Monthly Archives: April 2012

Last post I drooled over looked at a portrait of the artist as eye-candy a model, only to pull a classic c.i. and abandon the further exploration of the analysis. There are a number of elements to look at: a) the environment/location, b) the pose; c) the vantage point of the photographer; d) the styling of the sitter; e) lighting. Here goes…

a) The location

Industrial sites are not conventionally known as scenic or beautiful environments that would merit a photograph or would be worth-while locations for photo-shoots. By placing the sitter in this environment, the photographer communicates a number of subtle messages. This man, the image tells us, is not a romantic hero but he is a hard worker. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeve and get his fingers dirty. He is a “worker”, not a luxury creature.
In recent years, there has been a fashion of converting industrial buildings into dwellings – the “loft”. These are usually seen as rather “cool” places to live in. With that in mind, the image communicates to us that the sitter is a fashionable, young(ish) person with enough money to live in a sought-after location/dwelling. Lofts have also an association with art in the sense that they were often used by artists as their studios. Again, this association rubs off onto the sitter and could possibly give him the air of an avantgarde artist. His conventional styling, however, seems to contradict that – but we’ll get to that in d). Nonetheless, the denotative meaning of the location as a possibly stylish, fashionable, artistic loft brings with it the connotative meanings. Lofts are seen as slightly quirky, unusual dwellings, often used by creative people such as artists for combined work and living spaces. Therefore they are connected to progressive thinking and avantgarde art. At the same time they also suggest pared-down, minimal living and a lifestyle that is focussing on essentials rather than ostentatious and opulent displays of wealth (such as a mansion or a country house or indeed a palace). 
Is the sitter an artist? A fashionable person? In any case, he must have a sense of art and creativity if he is placing himself in this kind of environment. We have already been given an interpretation of the sitter without knowing who he is and why he is in this environment. That is how sneaky modern portraiture works… Before you know it you have been sold your worst enemy as your saviour. Maid Marian and Sir Guy anyone???
Come back for more semiotic nit-picking in the next post when I look at our sitter’s delicious pose… There’s a good deal I have to say about that, particularly his deep grey eyes, the dark short hair, the look of anger, the open shirt collar… *trailsoffandglazesover*

After Theory Now the Yummy Practice

Ok, theory out of the way, I promised I’d plunge into this seedy semiotic analysis. I am selfishly combining pleasure and pain here: I am going to do this with a favourite portrait of mine. Not shot by me and therefore not visible here within this post. You will have to follow this link if you want to see what I am going discuss here.
For the sake of this analysis I will deliberately ignore any hermeneutic knowledge we may have about the sitter himself and the context in which the image was taken. (Believe me – that is extremely hard for me to do – I could possibly talk for hours about him. Well, I can surely look at him for hours *smirks*). I will merely discuss the pictorial elements of the image, taken by Joe McGorty. 

The portrait is part of a promotion shoot.  The sitter is placed in what looks like an outdoor staircase. In the background we can spot buildings that have few windows. This is obviously the yard of an industrial building. We can assume that, too, because of a piece of writing that is visible in the shot, to the left of the sitter’s waist: “No escape” – this seems to be some kind of warning sign in the industrial environment this shot was taken in. The sitter is leaning with his back against a wall. He has folded his arms across his stomach and shows his left thumb sitting on his right upper arm with the thumb pointing up. He is leaning back in a relaxed fashion. 

The shot is most likely lit with available light from the right; the left half of his face is nonetheless slightly obscured by shadow. There might be a bit of fill light from the left – a reflector, maybe, but not enough to cancel out the shadow. The photographer is taking this photo from a slightly higher point than the sitter’s position, thereby forcing the sitter to look up. The photographer has composed the image in such a way that the sitter is not in the centre but takes up space on the right hand side of the image. 

For a portrait the image is unusally composed: Conventionally the most important object/subject of an image will be placed in the centre. Here, the photographer – either on location or during post-production – has framed/cropped the shot in such a way that sitter and writing counterbalance each other. He has also taken care that the colours in the environment match the sitter’s clothes – the blue shirt and denims work well against the blue paint of the wall. The colours of the buildings in the background are washed out due to receiving the correct kind of exposure on the main part of the image – the sitter.

Washed out.

What does it all mean?

We have a number of elements to look at: a) the environment/location, b) the pose; c) the vantage point of the photographer; d) the styling of the sitter; e) lighting.

And that, I am sorry to say, we will do in the next instalment of this semiotic analysis of a portrait. This post is becoming far too long. But hey, feel free to gawk look at the lovely portrait of the even lovelier Richard Armitage. I sure will… 😉

Another Blog Post in Which Sonja Contemplates the Theory of Portraiture in Photography

Have I shocked you with my long post title? I am in historical mood today, for various reasons, some of which I cannot disclose here yet, some too embarrassing. I will admit, however, that I have been reading too much fanfiction recently, and that is seriously impeding my communication skills – at least when it comes to 21st century communication. What better way to overcome that but to attempt a little Barthesian picture analysis?
There, there, have you recovered from the shock? I know, I did not expect it myself – given that I am not a fan of post-structuralist narrative exploration in the vein of Foucault and Derrida. Somehow, however, my brain seems to crave a bit of intellectual stimulation. You would think that I have had enough of that after nearly three years of college. But no, it actually could have been a bit more academic for my taste, I have to say, and that is why I am volunteering today to death-defyingly plunge myself into a semiotic analysis of a photographic portrait. (Also, I want to stimulate the old grey matter a little bit, so there…) I will have to cut my post into two halves, however, because I have too much to say, as usual. So let’s get the theory out of the way.
The images that we are confronted with on a daily basis, are everything but coincidental – they are carefully composed. That is particularly blatant when it comes to advertising images – which try to appeal to the viewers’/buyers’ basest instincts in order to sell a product.  Portraits are also carefully composed – the location, lighting, props and composition of portraits are used by the photographer to convey elements of the sitter’s person(ality). At first sight they may not come across as a commercial product, but in the case of celebrity imagery an element of advertising can not be denied: Celebrities depend on their name being well known. They are, after all, selling their image and thus a celebrity portrait becomes and ad for their product, be it acting, music or any other “talent” they possess. A semiotic analysis of an image – as dry and boring as it sounds – is actually a great eyeopener. When you look at all the picture elements closely, you will be shocked to realise how much we get manipulated visually by the images that are fed to us – and thus “sold” the person/product in the image.
I must prefix this with a short explanation of the Barthesian idea of myth – as this has a lot to do how we view and interpret an image. Barthes separates his analysis of (advertising) images into two distinct (interpretative) levels of meaning. The denotative level of meaning is the actual meaning of a sign. Example: The presence of a painting as an accessory in an image denotes “piece of art”. However, on a second level, the piece of art has also connotative meaning: Artwork in our culture is usually interpreted as a sign of cultured-ness, education, intellectualism as well as a visual expression of wealth and (good) taste. When you look at the connotation of the example, you find that there is a ideological quality to this. Barthes called this the myth – a culturally pre-defined set of ideas, rules and conventions. And as such they represent and support the ideology of the ruling class.

Phew, still with me? If you have read this far, I will reward you with a glimpse of the picture that I am discussing so you can get acquainted with the object of my desire interest. We’ll plunge into him in the next posting… Cliffhanger…

Waiting Game

Digital photography: all clickclickclick. Immediate result. Download from Flash card to the PC in seconds. Retouching by a few clicks. Put through the printer in three more and *bang* there we have it. Who would have thought that digital photography can be such a waiting game? Because it really has been for me, lately.
I had done all my stuff for my professional practice class: I had gone out on location to shoot some interiors. I had bumped it up by a few more interiors from my own home. I downloaded it, edited it and put it through the Ps-treatment and then made a decision on how I was going to present it to college: as a mock interior design magazine. And that’s where the waiting started. I came up with a design, translated that into the design-system of my online photobook printer and sent it off – to wait and wait and wait for the result.
People with weaker hearts might have a heart attack. After all we are working on a tight schedule here. Hand-up is next week – and you always need to calculate a window for contingency. Well, happy end: My mock mag arrived yesterday and Sonja is happy. It is all glossy and shapely like a commercial interior design magazine. It’ll be handed up next Wednesday.
In the meantime I have gotten myself into another waiting game. This morning I did a wonderful shoot with a bunch of very creative people in my own house. Their project is top secret and thus I cannot disclose what we shot. And that is where impatience number 2 comes in: Sometimes you have to wait and wait and wait until you are allowed to show the images that you have taken because the clients have put a restriction on the publication of the shots. This is really hard for me because the shoot and the resulting pictures are just such fun. Can’t wait for the wait to be over. 
Are you as impatient as I am? Or do you think the best thing about photography is clicking the button, rather than showing what you clicked the button for? Better make myself another cup of tea for the wait…

Thoughts about flickr

Do you use any online photo communities? I do. I am a Pro member of flickr. Disclosure: I used to work for the big corporation that acquired flickr in 2005. And that is why I initially became a “Pro” member – it was a company perk. And before you sneer: I credit that – and the company’s policy of supporting their employees’ non-work related skills – with my eventual path towards professional photography. It was on flickr that I realised “I can do that!” And my enthusiastic participation in comment-and-critique groups honed my photographic skills to some degree.
These days I merely use flickr as a cloud service, really. I upload my best photos to flickr not for showing off but for safe-keeping outside of my own PC-network. Most of these are private and cannot be seen by anyone but me. I find that flickr is also handy as an online space from where you can link your images into blogs and boards.
Incidentally, today is my flickrversary: This day six years ago I joined up. And below  you see the sad state of my photography with which I started off. Not anything that stands out (in a good way). But at least I can say that I have come a long way…
Posted April 18th, 2006
I am obviously not alone in my appreciation of flickr. According to latest statistics there are currently more than six billion photos stored on flickr. Six billion. A six with nine zeros. *gasp* In March 2012 alone more than 88 million photos were uploaded.
Let’s take a look at flickr’s users. According to, the average flickr user has 253 contacts and 1628 photos. Their photosite gets viewed 359 times a day and they upload four pictures a day. Does that ring true? Here are my very own stats: I have 60 contacts (oooh, saddo), but 4062 photos. My flickr stream was viewed 40 times a day and I upload 1.85 images per day. Firmly below average, eh? Well, I am glad that I am not following the trend in one respect: I am firmly sure of my gender identity – something that 94 percent of flickr users are not, otherwise they might have set their gender in their profile…
Love or loathe it, online-photo-communities have found their place on the web. And even with Facebook trying to make inroads into the photo community after upgrading their photo display and lately acquiring Instagram, flickr, picasa et al. are still going on. If you are starting out in photography it is a great place to learn, to test your photo-analytical skills and to build a network of photographers. Who knows – it might bring you to a place you never thought you would go…

Under Pressure

*dumdumdumdadadumdum… dumdumdumdadadumdum…* Thinking of Bowie here. And that is actually an altogether far too cheerful start to this post than reality affords. The pressure is mounting. And if it weren’t for my fellow prisoners students, I probably would step into the usual trap of leaving things to the last minute. 
Hail, hail Social Media – it is thanks to the updates on Facebook that I am keeping track of what my classmates are up to. They are posting links to their portfolios in progress, celebrating the finalising of their edits, giving insights into their finished books. And they are very successful in evoking a massively guilty conscience in yours truly…
Picture content bears no relation to blog post. I just like it.
Whatever, I am at least one assignment down at this point. I have not only designed the business cards for my future photo business *ahem* and also built my own website but I have sent off my portfolio specific photo project for printing. As mentioned in a previous post, I concentrated on interior photography – kind of in line with my final photographic project. While the shoot had been finalised yonks ago, the mode of presentation yet had to be decided on. I finally came to that decision last night, sat down and redesigned my project there and then and sent it off to be printed. 
Photobook production is always a bit of a pig in a poke. It is extremely hard to tell whether the finished product is going to look and feel the way you envisage it. This depends on choice of format, paper, and colour reproduction. A lot of variables that may mean that I have just thrown about 26 Euro out of the window. If all goes pear-shaped, I will have to have a contingency – reprint my design as individual tearsheets and have them bound in the printer’s.
Rambling today, sorry. Multi-tasking is taking its toll. Or maybe it is just the effect of Friday the 13th. Good luck to you all.

Of Sprats and Mackerels

Yes, I DO live in a coastal town and I AM just back from my home in North Sea vicinity, but I am not talking about the decline of the fishing industry. In fact I want to talk about something entirely different, but the maritime proverb is pretty fitting: “you need a sprat to catch a mackerel”. 
Can you spot the mackerel and her sprat?
 I love fish and when it comes to sprats, I am a total mackerel. That is to say, I react very strongly to anything that is remotely related to photography. If you want to sell me something, make it a must-have item for any photographer and I am ready to splash the dosh! For example, I seriously had to have that invaluable camera strap that is anatomically designed for women only and sports not only a discreet floral design but also has an equally discreet “bulge” where it sits on the female chest. (In fairness, though, that investment in a 70 Euro camera strap was well-worth it – makes shooting at events an absolute pleasure!) In a (for me) very uncharacteristically feminine way I also own several pieces of camera-related jewellery (*blushes*). But the latest thing I just read in a German photography mag has me gagging. Or raging?

A prestigious photography equipment manufacturer, mostly known for their high quality tripods – are advertising photography apparel for women. Apparently they have had a men’s collection for a while, but now their photo waistcoats are available for women, too. *grah* Honestly? Jaysis, they are trying to make money where they can, aren’t they? Now, however practical this waistcoat is going to be, I won’t be seen dead in that garment. Because I cannot think of anything more superfluous than that. But I am sure a lot of enthusiasts will be quite taken with the features of this piece of practical clothing. 
For instance, it sports these massive, detachable pockets that you can put your camera into. Or detach and then use as knee pads (in case you are on location for a macro of mushrooms in mud or some such assignment…)! Or the strategically placed epaulets which hold the shoulder strap of the camera in place. (Do you know what epaulets are? Those decorative shoulder “pads” that officers have on their uniform.) Or the two tabs at the fron of the waistcoat under which you can fasten the strap of your camera to your belly. 

Have you recovered? Gimmicks and gizmos – love them. But message to the photography industry: you are overdoing it, guys! As much as we need filters and straps and padded bags, and however much we laugh about those cute little camera USB sticks, lens shot glasses and shutter-leaf earrings – at 229 Euro for an *BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP*ing waistcoat you have lost me. In fact you are making me angry. Because I do not see photography as an opportunity to cash in on moronic gizmo freaks but as a democratic and inclusive art form that should not be watered down by producing unnecessary luxury items that the world has no need for!

*phew* Rant over. I think I need a walk. Talk soon, peeps 🙂

Facebook and Photography

Let’s be up-to-the-minute topical again and talk about Facebook. There are a couple of news that are worthy of mentioning.
Has anyone copped on yet, that Facebook recently upped its photographic game again? I am talking about the recent upgrade of its photoviewer. In case you haven’t noticed: The social network has started to display images at high resolution as default. Thus they appear four times bigger than before at a max resolution of 2048 x 2048.
Do you really want to see this crap at highest resolution???
Happy faces all around? No, not necessarily. As (pro) photographers you may actually not want your images to be displayed that big because then they are print-compatible and possibly more open to plagiarism or copyright breach by third parties. On top of that, Facebook still reserves the right to use network members’ images for their own purposes – certainly not something that I particularly like because even as an avid FB user I do not necessarily want to endorse the company…
Somehow, Facebook always gets its default settings wrong. Same with the privacy settings that have everything public by default. In this case: Why not leave the default at a small resolution and give general opt-ins for those who always want to display their images at large resolution?
The company, of course, claims that they chose the highest possible resolution for the default setting because it thereby places even more emphasis on photographic/visual displays and aims to improve the service accordingly. Yeah right – it also means that more high resolution images are at Facebook’s disposal, should they deign to use one – without paying, of course – for their own purposes…
Well, it seems I am merely a little niggle in the big applause that Facebook generates for almost every little fart thing it produces. Apparently the network counts six billion photo uploads per month. For those who are better at visual representation (= photographers) than mere words: that’s images per month. The only consolation: 99,9 percent of those billions of images are complete and utter crap, so it does not matter whether copyrights are protected or not. Ooooh, that’s really cynical…

Photography 365

This week was a week when I was bogged down by my RLW (real life work) and at the same time had an assignment due in college,  a business plan for an imaginary photo business that I might start in the future… well, here’s to dreaming, I guess… Under pressure, a lot of my more serious photography falls by the wayside. I find it hard to concentrate on two things at the same time, i.e. analyse the photography market in Ireland and at the same time produce stunning canteen shots… Plus, I almost feel guilty about going out and shooting while I should be sitting at home, writing up serious numbers. Because shooting is just too much fun – it doesn’t even feel like work… And sure, work is something that needs to hurt??? (Like writing a business plan…)
The only thing I was able to keep up was the 365 project. It’s a total win-win: I get to shoot photos and that way satisfy my need to be creative. But I don’t have to feel guilty about putting too much effort into it because they are all shot on the iPhone *hahaha*. Now, I can’t really claim that project for my own. I got into it thanks to my friend A___ who started his “an iPhone pic a day” exactly on the 1st of January. I only followed suit on the 1st of February, but have been good at keeping it up since then.
The project is exactly what it says on the tin: 365 pictures in one year, i.e. one picture a day. It’s hardly an original concept. Little schemes like this have been amusing photographers for years. But with the advancement of technology it has become so much easier to take part in such projects without much effort.
After A___ had told me about the idea, I did what I do best: I trailed the internet for an app that makes taking part in a personal 365 project easier. I wanted four things from this project:
  • shooting with iPhone, i.e. quick point and shoot photo fun without too much thinking
  • storing on net so as to not clog up my iPhone memory and is also possible to share with friends
  • no hassle picture upload straight from the phone rather than via the PC
  • and easy month-by-month overview of the images shot so far.
Oh hello – and I wanted it to be FREE. *ggg*
Confusingly, there are two very similarly named services available at the moment. A___ had recommended  365project. I had a quick look and nearly signed up for it when I realized that this does not actually support any upload straight from the iPhone. Essentially this is a service for *any* 365 project, whatever piece of equipment you shoot it on. Thus, once you have shot your picture of the day, you must import it to you computer and then you can upload it to the 365project website.
This may all be fine if you are trying to shoot a prefect image every time. Truth is: I am not. I am specifically looking for a 365 project that is geared towards iPhone images only. Which in turn means, I am not going to play with post-production. And if I am not interested in post-production, then I certainly will find importing via PC a detour. All I need is an iPhone app, actually!
But a bit of a research online and I struck lucky. iphoneproject365 does exactly what I want it to do: You download the app onto your iPhone. The app then lets you either take a picture right there and then by tapping the appropriate icon, or you can import an image from your iPhone photo library. Another tap on the inverted commas in the bottom left corner lets you comment on your image, write a caption or describe what is in your image. Then you tap on the upload arrow and within a few seconds the image will be uploaded into your very own 1-pic-a-day site. This both appears in your app and online. And this is what it looks like:
You get a monthly overview over all the images you have taken. They appear, as you can see, as square thumbnails. If you want to, you can actually crop your images to be squares – or you can just upload them as is. Navigation is via a couple of arrows (which I have cropped out of this image *duh*), so you can easily jump back and forth between the individual months. A click on a day will bring up the image in bigger format.
This little calendar overview is public, i.e. you can let your friends know your handle and they can surf to your calendar pages and check your daily progress. You can find me, for instance, at . However, there is one drawback to the app – there is no easy sharing. Social Media integration is still missing, i.e. the ubiquitous Facebook thumb or a simple little “share this” with options to send the link to twitter, stumbleupon, posterous, pinterest, Facebook, whatever… In fact, you can’t even properly copy the URL manually because there is only a image location link on the actual thumbnail – and that is too tiny to be meaningful for sharing. On the other hand, that is a very thoughtful copyright- defending policy. After all we are photographers and we do stand over the rights to our own images. And integrating other people’s images via URL would constitute copyright breaches.
In any case – iPhoneproject365 is a fun little app that will facilitate a bit of photo fun every day. It is free and easy to use, it will let you set an automatic reminder to shoot your image and it lets you upload your own images quick and easy. Over time you could easily check your progress as a photographer or find other uses for this handy little documentary tool. And if we are all lucky, the developer will keep working on this and eventually spoil us with Social Media integration.