7 May 2012


In late April I received the result of TAOP assessment.

I achieved a PASS with 62% (2:1 standard). This was encouraging and about as good as I could have hoped for given that it took under 10 months to do the whole course and managed it all online. Am very unlikely ever to complete this course so the assessment for me is more about a marker for how things are going and whether to keep going with further courses. I know my limitations as regards academic photography and it is more important to me to maintain a good pace and keep time taken to minimum by using a blog rather than paper.

The breakdown was:

Technical and visual skills 28/40
Quality of outcome           12/20
Creativity                        10/20
Context                           12/20

Unsurprising really - I am not that imaginative and had put in conclusion that perhaps this course had not helped me as much in this direction as I hoped. But pleased to be 2:1 standard in the other three categories and indeed First standard for Visual and Technical Skills, this is encouraging as I want to return to club photography after finishing with OCA and these skills are very important for competitions.

OCA say few Firsts are awarded so one must assume that 62% is a good result. Whatever, it has given me enough confidence and enthusiasm to progress with People and Place. Have already questioned new tutor about the meaning of context and what exactly quality of outcome refers to; as a result of comments on the second I may print images for assessment for P&P on her suggestion, my one concession to paper.

27 January 2012

Guidelines for Assessors

Chris Sims 507606
Photography 1: Art of Photography
Assessment Notes

All Assignments, Learning notes, Reading and Exercises are to be found on this blog.

The navigation has been set up in order that examiners can find easily what they wish to look for by clicking on the links just below the title. Note that Assignments appear in reverse order with Assignment 5 first. To view the earlier assignments page down to the end of Assignment 5 and click on “Older Posts”. All the previous assignments then appear in reverse order.

Images may be seen in high resolution (1600 pix on longest side) by either right clicking an image and opening link in a new tab or window, or the reader may left click any image in a blog and all the images in that particular blog appear as a high resolution slideshow.

The tutor reports are included on a data stick sent to OCA.

Note that I have elected that Assignment 1 is NOT to be assessed in accordance with pages 6 and 51 of the course notes. The Assignment is on the blog and the report included on the data stick, but both have been headed with a reminder that A1 is not to be assessed.
Chris Sims
January 2012

26 January 2012


Have now completed Art of Photography  and am submitting for assessment. In effect, this is the final post.

Reviewing the last few months, I thought it would be useful to set out what went well, what could have gone better, and what I achieved from the course.

Went Well
  • Timing - managed the course well alongside daily life. Probably did average the suggested 8 hours per week, and completed in 10 months. I think that is about right for me, quick enough to maintain momentum, but without undue pressure;
  • Reading around - the course provided the stimulus to find out about the history of photography and photographers - interesting and something I would not have done otherwise. I fully intend to do further courses and will continue reading in the pause before commence next;
  • Managing to use the course to enhance day to day photography and vice versa. The Colour assignment is the best example of the former - some great images taken for the course while in USA that really boosted the set taken on holiday; Assignment 5 was more the other way round - using my knowledge and experience of wildlife photography to make a portfolio;
  • Generally giving my photography a real boost - I had gone a bit stale and losing incentive to try something different - TAOP made me look at the subject in a different way.
  • Variety - this course does demand a wide range of photographic techniques and I was forced to get out of the comfort zone.
  • Getting help from tutor - relationship has been good even though we have never actually talked. I have picked up a lot from his comments. He has been very helpful with next stage (see below).
Could Have Gone Better
  • The beginning was not great - I did not enjoy the early exercises greatly  and rushed Assignment 1. Did not realize that doing a  Level 4 course sort of assumes you have done Levels 1-3 and therefore know one end of a camera from the other.. This required a major rethink as documented in Learning Log;
  • Confusion over whether A1 was to be included in Assessment; OCA did not cover itself in glory on this one with different messages being sent out;
  • A sense of being on one's own - to a degree comes with the territory but it is a shame there is not more opportunity to network. Yes, there is the Forum, and there are weekend events, but the forum is still remote, and the events are mostly London. The one Photography student I met felt the same;
  • Length - although completed in good time, I think there is perhaps too much in what is after all an introductory course. I enjoyed the last section, but think the course could have finished a stage earlier;
  • Curiously, this course is a bit of misnomer - it is really the SCIENCE of Photography as set out by Freeman in his books. It is analytical, particularly in Parts 2 and 3. No harm in that, and I learnt a lot about implied lines, colour relationships and the rest, but I had hoped to get more in terms of what works in an art sense (as the name suggests). I am not particularly imaginative and had hoped to get some indicators to improve my creativity. In hindsight, I was probably hoping for too much here: you cannot really teach imagination and creativity. Tutor's comments have helped, and he has noted an improvement during the course.
  • The need to improve my quality of submission meant I went on a one to one day's course; this opened my eyes to using the camera in different ways, particularly low shots;
  • The need also induced me to spend more on software (saving money by acquiring at student rates - the combined savings on Photomatix, Topaz and Silver Efex Pro 2 was over £100). These have helped me produce better images;
  • The Light section introduced me to indoor photography - had a Speedlite but hardly used until then - now use more confidently;
  • Enjoyed taking still life in Colour and Light sections - and pleased with results. Tutor's favourable comments on A4 were especially satisfying given this was completely new to me;
  • Reading around - can now happily explain to others the history of photography (Fox Talbot, Daguerre etc through to Arbus etc). The video series Genius of Photography was especially useful. I probably have documented less reading than some but view reading as very much work in progress, will continue throughout further courses, in fact intend to do either Understanding Art or Understanding Visual Culture as part of Level 4;
  • Using a blog - had only limited experience of this previously.
After email exchange with tutor have decided to do People and Place next. I think I would not get enough from Digital Photographic Practice. After that I shall look to do a more academic topic, probably Visual Culture 1 but one step at a time presently.

    Feedback for Assignment 5

    Have received prompt feedback, enabling me to complete everything in plenty of time for March assessment.

    The general tone is encouraging, as following extracts indicate:

    "I have noticed a continual development in the approach to, and quality of your work...".;

    "You prepared well for this assignment, researching and analyzing the work of wildlife photographers, and thinking carefully about the equipment required.";

    "The captions work well and complement each image with interesting information and context."

    The main downside from tutor's point of view was "a lack of context [in the set]". He continues:

    ...while I don’t want to detract from the creative vision and technical expertise that you demonstrate here, there is always a need to look for different ‘angles’ on any narrative subject to demonstrate and promote a distinct or personal ‘voice’, and consider opportunities for exposure (publication or exhibition) beyond the norm.

    I do not disagree with this. I have admitted before that my main weakness as a photographer is doing the different, actually just being a little bolder. Assignment 4 did bring some of this out, but this Assignment was perhaps slightly more "technical" - good images but absence of pizzazz. In mitigation:

    1. I was clear in the assignment that this is meant as material for a promotional brochure. In a way the comment demonstrates the tension between photography as art as opposed to photography as a commercial tool. From experience, the vast majority of game tourists judge their stay on what they see: they want to see animals, lots of them, and big 5 (especially lions). I have been very fortunate to go on several safaris; most visitors get only one opportunity. I therefore used images that I thought would show the park to the best effect: "look, the animals are here and you can see them too.";

    2. As tutor points out, there are technical difficulties in getting shots from different angles. Getting out of vehicles is just not done, so opportunities for low shots is zero; Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is scrubland so "the animals in their environment" type image is challenging - you just end up with a lot of distracting vegetation in the shots. There are few water holes and it was wrong time of year for their use.

    3. The result did provide "creative vision and technical expertise" in words of tutor, so let's not be too self critical;

    4. As mentioned in the blog, I am going to explore some more ambitious shots in time. I like Brandt's work, and can see some possibilities to follow his lead.

    In the meantime, perhaps the following images help to provide some context and going beyond the norm in very different ways:

    f5.7 1/250 ISO 200
    This is the Hluhuwe-Umfolozi landscape (an HDR image). It does set the scene, as does this panoramic taken from Hilltops camp:

    f22 1/250 ISO 400
    As mentioned above, animals in environment was not easy, but this image of two impalas nearly made the portfolio: 

    f13 1/350 ISO 200
    Had the light worked a little better and/or we could see a little more of left hand impala, this would have been used in the set. It is a nice picture to include the feel of the hilly terrain but does I think demonstrate the practical difficulty mentioned above.

    Perhaps a bolder approach would have included this:

    f5.6 1/90 ISO 250
    Again, this might give a different flavour to the safari experience; cars stuck behind a grazing bull elephant.

    I did take several images from different angles during the day. Here are a couple of examples:

    f13 1/125 ISO 800
    The whole point of including this image is to focus on the horn - the part that nearly cost us the entire species due to hunting.

    f11 1/250 ISO 200
    The aim here was to focus on the swishing tails but perhaps the backside dominates too much.

    Lastly, I did prepare a triptych that would have been included in the set had I had time to prepare before submission:

    f5.6 1/250 ISO 400

    This resulted from taking three images of a cheetah that stood stock still for a while looking around. The middle image is used in the set but I think the triptych works even better.

    Moving on to specific images, I comment on Tutor notes as set out below (NB metadata included only for images not included in Assignment):

    Cover shot

    Tutor sees "very good detail". It was technically a good shot to maintain sharpness. Compositionally tutor sees weakness in the cheetahs merging in the image. Ironically this is due partly to the natural body camouflage; for me the fact that heads and tails are distinct probably suffices. As an image to promote my reserve, I would be content with this given the rareness of cheetahs.


    Tutor notices rim lighting and the framing effect of nearside vegetation. 


    "Strong detail captured". Tutor notes texture, which is something I like to capture in wildlife images.
    Queries whether highlight in eyes can be lifted in Photoshop. Good idea, here is before and after:

    I think the brightening the eyes does help.


    Tutor agrees with my positive comments on the sense of movement and of the texture. Asks whether a wider shot was taken. Yes it was, as below:

    f8 1/180 ISO 200
    This would have been an alternative image had I got any more than elephant backsides. I considered the action better in the selected image but this is a nice image of a herd crowding round one of the few water holes.


    "Nicely defined in the savanna", adding that "it is a shame that the foal is hidden...". As he points out, this is the hostage to fortune that is part of wildlife photography. I am less sure it is a problem as the viewer is left to do some imagination work himself.


    Favourable comment on the slim portrait mode. Wonders "if subject could be lifted a little by processing". Agree - see the triptych above. Applied to this image only we have before and after:

    A distinct improvement with some Levels adjustment applied in right hand image. It slightly detracts from the camouflage effect more apparent in the original image on the left, but this is outweighed by the greater clarity and punchiness of the post processed image on the right.


    The use of the polarizing filter is noted as working well. Tutor comments that might benefit from a little more context, some surrounding landscape. In response to that, this is a river image and the surrounding landscape was uninteresting. There is a dilemma here: adding context means your subject becomes small in the frame. My experience is that viewers like their animals big in the frame not least because plenty of folk take wildlife with 50mm point and shoot cameras and thereby include a great deal of "context", but the subject is difficult to appreciate. I have commented on the generality of the context point above.


    I thought this to be the weakest image - included because need to have a nyala in this set - but tutor is more complimentary - notes dappled light, and that texture and colour captured well. On reflection, perhaps I was being hard on this one.


    At one with tutor on this one - "the best of the set". Buffalo are not difficult to take as they are big, move slowly and are fairly common. Flip side of this is the difficulty of getting a good, different image and this shot achieved that goal. I was very pleased with the expression of the male, "looking over" to use tutor's phrase and the texture and detail, both noted by tutor.


    I have found giraffe to be a difficult subject, eventually taking something a little different. As tutor points out, the merging of the two heads that is supposed to be the focus (pointing in different directions) then becomes a problem. 


    I view this as one of the best shots and tutor agrees: "a strong shot...backlight [helps] define the animals


    "Very good detail" says tutor, and notes the catch light in the eye, which adds a lot to this image. 


    Tutor comments on the rhythmn that I alluded to in the assignment, and the nice effect from dappled light.

    Lastly, tutor notes a couple of images on one of the exercises do not open - noticed myself and now corrected.

    Overall, am pleased with this feedback - "a good set of mostly long lens shots, with strong detail and composition throughout". I enjoyed the day and the challenge of taking images of so much in a restricted time. Possibly could have provided a bit more variety and context, but, to repeat, this does come at a price of losing detail of the subject.

    20 January 2012

    Assignment 5 Applying the techniques of illustration and narrative

    In this final assignment the requirement is to provide illustrations for an imaginary magazine story. The brief is wide - basically use a theme containing a narrative element and provide images for the cover and story.

    Introduction and background

    I have chosen as the subject the wildlife of KwaZulu-Natal as seen in the twin reserves of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, the two oldest game reserves in Africa, opened in 1890s. My images are of some of the large mammals seen in the reserves. The narrative follows our day: we went for an early morning drive, and then again for an extended drive from early afternoon extending into evening, and the sequence of images reflects the time of day taken.

    The immediate incentive for choosing this was a trip to KwaZulu-Natal in January 2012. Whilst there, I visited Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, and was taken with the variety of game animals in what is a medium sized reserve (960 sq km in area).

    I have had experience of safaris before: in Kenya and Tanzania in the 1970s, and in Zambia, Botswana and Eastern Cape province of South Africa more recently. There is a certain thrill in seeing the animals in their own environment, and capturing the essence of that experience in a good photograph.

    Other Photographers' work

    African wildlife photography is of course well trodden territory. I have long admired the work of Hugo van Lawick. Savage Paradise  provided some inspiration for this collection; I noted in particular that van Lawick used a mixture of shots very effectively in a collection: some action, some still, and some with light effects. His image of a lion pouncing on an impala with a stork graciously standing oblivious in the foreground is a classic shot.

    More recent photographers Steve Bloom and Billy Dodson provide further inspiration: Bloom avoids images of animals in situ, this image of a black rhinoceros is typical:

    Nick Brandt has developed his own style of monochrome wildlife photography taking his subjects almost as portraits, this shot of a giraffe being a good example:

    Nick Brandt, Two Giraffes Battling in Sun, Masai Mara 2006

    Brandt's work reflects a current Zeitgeist towards wildlife photography as art. I observed this as well at the Veolia Wildlife Exhibition (see http://www.chrissimsartofphotography.blogspot.com/2011/12/visit-to-veolia-envirronement-wildlife.html). He uses significant post processing to achieve dramatic backgrounds, possibly even constructing composite images. Dodson approves of this. I quote from a tip on his website:

    "Stay smart on software applications and be open minded about the possibilities they offer. Photography is an art form to be sure, and it can be elevated significantly with the right tools and creative approach."

    I am interested in developing this approach. Silver Efex Pro 2 offers possibilities of making dramatic B&W images and I have developed a masking approach that would enable detailed selection of subjects to place on defined backgrounds (see http://www.chrissimsartofphotography.blogspot.com/2011/12/topaz-remask-3.html).

    But this assignment requires a more sequential and integrated approach to a suite of images - I have in mind an article on Hluhluwe-Umfolozi for the tourist. This requires enticing images of the animals they might see, rather than art. Further, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is mainly scrub land as opposed to the open plains of Kruger and Serengeti. This makes for difficult viewing and even more difficult photography; it was not always possible to take shots unobstructed by vegetation.


    I used my Canon 450D with Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens and 1.4x extender fitted. The 450d has a 1.6x crop factor so at longest zoom this lens is equivalent to 448mm on a film camera. I tend to use AV priority, setting around f13 as median value. ISO is set to 200. Some wildlife photographers suggest reducing apertures and boosting ISO so that very fast shutter speeds can be used. Given the excellent light conditions generally, I have generally not found this to be necessary though do sometimes revert to TV priority in low light conditions.

    We had a Land Rover with perfectly adequate viewing possibilities from the windows. We removed part of the roof at one point but it offered little extra viewing and technically is not approved by park rules. I use a bean bag for support; tripods are impractical in a vehicle and in any case take too long to set up.


    In the presentation below, annotations have been added as appropriate to the images based on park brochures, Wikipedia, and my own knowledge. I have further annotated with the rationale behind the images and practical notes. These are italicised.

    Cover image

    I select this image of two juvenile cheetahs as a cover for the magazine article. It has a strong feel to it, the fur is roughed as a result of recent rain. The implied line off shot suggests they are viewing possible prey. ISO boosted and aperture opened in order to increase shutter speed.

    Early Morning

    The wildlife is more active early and late in the day. Hluhluwe-Umfolozi opens at 0600 and on site safaris commence at 0500.

    f5.6 1/500 ISO 200

    The park is the birthplace of rhino-reservation, breeding the species back from extinction (less than 20 rhinos world wide in 1,900 to more than 10,000 today). As the home of Operation Rhino in the 1950s and 60s, the Park became world renowned for its white rhino conservation.

    Rhino are plentiful in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi but difficult to see in the open. 

    f13, 1/250 ISO 200

    Lions are known as "king of the bushveld" and when you see an adult male with his glorious mane it is easy to see why. There are around 80 lions in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and they are the animals that most tourists most want to see.

    Shot from the side of the road this was a contender for cover picture. It is a portrait type image and balances the rhino image.

    f 6.7 1/180 ISO 200
    Elephants are common in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi and best seen near watering holes. By 1875, almost all the elephants in KwaZulu-Natal had been hunted out, but they have over the last few decades been re-introduced into protected areas and private land in the province. Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve has over 300 elephants.

     I include this image as an action shot of elephant as they take a purposeful walk towards water - pleased to get the feet off the ground - undoubtedly adds to the feeling of movement and action. The texture of the skin is well pronounced.

    f13 1/250 ISO 200

    Hluhluwe-Umfolozi has Burchell's zebra (also known as common or plains zebra). This one is gently tending a foal. Note the oxpeckers on the back, these feed exclusively on the backs of large mammals. They feed on ectoparasites, particularly ticks, as well as insects infecting wounds and the flesh and blood of some wounds as well

    This image was included as a nice action image - the mother tenderly muzzling its foal.


    After a break in the heat of the day, we recommenced our safari in the afternoon, extending on into the evening sunshine.
    f5.6 1/250 ISO 500

     Cheetahs are known as the fastest land mammal. As this photograph shows, they have very long legs and high shoulders. The fur is wet from the after effects of a fierce thunderstorm

    Took opportunity of alert pose to take a head on images emphasising the graceful poise of this predator.

    f6.7 1/350 ISO 200
    Hippopotamuses are common in the Umfolozi river. They are gregarious herbivores with typically a dominant male heading a pod of up to 30 individuals. They are essentially nocturnal herbivores and bathe in the day to keep cool. Hippopotamuses prefer to walk in the water, contrary to assumption that they swim or paddle.

    This shot was taken using a polarising filter - adds to the blue of the water.

    f9.5 1/60 ISO 200

    Nyala are the one large mammal of Hluhluwe-Umfolozi that is not widespread, albeit fairly numerous in the reserve. It is a Southern African antelope, with markings not dissimilar to those of kudu. This is a female; males are larger, darker brown with quite shaggy coats and horns.

    It proved surprisingly difficult to photograph this beautiful antelope close up. Eventually the opportunity arose during the hotter part of the day when one was seen in the shade. The pleasing aspect of this shot is the texture of the coat showing strongly.

    f13 1/250 ISO 200

     Buffalo have big thick horns and are bulk grazers, playing a very important ecological role by eating long grass and thereby opening up habitat for other short grass grazing animals. There are more than 7,000 buffaloes in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi reserve. Note the oxpeckers on the male's back.

    This shot was taken of buffalo wallowing in the heat. The male is acting in a dominant role with female buffalo in the water. Texture of the skin is well reflected in the shot.


    As our safari moved later in the day, we received some good lighting for photography.

    f11 1/250 ISO 200

    Giraffe are commonly seen alone or in small groups; they are not gregarious for long periods. They are a fine example of speciation, having evolved the long neck to reach vegetation other herbivores cannot reach. Adults are rarely attacked, but calves can be taken down by predators.

    In scrub land, it is almost impossible to get a clear sight of giraffe so opted for a close up of a pair with a slightly unusual stance of one facing the camera, another to the right.

    f5.6 1/250 ISO 200

    Baboons are widespread throughout the continent. This is a chacma baboon, common in Southern Africa. Noisy and a nuisance to farmers outside of reserves, baboons are not scared of human contact and can be seen near lodges. They are commonly found in groups of 50 or more and are very social animals.

    Shot contra jour, this image captures the detail of the edges of the fur nicely, yet retains sufficient light on the front for the expression and detail. The juvenile adds interest.

    f5.6 1/350 ISO 350

    The male kudu has similar markings to the female nyala. Evolution has dictated that stripes confuse predators. Feeding on grass in an unusually open space, the antelope needs to splay its front legs in order to graze. Fully grown males need be less concerned of predators.

    A well lit shot of this grand antelope, the wider aperture serves to blur the background. Catch light on the eye. Again, the texture comes through in the shot.

    f5.6 1/180 ISO 200

    Impala are the most widespread of southern Africa antelope, a result of their adaptability being both grazers and browsers. They often act as a herd when troubled by predators, leaping about to confuse. They are territorial with males seeking to maintain a herd of females. This gives rise to bachelor herds of up to 30 individuals.

    Impala are so ubiquitous that a slightly different shot is not easy to find. Here I found an opportunity to take a close up; texture on the individual in the foreground is nice. There is distinct rhythmn in this shot.


    A very satisfying day's safari, including four of the big five and much more; especially pleasing to see cheetahs close up.

    30 December 2011

    Topaz Remask 3

    Have spent a few hours mastering the techniques for selection using Topaz ReMask.
    See:http://www.topazlabs.com/remask/ where there are some excellent tutorials. Experimented with this image to get a selection of the arch:

    After some false attempts managed to select out the arch only.

    Then tried selecting an antelope from its background, as below:

     This shows the real power of the tool - a remarkable selection of the fur.

    Update 30 December

    Spending time preparing for South Africa trip mainly.

    Have checked on requirements for submission of work for assessment. Consensus seems to be that it is OK simply to provide the blog address, although some advice on the forum (and from tutor) is to provide additional data - images in fine resolution or (as someone else has suggested) converting blog to pdf and submitting. It appears though that he has other information not on the blog; I have everything on the blog, deliberately so that would not have to spend time redoing the presentation once completed the coursework and assignments.

    Tutor advice is:

    I would certainly submit a disc of higher resolution images for any assessment.

    And fom online tutor:

    You should link the blog images to higher rez versions, say 1024 pixels on the longest size.

    But to be honest, I don't see why this is necessary. My images are all saved as low res in order to upload and cannot now recreate. In any case, a right click on an image gives the option to open in a new window and the resultant image is comfortable larger than 1024 pixels on longest side.

    Other advice is:

    Hi Chris I sent the OCA a CD containing my tutor reports and also included info on how to navigate my blog and the URL link for them to access it on the web. The assessors seemed more than happy to receive my work in that format.

    Good luck!

    This accords with my view exactly although will think about saving hi res images for next course.

    Visit to Veolia Envirronement Wildlife Photography Exhibition

    Veolia Envirronement Wildlife Photography Exhibition 

    Attended WPE at Bristol Museum. The aim was to view top wildlife images and to get some ideas for taking photographs for final assignment to be carried out in South Africa game reserve next month.

    Two factors struck me:
    1) there is a clear bias towards images that are art as well as wildlife. The comments on the winning photograph; the presence of a category called "Creative Visions of Nature"; and some of the winning entries (e.g. Harbinger of Spring in In Praise of Plans and Fungi section) are good art;

    2) simplicity, particularly of background. Snow featured heavily in the winning entries (e.g. Winter Snow Hare and The Assassin below)

    I picked a few of my favourites below from most of the categories:

    Animal Portraits 

    Winner Sinousness Marco Colombo A grass snake near a stream. "merely had to look in the viewfinder and press the shutter".

    I like this very much - a personal favourite, partly because of the simplicity of the execution. It evidently did not need 4 days sitting in mud awaiting the perfect shot; Colombo found the opportunity and executed simply.

    In praise of plants and fungi 

    Fading Beauty specially commended David Maitland. Poppies against an overcast sky. Simple and very effective.

    This was third in category but my favourite due to simplicity and effective use of an overcast sky.