Uni project: science-y Christmas cards

Six weeks ago I was given a broad photo project. The possible themes were ‘still life’, ‘a journey’ or ‘a document’, which meant I could shoehorn in anything I wanted; I just needed to come up with something interesting.

I had an idea. It only required dry ice, a prism, fifty light bulbs, and access to a physics lab. So one Saturday morning I was figuring all this out, and at the same time (in an uncharacteristic fit of forward planning) looking for decent non-religious Christmas cards. I idly tweeted about the dearth of good cards from the BHA/NSS, and Andrew of Apathy Sketchpad replied with a comment about making your own. Well, that did it. I couldn’t let the opportunity pass, so I changed my entire project in an afternoon1.

So I wanted to produce images for non-religious Christmas cards. Not in an avowedly there-is-no-god way – no need to be a jerk about it – but (somehow) pro-science and secular wonder. My lofty dream result was images that evoked a sense of awe. Not at the aesthetics or my photographic skill or anything2, but at the facets of nature they represented. They’d have a festive air, but be about reality and the joys of discovery. I also wanted them to work as images on their own, but with a ‘something else is going on here’ for anyone interested. If that makes sense.

That’s what I wrote in my project proposal, anyway. I figured this might be pretty difficult in practice, but really I just wanted to produce some cool science-y Christmas cards that I could actually send out. The only catch was the project needed to be on film, so I couldn’t use Photoshop – everything had to be done in-camera.

Anyway, I had good fun with this project, and did eventually produce some actual cards (until WH Smiths ran out of photo-card printing packs, anyway). If anyone’s interested, here are the final results (the captions were printed on the back of the cards):

The Candle Aquatic
The Candle Aquatic
(no Photoshop involved)


Fibonacci Cones
Fibonacci Cones
Pine cones grow to the Fibonacci golden spiral:


Oh say can you C
Oh say can you C
(yes, if you know one Smartie = 15mm)


Bauble Fractals
Bauble Fractals

More info after the break, for anyone interested.

Continue reading Uni project: science-y Christmas cards

  1. my workbook is…messy []
  2. as if []

Not Taking the Mickey? Stuff and Nonsense?

I haven’t done much this week other than work on a ‘film stills’ photo project. This has seen me, amongst other things, splatting fake blood onto my parents’ drive, gaffa-taping a monkey to my steering wheel in a public car park, projecting a silhouette of Mickey Mouse onto the side of a friend’s house, and visiting Tesco late at night to buy a long, black wig and a bunch of roses. This is great. So it’s been an interesting few days, and it’s a good job I haven’t had much proper – you know, paying – work, but sometimes you get lucky.

It’s finally all done, anyway. It’s about malevolent toys, and the flickr set is here. I haven’t properly named it yet, mainly because I can’t think of any atrocious puns. There’s gotta be something…It’s not due in till tomorrow, so I’ll see if anything comes to mind.

Year 25 Project: Complete

Year 25 Collage - SmallThis evening I uploaded a picture taken on May 18th, and with that my Year 25 project is complete. I took a shot every day but one: an inexplicable m0rk on December 17th.

I have mixed feelings about the final result. In some ways it’s not what I intended. I wanted each picture to represent the day, and many don’t. Plenty were taken at 2330 when I got home and realised I hadn’t done anything. I intended the project to force me into taking pictures of places and people I don’t normally photograph, but this rarely happened. For example, I started uni in September, but there are no proper images of my fellow students as I never plucked up the courage to ask them – despite them also studying photography.

There are also way too many taken on my mobile phone. This always seemed like a good idea – usually because of some rationalisation about not getting my camera out of my bag due to safety/annoying people / whatever – then I’d get home and realise the results suck.

But, having said all that, there are still plenty of photos that do represent their day, and were taken with a proper camera. I’m happy with many, and am glad I actually managed to complete the thing.

I’ve also definitely improved over the year, and I can see the images evolve. I taught myself the basics of balancing flash with ambient light, I now understand the concept of formal image composition, even if I’m not very good at it, and I’m slowly getting better at predicting the look of the final exposure before clicking the shutter. I also finally sat down and learnt how to use Lightroom, and suddenly I could properly control the shadow and highlight points while editing – I think there’s a marked improvement in the image quality thereafter.

It’s also had the intended memory-bank effect. I checked over the set this evening – there were a few omissions / duplicates, and my pride at the final 365 total was dented when I realised it’s a leap year – and kept spotting and thinking about little events I’d forgotten, which is quite pleasant. My 25th year had sad days, happy days, scary-exciting days, celebrities, and plenty of monkeys – it’ll be fun to dig through in a few years.

So it’s a mixed bag. There are more than a few images that made me wince while uploading, and again now, but there are some that came out better than I remembered, and a few I’m very happy with. I didn’t learn as much from it as I hoped, but it wasn’t a waste of time either.

I’m going to make a Blurb book of the results. I don’t have a properly colour-balanced setup, so I’ll have to play the odds and just hope they resemble what I see on screen. I’m currently struggling to download all the images and keep them in order (I don’t have a local copy, sadly), but I’m sure I’ll find a way. However it turns out, it should make a neat little momento.

Is there a Year 26 Project? So far, yes. I’ve been toying with 52 Portraits or similar, but as I’ve got into the habit I see no reason not to continue for the moment. Objectives for this year:

  • Be brave
  • Take fewer, better shots, on decent equipment
  • Check and double-check the goddamn focus (I hate hate hate it when the focus is off)
  • Learn more about lighting, and put it into practice
  • Take more portraits
  • Be brave

I think that’s enough to be going along with.

Results day

Back to university yesterday. Yeah, I know, students get silly amounts of holiday – I can’t really disagree. Anyway, a new term means we receive the results of last term’s work. First came the essay I handed in just after Christmas. Its lack of depth worried me, as I’d realised too late how much research it needed, but the tutor liked it and gave me a 2:1. So yay.

Then, though, came the photographic project results – the work that really took up the time. The first was ‘Interaction’ – my Pumpkin Man images:

Interaction Project - 1 of 5 Interaction Project - 2 of 5 Interaction Project - 3 of 5 Interaction Project - 4 of 5 Interaction Project - 5 of 5

I originally presented them at a ‘critical assessment’ in November; here’s what I wrote that evening:

The group’s reaction to my project was generally favourable: they liked the idea and thought the second image (knife in pumpkin) was the strongest, but recommended I remove the last two shots as they were weaker (particularly the final one), just leaving the first three more abstract photos.

Once they finished giving their opinions it was opened to the entire class, who said some nice things, and then the two teachers. They immediately completely disagreed, suggesting that if anything I should remove the first three as they didn’t seem to add anything to the concept and weren’t as good as the much stronger final two images anyway. The course leader recommended I enlarge the two to A3 and present them as a diptych.

So I went with the teachers’ recommendation, blowing the final two up to A3 and removing the first three. They bloody hated it. Here’s why:

The project is based in a basic conceptual idea and its realisation needs refinement. You need a third image to complete the triptych. The 2 images are similar in style and atmosphere, but they lack conceptual depth. Maybe something along the lines of intruders or strangers threatening the privacy of the home might have been worth exploring – your conceptual approach seems too basic and simple. (…) The project would have benefited from a re-shoot and tutorial input.

I got a third. They slagged off my workbook too – the book worth 20% of the final mark that details my thought processes and development throughout the project – but that was completely fair as the workbook sucked. Still, I think I’m justified in feeling a bit aggrieved – I removed the context and ‘conceptual depth’ on the advice of the same teachers who marked the project. Hmph.

Then came the Studio Photography project, for which we had to recreate an existing photograph then interpret it in some way for a second image. I recreated this Marilyn Monroe shot, and the interpretation was Lichtaffen Atomicus:

Lichtaffen Atomicus

I explained in print and verbally how this was an interpretation of the recreation: the Monroe shot was in a series of jumping pictures, of which Dali Atomicus was the most famous and indeed representative of the whole thing because of its obsession with ‘suspension’. This in turn had been inspired by Einstein’s’1 atomic revelations. Einstein, also photographed by same photographer, called photographers ‘light monkeys’. Hence the tribute to the original using Einstein and monkeys jumping instead. But (accurately transcribed):

Your interpretation is based on another exsisting original and you could have developed and analyse the teechnical reproduction instead. However technically – stagging and setup as well as lighting – are well done.

I think this means they thought I was trying to recreate Dali Atomicus, and didn’t understand the interpretation aspect. At all. I scraped a 2:1 as they liked the workbook this time.

Sorry if this is complainy and/or adolescent. Just came as something of a surprise. I spent Friday mixing pissed-off with I-should-just-give-up, but I’m thankfully over that now. The latter, anyway. Happily, none of this year’s marks count towards my degree. Lessons learned are a) don’t assume the teachers’ advice has any virtue and b) don’t get too clever.

  1. Einstein didn’t have all that much to do with the structure of the atom afaik, but his links with nuclear bombs apparently explain why Dali & Halsman focussed on him []


Forgot to take a photo today, for the first time since starting my project in May. Don’t even have anything on someone else’s camera, or a webcam shot or something. Damn! For a while there I thought I might make it the full year. Oh well.

Lichtaffen Atomicus

Our second six-week project this term was to recreate a studio photograph, then make an interpretation of that image. I chose Philippe Halsman‘s jumping pictures, and made I think an ok recreation of this image of Marilyn Monroe (I haven’t checked whether the model minds me putting the image online yet). This was my interpretation:

Lichtaffen Atomicus

It’s an homage to Dali Atomicus, based around Albert Einstein’s nickname for photographers as ‘lichtaffen’ – german for ‘light monkeys’. The Einstein image is by Halsman too.

I kept friends and family up until late on a Sunday night trying to take this shot. I had my mother holding the chair, Abi throwing beads from one side, Ben throwing monkeys from the other and Dad trying to press the shutter at just the right moment. The project had to be on film, so we took about 70 shots on digital to get roughly consistent results, then 36 ‘blind’ shots on black & white film. My legs caved in a few shots from the end!

None of the shots came out quite as I wanted – in the above you can’t see the camera around my neck and the yellow beads are covering a little too much of Einstein – but there are so many variables that something’s always dodgy, and I’m happy with the end result. The final black and white print is different – I’ll get the negative scanned in at some point – but similar enough to the above that you get the idea.

We had the critical assessment yesterday and people seemed to like it, which was nice. I liked someone’s description of it as a ‘box of madness’ 🙂
Other final shot possibilities are here, and outtakes here. Thanks to everyone who helped with this – no way I could have done it without you!

Year 25 project: halfway point

It’s half a year since I began my Year 25 project, in which I take a picture every day and add it to a Flickr set. I’ve only once forgotten, but as luck would have it I’d taken one accidentally – albeit the most boring one ever – so haven’t yet had to invoke Mork.

It took me a while to get into the habit of taking a shot during ‘normal’ days in which nothing special was happening – I’d usually remember in the evening and try to find something relevant. I’ve become better at this, partly through conditioning and partly through recently acquiring a second-hand Nokia N91 with a 2 megapixel camera. It’s not great quality, but is a huge step up from my old phone, and it’s certainly good enough for quick snapshots when my proper camera isn’t around. Having said that, there’ve been occasions where using my SLR would only have taken an extra 15 seconds and I haven’t bothered, so that’s a disadvantage.

I like the challenge, and it’s certainly prompted me to try out different techniques and styles. My main aim for the next six months is to be braver when it comes to photographing people – I regularly meet interesting people and think “they’d make a good subject for today’s picture” but am too timid to ask permission. Must try harder.

Incidentally, this also means it’s only 6 months till my birthday. Just so you know.

Project 80% complete

Yesterday’s trip to uni was successful, thankfully, and my last-minute project is now mostly printed. I’m at the stage where, if disaster struck, I could hand in the work so far and it would be marginally acceptable.

I ran into a slight problem when the university cash machine was broken, and the media store only took cash. Well, they also took cheques, but given that it’s no longer 1974 I didn’t have a cheque book on me. I can understand their reluctance to take credit cards with their associated surcharges, but they could just add the fees onto the total price – if they explain the situation I can’t see anybody minding.

In the end I managed to get most things done with the paper I had, but a very kind person offered to lend me the money if necessary, which was great. I’m going in tomorrow – nothing like leaving things until the last minute – to print one more image then mount them all (never done this before), and then I should be ready to hand in on Friday. This will be a massive relief; on Saturday night I am so hitting the toffee apples.

Pumpkin Man Nod

I spent much of today panicking over a photography project due in this Friday. The idea I’d been planning and working on for a few weeks fell through due to a combination of my muppetry and some unfortunate timings, so I came up with a new plan this evening, and called a friend in the hope he might be around to help. Not only was he around, but he didn’t complain once about spending much of the evening doing this:

Pumpkin Man Nod

Which isn’t as easy as it looks. I have impressive friends – thanks, Nod!

I’m going to London tomorrow to develop the films and hopefully get a few decent prints. I’m annoyed with myself that it’s ended up so last-minute, but I’ve learnt not to leave anything mission-critical to the last few days, and plenty more besides. Hopefully the prints will turn out ok tomorrow – not sure what I do if not…

Year 25 Project

m0rk!Inspired by Photojojo’s Project 365, I’m trying to take a photo every day of my 25th year. Here’s how they describe it:

  • Imagine being able to look back at any day of your year and recall what you did, who you met, what you learned… (Often we find it hard to remember what we did just yesterday or even last night, let alone a whole year ago!)
  • Your year-long photo album will be an amazing way to document your travels and accomplishments, your haircuts and relationships. Time moves surprisingly fast.
  • Taking a photo a day will make you a better photographer. Using your camera every day will help you learn its limits. You will get better at composing your shots, you’ll start to care about lighting, and you’ll become more creative with your photography when you’re forced to come up with something new every single day.

I thought it sounded like fun, so I started on my birthday – May 19th. I confess to not blogging it for a while in case my memory was too appalling to keep up, but it’s going well as of 2nd August. I’ve had a couple of close calls in which I forgot, but happened to have taken something anyway. Hence the peas. Anyway, I’ll try my best, and should I ever fail will replace the image with Mork, shown right. Hopefully you’ll only see Mork this once.

The sidebar will always display the latest image from the Flickr set, which I’ll update as often as possible.