to the set.  Perhaps more of a stock image?  Suggest removal and replace with the people holding balloons (the one with the Shruti-playing lady).  Also remove balloons in the air – we can work out what is happening so don’t need to see it and never the best shots.


6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm



Noted: blue theme and flowers running through the set, good for tying it together and continuity.

Noted: learning log now improved due to additional menus and allowing ideas to develop within it, less linear (additional idea after tutor discussion- may consider converting to WordPress Tags rather than Categories to aid linking and cross referencing of ideas even further).

Noted: finding it helpful to use a paper notebook then transpose best ideas into learning blog.

For Assessment: present ‘before’ and ‘after’ thumbnail sequences so the assessor can clearly see what has changed.

We ran out of time at this point so the next session to focus on the wider use of the learning blog and exercises, not just Assignment specifics.

My Tutor’s feedback report can be found here.

Assignment 3 – Self reflection


Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I made no use of titles this time – viewers are given much more freedom to interpret the images in their own way (compared to Assignment 2), while I’m still confident that underlying narrative was clear enough without textual support.

Evidence of selecting appropriate camera and lenses for the shooting is given, seeking to avoid use of flash despite working indoors in preference for maintaining a good working relationship with naturally lit subject.  Recognising the need to work quickly and unobtrusively.  Visual awareness shown in spotting expressions and details during the shoot that complimented each other to create an overall cohesiveness to the set.

Social empathy and discernment while shooting in an environment with a very significant emotional context. After the media interest around the story I was keen to understand the personal motivations, approach and differences to a ‘normal’ western death.  I feel this comes through in the selected images as a heartfelt, authentic and loving celebration of life, not as a strange counterculture group on the fringes of Western society (as portrayed in some of the more sensationalist ‘Red top’ press).  As discussed in the main assignment text, I considered the inclusion of some abstracts / close ups of ritual items – shrine statues of Indian gods, personal artefacts of the deceased – but felt this muddled the key meanings around grief/celebration when included in a larger set.

Quality of outcome

Seeking to tell an interesting story made – in my eyes – of two contrasting sides.  Images sorted in a logical and coherent manner to underpin the narrative, revealing an apparent paradox in the grieving process – that of grieving itself and as a celebration of a life.
Evidence provided for the structured approach to image selection (using Adobe Lightroom’s ‘Slideshow’ feature.  Various collections were created with different images, in different orders before settling on the final edit.  In this way the images can be dragged and dropped around to instantly see the effect.  This was one of several approaches suggested by my tutor in previous feedback).
I learned that it was interesting to note how small changes can have a big impact. For example, images 4 and 5 were originally the other way round.  When viewing in sequence this created the impression of them looking ‘away’ from each other rather than ‘towards’. Swapping them around deepened the sense of community between the individuals even though they are not on the same photograph.  As stand-alone images, not in a set, this would of course be irrelevant.

Demonstration of creativity

At one level this is just event photography, in a similar way to how many other weddings, celebrations and other events are recorded every day.  But I felt like I was taking a risk here due to the high sensitivity of the occasion and emotions involved, high level of public/media interest in the story and potential to embarrass my partner had anything gone wrong and – perhaps most significantly – the inability to reshoot any of the images should there be a problem.  This was a ‘one shot’ assignment.
Equally, I was confident that my interpretation of the event met all the assignment criteria for ‘Window’ so I abandoned earlier ideas in preference for this one.  I had to work hard to understand the approach these people were taking towards the death of a loved one and reflect this with sincerity.  With regards to the development of a personal voice, I’ve sought to express the two conflicting emotions in the room as I saw them, rather than this being any suggested ‘theme’ for the photographs by anyone else.  I’ve told my story of their story which has been all over the news.  I leave it for others to judge whether the two viewpoints are consistent.


I’ve sought to demonstrate in this assignment how I have taken on board previous feedback and adapted my approach, especially around the use of my blog, confidence around people and taking a risk.  For example the breaking up of blog posts into separate posts to show the evolution of ideas over time (including the abandonment of ideas which I may one day return to).
I’m also being more succinct in my blog to make it easier for the tutor/assessor to read.  I now use a paper journal for ideas ‘on the fly’ then add this to my blog later.  Im finding that this allows me to ‘think around things’ more before committing them to the blog.
I have also tried to show more of the evolution of my editing process rather than simply presenting the final cut for the assignment. My rationale for my choices has been made clear – including where reflective thinking caused me to change my mind (e.g the use of abstract close ups).

Assignment 3 – selection

Overall approach

In a notebook, I first clarified the underlying narrative that I wanted to express and proceeded to filter-out images that met that criteria.  Short provides some good pointers for this in Context and Narrative (Short, 2011.  p102-107).  The key messages I wanted to express were:

  • Whilst parts of the day were extemely moving and sad, this was fundamentally a celebration of a life well lived
  • The power of objects; small details.  The shrine/alar to the deceased was a key focal point for the day, drawing emotions of both celebration and deepest grief at different times in proceedings.  I wanted to capture the power of sentimentality within inanimate objects.  Every item was there for a specific reason.
  • Biodegradable balloons carrying wild flower seeds were released, carring a strong message of hope, loss, potential new life (along with more obvious metaphors of death associated with letting go; something rising to the sky).

Following this I expected further iterations of sorting and refinement before arriving at the final submission.

The final result is a balance, with an equal number of images either side of a punctum, an unexpected change of viewpoint.  The first half acknowledges loss and grieving.  The second a different pespective, a celebration of life.  The work images are intended to raise questions about how we relate to death as a society.

Key decisions taken in editing

  • The sequence is intended to take the viewer on a journey:
    • Observing a gathering in progress
    • Literal and signified respresentations of loss, solitude and sadness
    • A sudden, unexpected change of perspective
    • A celebration of life then, finally, new hope.
  • I chose not to include the widowed husband in any of the submitted images.  Although he was willing, the reason for this was that I wanted the viewer to have space to explore their own relationship with death and loss, rather than being asked to relate to someone else’s situation.

Flowers feature in three of the images, providing a signifier towards impernance (a key theme in their Buddhist beliefs on life and death).  In the first half of the set the connotation is of lonliness and abandonment – a single stem discarded on an empty chair.  Later in the series the same flower is seem in a more positive light – looking upwards.  Finally, the cycle of life is pointed out to us with new hope for the future – a young boy offering a flower as a gift.

My first ‘cut’ had more detail shots of ceremonial items included.  Although these were visually interesting, I reviewed this decision later in the editing process because they appeared to detract from the key meanings around the main paradox of grieving for a loss and celebrating a life simultaneously.  These were therefore removed to give a final sequence of 11 images.

The images


1. 1/400th at f/5.0. ISO400 70mm


2. 1/400th at f/4.0. ISO400 140mm


3. 1/400th at f/2.8. ISO320 70mm


4. 1/2,500th at f/4. ISO500 70mm


5. 1/4,000th at f/4.0. ISO400 200mm


6. 1/30th at f/7.1. ISO500 35mm


7. 1/400th at f/8. ISO800 43mm


8. 1/400th at f/8. ISO100 24mm


9. 1/400th at f/8. ISO1600 160mm


10. 1/125th at f/9. ISO1600 123mm


11. 1/250th at f/5.6. ISO640 115mm


Short, M. (2011). Context and Narrative. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Assignment 3 – Execution

On the day of the event I arrived early and made sure that I had time to speak to people.  My objective was to:

1. Spend time with the widowed husband to understand what photos he would want and what (if anything) was off limits.  I sought to establish a rapport, an understanding of their Hindu/Buddhist spirituality and lifestyle. Also, to onlookers I wanted to be seen to be engaging with the deceased’s husband rather than just ‘some bloke with a camera’.

2. Allow my partner to introduce me to other key people.  This, along with the above point, I hoped would allow people to be less suspicious of me with a camera.

3. I learned the schedule for the day – knowing when to expect speaking, ceremonial/ritual practices, drumming, chanting and a balloon release.  I made sure that i understood the practical and spiritual significance of each. This would allow me to tell an authentic story of the day and be in the right place at the right time.

4. It was clear that objects, not just people, were of significance, there being a large altar space with the deceased’s ashes as centrepiece.  It would be essential to capture these details as part of telling the story.

Several hundred images were shot.  The immediate task was then to remove the duff ones to give a contact sheet of viable images.  This ‘first cut’ is below.

The next post will cover selection and ordering of the final set.




Assignment 3 – unexpected opportunity

An unexpected – but very sad – twist of fate created an opportunity for Assignment 3 which i knew had potential to be powerful, but challenging to do.

My partner’s friend passed away recently and a memorial service was planned for her by her husband.  Due to the very unusual but tender way in which her body was cared for after the death, the story made international news as far away as Russia and America:

I respectfully offered by services as the photographer for the occasion, recognising that would be treading a delicate line between a sensitive celebration of life on one hand and crassly insensitive imposition with a camera on the other.  Whilst providing – hopefully – a respectful record of the memorial, it would be a delicate matter to capture the essence of such an emotional occasion for an academic assignment.  There would be many grieving family members and friends present.

I committed to do this for assignment 3 in preference to my earlier ideas.  The reasons being:

  1. The brief asks me to acquaint myself with an unfamiliar group and tell their story.  While I knew of the deceased I had only once met her and her husband very briefly.  Over the course of the day I hoped to get to know all of them better and tell their unique story with empathy but in an engaging way
  2. There was undoubtedly a great story here – heightened by the sometimes cynical or heartfelt viewpoints that had, by now, been circulating in some of the newspapers and in social media
  3. Carrying the responsibility for photographing the memorial event in a sensitive way with such media visibility was frankly, frightening!  I felt sure it would allow me to grow as a photographer if I took the plunge
  4. My various OCA tutors have always encouraged me to take a risk.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get it right.  I could never go back and reshoot any of the images.
My objectives in planning the shoot were as follows:
  1. To capture the day with authenticity, sensitivity and gain the trust of those present.  This was no time to be a ‘paparazzi’
  2. To seek to understand how the attendees felt.  In practice this was a highly moving mix of raw grief and a celebration of life
  3. To shoot enough to have a wide selection from which to edit into the final assignment submission.  But not so many as to appear crass and annoying.  I intended to demonstrate the selection techniques suggested by my tutor in Assignment 2 as well as <*******basics book reference********>>>>>
Technical Approach:
  • The venue was a light, airy marquee, which I was very pleased about as I ruled-out any use of flash as being too intrusive.
  • I selected fast f2.8 zoom lenses, 24-70 and 70-200 and a full-frame body to allow me to work quickly in varying lighting conditions.  Lens changes would therefore be kept to a minimum to help be to remain unobtrusive
  • I identified some key areas in advance  that i wanted to focus on if I were to ‘tell the story’ of those present.  These were: the environment, the deceased, the sense of mourning, the celebration of life.
The next post will present the images and selection process following the shoot.

Assignment 3 initial ideas

After exploring the theme of ‘Mirror’ i decided that i wanted to take a more outward-looking approach to assignment 3 and so chose to explore the option of ‘Window’ instead.  Two ideas were shortlisted, neither of which have been fully ruled out yet:

1. Morris Dancers.  I have found that a morris dancing group are coming to a friend’s birthday celebrations in a month’s time.  This presents an opportunity to get closer to the group, find out about them and reflect their ethos through a series of images.  The group would appear to offer a unique mix of heritage and quirkyiness.  What makes them tick? Is it really about bells, cloudy beer and waving handkerchiefs?

2. The sole trader. I know of someone who has just taken a brave step of leaving employment for a large aerospace company and set up his own brewery.  After 20 plus years, he is suddenly standing on his own trying to run a business, selling beers to his local community through pubs and farmer’s markets. I wanted to gain an insight into his world – which feels a very brave and somewhat scary thing to do.  Having worked for a large company all my life this is a step ive often dreamed of but dared not take, so it would be interesting to explore further.

I also found some unexpected direction to how to approach Assignment 3 from the following BJP article:

The article explores what the judges are looking for in a breakthrough project from an up and coming artist.  The same philosophy could be said to apply to an assignment.  I noted the emphasis on being able to tell a unique story in a fresh and engaging way.

This set me off thinking about how i could develop my chosen idea of the farmer’s market brewer.  How do i make him appear brave in his solo endeavour? The contrast in his previous and new life? His enthusiasm, sense of going it alone and taking destiny into his own hands?  Is he fearful of rejection? Is it lonely…or motivating and exciting?