Exercise 5.1 – ‘the distance between us’

The exercise brief is found on p104 of the course notes:

Use your camera as a measuring device. This doesn’t refer to the distance scale on the focus ring(!). Rather, find a subject that you have an empathy with and take a sequence of shots to ‘explore the distance between you’. Add the sequence to your learning log, indicating which is your ‘select’ – your best shot.

At this point I have to admit that I do not understand the brief. These are all everyday English words, all of which I understand, but put together in this way they become mysterious. I have particular difficulty with ‘explore the distance between you’ and, consequently, a secondary problem with ‘Use your camera as a measuring device’. This might be because in my day job as a surveyor, the words ‘measure’ and ‘distance’ have particular defined, literal meanings so I am uncomfortable using them as metaphors.

However, “there are no right or wrong answers …” so I will work with the parts which I can understand. I am looking for a subject that (not ‘who’; this does not have to be a person) I have empathy with, to take a sequence of shots and select my favourite.

When you review the set to decide upon a ‘select’, don’t evaluate the shots just according to the idea you had when you took the photographs; instead evaluate it by what you discover within the frame (you’ve already done this in Exercise 1.4). In other words, be open to the unexpected. In conversation with the author, the photographer Alexia Clorinda expressed this idea in the following way: 

Look critically at the work you did by including what you didn’t mean to do. Include the mistake, or your unconscious, or whatever you want to call it, and analyse it not from the point of view of your intention, but because it is there.

These images were made in the kitchen garden at Chartwell, Churchill’s house in Westerham, now in the care of the NT. I entered the garden in a foul temper; the house was hidden by scaffolding on three sides and the gardens were full of loud half-term kids on a treasure hunt (I know; I can be a real misanthrope sometimes) and started shooting close-ups of flowers [technical note: Pentax K-1, 100mm f/2.8 macro lens]. Without particularly selecting subjects, I found that I was going for “flowers past their best” and also that I was mellowing and enjoying myself.

I found an empathy with this particular subject matter because there is a combination of melancholy (death of something beautiful) and renewed hope (after the flowers come the fruits, seeds and next year’s new life)

All of these images are presented uncropped, with overall exposure and contrast work done in Lightroom but no vignettes, grads or other local adjustments. The framing is a bit ‘loose’ because I was working with a prime lens and sticking to the paths rather than wandering onto the flower beds and getting in close.

The shallow depth of field simplifies, but does not eliminate the backgrounds, and also blurs secondary elements of the subject plant. The crowded beds mean that the foreground shapes and colours get repeated in the backgrounds. There are also the occasional surprises, such as the large pink rose in the background of IMG7156.

It is only when viewing the images on screen that I really appreciate some of the details, such as the ‘3-shaped’ orange bits (sorry about the terminology – I’m a surveyor not a botanist) in IMG7131.

I am only allowed one ‘select’, which is difficult because my opinion changes each time I run through the image set. However, the one I return to most often is IMG7205, which is a slightly longer shot than the others, having a more interesting background as a result.


If working it up for competition, or a gallery wall, I would desaturate the yellows and greens, crop slightly from the bottom left and tone down the intruding flower head on the right-hand edge. There is still work to be done, but the image below is a good start.



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