Level 3 in review

Unit 1: Visual Recording in Art and Design – Criteria P 2, 4, 5

It’s come to the end of my level 3 course and, obviously, I am more than a Little sad that it’s over to be honest.

I won’t be doing level 4 at RACC as they don’t offer the course, for the next term, but will continue on my little journey somehow with some good friends I have met along the way on these courses. Perhaps at a photo club or Society or perhaps I may drop in and pester Zig at RACC every so often just to keep him on his toes 🙂

So what have I learned this year, well to begin with, an appreciation of the art form and its deeper meanings. I have further learned to look past the image and explore what the photographer is trying to tell us either through composition, tone, texture or colour and content. There is no set pattern to what to expect from a photo and as the art is always evolving you must evolve with it and explore new ways you can portray your work.

Alongside this I have felt encouraged to experiment with techniques and styles I hadn’t before and to not be afraid to go wrong in trying those styles.

I have Learned to critique images, both my own and others, and to use that critique make selective judgements on how to present a flowing set of images or project that gels with a particular theme or approach to a subject matter or topic.

To see the tones and lines within images that “join” them with others to create a meaning or conscious collection of similar work. To objectively select images and also discard those that do not meet criteria or objectives.

I have also learned a bit more about the Importance of different media types for different Images or approaches to printing for different markets or uses. Different images or edits may affect what media you use as will the setting, lighting, framing and audience.

So here is a gallery of images taken during the level 3 course from all projects and terms both final images and prospective ones as well as other test images and such.

Still Life Final Choice

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

When we were first tasked with taking a still life image which draws inspiration from classical art I immediately thought of Vanitas , having seen mention of it in films and tv shows I had previously watched. There is something intriguing about a collection of objects and their meanings and placements and the Semiotics and meaning behind objects. I immediately had an idea of what I wanted to do and I wanted to do it differently, It was after all the idea of the task to draw our inspiration from the paintings not simply replicate them.


Some of the Images I looked at during my research. I love the idea of creating a still life with hidden meaning or a message withing the visual spectrum of the narrative.


My idea was to do a Scaled down Vanitas consisting of just a few select items that give a feeling of drakness and horror, of the fact that time is moving and nothing is forever, in short, the end is coming and no one is escaping it. To this end I chose a Skull, a candle, a pocket watch and a book of Poetry by Edgar Allen Poe as his themes frequently revolved around death,endings and darkness. I wanted to pay homage to Vanitas paintings I had seen on trips to the national gallery.


As with my portrait I wanted to put my own stamp on this image, I tried several lighting apporoaches and schemes using speedlights and studio flashes but I really wanted a low key image and the ability to selectively pick out particular components of the scene without over lighting others and taking away the dark shadowy feeling I wanted to permiate the scene. With this in mind I decided that, for the most part, the scene would be light painted using a torch and small snoots and have an element of candlelight (real not replicated) I would also add any small bursts of flash if I needed to.


For this shot I set up my scene on my desk against a black paper roll background to ensure a nice uniform darkness across the frame if any light did spill.

I used a focal length of 24mm on my 700d because I was relatively close but needed to get a wider view at f7.1 iso 100 but I actually combined 2 layers because the candle exposure is vastly different than the actual exposure for the light painting. Had I left the candle burning whilst using the torch the detail in the candle would have been lost and the overall image would not have worked as a candle lit style image. I used an exposure of around 15 to 30 seconds for the main lighting and 1/3 of a second for the candle portion. I used a white torch with a homemade cardboard “snoot” to narrow the beam and even then I used my hand to squash the end and shape the light into a sort of S shape giving a fantastic effect on the skull. Because the light wasn’t uniform I was able to really closely select the exact area I wanted lit and how strongly I wanted that area lit. I used a tripod and remote release to mount the camera and allow me the freedom to light the scene as I wanted with my chosen equipment.

I then used photoshop to edit the images together using layers to make put certain parts then blend using screen blend mode to make sure only the light part of the image was blended. For the most part the exposure was spot on as I was manually lighting so got to choose the best exposed image from the 15 or so I took.



For the Still Life image the paper used was Innova Fabriano Printmaking Rag 310gsm which features a mould made base dating back to the late 13th Century. Fabriano Printmaking Rag is traditionally the oldest and most renowned paper in Europe, used by the masters. This traditional paper provides unique white tones and soft grain texture to your artwork. The blacks on my image were extremely deep and yet the colour in the image was bright and well defined and the whites were equally as good, the texture and feel of the paper oozes quality and the paper hold the ink very well. You can view the paper information HERE


Well what can I say really, I am extremely happy and proud of the way the overall image came out. I love the lighting I have managed to create and the ambiance and atmosphere. I love how the candle has picked out the red/gold highlights in the book cover and made it appear to glow which adds alot to the scene. Overall feedback from everyone who has seen it is positive and if I were to really nitpick I think I would like to have perhaps had the composition slightly differently perhaps with more of the book cover seen and a slightly lighter watch face.

Still Life Selection

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

So for the still life portion of this term I practised my setup and lighting both and home and in the college studio several times to help achieve the look I had in mind for my Vanitas selection. Below are the outcomes from those sessions and the work that helped me decide on my final approach and image. I tried a few approaches and lighting schemes before finally deciding on my final image for the project and theme.

The final 2 Images which I blended together to make the single image are also shown unedited.

I am again happy with my approach and workflow here and in this term and look forward to experimenting more with lighting and light painting in the future. I learned alot this term about workflow and approach to a studio session and will also carry this forward the next time I am planning a shoot. I enjoyed the still life project alot and feel this is an area I will certainly be happy to work in in the future.

Testing Fine Art Papers on a new printer

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

So, as part of this terms project includes investigating fine art papers and media, I thought I would do just that. As luck would have it a trip to the Photography show allowed me to look at and discuss paper types with a few media manufacturers and I purchased a test pack of Smooth/semi smooth Fine art papers from Permajet.

Detailed below is the test pack of Fine Art Smooth papers I purchased.

Delve into the world of fine art printing with some of the best smooth and textured surface inkjet papers available. Using inkjet media with luxurious smooth finishes or clear defined textures can add a whole new dimension to your printed images.Utilizing new, multi-layer technology, coating processes and enhanced cotton rag and alpha cellulose base materials, PermaJet have created a range of lay flat, archival products that feed through your printer with ease. The enhanced coating, combined with modern ink technology ensures you achieve some of the highest Dmax ratings in the World today. These iconic photographic papers have evolved into a truly show-stopping collection which are now available in advanced 15 metre length rolls and all sheet formats.If your need is for a textured or smooth surface fine art reproduction media or you are wanting to recreate museum ‘giclee’ quality, here is a 18 sheet multipack containing our selection of nine fine art surfaces – making them perfect for absolutely any fine art inkjet reproductions:
2 x A4 sheets of each paper type below were included in the Fine Art Test Pack I purchased.







Happy with my purchase I returned home to discover that my trusty old printer had decided to retire at just the wrong time for me… Not to be beaten I looked at several options for a new printer, I had seen some real beautys from Canon at the photo show like the pro 1000 and 2000 series (which my final images for still Life and portrait were printed with). I decided that at this stage spending many hundreds of pounds on a printer was folly. I decided to buy a dedicated printer rather than a printer scanner and from the reviews and feedback I had seen I chose the Canon Ip7250 as it had very good image quality and a good dpi.

It’s an A4 printer which at this time. Is fine with me but it does have a 5 ink system for photos cyan, magenta, yellow and 2 blacks… A dye based one and a pigment based one. Combining these for deeper blacks and better tonality it seemed to be the perfect choice.

I printed a few test prints to see the difference in the papers and finish and was surprised to see just how much difference there was.


Now obviously the difference between these and your standard gloss and lustre is vast and I must say I was really pleased with the outcomes and finished test prints and particularly how well the fine art papers handled colour and blacks (very deep) and how well the printer performed given its 49 quid price point.



Source – Permajet





More studio practice.

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

During the few weeks when we as a class were taking turns in doing our studio still life and portrait sessions, whilst our classmates were shooting we had some time to take images of small still life setups and did some monocolor shots and just practice in general with the studio lights. It was helpful to work with the lights and adjust the modifiers and power settings and just generally shoot a few images examining where shadows fell and where the light fell on the subjects. Here are just a few of the outcomes.

My Still life/portrait process

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

After initially deciding on a subject for the still life or portrait image you have in mind it then falls to composition. How do you want the subject posed or objects arranged, do they need a specific arrangement or just to be placed randomly. Is there a story or some message in the composition or do certain objects need to be in the foreground of the shot.

Test composition
Test composition

Once you have decided on your Composition it is time to decide how to light the scene and which direction, strength and type of light you want to fall on the subject/objects. This is where a rough lighting process can be used.

After deciding and testing what focal length to use, the correct aperture for the scene and setting your camera to the chosen flash sync speed you can move onto a workflow for deciding on your final lighting scheme.

1 – Decide or test what type of light you want whether hard light, soft light. Do you want to try imitating a specific type of light like window or natural light. What modifiers could you use to get a chosen effect.

2 – Decide or test how many lights you want to illuminate your scene. Do you want 1 sole light from a certain direction (key light) or would you need to add some more (fill lights) to highlight a particular part or provide a certain approach such as back lighting or rim lighting the objects. Do you need to have a spotlight or reflector to give some light into a shadowy spot.

3 – Using your preferred type of light first either meter the scene or test your exposure at your chosen f-stop to check for a well exposed overall key light. This is the most important part to getting your first light set and can be done using a light meter or test shots.

4 – Begin to add fill lights to the scene testing the power and coverage of each one as you add them to make sure the scene remains as you would want it to be and that the light isn’t spilling into areas you don’t want it to.

5 – Adjust all lights and light modifiers to taste and take an exposure. Look over the image and see if you are getting the correct light into the places you want it and adjust or add more light to get to where you want the scene to be.

6 – Take your images and adjust and correct lighting, exposure or composition to match your ideas and be prepared to change those ideas if you discover a new way of doing something.

I used the process above to decide how I wanted to light both my portrait and still life shots for this term. I feel quite happy and confident in the studio now with selecting modifiers and adjusting settings and positions of light. During the term I helped several fellow students to select, position and set light power correctly for their projects and I believe this had helped greatly in our mutual understanding of the process involved.

Paper Choice and a stroke of luck

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,3,4
Whilst at the yearly Photography show held at the NEC in March, I took the opportunity to research some different types of paper for printing of my projects. As I’ve discussed some paper types before Here I thought I would update the research I have been doing as this time I was looking more at Fine Art papers. There are so many different types and textures to fine art media its very difficult to put in detail here the sheer amount of types and finishes so I will concentrate on the specific papers I looked at most.
As we have been doing a section of the Cruel and Tender project as a “fine art” based section taking our inspiration from classical art and paintings I turned my attention to researching and looking at different types of paper other than Glossy and Lustre type media. At the show there was a myriad of choice from companies such as Permajet, Fotospeed, Innova and Hanehmule to name but a few and of course each of these companies had its own signature papers from metallic and pearl papers to acid free german and cotton etchings. I purchased a test pack of fine art specific papers on the sunday with a view to printing some tests at home but upon getting all ready to print an image my printer decided to break much to my displeasure. Luckily I was returning to the show on the Tuesday with fellow students so had a chance to speak to some of the paper manufacturers and retailers and managed to get my 2 images which I had chosen for my Portrait and Still Life project printed on 2 different types of paper which I could then chose from at no cost at all, Free samples are always welcome especially whenb they are as good as what I was handed.
I showed Zig on Thursday the finals and he was very impressed with all the papers but we made a choice that in particular 2 prints stood out from the others with good overall saturation and deep blacks (which was my intention so the obvious choice was the deeper blacks). Now the images themselves are great and I am over the moon with them in all formats and almost made the choice to submit one of them on lustre as the quality was spectacular but in the end the 2 papers below won out.
For the Still Life image the paper used was Innova Fabriano Printmaking Rag 310gsm which features a mould made base dating back to the late 13th Century. Fabriano Printmaking Rag is traditionally the oldest and most renowned paper in Europe, used by the masters. This traditional paper provides unique white tones and soft grain texture to your artwork. The blacks on my image were extremely deep and yet the colour in the image was bright and well defined and the whites were equally as good, the texture and feel of the paper oozes quality and the paper hold the ink very well. You can view the paper information HERE
For the portrait I chose a Fotospeed signature Cotton Etching 305 which is a 100% cotton Acid Free Fine Art paper with a white base. The surface has an etching texture which helps accentuate detail and gives a depth to your image. Cotton Etching 305 uses the latest coating technology resulting in a wide colour gamut and pin sharp detail. Developing this paper with Doug Chinnery was such a pleasure as he understands not only his images but how a paper enhances them in a way a screen just can’t. We are thrilled to have Doug Chinnery on board as a Signature Photographer.” I found this paper to be an excellent choice for the portrait as it wasn’t overly textured and had a nice smooth feel but being a cotton based media it held the ink well and had very nice black reproductions and sharp edges to the image. You can view the paper information HERE
In summary I am very happy that I decided to investigate these papers rather than just taking a pot luck approach at an online photo printer as I got to discuss and feel the papers with the reps and they loved the images I had and helped me choose the ideal paper types for the type of images I had to print. The whole excercise had made me think more about which media suits a particular image type of usage and I will certainly be experimenting more in the future with different papers for printing.

Light Painting in Studio

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

As I was looking at techniques I could employ in the studio to help with the lighting I wanted to do for my still life image, It quickly became apparent that to do the lighting I wanted with just studio flash would have been quite hard and would probably require many lights and reflectors to achieve. It was then I decided that, in part at least, I would light paint some of my scene using a torch and a candle. So what is light painting….

Light painting in a studio setting is a technique whereby you use lights…torches…candles or anything that emits a lights as well as flash or instead of flash to light specific parts of your scene. It allows a total control over shadows and light falling onto your scene in a way that studio light and flash can’t do without hours and hours of setup and masking. I have done some light painting in the past during level 1 and 2 as a bit of fun as can be seen below but really wanted to use this technique to inject real atmosphere into the scene I had chosen as the style and feel would be enhanced by using the technique.

Light painting requires working in a completely dark studio, opening the camera for an extended period of time, and “painting” the light onto the subject. This reveals greater shape, texture and color, and is very much sculpting with light.

So how do you paint with light. Well the still life technique usually requires long exposures and dark rooms so both go hand in hand. The subject is set up as would be with any shoot. Once you have your chosen composition you can then look at how you want to light it either through a clear idea or just experiment and have fun. You must pre-focus the camera and choose a decent aperture for your depth of field, set a shutter of around 15 seconds to 30 seconds or if a more complicated scene is being used you can use bulb mode and keep the shutter open until you are finished. ISO for me was always at its lowest.

Once this is done you can then use a remote to open your shutter and begin to “paint” your subject with the light source you have chosen. Its an extremely calming process and as close to actual painting and creation or art as you can get without using a brush and paints. You are using the light as your pallette and the sensor, albeit reflected upon, as your canvas. Once the shutter closes thats it you check the image and see how it turned out and retry if you want other effects.

Using card or plastic you can shape or soften the torchlight you can colour it and diffuse it to whatever you need it to be the ways of doing so are endless and no 2 images will be the same. I must confess a love for light painting both studio and exterior, I’ve seen huge landscapes and castles given an ethereal look at night with a handtorch and waterfalls made to look alive with a phone. I’ve seen people given wings and an empty bench filled with people just using a torch.

One of the best current photographer using a light painting approach is Harold Ross who uses the technique to great effect both indoors and outdoors. Check out HIS SITE to see some stunning imagery.

Young Man Holding a Skull – Frans Hals

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,4

Thinking more about our studio Portrait task and varying the previous darker images I have seen of monks in prayer, like below,

I have been considering doing something along the same lines as the Vanitas still life I am Planning. Why not try to have a common theme between the portrait and studio tasks and perhaps even the cruel and tender part.

I saw the image below at the National Gallery on a trip and was Intrigued by the pose more than anything else. The man reaching from the canvas seemingly mid speech or conversation, gesturing to an unseen audience yet looking lost in thought.

The artist Frans Hals was born in Antwerp around 1582. His family were forced to leave their home and flee to Haarlem during the siege of Antwerp by Spanish troops. Hals studied under the Mannerist painter, Karel van Mander. In 1609 he became a member of the city’s painter’s union and society, the Haarlem Guild of St Luke and began to earn a living by working for the town council as an art restorer.

Unlike his fellow artists of the time he demanded that his patrons came to him rather than for him to leave his family and travel the country to seek out patronage and make his fortune. Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666, aged 84 with very little to show financially for his artistic career. He had been penniless on many occasions and had often been taken to court by his creditors. Left destitute, the town council had little choice but to subsidise him for the last two years of his life.

This painting is entitled Young Man Holding a Skull (Vanitas) and was painted by Frans Hals between 1626 and 1628. On first sight I immediately thought of the scene from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet when Hamlet was seen holding the skull of Yorick in the graveyard of Elsinore.

For many play and theatre buffs this scene is a lasting favourite and remains one of the most memorable images of the melancholy Prince. The play was first performed in 1600 so maybe Hals based his painting on that very scene. But art historians cannot agree and many believe it is much more likely to be a Dutch Vanitas allegory.

Vanitas paintings feature an object (or objects) which symbolises our own mortality and the fact that life is short and reminds us of the transient nature of all our earthly pleasures and achievements.

The Vanitas paintings are meant as a warning and ask us, the viewers, to think about death . The inclusion of a skull in a painting was a typical motif of a Vanitas and Momento Mori painting.

However this is more than just a Vanitas painting. In front of us we have a boy holding a skull. His rosy cheeks, similar in colour to his lips, give him a youthful appearance. His right hand reaches towards us as he gestures. You can see how the artist has skillfully shortened his arm and hand in such a way that it seems to be bursting out of the canvas towards us. In his left hand is the skull, glowing in comparison to the darkness of the boy’s palm and clothes.

The light comes from the left hand side of the painting causing a dark shadow on one side of the boy’s face. This should be relatively easy to replicate with studio lighting using barn doors and snoot to highlight the skull against the slightly darker figure.

The painter was famous for his style. He worked quickly, often painting “wet on wet”. Wet-on-wet is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint. This technique requires a fast way of working, because the art work has to be finished before the first layers have dried. This technique results in vibrant swirls of semi-blended colour. Van Gogh admired this technique and wrote:

….eyes, nose, mouth done with a single stroke of the brush without any retouching whatever,,,,, To paint in one rush, as much as possible in one rush…..I think a great lesson taught by the old Dutch masters is the following: to consider drawing and colour [as one]….”

This is an interesting portrait. There is a beautiful simplicity about it but let us not overlook the skill of the artist who has given us such a work of art which certainly gets you thinking about the circumstance behind the pose and the meaning behind the image.

Now I must look at how to light this and perhaps reimagine the scheme and pose yet take inspiration for a scene without being a direct copy of the original which, I think, would be impossibly hard to match the nuance and beauty of the original.


Daily art display


National gallery