Category Archives: Part 2

Heads – Philip-Lorca diCorcia

A different approach to street photography

The focus for my work in assignment 2 was ‘Crowds’. Living in London this worked really well within the Street Photography genre. I have long been a fan of street photography in terms of aesthetics and conveying a captured moment. This project allowed me the opportunity to explore the genre in a more personal way, as well as opening my eyes to the variety of forms it can take and the practical and moral issues surrounding it. As the photographer I do feel a little uncomfortable taking candid shots of strangers in open places and I pick my subjects and context with care. I therefore read articles on the series ‘Heads’ by Philip-Lorca diCorca with great interest.

The series of 17 images were selected from 4000 shots taken over a period of 2 years. Each image was taken without the subject knowing and the final choices were then exhibited in Moma. The collection then became part of a court battle when one of the individual’s recognised his photo. The court eventually found in favour of the artist – citing advocates of free speech and the exceptions to privacy rules that art can be exempt from. The MOMA site details the case here.

Putting the controversy of the case aside, these images are notable in how individual they are as pieces of art. The ultra realism within each face, the dark background in broad daylight, and the complete openness of the individuals’ expressions. The hidden nature of the camera has allowed the photographer to create something individually candid that would be impossible to achieve if the subject were aware of the shooter.


Part 2 Imaginative Spaces

Project 2 – Lens Work

‘Look back at your personal archive of photography and try to find a photograph that could be used to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes discussed in project 2. Whether or not you had a similar idea when you took the photograph isn’t important; find a photo with a depth of field that ‘fits’ the code you’ve selected. 

Add the shot to your learning log and include a short caption describing how you’ve re-imagined your photograph.

In exploring the effects on altering the depth of field, focal length, width of lens and viewpoint a variety of visual choices are presented to the photographer.

The exercises in Project 1 helped in developing my understanding of the technical requirements when shooting different subjects, or for different creative interpretations.

I think the Wim Wenders quote cited in the coursework folder is particularly prevalent here.

The most political decision you make is where you direct people’s eyes

(Wim Wenders (1997) quoted in Bromberg and Chanarin, 2008)

In my exploration I found myself drawn to the use  with shallow depth of field with a narrower angle of view when working on portraiture to draw the eye to the focus of the image. The background blur discourages attention from the viewer and the sharpness of the face leads the eye.

Focal length 85mm, f-stop 1.8,

Deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend.

(Bazin(1948) quoted in Thompson and Bordwell)

To explore this viewpoint I worked with a wider angle of view – allowing me to incorporate more details in the image. The deep depth of field also brings a sharper focus on more of the details within the frame. So rather than the eye being drawn to one particular point of the frame, in this instance it could have been one of the fountains, the viewer is able to consider the buildings, the splashes and puddles, the half hidden member of public, and even the spot of light bleed in the centre.

focal length 33mm, f-stop 22

This approach to the technical settings results in a closer representation of the whole subject matter incorporated in the frame. Examples of this approach can be seen most famously in the work of Ansel Adams. Along with Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston formed club f/64.


In choosing a photograph to fit with the ‘codes’ described in the nots in project 2 I selected one of the live music shots that I felt portrayed ‘intimacy’

Shallow depth of field – intimacy


The shot was taken in an instance where I saw the two performers interacting with each other and their close proximity to the other means that the eye is drawn to both equally. There is some movement and a slight soft focus on the subjects – although technically this isn’t ideal, I do enjoy the sense of a live experience that this creates. It terms of this fitting in with the aesthetic code of intimacy, using the f1.8 has helped to create this by blurring the background. I also feel that the fixed prime 85mm lens has added to this feeling by creating an illusion of the viewer almost being in the frame.


Part 2 – Imaginative Spaces

Project 1 The Distorting Lens

Exercise 2.1

With the camera set on aperture priority I chose two different subjects to explore the effect of changing the focal length on an image.

I only have a prime 85mm for my full frame camera – so I opted to use my old 450D with the kit 18-55mm lens for this exercise.

Canon EOS 450d, Shutter speed 1/60, f-stop 13, ISO 100.

focal length 18mm
focal length 28mm
focal length – 39mm
focal length – 55mm

The changing viewpoint has an effect on the perceived angle of view – the longer focal point appears to represent the closest to the naked eye’s view.

Canon EOS 450D, 1/400, f-stop 5.6, ISO 100, focal length 55mm:


Canon EOS 450D, 1/400, f-stop 5.00, ISO 100, focal length 40mm:


Canon EOS 450D, 1/640, f-stop 4.0, ISO 100, focal length 27mm:


Canon EOS 450D, 1/640, f-stop 3.5, ISO 100, focal length 18mm:


As I usually work in manual with a fixed lens, this exercise proved really useful in forcing me to re-examine not only the definition and function of the shutter speed and aperture – but also allowed me to explore changing focal length mechanically. The flexibility it suddenly gave me in creating a different frame from a single viewpoint was the first, most obvious bonus. However i did find the flattening of the image, due to the limited f-stop with this particular lens quite disappointing.

A useful extra exercise would be to repeat the process with the full frame camera with adjustable focal length lens.

Exercise 2.2

Two portraits with the subject framed the same on both shots – but the focal length at both optimum measures.

Both images were taken with the 450D – 18-55mm lens ISO 100

For the first image I used a focal length of 18mm.

For the second image I used a focal length of 55mm.

Flipping between the two images, the difference in the background becomes more apprent with each view. This is most noticeable on the pavement slabs and walls to the left of the image.

Exercise 2.3

Choosing a subject in front of a background with depth – I opted for the lilies in my lounge –  taking a close shot from a low viewpoint.


The low viewpoint along with wide lens acts on the perception of the shape of the subject – on the lily it makes it hard to define the shape and judge its size. In portraiture this would effect the shape and definition of the individual’s face.

Exercise 2.4


Exercise 2.5

Using the blinds as my subject for initial focus – then changing to infinity focus – these two shots define the shallow depth of field created when limiting to close range focus. In the initial shot the eye is drawn to the blinds in the foreground and the background is ignored.


In the second image the eye is drawn to the background – but the breaking up of the image through the blinds makes it difficult for the eye to find a resting point.


Exercise 2.6

Back in the comfort of my Canon 5D mkii this exercise allowed me to use my prime 85mm, asking for a combination of long focal length, wide aperture and close viewpoints, using shallow depth of field. On aperture priority I kept my setting on f 1.8 – the widest aperture for this lens.

Canon 5D mkii, 85mm lens, f-stop 1.8, focal length 85mm, iso 1000

shutter speed 1/500
shutter speed 1/640
shutter speed 1/2500
shutter speed 1/1000
shutter speed 1/60

My usual tendency would be to pop these in lightroom and lighten them with enhanced exposure. I think this is the effect using aperture priority has on the shots, leaving less room for my own manipulation before taking the shot and therefore compensating for under exposure.

I do enjoy the effect of a shallow depth of field in drawing the eye to the focal point, at the same time as creating a ‘dreamy’ effect on the picture as a whole.

Exercise 2.7

The brief here to use a small apertures and a wide angle lens to explore deeper depth of field. I was limited with the wide angle lens as I chose to use my 5D and I currently only own a fixed 85mm.

In contrast to my usual approach this exercise opened up an avenue that I have wanted to explore for a while. I think because the effect of using a small aperture is similar to using an automatic setting, in that it allows all of the frame to appear sharp, it is a method I have avoided, seeing it as less creative. However, looking at the work of artists such as Salgado and Burtynksy has drawn me to the possibility of using small aperture to create sharpness within expansive images.

Exploring this on a small scale I place objects at different distances from the lens to explore the effect of using the smaller aperture.

Canon 5D mkii, 85mm lens, iso 6400, f-stop 22

shutter speed 1/15
shutter speed 1/13
shutter speed 1/125
shutter speed 1/40

The most effective of these shots is the alarm clock image – placing a single object closer to the lens ensure that the sense of depth remained even with a deeper depth of field, bur the surrounding objects, ie the pile of the rug and artwork on the records, were still definable.

I then took my camera outside and went back to the 450 with the wide angle lens to explore the use of small aperture further.

Canon 450 EOS, 18-55 kit lens, f-stop 22, iso 400

shutter speed 1/40, focal length 33mm
shutter speed 1/160, focal length 21mm
shutter speed 1/100, focal length 33mm

My purpose here was to place something closer to the lens within each frame – the water shoots, the trees and the bridge supports – at the same time as allowing the wide angle lens to find a narrative in the background. The small aperture has allowed the background to be sharp enough for the eye to happily visit the details.