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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.