A2: Assignment 2

Assignment Brief

The object of this exercise is to plan and execute a set of images of some form of meaningful activity.  This could be work, sport, a stage performance (music, drama), or at a social event.

I should produce a set of approximately ten, final, selected images and I can choose between depicting the same person (or small group) at different kinds of activity, or different people at the same activity or event.

Concentrate especially on two aspects: on telling moments and on ‘explaining’ the activity (which means choosing viewpoint, framing and timing to make the actions as intelligible as possible).

In my learning log:

  • critically assess my finished work considering each piece individually
  • identify and analyse the reasons for both successful and unsuccessful techniques that I have employed.


The activity I have chosen to photograph is the ‘Al Fresco Tango’ at The Scoop at More London.  In particular I’m going to concentrate on a social dancing set from DJ Diego Doigneau in which tango enthusiasts from the audience will be the dancers joining in or watching others as they please.


A2-A: 360mm, ISO 800, 1/320 @ f5.6 IS

The first part of my plan was to take telephoto shots isolating individual characters and moments from the dancing.  Interestingly I found that there were many intense moments between the different dancers.  These proved very tricky to capture as the dancing was moving very quickly and in shooting from the crowd a large number of my shots ended up in the ‘rejects’ pile after either another dancer or a member of the crowd came into the frame just as the shutter fired. The fact that such telling moments are fleeting added to the need to make many exposures in order to successfully capture worthwhile images.  Fairly quickly, I adopted a tactic of choosing an interesting looking couple and tracking them around the dance floor.  In the case of this couple, I was particularly struck by the lady’s colourful hat, the wistful look in her eyes and the gentle positioning of her hand.

Critical assessment

In this image I have successfully captured aspects of the lady’s costume and even, perhaps, some of her emotional state.  The image could be improved by registering more of the man’s face and perhaps more of the relationship between the couple.  There is some distraction in the background, but in the circumstances and having used a very long lens wide open, I don’t think that I could have done more to reduce that at the time of capture. I could of course have take it out in post production but this would then have taken away something of the sense of the event and made it look artificial.


A2-B: 17mm, ISO 400, 1/320 @f5

In planning the assignment, I hoped that I would be able to capture the fact that this event was taking place at a landmark public site.  After about an hour at the event, I was able to work my way through the crowd into a front row position where, with a very wide angle lens, I could juxtapose the dancers against the background of the London Assembly, (and to a lesser degree, Tower Bridge).  I found this part of photographing proceedings very exciting and many of the shots looked very dramatic on the camera screen.  During this part of the shoot I had to work extremely fast, there was very little predictability about when dancers would come towards me.  Many shots missed the cut for a variety of reasons including feet being “cut off”, obstruction by other dancers, verticals wildly out of alignment, and exposure problems caused by the difference between the dark stage area and the bright sky – I switched to manual exposure to fix this problem.

critical assessment

In selecting this image I have chosen one that met by plan i.e. that shows the context of the event – which is a part of the brief to explain the activity.  I think that, in this particular example, this has resulted in a ‘compromise’ image.  It isn’t the best wide angle shot of the dancing but it is the best shot I made of the dancing and location.  Therefore I think that this image could be improved by capturing a more dramatic aspect of the dancing.  A slightly lower vantage point might have achieved this by placing the dancers higher up against the background of the assembly, (although this might have introduced further problems of distorted verticals).  It would be helpful if more could be seen of the female dancer on the left in order to present a pair of couples.  Similarly I would have preferred the woman in blue to be closer to the lens, (I did in fact capture such a shot but it had other problems and I rejected it).  On the positive side, the image contains subtle links to other images in the assignment – you can see the woman from A2-A on the right hand side.  This repetition of the ‘characters’ in the event is an important one for the assignment as a whole and you will see it happen many times – sometimes they appear within the dancing, sometimes within the crowd.


A2-C: 17mm, ISO 400, 1/320@f5

Tango dancing is a physically dramatic active activity and I set out to capture some of the perhaps ‘stylised’ moments within the dancing.  In this instance, made from the same position as A2-C, I again wanting to explain context and provide some information about the setting.  This image contains a lot of detail as you ‘scan’ it.  The foreground woman is concentrating intently on her dancing, to her right we can see that the event involves dancers of different ages and abilities, we can see that the event is open air with the horizon dotted with the heads of onlookers and passers by.

critical appraisal

The concentration and care between the foreground dancers comes across well within the image.  I took a considerable amount of time deciding whether to use this particular image because the dancer’s right foot is partly out of frame.  I decided I would use it because I hope that the sense of involvement that I have captured compensates for that problem.  In this image, the diagonal lines of the paving help to move the viewer’s eye to the background dancers and again we can see the mixed nature of the group.  Again, the sense of being under the open sky works well in this scene.  Of course the image has scope for improvement.  The middle foreground is slightly too empty, the woman in the black skirt on the right, (who I observed to be a very intense dancer), has her back too much to the camera.  However, being honest, I was making these shots in a split second and most of my attention was taken capturing the position of the foreground dancers.


A2-D: 50mm, ISO 400, 1/160@f5.6

As part of my plan I wanted to capture some of the details of the dancing and so I set out to frame some of the intricate ‘steps’.   This proved to be much more difficult than I expected, ‘moments’, proved very difficult to anticipate for a non-dancer such as myself and required absolutely split second timing, (why didn’t I use the motor drive?!).  Obstructions from other dancers were also a constant problem and I came close to abandoning this part of the plan.  Fortunately, I didn’t and with practice, I managed to capture some reasonable shots.

critical appraisal

This image manages to convey the sense of motion within the dance.  The woman’s blurred left ankle suggests movement as it contrasts with the sharpness of her leg.  The pair of legs in the top right provide a sense of the movement by other dancers.  The splash of the stage lights on the woman’s trousers helps to separate her from the background.  My main criticism relates to the red dress of the little girl on the left hand side, covering it up brings more attention to the foreground dancers and perhaps I should consider recolouring or cloning it in post production.


A2-E: 70mm, ISO 400, 1/250@f5.6

One of the interesting aspects of this event is that the ‘performers’ kept switching in and out of the audience.  If you look at the front two rows of this image there are at least four ‘performers’ who feature prominently in other images within this assignment.  When I planned the assignment, I had included the audience on my shot list, but this interchange between the audience and stage made these shots even more essential.  This shot also portrays something of the event as it was.  A shower has just passed and people are wet.  The back rows of the audience are itinerant passersby whilst the front rows tend to be dance enthusiasts.  The event is very informal and attracts people of all ages and all types.


Tonally, this image is quite dull.  The crowd are facing away from the light and the showers have driven light levels down.  The seating steps curve around this area and I was unable to shoot head on, this has resulted in a left to right slope at the front of the image – correcting this in post production both chops off the feet of the front row and skews the horizon at the sky – therefore I haven’t made that correction.  Durning the performance I felt like I ‘got to know’ quite a few of the performers and their presence in the crowd immediately jumps out at me.  I suspect that this will not be as clear for an independent viewer.  This image doesn’t have a clear focal point it is more of a ‘where’s Wally’ scene – but by working around the faces in the audience one can glean quite a lot about the ambience of this event.


A2-F: 17mm, ISO 400, 1/200@f5

Between ‘tracks’, the dancers exchanged partners and generally seemed to have quite a ‘chat’.  This image captures one such moment and by using a very wide angle lens I am once again able to show the context of the crowd and the open air.  This pair of dancers particularly appealed to me because of the gesture, the stance and expression and also the contrast between the tango dress and the casual everyday clothes of the man.


I think that this image successfully shows interaction and context.  Perhaps I have positioned the couple too centrally and there is a little too much empty space to their left –  although I am shooting from a fixed seating position.  Similarly, in terms of the expressions, it would be nice to see a little more of the woman’s face and for the man’s eyes to be open, (although I think that his overall facial expression compensates for this).  Some small details are important too, the woman tilts her foot on one of her heels as do the next two women going clockwise around the picture.  I noticed this detail throughout the dancing – I’m sure there’s some everyday explanation but not one that I would know!


A2-G: 105mm, ISO 50, 0.6@f22, IS

The dancers moved very quickly and although it was impossible to use a tripod I thought I would have a go at some handheld slow shutter speed work.  Given that there would be both subject and camera movement the results were likely to be mixed and most of them were poor.  This was perhaps the best of such images


The couple on the left provide a good ‘impression’ of twirling dancers but unfortunately the pink shirt of the man on the right provides a highlight that is perhaps a little too broad and dominant.  Similarly the movement of the main two dancers towards the camera means that their feet are not visible.  I’m beginning to move towards editing this one out of my final selection but I will wait to see what my tutor has to say.


A2-H: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/250@f4

This couple, as might be gleaned by their ability and costumes, were professional dancers and the stage was briefly cleared for them to perform.  By now it was getting quite wet and dangerous and the dancing had to be restricted accordingly,  Some of the audience ‘performers’ can still be seen in the background looking increasingly wet and tired.  Again, in making this shot I wanted to capture the audience context.


I can’t say that at the moment I fired the shutter I was aware of the contrast between the expressions of the audience and the dancers – but that’s one of the first things that strikes me when trying to look ‘coolly’ at this image.  Although the audience are paying attention they look weary in contrast to the female dancer’s melodramatic expression.  Similarly the glossy ‘shininess’ of the professionals contrasts with the huddled drabness of the amateurs.  One way in which the image could be improved is by more cleanly capturing ‘whole’ people at the margins of the crowd – although to be honest, given the speed the dancers were moving this would not be straightforward.


A2-I: 105mm, ISO 400, 1/100@f5.6 IS

Much to my surprise, the enthusiasts carried on dancing in the rain, simply grabbing umbrellas and dancing beneath them.  In this shot, warm stage lighting highlights the two main characters and, as was consistent throughout the event, we can see real intensity between many of the dancing partners.


The stage lighting highlights the main couple quite nicely.  This image could potentially benefit from a wider aperture, (beyond that of which the lens was capable), in order to throw the background crowd out of focus, (they were much less relevant in this image).  The couple on the left hand side add relatively little to this image whilst those on the right do and so I can see ways in which a better composition can be ‘re-imagined’.


A2-J: 28mm, ISO 400, 1/125@f5.6

My final image captures the, arguably very British, finale to the event.  It was raining quite heavily but both the dancers and the crowd staunchly soldiered on.  A high vantage point enabled me to capture this scene.


There are some strong details within this image.  The swinging legs of the dancers in the right foreground make it clear that this is tango and ‘serious’ dancing.  The umbrellas link the crowd and the dancers and there is a sense that the crowd has just fluidly spilled over into the dancing – which of course it has.  As in A2-B, the iconic buildings in the background give a clear sense of place

Additional comments

I learnt a great deal about editing my work in this part of the course – as I made lots of images.  The process I used was:

  • to leave the photos for a few days after making them – so as to enable me to look at them with fresh eyes
  • to choose a subset of the images and preliminarily mark them as potentials, definite no’s and don’t knows.
  • to take a narrow subset of the images, e.g. one character who may appear in several frames, and place the best image(s) of that character into a Lightroom quick collection.
  • to review the quick collection and choose the best image to process.
I found it helped to break the volume of images down into a small subset that made the task feel less overwhelming.
Other comments I would make are:
  • I wish I had taken a monopod, this would have made many of these shots easier and would certainly have helped with the ‘freehand’ slow motion shot, A2-G.
  • More shots would have been usable if I had pre-framed my verticals and horizontals – waiting for the action to move into the frame rather than grabbing moments out of the ‘melee’.
  • Second curtain flash shots might have been worth a try
  • I should have made greater use of manual exposure to prevent the sky being blown out as often as it was.
  • I should use the motor drive when the action is fast moving.

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