Montage Project 4 – ‘The Urbanisation’

For week four, the word for us to base our weekly artefact on was ‘City’. However, despite my initial idea of shooting the sunrise and sunset over a Coventry skyline, we given a strict barrier that we could not simply take shots of the city and put music over the top. It was a shame, because I hadn’t taken this approach yet even though everyone else had, so now I was at a loss as to what to do for the project. Emphasis in the workshops seemed to be on the sounds of the city, so diegetic sound was clearly preferable. Eventually, I decided to cheat the system by making a photo gallery with diegetic city noise playing in the background.

Photography is mostly a hobby of mine, but with my Nikon camera I have learned many ‘funky’ tricks behind the lens of a DSLR. To shake things up, I decided to incorporate several cities into the gallery, using various techniques (some tried and tested, others more experimental) to create a strange video gallery piece. The cities featured are Prague, Nottingham, and the quintessential Coventry. Leicester was going to be included as well, but on the day I visited the city, it rained. I’ve tried to take photos in the rain before – without a lens cap, droplets get on the lens and sabotage the photos. I’m still pending to get a lens cap for my camera (along with a trigger).

Nottingham was the first city to be covered. I knew several good vantage spots, but generally these were beauty spots – I wanted to photograph the city as a city, and focus on the urbanisation rather than the token symbols of the individual city. I knew this would perhaps make some photos look similar, so I took care to take photos of the more individual aspects of urbanisation in each city (for example, the Nottingham trams or the Coventry skyline). From this notion, I created the title of the gallery. The Prague shoot came next, originally planned to be a ‘best of’ compilation of my own photos. However, as explained in the relevant post, I ended up using my friend’s camera which was a slightly different variation of my Nikon camera. Importantly, the Prague shoot took place at night, adding various light effects to my gallery.

The final shoot was Coventry, which was delayed several weeks whilst I waited simply for a sunny day to get the shots. I scouted out several places where I could get shots of the Coventry skyline. However, when it came to the day of the shoot, I realised there were problems with reflections from the glass in every shot. Thus, a lot of the skyline shots were scrapped. I was always intending to take a shot from the top of the Cathedral spire, but I felt I already had enough shots to make this project by the end of this third shoot.

The audio was gained after the photos were taken using a Marantz and a rifle mic. I used my iPod earphones to test the audio and it worked just fine. I simply walked a shot distance around Godiva Square in Coventry recording the sounds of the city. The location was wide enough for me to avoid noises, whilst it provided ample effects of people and traffic (notably buses) to add some stereotypical noises to the soundscape. Noises you may be more curious of include the plastic bag at the beginning. Perfectly kosher with the soundscape, although this was an Iceland bag wrapped around my wrist, as it had the Marantz in it (still leaving the original casings at home – a risky trick that caught on after Demo-Lition). The little ‘scraping’ noises at the end are pieces of litter being dragged across the pavement by the wind. I found this part of the audio quite interesting – I never walk around with headphones on, so I’m used to hearing the city. Litter on the floor is something I never really acknowledged however.

In terms of the photos themselves, experimenting came in many ways. Here is a breakdown of a few notable examples:

1. The three-photo photo.

Week one’s project was a stop-motion film, and I wasn’t going to do stop-motion for a picture gallery. Yet I had the idea that if I could use cross-fades somehow in the editing to effectively ‘merge’ three photos into one, I could create a sort of moving photo. There are three in the gallery (I’ll leave you to find them) – some worked better than others. It was an intriguing idea I felt, and in the final piece, it provides one of the effects that really makes your eyes go weird.

2. The twist-zoom shot

I’ve played with this before, yet the night photo of the building in Prague really pulls at the eyes as well. To achieve this effect, I simply slowed the shutter speed slightly, tilted the camera at the angle, and then after taking the photo, quickly zoomed in whilst turning the camera upright. It’s a tricky thing to do – you need a steady hand or the whole image goes blurry. You need to be very precise about your shutter speed as well – too fast and the effect wont work. Above all, a skill I find that in my experience only few photographers have – you have to be able to take the photo accurately without looking at what’s through the lens.

3. The light-streak zoom

Again taken in Prague, this shot was of a square located just beyond the Astrological Clock. I zoomed as far out as I could, slowed the shutter speed right down, and then after pressing the trigger, zoomed as the picture took. This causes the individual parts of light (e.g. street lights) to streak across the image in a line. I’ve done this once or twice before, though I rarely venture out with my DSLR at night time without good reason. However, it is almost impossible to hold the camera perfectly still as you zoom (unless you use a tripod). If you want see what effects this method has in the day, you can view an example in the photo of the security camera. Because the light is better, the image in the middle tends to remain clearer whilst all around it blurs.

4. Fish-eye

The very first photo was manipulated using in-camera editing on the Retouch menu (so I can STILL say that all these photos were crafted without the use of photoshop!). Fish-eye is something I’ve never really used until this project. I was going to use it on the skyline shots, but none of them looked right. Making this high-rise building look bendy put the effect to a much better use.

5. The Rule Of Thirds

This is something I don’t often elaborate on in my photography – I just tend to take a photo of what looks good. Yet particularly in Prague, there seemed to be several shots that just looked really good when framed with the Rule Of Thirds in mind. The photo of the lamp lights outside the traditional building is one example, and the shot I really like of the statue looking up at the two spires on the Prague Old Town Square are two example of applying this rule to my photography (and I will say it’s not ignorance that I don’t apply the rule often – it’s just what I feel looks good through the lens – the rule tends to apply more to giving narrative to a photo rather than making it look nice. It depends what you’re taking photos for!)

6. Longitude and Latitude

The study of lines, again something I don’t use much in my usual photography, yet something that seemed to appear accidentally during my shoots for this gallery. The shot of the modern office building behind the abandoned terraced houses in Nottingham had shapes against the blue background which made the buildings stand out. The cables on the Coventry bridge and the subsequent photo of the tram cables in front of the monument in Prague also show a peculiar study of lines, shapes and angles.

As a side note, I did arrange the photos in such a way that similar photos were next to each to complement each other. There were quite a few of traditional Prague architecture, so I made sure they were separated. The two tram photos were also cast apart. I tried to merge the day time and night time photos so that they were dispersed evenly over the run time. Finally, during the Coventry shoot at the end, I walked through the Cathedral grounds and managed to snap a good photo of one of the squirrels running around. I put in the gallery for humour, although it could indeed say something about the natural environment that all three cities have built over and upon.

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