Friday, November 26, 2010

Assignment 5: U3 and U6 South

Last weekend I managed to spend a day exploring the southern reaches of the U3 and U6, both relatively recent line extensions and so containing some very colorful and creative architecture.  This was my first trip to take photographs for the assignment and so unlike other times that I have shot in the underground I had a very distinct goal in mind.  The target for this expedition was colour and architecture.  As a result many of the shots have a distinctive look, that of a strong vanishing point, but that is the dominant feature of a tunnel and something that I hope to be able to illustrate as creatively as possible.

Equipment for this assignment is much simpler than used previously.  The light level in the subway system is not bad, but equally it is not daylight, and coupled with the fact that I would not be able to use any static support, meant that lens choice was rather limited.  This basically came down to either using a very fast lens or one that supports image stabilization.  I also would have to contend with the fact that I need some depth of field for these shots, and so the ideal choice was my 24-105mm f/4 IS.  At ISO-800 and wide open at f/4 this still meant a best shutter speed of around 1/30s, hence the need for IS.  I could have used an f/2.8 zoom, but no IS, or even my f/1.2 50mm prime, which would have provided the shutter speed I needed but at the expense of wafer thin DoF.

This is the big difference between doing this assignment as a student versus doing it on a real commission from the UBahn company, with permission I could have used a tripod.  In that case my 24mm tilt shift at f/11 or f16 would have been ideal for this activity.  A key element of this particular assignment is going to be careful choice and use of equipment to shoot in low light conditions and also to work quickly, given the risk of challenge.

In all I am planning for 3 key photographic elements for this assignment:

  1. The Colour and Architecture of the system - using a wide angle zoom with IS
  2. The interaction of people with the system, in this case IS will be of little value and so the f/2.8 zoom becomes a better candidate.  
  3. The juxtaposition of the above ground subway architecture with the city landscape.  Freed of the constraints of the underground passageways my tripod should become quite handy, especially as I envisage some night time shooting in and around the Christmas markets that opened yesterday.
I am going to present a large number of images in this blog entry, with just a little text to accompany them, so want to make a few comments first about the shooting process.  In each case I rode the system to the very southern limit, checking out the window how each station looked as I passed through.  I then rode back and stepped off at each station.  The trains are on a ten minute interval and I found this was enough time to look around, understand the structure of the station and capture some good shots.  During this time there would be a train arriving in the opposite direction, presenting a chance to take some images with people exiting the train. In essence this is a street photography approach, I have a short time to look at and capture the essence of the area, as surreptitiously as possible, before moving to my next stop.

One technical note!  The stations are all lit by strong overhead strip lighting, in some cases the lights form an integral part of the architecture.  As this created a very high contrast in the shots, I have deliberately overexposed most by 1-2 stops.  There is no detail in the lights themselves, so this worked as a strategy to bring out more detail in the shadows. 

U6 Klinikum Groshadern

U3 - Grosshadern

U3 - Haderner Stern

U3 - Holzapfelkreuth

U3 - Westpark

U3/6 - Implerstrasse 

U6 - Fuerstenried West

U6 - Machtlfinger Strasse

U6 - Aldenbachstrasse

U3 - Thalkirchen

Differing Entrances and Exits from the System

Other Interesting Stuff!


The trains

So far so good, plenty of colour, but what I think is a very modernist approach, emphasizing form at the expense of usage, well at least in most images

Monday, November 15, 2010

Assignment 5: Further Development

I have now pretty much locked into the theme for this assignment, Munich's underground railway system, or the U-Bahn as it is know locally.  As I want to start shooting soon, I need to complete the conceptual design element so that I have an idea of what I am trying to achieve photographically.  First of all this assignment will be the design of a marketing campaign for the U-Bahn, based around a number of thought provoking photographs coupled with simple slogans.  Although I am also designing the posters for the campaign, this is still very much a photographic assignment, it needs to be, my design skills are not the greatest.

The posters will be designed around the European ISO paper sizes, in my case A4, but each would be scalable to whatever size is needed.  The graphical elements will be simple, block lettering in simple rectangles of text, a simple but modern looking style.  For inspiration I have been looking at the designs for London Undergrounds famous poster series, even bought a book to help:

London Transport Posters: A Century of Art and Design

After some thought I have decided on 3 essential designs for the campaign, each headed by the Words "Munich UBahn" and then combining a slogan that maps to the photograph.  The importance of completing this step is that the design dictates the framing of the photographs.  For two of the designs I have chosen square framing, partly because I want to experiment with this prior to a possible jump into medium format film photography where I would probably go with a 6x6 or maybe 6x7 format.  For the third design I have chosen an almost Panoramic framing of 28.7x13, the numbers dictated by the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

My first concept is a development of the image I used in my previous post

Another idea for this assignment is to use the exits of the system and juxtapose the UBahn sign against the background architecture of Munich, this is a poor but illustrative example
In each case I am using an eye dropper tool to grab colour from the frame for the signage around the photo.  Also using a square image, I have created a simple horizontal design

Not too sure about the text, but this is the drift I have at present.  Using the panoramic framing provides the following two mock-ups.  I cannot say that I like the photograph in the first image, however, the vanishing point is striking, just not so great for an advertising campaign

The second of these two images, uses the colour of the text backgrounds to further emphasize the colour of the included frame, might end up using this one.

I have yet to finalize the brief, but the current plan looks something like the following

"Produce photographs that can be used in an advertising campaign to encourage foreign visitors to use Munich's underground transport system.  We would envisage that the posters would be displayed in arrivals at the airport or in guides to the city.  Aim to develop 8-12 different concepts in a mix of portrait and landscape formats.  Develop images that include 1 or more of the following properties of the system:
  1. Colour and Architecture of the Stations
  2. How the system integrates with the City
  3. Use of the system by the people of Munich
  4. The facilities available to the traveler
Develop sample slogans and poster concepts to support your imagery"

This is a perhaps too vague, although I think I need to allow myself sufficient latitude to develop the concept, too many constraints could limit the scope of the imagery I plan to develop. Keep it simple!

Assignment 4: Tutor Feedback

First of all Alan commented on my choice of subject and affinity towards the district of Haidhausen, I would have found this a much harder exercise had I been working in a district about which I knew very little or had no empathy towards.  A key goal in this assignment was to portray my own view of Haidhasuen, not to simply create a touristic vision designed to entice people to visit.  From the overall tone of Alan's comments, I think I succeeded, however, it was far from a flawless set of images.

My reaction to the suggestion of supplying 6 images selected from 12 was to provide 6 pairs of images each tackling a specific (loosely defined) theme.  My tutor would then if effect be in the position of a commissioning editor and have the opportunity to select between the images, or indeed reject both requesting new input.  In responding to his comments I will treat the image pairs as submitted and make any changes:

1. Entertainment

Both images passed muster and the key comment is that it would be very difficult to select between them.  I was most surprised by the reaction to the second image, I really wrestled with whether or not to submit this, as I felt it was a little too pretty, however, it was seen as capturing the essence of street life.  I agree, I just wondered.  From these comments I would stick with my first choice:

2. Street Life

Here Alan disagreed with my selection finding the second image a better choice than the first.  The first image of the fruit and veg shop was considered to be too wide angle, a closer in shot that emphasized the colour of the produce would have worked better.  My goal with this shot was contextual, the framing was selected to show the structure of a farm building in the depths of a city, however, I take the point, better framing might improve the shot

Although the selected photo from this section would be:

3. Cafes

Alan did not clearly prefer either image, but made critical observations of the composition of the Wiener cafe image, stating that there is too much negative space in the foreground dominated by the tram tracks.  He asked if I could re frame with more detail above the cafe:

I have to agree, this is now better balanced, the eye is brought to the diners and is less distracted by the tram tracks - thanks!  The other image was fine, but I will keep this one!

4. Volksbad and River

This was an interesting and perhaps risky submission, two photographs of the same building from very similar viewpoints, but with dramatically different lighting.  Everyone I asked automatically preferred the bright blue sky, however, I much prefer the softer less contrasty image taken under an overcast sky.  Fortunately Alan agreed, the softer light creates better tonality in the building and avoids distracting shadows.

This was a key learning point for me, lighting is everything in photography and the dramatic is not always the best choice.

5. Housing

These two images were very different, the first was a scene of peaceful relaxation, the second a vision of urban dereliction.  Both worked, however, Alan agreed with my choice to reject the second in favor of the first.  My photographic essay is meant to be a comment on the experience of the district and i truth Haidhausen is predominantly a comfortable place to live that has been well planned, so the first image makes the cut

6. Industry and Work

This image pair contained my favorite of the images, a bleak outlook over an industrial storage area, backed by the ever present high rise cranes.  The alternate image was a much brighter modern picture with strong vibrant colours, but losing some of the meaning that the other image could convey, so we keep my #1

In closing, I was very pleased with the feedback, it is helping me to develop a visual language and understand what works and what does not.  My biggest challenge currently is not technical or even compositional, it is understanding what makes a good photograph and how to select from wide number of photographs those that work best.  I am reading widely, particularly historical works to try and better understand how the aesthetic of photography has developed.  I am also looking at others works, currently that of German artists such as Sander, the Bechers, and Gursky.  Alan suggested that I consider Martin Parr, I do have "The Last Resort", but will take a look at other work.

Thanks again to my tutor for great feedback and helping my development, much work still to do.