Another day and yet another film assignment has been given to us to complete. This time it’s a summative assignment which will count towards our final degree grade.

This assignment is titled “Toy Guns” and relates to the increase in gun crime within the UK, as can be seen on the actual assignment sheet below:

Toy Guns assignment sheet
Toy Guns assignment sheet

As with the last assignment, “Fast Film”, we are tasked with creating a 12″x16″ image in black and white taken on a 35mm film camera. The difference this time is that we are back to using the Ilford PAN iso400 film as opposed to the iso3200 film of the previous assignment which required us to shoot at night around a bonfire and/or fireworks.

A big difference this time is the introduction of us having to “push” the film. This means we have to lie to the film and make it think it’s an iso800 or iso1600 product rather than the iso400 product it actually is. This, if my understanding of it is correct, means that our images will be underexposed somewhat and we’ll have to account for this in the developing stage of the assignment. The film processing time will be longer and depends on how many stops we “push” the film. This is something I’ll discover during the film developing stage.

The idea behind this “push” process is that if you were to run out of the higher iso film (say iso1600), you could push your iso400 film two stops to act like the iso1600 film. This would allow you to then use a faster shutter speed and/or a smaller aperture to get the shot you want. This process is achieved by simply setting the camera to whichever iso you want before you start taking any photos. The camera will think it has the higher iso film in it and so give you exposure readings for that film (which is what you want).

An important thing for me to remember is that I mustn’t change the iso on the camera at any stage once I’ve started taking photos as I will only be able to develop the film for one amount of time and not adjust it for different images and iso settings.

Initial Research

As this shoot was to produce an image for the front page of the Independent on Sunday magazine, it seemed like a good place to start by having a look for previous front cover shots for this magazine. The best I could find was this page: https://www.independent.co.ug/tag/the-independent-magazine/ which had a few examples. It seems to me that they like to cut out the main character(s) in their stories and paste them onto a plain background. I didn’t think this would work for our brief and so decided to try for a cover something like the example below.

Independent magazine front cover

I feel that our assignment brief calls for an image more like the one above which gives us an initial idea of the story being about a crisis or human plight.

I didn’t do much more research other than reading the assignment sheet and having a look at previous Independent front covers as I started to have a few ideas pop into my mind at this stage.

Initial Ideas

My thoughts towards guns and toy guns are generally along an anti-gun feeling. Even though I grew up playing at ‘army’, running around the streets pretending to shoot my friends with the tree branch I’d fashioned into a rifle (in my mind at least), I don’t find myself having the urge, as I’ve grown older, to go out and buy a gun and kill someone for real. Having said that, I do feel that we are becoming a much more violent race, particularly towards each other, and are also becoming desensitised to violence due to the vastly increased amount of media we have access to these days. Whether it be violent films, music lyrics, video games, YouTube or the daily news reports of humans being aggressive towards and killing each other, I can’t help but think our kids and our kids’ kids don’t need any help from us as parents to be aggressive towards each other in their play.

Because of this, I decided to try and create an image that would show the negative side of toy guns.

Idea 1: The first thing that came into my head was to use the youngest of my two daughters in an image of her and a friend playing with her shop toys. This could include the cash register and shop items such as fruit and veg etc. One of them could play the part of the shopkeeper stood behind the cash register and the other could be a person who’d come into the shop with a gun and was pointing it at the shopkeeper.

The gun would just be one of the Nerf guns I could get hold of and which clearly looks like a toy gun. This image would show that, even though it’s clearly a toy gun, the amount of violence a young child might be exposed to via the media, and therefore possibly desensitised to, could have an effect on them to the extent that it features in their play. This would be perfectly innocent to them but could develop as they grow older as they might possibly think it’s the norm.

Idea 2: This idea is currently my favourite and one I definitely want to try. The idea popped into my head after seeing an image of a hooded youth brandishing a knife during my internet search of violent crime images.

I’d have someone (preferably a teenager) holding a real handgun (well, one that looks real) pointed at the camera from a very close range. This individual could be a hooded figure trying to hide his identity by having a scarf covering his mouth and nose as well as having his hood up. The camera could be literally looking down the barrel of a gun. The shoot could take place in a public park or at a green area where kids play and in the background, I would have younger kids chasing each other with plastic toy guns.

This image could show that it can be a short step from playing with toy guns as a child to wielding real ones as the kids get a bit older. It could also give a sinister impression of how close guns might be to your young kids and how one could easily be an accidental victim of a gun-related incident that they were nothing to do with.

A problem with this idea could very well be with finding somewhere convenient to do the shoot. I wouldn’t be surprised if people might get worried by a hooded and masked figure wielding a gun in a public place with kids running around. I might end up getting myself into a spot of bother with this one.

Idea 3: This one would be easier to shoot as I would be able to do it at home. This again involves my daughters (I knew they’d come in useful one day) as I’m thinking about having my eldest (13 years old) sitting on the floor in her bedroom whilst playing a first-person shooter game on the PlayStation. I would then have my youngest daughter (6 years old) pointing a toy gun at the eldest daughter whilst she watches her playing the first person shooter game.

I’m not sure if this says more about the fact that she’s being desensitised to the use of guns via the computer game and therefore not so much about her actually playing with the toy gun. Although, it’s the whole guns and violence thing so it does work.

Once again, I shall shoot with my digital camera as well as my film camera in order to help me get the composition of my photographs as good as possible before going on to shoot the real things with the film camera.

Final Image

I ended up going with idea 2 of a hooded figure pointing a real gun at the camera whilst there are youngsters in the background. It didn’t quite come off as I initially intended as, to be honest, I bottled it with regards to going to a public park with someone brandishing a very realistic looking gun. I’m not sure what might have happened but I do know the park I intended to use is frequented by many older people walking their dogs who might be worried enough to take some form of action. Instead, I ended up doing the shoot in my back garden with my daighters and wife.

Toy Guns final image

The image above is the final composition I went for but this is not the final version I submitted due to a few technical issues. Firstly, the border at the bottom is feathered which I assume is either due to me not setting up the easel correctly or the bottom arm of it not sitting correctly which has not let the light from the enlarger get right down to the bottom edge. The second issue with this version is the light in the top left of the shot. The sun was quite high and behind my subjects causing this light to be too bright. On the final version, which I submitted, I used the ‘burn’ technique to allow a further 5 seconds of exposure time to the top edge (particularly the top left) of my image. This darkened the area nicely to a point that I was happy with.

The Process

The developing process for this assignment didn’t go well at all. Right from the start, I messed up when trying to get my roll of negatives onto the spiral. Even though we were in pitch black darkness for this bit, I could tell that the roll wasn’t locating perfectly on the spiral and I had to force it round at times in order to get the whole roll in place.

The contact sheet shows where the roll didn’t locate correctly as it looks like the edges have been burnt. There was also a few frames which had a cloudy look to them where they hadn’t developed correctly. This is the reason I don’t have a full 36 frames on my contact sheet as I just cut the dodgy part of the roll off.

Once the contact sheet was done it appeared that the whole roll of negatives was awful as there were what looked like scratches, bits of dirt and watermarks all over it. I started to panic that I wouldn’t get a decent image from this assignment, which would have been typical seeing as it’s our first summative one.

After sitting there pondering for a while during my lunch break, I decided to head off back to the studio to look at the actual negatives on a light table through a lube instead of at the contact sheet. To my relief, there were several negatives that would be useable and it would appear to be the contact sheet that had the faults.

Now it was time to develop my final image at 16″x12″. The image below shows my test strips in order throughout the developing procedure.

Toy guns developing process

As can be seen from the image, my initial tests were far too light. I quite liked the third image in the row (third from left) as it had more depth. It was at this stage I decided to seek an opinion from Dave. In true Dave style, he got straight to the point, “It’s flat as a fart, isn’t it?”. I liked this response as it told me everything I needed to know. He then gave me advice about increasing the contrast, which I went back and did. The problem with doing this is shown in the two lighter and smaller test sheets as the image was far too light. I countered this (without seeking advice) by increasing the exposure time and changing the aperture from f8 to f5.6 to test whether this would bring the image back to something like the correct contrast.

The last three images in the sequence above show my testing as I then went from f5.6 to f6 with a grade of 4.5 (125 magenta on the colour enlarger I was using) with an exposure time of 45 seconds. I then cut a piece of card to shape so that I could burn the top of the image in for a further 8 seconds to bring that area back from being what I thought was over-exposed.

My Final Image Analysis

There are things I like and things I dislike about the final image I submitted for this “Toy Guns” summative assignment.

Likes

I wanted to get across the idea that kids playing with toy guns can then grow up to being adults using real guns. I think this image does that as it’s clear to see the difference in gun types as well as the child kind of copying the adult in what she’s wearing. The child hasn’t yet quite got the full outfit of the adult but is well on her way.

I also like the fact that the real gun is the thing that leads you into the picture with it being up close and in your face, as I intended. I focused the camera on the gun as I wanted it sharp and I think this is achieved.

Sticking with the gun, I like how the light falls on the top and side of it to give nice contrasts between the different edges and surfaces of it. With it being a matte black gun in a black and white image it could very well have lost definition. I think I did well here (“toot toot” on my own trumpet).

I also wanted my subjects in front of a brick wall in an attempt to add a bit of urbanness and coldness to the image.

Another thing I could say is that the rule of thirds is, again, adhered to. The adult is on the left vertical line while the child is down on the right point of interest.

The fact that the image is black and white could be said to add to the coldness of the image but I’m not sure it works as well as it might if it were in colour.

Dislikes

Yet again I seem to have managed to get a bit of hair, dust or dirt into the image as can be seen on the left-hand side on the wall.

The end of the real gun could have done with more light on it as it’s a little too dark. This has happened as I wanted it angled down in order to get more of it in the shot so the viewer can see what it is. The end of the barrel can be seen if looked at closely but I’m not 100% happy with that part of it.

Now, the biggest disappointment, for me, could be the softness of the background (including the child). I had the aperture open wide (f1.7 or f2, somewhere around there – yeah yeah I know, I should have made a note of the settings) in order to try to put the child out of focus a little. My thinking was about protecting the child’s identity somewhat. It hasn’t worked well as it’s not as out of focus as I intended and I now think I’d have been better to do another shot with a smaller aperture to make the whole shot in focus instead of this. Although, having said that, the image still works and I could argue that it’s the real gun that’s the main subject of the image as it’s where the child could end up if she continues to play with toy guns and is around people who use real guns. The blurriness represents the uncertainty of where she goes with her life.

Final Grade

Even though this assignment didn’t go as well as I would have liked, I managed to come out of it with a grade of 65%. I think this is fair considering the technical faults I felt were in my final image and another that was pointed out when I got my grade was the positioning of the toy gun the girl is holding. She’s holding it slightly too high which means the mechanism on the back of the gun is sitting over her nose. This does look a little odd and is something I should have spotted during the construction of the image. This is an important lesson in that I now know to stop relying so much on the playback capability of DSLR’s, and instead look more closely at what I’m doing and constructing at the actual point of taking the photograph!

65% gives me a mid-point 2.1 grade which is more than acceptable considering how long I’ve been out of education, the level I’m studying at (degree level) and the short amount of time I’ve given to photography before starting this course.