The Conversation

The following picture analysis is of Michael Buhler-Rose image The Conversation from his project Constructing the Exotic.

The image can be found here (

Question 1

Write a visual description of the photograph above (see links) using short phrases and descriptive words. The four key elements you should descibe are:

Facial expression, posture and gesture, clothing, location

A group of women sit and stand outside a building in a wooded area. A group of four women are on the left of the image. Three of the group are sitting, one if standing with arms folded across her chest. One of the women sitting is talking to the others, she is gesturing with her left arm.  The faces of the others in the group show rapt attention.

On the right of the image are another three women. One is sitting on a set of steps leading into the building. She is leaning back against the steps, left arm resting on the step, right arm across her body, with the hand resting on her left hand. Her eyes are looking towards the woman on her left who is standing with legs slightly apart, hands on hips. The final women in this group is stood at the top of the steps, legs together, head slightly tilted as if listening, arms out to the sides, hands resting on the bannisters either side of the steps.

Each woman’s hair is pulled tightly back into a bun. Their hair is adorned with jewellery and flowers.

The women are dressed in sarees, hinting that they are from India. The ethnicity of the woman on the steps seems to back this up. However, the other women, appear to be of a  more Causasion extraction.

Question 2

What do you associate the women’s dress with? Are you making any other associations?

I would associate the women’s dress with the style of clothes worn by someone from India, or who has an Indian heritage, but does not live in India.

The building and the plants surrounding it I associate with a more Western country such as the U.S.A.

Question 3

You may be confused by the photograph because it throws up visual signs that appear to be ‘in the wrong place’. Can you pare down this photography to a series of signs? For example, where do the women look like they originate from? What does their costume, jewellery and make-up say? What about the building in the background? Does it looks like it comes from the same place?

On the basis of the costumes, jewellery and make-up, the women appear to be from India. However, the Caucasion appearance of the majority of the women suggests that they come from a different country.

The building in the background looks like it belongs in a Western country such as the U.S.A or United Kingdom. The grass and plants throughout the image are those I would associate with those countries and not India.

The plant pots on one of the windowsill, the planters on the ground and the bird feeder behind the group of women on the left of the image are also somewhere I would expect to see in the UK or U.S.A.

The building also has a temporary feel to it. It looks like a porta-cabin. Equally it could be something of a more permanent nature but designed for someone that doesn’t have the resources to buy something more substantial. The greenery surrounding the building gives the impression of somewhere that is of a more permanent nature.

Question 4

Does this photograph seem posed to you? Perhaps it is reminiscent of images by nineteenth-century photographers like Henry Peach Robinson or of painters like Raphael.

The photograph does seem posed. The placement of the group of women, the poses of the women to the right of the image. It is reminiscent of Henry Peach Robinson and composite photograph ‘Fading Away’ as well as many more including ‘Gossip on the Beach’.

The bright colours worn by the women make them stand out from their environment. This is remininscent of Raphael because of the colours he uses in some of his paintings when depicting women.

Question 5

The photograph is from a series called Contructing the Exotic. How does this title resonate with the photograph?

The title of the series definitely resonates with the photograph. The women within the image are wearing outfits that aren’t normally associated with the United Kingdom, not everyday outfits at least. Before the early twentieth century, outfits like these would certainly have seemed exotic. Even now outfits like these could seem exotic when worn under the right cricumstances, for instance by belly dancers.

The staged feel to the photograph also resonates with the title of the series showing that these the image is not a natural one and has been put together in some way.

Question 6

Do the women look contemporary? What do you make of their poses?

The women’s poses are relaxed. Their body language is for the most part open, although the body language of the woman standing at the left of the image is closed because of the folded arm.

The group to the left appear to be listening intently to what the one is saying.

The women do have a contemporary look which I feel is given by the make-up they are wearing. The setting also lends to this contemporary air. A setting that was more in keeping with the outfits would have given a much older feel as if you were looking at a group of women from nineteenth centure India.

The whole series can be seen at


People and Activity – Final Images and Reflection

For Exercise 2.5 we had to photgraph an event and then work through a process by which we eliminated photographs in stages using the 100/50/25/10 process. This means that during the first pass through the images you’ve captured you reject 50% of them, the second pass through removes another 50%; leaving you with 25% of the original number. The final pass reduces the number that you will work with to 10% of the original number.

In my case I took 340 photos at the British National Ploughing Chnampionships at Bishops Lydeard in Somerset on the 15th October 2017. The event over two days but I went on the second day.

The event is run by the Society of Ploughmen and this is the 67th championships.

The images that I rejected I felt didn’t really have an interesting enough subject, were too cluttered, the subject was too distant or it wasn’t clear what the subject was.

The  photos I selected I feel show the wide range of ploughing that was being demonstrated during the day, from horse drawn ploughs all the way to modern tractor ploughing.

The photos all contain a mix of machines, animals and people.

When I went into this activity it was with the work of Martin Parr in mind, particularly one of his images which had a group of people queuing outside a marqee at a garden party. The image of the burger van with people queuing is my attempt at something similar as are images of people stood watching ploughing as well as looking at pieces of farm machinery.

As far as possible the photographs were taken at f11 in order to give the best depth of field, although I did vary this and went to both f2.8 and f28 and above for some shots.

ISO-wise, my initial photographs were taken at ISO 3200 because I’d not reset my camera after the last time I’d taken some pictures while away for a few days. Note to self, reset camera ISO to 400 after using it. Using a high ISO probably added a bit more noise to the images than I would like but it wasn’t overly noticeable when I looked at the images. After realising what the camera was set to I reset the ISO to 400 for the final shots of the day. The benefit of the high ISO was that I could use a very shutter speed, keeping the exposure time short.

Reflecting on the actual event (British National Ploughing Championships) the number of people that were wandering around with cameras made it so much easier to take photographs because, in addition to taking photo themselves, people were used to seeing others taking photographs. In fact on numerous occasions someone would notice me taking a photo as they walked into the shot, would stop and then apologise because they thought they had got in the way. On these occasions I’d respond with something along the lines of “it’s ok, I’m doing a photography assignment and don’t mind if you happen to get in the shot”. Interestingly not once did anyone show any sign of concern that their picture had been taken, a sign that we are so used to people taking photographs that we don’t think too much about the reason someone is taking pictures that might include us.

The slideshow below includes the 34 photos that made up my final selection. Each have been edited in Lightroom to adjust exposure, highlights, shadows and white balance. None of the images have been cropped as I felt I manage to get what I wanted in camera.

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Some of the photos I selected because they appealed to me in specific ways.

People and Activity-4287

I saw this lady and her dog as I was sitting eating a cheeseburger, bought from the same burger van I photographed. She’d wandered over to the edge of the field and sat down on the grass to have a rest.

Editing the photo I decided to use one of Lightroom’s Vignette presets which I think gives a nice effect.

People and Activity-4180People and Activity-4177

This dog was absolutely amazing and his behaviour was pointed out to me by someone else. Of all the shots that I took of it, this is the one that either wasn’t showing it’s rear or had it’s face obscured by the rope the farmer is holding.

Every time the farm went up or down the field the dog would run alongside in the furrow that had been ploughed. In this case following along behind but on the return down the field running down the same furrow it had just run up. It was amusing watching it’s behaviour.

In the first photo I managed to catch it when it stopped for a rest, during post production I applied Lightroom’s Vignette preset to soften the edges of the image.

People and Activity-4308People and Activity-4311People and Activity-4316People and Activity-4322

The above images have also had Hue and Saturation adjusted to increase the look of the colours, paticularly the yellows and reds.

I chose these images because they tell a particular story.

As we were making our way back from having grabbed something to eat I spotted this competitor working his way up the field. Towards the top of the area he was ploughing he stopped and got out of his tractor.

As I watched him walk back down the area he’d just ploughed, the competitive nature of some of the competitors and how important it was for them to achieve the best they could became apparent.

As walked he scanned the area he’d ploughed and pausing stooped to remove some stones from the ground. He then proceeded back up the field to his tractor examining the furrows he’d just ploughed.

Reaching the tractor he began examining the plough and then took a tape measure out of his pocket and began measuring the width of the furrows. He then began to measure different parts of the plough while making adjustments via various levers.

It as fascinating watching him and even after he’d turned around and was ready to plough another furrow I found myself watching as he made further adjustments to the plough via levers on the back of the tractor. It wasn’t until he was absolutely sure that everything was set up the way he wanted it that he began to work his way back down the field.

Going into the event I had a number of ideas about images I wanted to capture and I believe I did that. However, watching the farmer being so meticulous over the setup of his plough provided a set of images that could be used to tell a particualr story about the event, and not one that I considered before I started. I think that this highlights that when photographing an event, even if we prepare for it and have expectations of what we are trying to achieve, we have to be on the look out for opportunities to capture images that tell a story.


An Identi-kit Portrait

For exercise 2.5 we were asked to take portraits of two but ideally four people. The images were then to be folded (or cut) in such a way that you had a forehead, eyes, nose and mouth seperately.

The idea was to then take an element of each and combine them to make an ‘identi-kit’ face.

I made use of my two neices who are twins, but not of the identical kind. Both of the girls were photographed twice to give me four photographs.

The initial portraits were cropped in Photoshop and then, after playing around with a tube format and finding that it didn’t quite work because to get the different features on different sides of the tube meant some sides were smaller than others and so when combined left gaps, I cut the photos into strips with each strip containing the relevant facial feature.

Above is the original four photos that I used (Lottie top Jess bottom).

\Below are the cut up and reassembled photos.

Identi-kit Portrait-4032Identi-kit Portrait-4033Identi-kit Portrait-4034Identi-kit Portrait-4035Identi-kit Portrait-4036Identi-kit Portrait-4037Identi-kit Portrait-4039Identi-kit Portrait-4040

The thing I found really interesting about this activity was that despite the fact that the twins are not identical when it came to  combining the photos, as long as used Jess’ eyes and chin the result even with Lottie’s nose and forehead, looked like Jess. When I used Lottie’s eyes and mouth an swapped the forehead and nose for Jess’s there was a lot more variation in the result.

Despite not being identical it would seem that both Charlotte and Jess have very similar foreheads and noses.


The Two-Dimensional Plane

The task for this exercise was to analyse and annotate a photo that had a number of subjects at the same approximate distance from the camera, for instance the interior of a room.

Study the image carefully.

What catches your attention first?

The first item that caught my attention was the the sack in the centre of the photo with the writing on.

Where do your eyes go next?

The next place that my eyes get drawn to are the boards with the hooks and pieces of ironmongery at either side of the sack, from there the eye is draw to the various billhooks hanging on the rails behind the sack.

Are there things on the edge of the picture that distract you?

On the right hand side of the photo is a lorry and part of a stand. On the left hand side is part of a trolley or plough.

Does you gaze remain in the frame or is something pulling it out of the frame?

The truck on the right hand side of the photo draws your gaze out of the frame in that direction. In addition there is a rope barrier in from of the display. At the right hand side the rope loops back on itself. If the eye follows the rope from the left side of the frame then it gets lead back to the left side of the frame and then out of the picture.

If the rope on the left hand side had looped back in the same manner as on the right hand side then the viewers attention could have been drawn into the image and pulled around in a circular direction as the sacks in the centre of the photo can draw the viewers eye upwards, the rails either side with the billhooks hanging from them draw the attention in either direction to the boards from which the hooks and ironmongery hang, which draws the eye back to the rope once again.

Divide the frame? Where does the main subject lie? On one of the four points of the ‘golden section’? In the centre? On on of the four quadrants?

Depending on what the viewer takes as the main subject then it’s position does vary.

If the viewer takes the sack containing the pig fattening nuts as the main subject then this lies in the centre of the image. If, however, the viewer sees either of the boards to the sides as the main subject then these fall on the lower two points of the ‘golden section’. Personally I see the sack as the main subject and this is in the centre of the image.

The final part of the exercise was to mark the dominant shapes and groups of objects on the photo, to note when objects intersect of obscure wah other and to mark the main tonal and colour areas.

The Two Dimensional Plane - with annotation

As can be seen from the photo several object intersect each other, for instance the fork intersects with the billhooks hanging from the right hand rack, the rope runs across the front of the interecting with every item at the bottom of the frame.

The main tonal colour is brown. The sack and straw provide the bulk of the color in the iamge. The white of the caravan in the background and the green tarpaulin on the truck do provide a bit of relief from the brown.

This exercise was quite interesting as it highlights how important it is to be aware of what will be within a photo when you are taking it. Composing the image correctly to avoid distractions, to ensure the main subject is in the area that you want and that objects you want to be seen are not obscured by other items. Also it is important to be aware of elements that may draw the viewer out of your image as well as how you want the viewers eye to move around your photo.





Depth: Foreground, mid-ground, background

Exercise 2.3 required us to take three images from the ‘People and activity’ project and in each photo identify the foreground, mid-ground and background by drawing lines around them.

The definitions provided for each were:

  • Foreground is usually within a few metres of the photographer.
  • Mid-ground is in between distinct foreground and background. Soe photos don’t have a middle-ground, like Blossfeldt’s studies.
  • Backgrounds can be anything from distant buildings to th esky or just a white backdrop.

The following three photos were taken at the British National Ploughing Championships and I believe have defined foreground, mid-ground and background as annotated on each.

Depth-4287 with annotation

In the above image the woman and dog are the subject and are therefore prime candidates for being the mid-ground of the image.  The background contains the lorry, people sitting on the ground and the distance landscape. The foreground is the nearby grass.

Depth-4347 with annotations

In the photo above the family and signs are the subject and become the midground of the image. The people in the distance, the ploughed field, tractors and the distant trees, hills and sky fill the background. The foreground becomes everything closer to the camera that the dogs’ shadows.

Depth-4359 with annotations

In the above photo the mid-ground and background were easy to determine. The tractor, plough, driver and judge are the subject and provide an indication of where the mid-ground is. The background is the distant people and parts of the ploughed field. The foreground, however, became a bit more arbitrary as there is quite a distance from the camera to the subject of the photo.








People and Activity – Initial Reflection on Ex 2.2

For the second exercise in Part 2 of the course I identified two events that I could possibly go along to and photograph. The first was several weeks ago and was a charity event put on in aid of our local hospital, an even that involved a 5K run (or walk for the less energetic) while navigating giant inflatables.

I took part in the event last year and so thought there would be lots of opportunities for photos. On the day I wasn’t up to going and so decided that Plan B would be the event of choice.

Plan B was the British National Ploughing Championships which were being held just outside Taunton in Somerset. The event has been running for around 6 years but is held in different parts of the country in order to make it fair on all of the participants.

In the spring qualifying heats are held with the finals being held in October. Winners from the event get to compete internationally.

We discovered all of this by chatting to a lovely chap who was involved in a horticultural society and apologised as he wandered into one of my shots.

At first glance the event did not seem to be a large one. A number of static displays of small steam engines (not the train variety), a couple of larger engines that were pulling ploughs across a field (something that was fascinating when you realised that there had to be another engine at the other end of the field and the ploughs were being pulled to and from on a long steel cable by wound on drums beneath the steam engine).

Several horses could be seen ploughing in the distance and then there were the trade stands.

For anyone familiar with any of the Great Steam Fairs (such as Dorset) that occur around the country this paled by comparison.

That is until we discovered the three other fields where the ploughing competitions were going on. Although still not a patch on the Dorset Steam Fair the amount of horses, tractors and other vehicles that were pulling ploughs around was enough to make the day interesting. Certainly enough to draw several thousand people for the day.

Looking at the people there were all ages, from little babies all the way up to octogenerians and older.

Dogs abounded, most on leashes, with the one or two that weren’t being exceptionally well behaved.

The day started off a bit cold and overcast but just after lunch the sun came out and it soon became a case of taking off coats because it was too warm. Thank goodness for camera backpacks.

There were plenty of oppotunities for photographs and I took about 340 in total, which made the first pass through to reduce the selection to 50% quite a challenge. In fact I had to go back through after my initial pass and select a few more to achieve the 50%. I realise that I could have stuck with the initial 120 that I’d selected as that would have fulfilled the spirit of the exercise which is to reduce the number of images that you like, then reduce them a second and third time until you have the set that you are going to work with but hey, let’s stick with the percentages.

Second pass will reduce the number to 85 photos with the final selection being about 34 photos. Already I know that there are certain images I want to hang onto. There’s a number of photos of horses, there are a couple of photos of dogs, some people in period costume and lots of photos of ploughing. There are also a set of photos of one of the participants that show just how high the standard that they hold themselves to in the competition.

Finally, there are several photos that are reminiscent of the photographer that I used as my source of inspiration for the exercise, Martin Parr.

So to finish this initial review of the activity here is the result of my preparation and my reflections on the questions from the exercise in the course material

Question 1 – What kind of photographs do I want to make?

Andreas Gursky

Looking at some of Gursky’s images its very difficult to make out individuals people or objects. This is something that I don’t like as much when photographing people. I like to see expressions on faces, to catch those unguarded moments where a person’s personality shines through.

However, his F1 Boxenstopp series do have a look that I find appealing. The groups of mechanics working around the cars provides a good example of how to take photographs of groups of people engaged in an activity and includes a form of repetition because each image contains two teams rather than one, and also contains individuals standing out from the crowd.

Martin Parr

As soon as I went onto Martin Parr’s website (, the first image I was presented with was of a group of people waiting in a queue outside what appeared to be a marquee. The Royal insignia on the marquee suggests to me that this may be a Royal Garden Party or similar event.

The looks on people’s faces as they wait patiently in the rain is what particularly draws me to the image. The slight smile on the face of the chap looking towards where the photographer is taking the photo, the slightly distracted look on the face of the woman in the centre of the image; these are things I want to capture in my images.

Looking through some of Parr’s other work, including his Oxford and Cuba Tourism projects, I found myself loving the way that he manages to capture people without them seeming to be aware of his presence and so behaving in a completely natural way. The image from his Cuba Tourism series of a group of people taking part in a water aerobics style activity while standing in the sea is made all the more memorable by the guy in the forefront of the shot who appears to be taking water measurements or taking a photo of something in the water while unaware that his shorts have slipped and his “bum crack” is on show for anyone to see. It’s these subtle things that make an image for me and Parr is definitely someone whose work I want to explore more.

Robert Frank

Frank’s “The Americans” provides a lot of images of people going about their activities. The images being black and white removes a lot of distraction allowing the majority of the individuals to blend into the background with those that the viewer is drawn to standing out.

The use of black and white for my photographs is something I might explore during this exercise where images might benefit from it. Particularly as a lot of the participants in the charity event will be wearing black tee-shirts.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo

It’s hard to see many opportunities to capture cultural aspects of the events I’m planning on photographing. It’s possible that with the ploughing event there will be more of an opportunity for this.

Trent Parke

As both of the events I’m looking at will be during daytime, the opportunity to frame shots with lighting effects is going to be slim.

Robert Avedon

There will definitely be opportunities to draw individuals out of the background in both events. Reducing the depth of field to blur backgrounds and highlight particular individuals will definitely be something that I could do, particularly at the charity event.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Quite a lot of the photos I take of people are candid and not posed. I find that is when people are at their most revealing but can also be when they are most vulnerable. I’m sure that there will be the chance to take some candid photos throughout the event, particularly at the start and finish areas.

Question 2 – Research the type of photography or photographer that inspires you.

See research into Martin Parr.

Question 3 – Pre-visualise images

I think I need to get shots of people leading the horses while ploughing and close ups of the horses faces when their taking part in events. I also want to try and catch the faces of people who are watching the events, particularly if they happen to be wearing something interesting. Anyone involved in traditional activities would also be a good subject for a photograph.

Question 4 – Equipment

I’m going to need freedom of movement so a tripod won’t be needed, however, a monopod would be useful as it’s small enough to carry all day even if not needed and is quick to set up. Macro and other lenses for close up work won’t be necessary, whereas a telephoto lens will allow the opportunity to get close into the action without needing to be inside the ploughing arena. A prime lens for wider shots would also be useful.

Question 5 – Planning

Travelling to the ploughing event will require a bit of planning as it is about 30 miles away. Taking photographs won’t require permission as the event is open to the public.


Exercise 2.1

The object of this exercise was to take a photos of plants and people with any background features eradicated.

The Plants

Exercise 2.1_Plants-3692Exercise 2.1_Plants-3694Exercise 2.1_Plants-3696Exercise 2.1_Plants-3701Exercise 2.1_Plants-3707Exercise 2.1_Plants-3708Exercise 2.1_Plants-3713

All of the above photos were edited to adjust the highlights and white. Saturation was also increased.

The white background was a bit more reflective than I expected and combined with the position of the last two plant containers the background was not plain white. The first three photos have a much better background as the plant container was in a much better position and in full sunlight.

The People

Exercise 2.1-3642Exercise 2.1-3644Exercise 2.1-3645Exercise 2.1-3646Exercise 2.1-3647

After helping to smash over a dozen eggs for a previous exercise I roped my young nieces into posing in front of a plain white background. They had a lot of fun.

The photos had their exposure levels increased to make them brighter and were cropped to remove area outside of the white background.


You’ve photographed two different subjects in different places, yet all signs of the place have been removed.

What do you think that does to the interpretation of the photograph?

  • Removing signs of where the photos were taken makes the subject the focus. Without any distractions interpretation of the image is down to the person viewing them.

Do you notice how it emphasises both the shape and the subject as a distinct object?

  • In the photos of the flowers removal of the background allows the shapes of the flowers to be more noticeable and also any particular flowers to stand out and for details to be more obvious.