This weekend was the original deadline for the assignment so I’d better report progress! The deadline hasn’t been moved due to me running behind – rather because I am waiting for a specific shooting opportunity that won’t arise until next weekend. I explain this in context below.
Image selection process
I approached the image selection in stages, using a workflow that I have used on other OCA assignments.
1. In the bag: 517
Over a number of visits to The Sun over February and March sites I managed to shoot a total of 517 photographs: approximately 50 times what I need. So I only need a keeper ratio of 2%.
2. First pass: 65
My selection workflow is a fairly straightforward incremental sweep through Lightroom using the star-based Ratings function. I first quickly go through the images either skipping or rating a 3. My logic is that I will subsequently review the 3s and upgrade some to 4 and some down to 2 (I save 5 for my real favourites and never use 1).
Of the almost-90% I jettisoned at this stage, most fell into three categories:
- Technical issue (exposure, framing, focus) – quite a lot of these, mostly down to lighting issues (pubs are dark, and flash is annoying)
- Mediocre – just didn’t stand out enough
- Duplicate scene
I suppose the flip side question is: what attracted me to the ones that I rated? They all had some kind of instant appeal: the gut instinct that says “that’s a good shot“. Not always easy to define why, but I think one or more of the following would have come into my mind, albeit subconsciously:
- Expression or gesture
What I wasn’t thinking about at this first pass was:
- Denotation vs connotation / ‘Meaning’
Also at this stage, I started to colour-code the images per event type, so I could see more easily the mix of images I had:
- Red: quiz nights
- Blue: acoustic music evenings
- Green: one-off functions
- Purple: general/miscellaneous
3. Second pass – sequencing draft: 18
At this point I started to think much more about the overall structure/sequence of the set and how many of each type of event I wanted to include. This exercise left me with 18 images to whittle down to a shortlist.
I made a special effort to re-familiarise myself with the brief at this point, so that I could ensure that a coherent intention informed my selection decisions from this point on.
A few keywords guided me at this stage:
community – celebratory – interaction – people – creativity
Moreover, I decided at this stage what I didn’t want to include; although this is a project set in a pub, I wanted to focus on non-typical pub activities – so I consciously excluded clichés:
- People drinking
- Ordering drinks at the bar
- Signs of inebriation
There are already plenty of projects looking at the drunken side of pub culture!
In stage 2 I had already colour-coded by event type so now I was working towards a target number of images per event, to give a rounded view of the range of activities at The Sun and meet the brief of 10x images in total:
- Quiz nights: 3x images
- One-off functions: 2x images
- General: 1x image
- Acoustic music evenings: 3x images
- Art exhibitions: 1x image
The last category is the reason that I have rescheduled the submission date for this assignment: in April I have my own photography exhibition in The Sun’s function room, and I plan to take pictures at my launch party on Saturday 2nd April, with a view to closing the set with an image from this event.
I felt that this is a great example of what the assignment brief asks for in terms of being a participant in the project and not just an observer. Between the quiz nights (which I write and sometimes host) and the art exhibition, the series is bookended by activities that I am directly involved in.
I was also starting to categorise the photos along the lines of the classic photo essay image types (hook, establishing, medium, gesture, interaction, detail, portrait, closing etc).
4. Shortlist: 13
So at this point I have what I believe are 18 good images, which I need to get down to nine (leaving a space at the end for a shot from my exhibition launch evening).
Having tried this on another OCA assignment recently and finding it very useful, I took an approach that was both analytical and physical: I printed out b/w draft versions of the 18 images onto forms that I made up to capture brief information about the characteristics of each image. I was looking to answer the question: what makes this an interesting enough photograph?
I broke this question down into various dimensions:
- Szarkowski’s five elements of a photograph from The Photographer’s Eye (1966)
- The Thing Itself, the Detail, the Frame, Time, Vantage Point
- A few of the facets of strong composition I admire in the likes of Larry Fink, from his book On Composition and Improvisation (2014):
- Depth, layering, diagonals, edges, tension
- Some principles of Gestalt visual design, mainly from Michael Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye (2011)
- Closure, equilibrium, continuity, proximity, similarity, figure-to-ground
- Other general good practice:
- Leading lines, focal points
- Signifiers/signified, denotation/connotation, gestures, expressions etc
I looked at each image under all of these headings. I scribbled notes and drew lines on the prints. As an aside, having the printouts in b/w and fairly small helped me to focus on the key compositional elements (apparently Henri Cartier-Bresson used to view images from other photographers upside-down to see if they still had the same visual appeal – Lubben 2011: 12).
This exercise was extremely useful and helped me to reject five images and narrow the shortlist down to 13.
Whilst this kind of analytical approach isn’t scientific by any means, it did help to focus my mind on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of each image. Each shot had to justify its inclusion.
I am however still left with four more images than I need at this point… decisions still to be made for the final edit.
5. Final set: 9 (+1)
So this is a work in progress – I have 13 candidates for the final nine positions (remembering to leave the 10th slot open for the art exhibition shot).
I have to choose between pairs of images in a few of the slots in the sequence:
- Quiz night – general scene… do I show:
- a wide scene of a busy pub, though it’s not wholly obvious that it’s a quiz night – or…
- a close-up of a quiz team?
- Quiz night – fundraising… do I show:
- a quirky close-up – or…
- a more mainstream shot of people counting money?
- Acoustic music evening… two versions of a similar scene:
- the one where the man’s expression is best – or…
- the one where the woman’s expression is best?
- General shot… do I show:
- the barmaid’s amusing t-shirt slogan – or…
- that the pub is dog-friendly?
That’s enough for now – to be honest I’m going to make the final selection decision when I add in the 10th shot on 2nd April.
Fink, L. (2014) On Composition and Improvisation. New York: Aperture.
Lubben, K. (2011) Magnum Contact Sheets. New York: Thames & Hudson
Freeman, M. (2011) The Photographer’s Eye (digital edn). Lewes: Ilex Press.
Szarkowski, J. (2007). The Photographer’s Eye (4th edn). New York: MOMA.