Forever Now FORMAT19

So, another assignment has been set and this time it’s a good one (not that previous ones haven’t been). This time we get to enter our work into a competition! The competition/festival is FORMAT 19, which has been opened to more than just the area of Derby, as per previous years.

As part of the assignment, we must submit an A3 Inkjet-printed image to our tutors as well as submitting that same image to the FORMAT Leicester competition.

The title for this assignment is, in case you hadn’t already guessed, FOREVER//NOW.

The plan is to research the words and try to come up with an image which represents each in some way. As usual, I’ll kick off with a spider diagram of what comes to mind when I hear the word ‘forever’.

Forever Spider Diagram FORMAT19

Word Research

Right, the start of this project, for me, is to research the word “Forever”. Simply typing it into Google is of no use. As expected, all you get by doing that is marketing bollox that I have no interest in, so it’s time to hit the online dictionaries.

My first port of call (as always) was the Cambridge online dictionary at https://dictionary.cambridge.org where I typed in the word ‘Forever’. The reason I like the Cambridge online dictionary is because of the examples where the word could be, and very often is, used. As soon as I read the page for the word (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/forever) I started having ideas.

Initial Ideas

The first example on the Cambridge online dictionary page I liked was:

  • for an extremely long time or too much time:
  • We’d better walk a bit quicker – it’s going to take forever if we go at this pace.
The idea for an image I got from this was to have some people walking whilst holding a map. One of them could be pointing at the map to show where they are and there’s an ‘X’ also on the map to show where they are wanting to be. The ‘X’ would be a long way from where they currently are. “It’s going to take us forever to get there!”
The destination marked by the ‘X’ could be a landmark that could also be in the shot but a long way away.
 
The next example was:
  • I know she’s gone forever, but I just can’t put her out of my mind.
This instantly gave me the idea of having a young child stood next to the grave of one/both of his parents (maybe having both parents gone strengthens the loss and intensity of the feeling of forever that bit more?). The idea that it’s a young child depicts that it’s going to feel like forever going through his/her life without the most precious and important people in it.
This is an idea that I’m quite liking right now as I have a Gregory Crewdson style image in my head for it.

 

Then there was the example of:

  • Each transaction at the foreign exchange counter seems to take forever.

Even though we’re British and have a stereotype thrust upon us as a race of people who like to queue, we all know that nobody likes to have to do so forever. A simple image could be to have a lot of people in a queue with some looking at their watches whilst others have puffed cheeks. Basically, people looking pissed off as they feel like they’ve been there forever.

The final idea I got from looking at examples of the usage of the word ‘forever’ on the Cambridge online dictionary website was:

  • However, you can’t rely on your family and friends forever.

For this kind of representation of the word I thought about having a parent handing money to their daughter as she stands there not even looking at the parent but rather at her mobile phone. The daughter would have the phone in the hand furthest away from the parent to show that she expects it and doesn’t even acknowledge that she’s relying on handouts. The daughter could be chewing gum or blowing a bubble with it to show disrespect?

I have a ’90s American-style image in my head for this at the moment.

Once I’d warmed up the old grey matter with idea generation using the online dictionary, I started to have a few ideas pop into my head of their own accord.

  • A couple getting ready to go out for an evening/night. The man is ready in his suit and slicked hair and is standing/seated on the bed next to/behind the woman who is in front of her mirror-table still not fully dressed and putting on make-up. He could be looking annoyed at her whilst pointing at his watch or shoving a clock in her face (this shows his anger a little more) as she’s “taking forever to get ready!”. This is a bit of a stereotype but people would probably ‘get it’ and, hopefully, understand the humour of it…but who knows in this day and age. This could now even be seen as controversial by some, or have we not gone quite that far yet?
  • Continuing on the ‘person sitting in front of a mirror’ theme, I thought of having an old person sitting/stood in front of a mirror which has a photo of her as a child stuck to it (or when she was in their prime looking glamorous). This would show that beauty/youth/vitality etc. doesn’t last forever as you have her as she was when she had those things and now feels that she doesn’t as she’s got older. I think having her sat in front of the mirror would be better as it depicts more of a resigned feeling. The shot would be taken from behind her to allow me to get both the picture of her younger self as well as her reflection in the composition. She could have a resigned/longing look on her face.
  • As I and my classmates bond more, some of us have taken to playing a bit of fun poker together at lunchtimes (no money is involved…yet). This gave me the idea of having a shot of us sitting around a poker table with varying amounts of poker chips in front of us. It could be that Conor has a pile of these chips in front of him and a smug/pleased look on his face, whilst the rest of us don’t have many chips left and look sad or angry. This could be, “Conor is forever winning at poker”.
  • The images I’ve been thinking of, to this point, have all had a bit of a story to them (could the teachings of my tutors actually be rubbing off on me?! Shock, horror, gasp) but one idea I had was to place two mirrors facing each other. This, I believe, I haven’t tried it yet, would give the effect of an infinite amount of reflections meaning it just “Goes on forever”.

As I see it, that gives me eight ideas to consider for this assignment right now. I’m quite pleased with the thought process I’ve gone through as I’ve struggled in the past to think creatively but I think I might be starting to get the hang of this creative photography lark (very early days).

Now all I need to do is find where the hell I’d shoot these images and how the hell to set them up! That confidence of finally ‘getting it’ was short-lived.

Initial Shots

Finally, after a couple of weeks away from this assignment, I’ve managed to get some semblance of images shot. They aren’t very good quality as I was shooting in the dark, on a new camera without the correct lighting setup (excuses excuses).

Because of the excuses I’ve given above, the images are blurred and not very clean. There are many factors that could be the cause of this. The main ones are the facts that I was shooting handheld and I didn’t have one of the mirrors fixed in place correctly. The mirror I was shooting into was fine leaning against a wall but the one being used for the reflection was being held in place by someone. This isn’t ideal as there is definite movement from the mirror being held, which adds to the movement within the shot along with the movement I undoubtedly had from shooting handheld. Add to all this the fact that the shutter speed was slow, you have the recipe for the kind of poor quality shots below.

As can be seen from the sample images above (from the many that I took), I started out by using mirrors with frames on them as I thought they’d look nicer and the frames would add a little bit to the composition. I soon found that I was going to have to elevate the candle somehow and so introduced the box to put it on. The images show the box etc. in the shot but this wasn’t going to be a problem as I intended to use a black sheet I have over the background and foreground.

After many attempts with the candle elevated, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work as it lifted it too high and it disappeared too soon out of the image because of this. I was also coming to the realisation that I was going to have to find a couple of mirrors with no frames. I had one knocking around and the other I’m now planning on using had a plain wooden frame which didn’t take long to remove.

The one I had without a frame had a sloped edge to it all the way around. I thought this was going to cause issues but it actually adds to the images with the extra light it creates down either side of the image.

The main problem I was finding with the framed mirrors was that the area which had the candle in reduced in size quickly with each new reflection. Because of this, I was thinking that I was going to have to make the composition all about the candle and poppy without the help of any frames that might add to it.

Without a doubt, my current favourite image is this one:

This is the composition I’ll be working on to improve and have already borrowed a tripod from college in order to reduce the blur in the image from the movement created at the camera end. I’ll operate the camera via a WiFi connection to my phone which always me to see what the camera is seeing and also allows me to operate the shutter. I also think that positioning the poppy a bit higher up on the candle could help. The upper portion of the candle has more light to it and this would illuminate the poppy more and make it more visible within the shot.

Now I just need to come up with some way of holding the mirror in place, the positioning of the camera whilst it’s on the tripod (currently, I’ve been resting it on the top of the mirror which gets it as close-in as possible. The tripod won’t allow this so zooming will be required), getting the correct settings on the camera for it to be able to cope with the lack of light as well as getting a depth of field I like and, probably, give the black bed sheet I’m using as a backdrop an iron to remove the creases. Not much then really, huh?

Second Shoot

After the initial teething problems of getting the infinity shot I wanted, I think I’ve finally cracked it. The loan of a tripod from college worked wonders as it allowed me to take the shot using bulb mode. That would have been impossible if I’d carried on shooting handheld in the low light of my living room that was helping me get the kind of exposure I wanted. Shooting long exposures in bulb mode also allowed me to stop the aperture down to f11 so that I could get a bit more of the shot in focus due to the deeper depth of field. I didn’t want the entire shot in focus as I wanted it to drop off the further into the shot the viewer went.

As can be seen from the image above, I used the same idea for setup as I’d tried previously but this time added the tripod, which helped massively. I decided on either a 30-second or 60-second exposure time as it gave a nice effect to the candle’s flame and the effect was the same for both exposure times.

It’s a shame about the right-hand edge of the mirror not being perfectly vertical but it was going to be too difficult to make that happen as well as getting the infinity effect I was after.

The final image will also be cropped to get rid of the visible camera at the top whilst also being positioned slightly better. The big test will come when I print out the image as I’m a little concerned about the quality of the mirrors I used. For now, though, I’m happy with what I’ve got after all the messing about and trying to figure out how to get the shot setup and taken. The images below show how I ended up setting my equipment up.

Another great thing about the camera I have is that it has a WiFi connection. Because of this, I was able to connect my phone to it which allowed me to operate it remotely. This helped again in reducing the amount of camera-shake present in the taking of the shots. It’s amazing how much easier it is to get your shot when you take a bit of time over it and use the equipment at your disposal.

After a bit of editing in Photoshop, the image above shows the final idea that I’ll be submitting for this assignment. I wasn’t sure about cropping the bottom, as I have, but I feel it adds to the “forever” aspect of the image by giving the impression now that the repetition comes into the shot from the bottom (behind the viewer) and off over the hump to the front of the viewer. It also cleans up the bottom portion of the image, in my opinion.

Feedback

Just before the Christmas break we finally managed to print off our images for submission to the college for the assignment that had been created using the brief for the Format19 exhibition. I printed and submitted the above shown above but was not really happy with it due to the temperature of it. I felt it was too warm, which gave it too orangy of a look.

After the Christmas break, we finally got to sit down as a group (only a small one as more and more people seem to be picking and choosing which lessons they think they need to bother turning up to now) and do a mini viva. The constructive criticism I received was valid and spurred me on to take action. I mentioned that I felt the temperature was too warm and Helen mentioned that the image was soft. She suggested that it could have been because I focused on the front candle then ended up cropping it out before the final assignment submission. I feel that this is a large part of the problem seeing as I was shooting without flash in a dark location (my living room) meaning I opened up the aperture as wide as it would go (f4) to get as much light in. With this wide aperture, the depth of field was only very small meaning the candles which weren’t focused on would fall out of focus quickly. This was the desired effect also in an attempt to add to the ‘forever’ nature of the image. If I hadn’t cropped the image as I did, it would have worked much better.

Two other things which added to the softness of the image, though, were the facts that the mirrors I used weren’t brilliant, and the shot was taken using a shutter speed of 30 seconds. There wasn’t a lot I could do about the mirrors as they were the best I could find at a reasonable price, and the long exposure was another deliberate action in an attempt to get a nice star-burst effect from the candle flames all the way up the composition.

I’m pleased that I had the vision of the shot in my head and that the deliberate actions/techniques I’d thought about and used had worked as I thought, but the softness of the shot is definitely a massive downside to the whole process (especially after all the time it had taken me to figure out the whole science behind getting an infinity shot like this without getting me and my camera in it as well!).

Submitted to LCB Depot for Format19

I didn’t end up submitting the same image for the actual Format 19 competition after the feedback I got but, instead, decided to reshoot it.

To cut a long story short, the image I did submit wasn’t as warm in temperature, which was an improvement, but the same softness issue is present in both versions. It is this fact that leads me to believe there’s more to it than just the fact that I cropped out the focussed candle in the original attempt. I’m going to blame the poor quality mirrors, long exposure and my lack of patience in getting it right after spending so much time getting to the point I was at by this stage.

Here are a couple of images of the setup for the second shoot, as well as the final image submitted to the LCB Depot. Click on the images for larger versions.

The initial image created was submitted to college as “Infinity Bridge” as the candles seem to go up and over a hump as they disappear into the distance, whereas the name was changed slightly for the version submitted to Format 19. This version was named “Infinity Road” because it doesn’t have the hump in it.