Collecting • Drivetrains final selection

It was fairly easy to prune 153 images down to a long-list of 30. Where subjects had been duplicated, I selected the best-framed of the set. I also eliminated images with gross technical faults, very poor framing or very cluttered backgrounds.

Selecting the final 9 for printing and submission took longer. I decided to opt for large-wheeled bikes, because I found that complete or near-complete rear wheels formed a dominant picture element, distracting from the main subject (the gearing and chain). I selected a set with reasonably consistent framing, which I was able to improve on with minimal cropping. During print preparation in Lightroom, I noted that two selected images were not sufficiently sharp, and therefore had to select substitutes.

These are the images finally selected and printed:

All images are RAW files, processed in Lightroom. Global settings were used to increase clarity, reduce vibrance and open-up the shadows. I also attempted to make the histograms as similar as possible, particularly the central peak which represents the colour of the paving.

Finally, to complete my homage to the Bechers, I produced a tenth image, being a composite print.

Collection composite

Collecting • refining the concept

It is interesting to see how my preconceived idea of how I would tackle this assignment has fallen by the wayside in almost all respects. Hoping to extract entire bicycles from their backgrounds with a long lens and wide aperture has proved impossible with the equipment available and calculation suggests that it is impossible (or at least problematic) in any event.

If I want to do a typology of bicycles, I suspect that it would be best achieved by removing a group of bikes to a studio, rather than trying to ‘collect’ them ‘in the wild’ which seems to be the object of this assignment.

I have had some more success in isolating detail features, which has promise for a pictorial panel of prints.

Alternatively, I could ‘collect’ a particular type of feature. I had considered rear hubs and derailleur mechanisms, but these give the image an incomplete look as there is always some drive-chain leading out of frame to the right.

My ‘eureka’ moment was the decision to include complete drive-trains, (front and rear chainwheels, gear mechanisms, pedals and enough rear wheel to make contact with the ground. This places my viewpoint rather further away (about 1.5m) and the depth of field at f/8 (or at f/5.6, which is the best my standard zoom can manage at the 42mm (84mm equivalent) end of its range) is too great too isolate the subject.

I have therefore turned to the short end of my telephoto-zoom, 50mm (100mm equivalent) at f/2.8

This has promise, but I can understand why the Bechers chose to use flat lighting for their typologies. A further tour of the bike parks this evening should yield the images that I need.

Some work will be required in post-processing, to make my intent clear. A reduction to monochrome may be too much (especially as I used a monochrome set for Assignment 1) but a reduction of vibrance, coupled with opening-up the shadows and increasing clarity, gives an interesting look.



Collecting • problems and possible rethink

I am encountering significant problems with my proposed ‘typology of bicycles’ concept for this assignment. My intention had been to use an OM-series 50mm prime lens on an E-30 (crop factor 2.0, therefore 100mm equivalent), wide open at f/1.4 to minimise the depth of field and suppress conflicting backgrounds.


However, I am finding the lens/camera combination difficult to use and I suspect that focussing is inaccurate. In the image above, I focused on the spokes of the nearest bike, but the sharpest detail is in the chainwheels of the furthest bike. With this focal length, my viewpoint is some 6m from the subject, which leads to practical difficulty in framing the shot in close spaces. This distance also means that the depth of field is correspondingly deeper. Even at f/1.4, nothing in the image above is sufficiently unsharp.

My next shorter focal length is on the kit zoom, 42mm (84mm equivalent) but the widest available aperture is f/5.6

With this combination, I am still some distance from the subject and far too much of the distracting background is sharp. At this stage, it is time for some calculations. I am using the Simple DoF application for iPhone.

With a Four-Thirds sensor and a 50mm lens, used at f/1.4 and focused at 6.0m, the depth of field (sharp zone) extends approximately 300mm to the front and rear and it has become clear that the ‘blur zone’ starts considerably further out. Stopping-down to f/2 to improve focusing accuracy extends the depth of field to 400mm in front and 460mm behind the point of focus, which is useless in the tight bike-park situations seen above.

Adopting the kit zoom at 42mm (84mm equivalent), f/5.6 and focussing at 4.5m gives a depth of field of 655mm in front and 970mm behind the point of focus.

It appears that my intentions are not achievable with the equipment currently available. At home, next week, I will make some test shots with an RB67. Calculated depth of field, assuming a 127mm f/3.5 lens focused at 4m, is approximately 200mm in front and behind the point of focus.

In the interim, I will make a start on ‘Plan B’, collecting bicycle details with a 42mm lens at f8 at approximately 600mm range. calculated depth of field is 22mm in front and 24mm behind the point of focus, so blur is eminently achievable.

Collecting • further thoughts

Some views of a random bike, trying out focal lengths and viewpoints.

In the context of the assignment brief, the best images are those in which the subject almost fills the frame. Minimum distortion occurs at the long end of my standard zoom, 42mm (84mm equivalent) and a viewpoint 4-5 metres from the subject. The frame can be filled at the 14mm (28mm equivalent) end of the zoom range and about 1.5m from the subject, but there is no valid reason for introducing the associated distortions.

An alternative approach is to use the long end of the zoom to extract details.

This will be my fallback plan if I cannot make my original idea work.

Even with the bicycle filling the image frame, there is a lot of background visible. Ideally, this should be de-emphasised by differential focussing, requiring a wide aperture. My next experiments will be made using an OM-system 50mm f/1.4 lens. Initial results suggest that it is a little soft at f/1.4 so I will work with it at f/2, which is wider than anything I have in my E-system kit. However, with no auto-focus and no focus-confirmation aids (microprism or split-image) it will take some practice.

A further thought is that series of similar images, such as I intend, will be a typological exercise similar to the work of Bernd and Hille Becher, who will be the subject of further research. (example below)


Collecting • first thoughts

The assignment is to create a set of photographs of a subject of my choosing (some examples are suggested), keeping most of the important variables constant. A constant focal length will give a constant angle of view; combining this with a constant viewpoint means that the size of the image field will also be constant. A constant aperture, combined with a constant focal length means that depth of field will be constant.

All of these constants mean that the images will have a lot in common. To avoid them being boringly identical, I need a subject with some variations.

I have decided to ‘collect’ bicycles. They have constant features (wheels, saddle, pedals) and some with variety (handlebars and frame shapes). There is a variation in size and in colours. For the next week, I will be staying at a Center Parcs, which means that I will be surrounded by parked bikes, in serried ranks in bike parks, or chained individually to fences and railings. If I cannot find enough material this week, there is a variety of bike parking arrangements near home.

I have an idea about the combination of focal length and viewpoint to use. However, the first part of the exercise will be to explore various combinations by way of reviewing and (I hope) confirming that idea.