Digital Press Assignment Sheet
Digital Press Assignment sheet rear

At the time of writing this, we’re fast approaching Christmas 2018 and as such one part of this assignment requires us to get out there and get plenty of shots of people on the high street doing their shopping and getting involved in events in and around city/town centres whilst doing that Christmas shopping.

The second part of the assignment tasks us with finding houses decked out with extravagant festive light/decoration displays. The assignment calls them either ‘nuisance neighbours’ or ‘Christmas-loving fanatics’. Personally, I’d call some of the displays embarrassing but, ya know, whatever floats ya boat!

The very first thing I did was to ask friends and family via WhatsApp whether they had any neighbours around them with the kind of house decorations mentioned above. The ideas came flooding in as to where I should be going to get that kind of shot as it would appear those kinds of neighbours just can’t wait to get the decorations up!

 Next, it was time to do some initial research into when and where possible city/town centre Christmas events would be happening that would allow me to capture the high street and this time of year as well as ensuring there would be plenty of people there as well.

Initial Possible Venues

  • Lutterworth Christmas lights switch on, 30/11/18, 6-8pm
  • Market Harborough Christmas Fair, 7th December, 6-9pm
  • Market Harborough Christmas Market, 30/11/18 – 02/12/18 (Fri 10:00-19:00, Sat 09:00-19:00, Sun 10:00-17:00)
  • Jubilee Square (Leicester city centre), 06/12/18 – 06/01/19, 11:00 – 21:00
  • Christmas in the Gardens (Leicester Cathedral), 13/12/18 – 22/12/18
  • Nottingham City Centre
  • General walk around Leicester city centre
  • Stratford-upon-Avon Victorian Christmas Market, 07/12/18 – 09/12/18
  • Stamford town centre

There were quite a few different events on the go running up to Christmas, even if I’d have to travel a little to get to some of them. This isn’t a problem as Stratford and Stamford are events I’d probably go to anyway, this year I’ll just take my camera with me.

The first one to come to mind was the Jubilee Square area of Leicester city centre as it has the big wheel plus an ice rink during the festive period. This could make for some good compositions if I can get both in the shot along with people enjoying them as well as walking past with their bags of shopping.

The first one I’ll actually be attending is on Friday 30th November in Lutterworth for their Christmas lights switch on. The details of the event from their Facebook page are below and look good with things going on other than just lights and shoppers:

The annual Lutterworth Christmas Lights Switch-On Event is taking place on Friday 30 November 2018, 6.00pm – 8.00pm and promises to be packed with all the festive fun as in previous years plus much more. 

Plans for the evening are taking shape and will include all the Christmas favourites such as Santa’s grotto, the fun fair, mulled wine, a hog roast and lots to keep the family entertained including on stage entertainment and the Christmas Lights Switch-On at 7.30pm. All followed by what has become the traditional Fireworks Display!

Not forgetting the popular Christmas Market!! Christmas themed stalls selling a wide range of Christmas gifts and treats will be positioned around the Town centre from 3.30pm – 8.00pm. So head over to do a spot of Christmas shopping while you are enjoying the festivities.

I’ll only get to go to the Market Harborough Christmas market and not the fair as, on the 7th December, I’ll be going to the Stratford-upon-Avon Victorian market instead. I believe the stallholders are the ones who get dressed up in Victorian outfits, which could make for something a little different in my images.

It was a fellow photography student (Chris Kennedy) who had the idea of going to Nottingham city centre to get shots of their Christmas lights set up in and around the city centre town hall area. I’ll tag along to this and see what I can get.

So, that’s four places I need to be in order to allow me the chance to get the five images I require for the ‘Christmas shopping’ part of the assignment.

To Flash or Not to Flash

Flash photography is not something I’ve had much (if anything) to do with as I’ve always shied away from it whenever I can. After an introduction to it in the same lesson we were given this assignment, I’m guessing the tutors would like to see an image or two done with off-camera flash.

We were shown how to use a manual flash but, if I’m honest, I’m still a little sketchy with how to set up the exposure for this and think it might annoy some people whilst I’m out and about if I’m faffing about for ages with trying to set it up. I guess I should ask for a bit more tuition on this. I do know, however, that I can use E-TTL (Evaluative Through-the-Lens) which has the flash fire twice in super quick fashion that we can’t even notice. The first flash is for the camera to read the scene and make the adjustments it deems correct to get the correct exposure for the scene with the second flash. That’s my basic understanding of how it works, anyway. I can still adjust the exposure that the E-TTL tries to adjust to by using the light meter scale on the flash unit as opposed to the one on the camera, so it’s not completely cheating.

Initial Shoots

The first place I headed to was the Lutterworth Christmas lights switch-on event being held on the Friday of the week we were given this assignment. It was on between the hours of 6-8pm, with the actual lights being switched on at 7:30pm (they’ve got to give us plenty of time to spend our money in their town, right?).  The event was ok and had plenty to do, including a Santa’s Grotto, Funfair with rides, open shops, coffee shops and chip shops, as well as a stage where local radio were doing their local roadshow thing from.

A nice touch for me, as someone who was there to get pictures, was the addition of a fireworks display to accompany the switching on of the lights at 7:30pm. Below is a selection of images I’m considering for my contact sheet and possible final submission piece.

The images I took around Lutterworth are the final ones I’ll get from there, whereas the ones I took in Leicester were taken during a scouting mission ready for another trip into the centre on Thursday. The reason for that second trip is because the ice rink will be opening then and I will, hopefully, be able to get some nice shots of it with the big wheel and people out enjoying the Christmas build-up whilst shopping.

What I did learn from these two initial trips is that I need to ‘stop down’ in order to get more things in focus. I’ll need to shoot in manual mode instead of experimenting with AV mode as I did for these two shoots as some of my pictures have come out two noisy because of the high ISO setting I had the camera on in order to keep the shutter speed up whilst in AV mode. A tripod might not be a bad idea either but I’m not sure I fancy that if it’s going to be busy as I don’t have any liability insurance as yet.

Next step is a trip to college to have a word with Dave and get as much advice from him as possible with regards to the images I’ve already taken and plan to take on future trips out to shoot for this assignment.

Initial Feedback

After a sit-down chat with Dave about the images I’d taken from my trips into Leicester city centre and to Lutterworth for their Christmas lights switch on, I was pleased to be told that I had some images that fitted the brief well and were good enough to be submitted as final shoots should I choose to do so. I was particularly pleased with that fact with regards to the ones from the centre of Leicester as I thought most of them were blurred due to the slower shutter speed and fact that I was shooting handheld. Dave picked the same couple as I had from this trip as possibilities for submission.

As for the Lutterworth trip, there were again a few that I might be able to submit and seeing as how we have to add five images from this portion of the assignment to our contact sheet, I think I’m about done even though I still plan on going to Stratford-upon-Avon for their Victorian Christmas market before the assignment deadline passes.

The above images are probably my favourites from the ones I currently have and, at this stage, are the two that I’ll have to choose from as I can only submit one as my final image. The one on the left is from Lutterworth and could do with having the car roof cropping out, whereas the one on the right, from Leicester city centre, could do with having the building on the right cropping out.

Stratford-upon-Avon

After my initial shoots around Leicester city centre and Lutterworth, I travelled a little further afield to Stratford-upon-Avon. The reason I decided to go there was because of the supposed Victorian Christmas market they had running on Sunday 9th December. I say “supposed” because it really wasn’t a Victorian theme at all. A small handful of stall-holders had made a bit of an effort but that was it. Even so, it was a big market spanning most of the town centre with plenty of people in attendance, which was ideal for me and the nature of this assignment.

I went with my family and set off just after midday to ensure I would be there when it started to get dark so that I could get shots with the Christmas light decorations on. As can be seen from the images below, the first few shots were taken before the lights came on and, as Dave pointed out during a feedback session, I wasn’t feeling overly confident with being in a moving crowd whilst I kept stopping to take photos. After a while, though, I got to the point where I didn’t really care and just wanted to get the shots.

There are definitely some images from this shoot that I like the look of and feel could be in with a chance of being that final shot. I took quite a few shots for this as I wasn’t using a tripod seeing as it was so busy and I don’t have any public liability insurance yet. I decided to play the numbers game and take lots of photos in the hope that some would be good enough at lower shutter speeds to be used. All I have to do now is trawl my way through them all and pick out possible contenders to be in the final five going on to the contact sheet.

I’ve certainly finished the ‘people out Christmas shopping on the high street’ aspect of the assignment and now have to move on to trying to capture subjects that fit the ‘nuisance neighbours’ aspect.

Nuisance Neighbours

The second part of this assignment was titled “Nuisance Neighbours” and required us to take shots of houses with over-the-top external lights and decorations. I was in to the second week of the assignment by the time I got around to doing this. I was on my way home from the shoot in Stratford-upon-Avon when I noticed a couple of houses that could be potential subjects. The first one was an old folk home which was decorated mainly on the ground floor and spanned quite a distance. I was going to need a wide lens for that. I also noticed a house down a street I drove past the end of as I cut through an estate in Wigston to miss the main traffic.

I knew about a house at the end of my street which stood out from the others in the village as not many people had gone overboard this year as well as a house I heard Dave telling someone about in class on the day I was planning on going out to shoot.

The images below show a selection of the houses I planned to shoot.

On here, the images look ok, even though I’ve compressed them for the internet. Even before compressing, though, the shots are far too noisy as I didn’t use a tripod whilst shooting at night meaning I couldn’t use a slow enough shutter speed to allow me to keep the ISO low. Whilst in Lightroom I noticed a couple of my shots were taken at a whopping 16000iso, this is why these initial images are far too noisy. I guess another trip to “The Hatch” to borrow a tripod, followed by a second shoot is required.

Submitted Images

The initial images I took for the nuisance neighbours part of the assignment weren’t good enough as I shot handheld and, as a result, had to up my ISO to ridiculous levels so that I could get to a decent exposure. Because of this, I decided the best thing to do was to reshoot with the use of a tripod. This worked much better as I was able to bring the ISO down to 100, which reduced the noise to nothing. The shutter speed was able to be lengthened to compensate for this ISO setting and the image I finally submitted was 4 seconds. This felt like a lifetime as I was pointing my camera at someone’s house when I’d not asked permission to do so.

Because I wasn’t totally comfortable with what I was doing, there is a fault with the image I submitted for the nuisance neighbour part. I was in a rush to get the shot over and done with and forgot to switch the camera from autofocus to manual focus. This resulted in the focus looking for the closest point, which happened to be the cars on the drive. To me, the cars and front door are nicely in focus but it starts to drop off the further round the house you look. I could have gone out for a third time to shoot but I really didn’t fancy pushing my luck.

The second image I considered for the neighbour part was that of a large house in Great Glen that actually looks nice with all the lights and reminds me of the type of decorated house you’d see in a Christmas holiday movie.

The two image for the nuisance neighbour section of the assignment were:

The first image, above, is the one I finally decided to submit.

As for the Christmas shopping image, I again narrowed it down to two images I had trouble deciding between. Both came from the Stratford-upon-Avon Christmas market and both were pretty similar.

The reason I considered the above pictures for submission was that I felt they fitted the brief really well and were quite colourful. The image looking uphill is the one I submitted as I just prefered it that little bit more. I wasn’t keen on the motion-blur one the subjects in the foreground but I eventually came to the conclusion that it helped the image tell its story of people moving around the stalls whilst doing their shopping.

In the image which is looking downhill, I liked it for the same reasons but also because of the people in the bottom-left of the image who are holding cups of hot drinks as they enjoy the market. In the end, I just thought the composition of the uphill shot was better and so picked that for submission.

One other shot I considered was that of the Greek food stall.

I really like this shot as I think it shows the ‘action’ of the market. I like the steam/smoke coming off the grill from the Greek food stall on the lower right of the image. As you follow the crowd into the image, I just feel you get a ‘feel’ for the atmosphere. The more I look at this image the more I feel I could have submitted it. The reason I didn’t was simply that it didn’t have enough Christmas lights in it. I may live to regret that. Time will tell and my grade from this assignment may have me kicking myself and wondering what I would have got had I submitted this one.

Grade

The grading for this assignment was worked out by grading both images individually then working out an average score for the two as a whole.

I was very pleased indeed with the grade of 72% for my high street scene of people out shopping in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Christmas fair. I agree with the grade as I do like the image with all the people in it, all the Christmas lights and the busyness of the scene.

But, if I’m being honest, I don’t totally agree with the grade of just 52% for the Nuisance Neighbour image. I think my shot meets the brief well as the house owner has gone overboard with the decorations and I feel that the image is technically well shot. I understand the comment about the angle the shot was taken at, but I feel it had to be taken from there in order to get both the front and the side of the house into the composition. Yes, the fence is in the way, but this was going to have to be the case in order to get both walls of the house in the shot. The comment about maybe it could have been better with some interaction with the house owner is a very valid point and is something I need to improve on. I, basically, need to grow a pair if I’m to do this photojournalism type of work!

An overall grade of 62% for a summative assignment at this stage of my photography degree journey isn’t such a bad thing but, I would have much prefered to have been a lot closer to a distinction than this. I guess it was the not knocking on the door of the house owner with all the lights on it that let me down massively here.