During my second year at university there were a few changes made to the course. More emphasis was needed on multi-media training as that is the way things are now for journalists in the real world. Part of this development included a few weeks of photography lectures and we were given some practical tasks to complete.
This made a change from the endless writing and I enjoyed the variety. Although from the results I am sharing today, you will see this is not something I had a natural flair for. Please don’t judge me on my incompetence. I was trying to be um… creative! I know my achievements are way off the scale, the inept scale that is!
It’s fun to try out new things as by doing so you can go on strange and wonderful adventures.
Project 1. A portrait
At first this seemed like an easy task. Then I realized that I was lacking one thing – a subject! The thought of wandering around asking random strangers to pose for me didn’t appeal at all. I also rejected the idea of taking photos of people without their permission – that would look a bit dodgy. While mulling over this task I made a mug of tea and went outside to sit in my garden. My old cat Frasier (RIP) followed me to enjoy the warm autumn evening.
I had recently had my birthday and my son had sent me a parcel. The empty cardboard box had been left on the patio as Frasier was quite partial to sitting in boxes. Right on cue, Frasier took up his position in the box and I had a lightbulb moment. It had not been specified that the subject of the portrait had to be human, Frasier could be my subject. I grabbed the iPad from the kitchen table and snapped away.
I hoped for an elegant pose with Frasier showing off his beautiful amber-coloured eyes. Instead, I captured one of those really fast head-shakes that cats do. I love the way that Frasier’s ears blur and capture the speed of movement. I also quite like the framing of this photo and the angle of the box, I have no idea if this is good or bad in photographic terms. To me it looks less formal, more natural than staged portraits.
If I had any editing skills I would have photo-shopped in a decent background, think Hanging Gardens of Babylon or one of those stately homes like Blenheim Palace. However, as I haven’t yet acquired that level of competency I will share my typical-student-house with tatty, unpainted doorstep and neglected, weed-filled patio. After all, the focus should be on the subject.
Project 2. Person at work
Our lecturer Tom had prepared us for this task, a series of three photos, by explaining that the pictures will tell a story:
Photo 1. The Establishing Shot
Photo 2. Portrait in Profile
Photo 3. Close Up
- Shows the exterior of Ponsanooth Village Stores, where I used to work. Taken on Saturday 4 October 2014. The shop had been closed since it was damaged by a flood on Christmas Eve 2013. The new extension is under construction.
- Paula is at work inside the building, painting the skirting boards. The slight blurring of her hand is because she was actually painting, not posing or pretending to paint.
- A detailed picture of Paula’s hand. This shows how Paula prefers to hold a paintbrush and her technique for applying paint. The paint soaked brush shows that she has done a lot of work. I cropped this picture to centralise the hand and included the corner to give some perspective.
Project 3. A three-minute video story
I was pleased with the way the photography sessions were going. So far I had achieved the tasks I had been set and received some positive feedback from Tom with suggestions for improvement. The next task took me completely out of my comfort zone – to create a three-minute video story.
This was new territory for me, I was completely clueless. Tom said that there was plenty of free video-editing software available online, I nodded blankly, frozen like a rabbit in the headlights. I came home and over a cup of tea I googled video-editing software! It was a start.
I didn’t have any ideas for a story/plot and again, I lacked participants to star in my film. I did however have most of a loaf of stale bread, so the next morning I drove to Swanpool to feed the ducks and check on the swans and see how the cygnets were growing. I didn’t own a functioning camera or a smartphone but I did have the iPad so I took it along, just in case.
The weather was beautiful for mid-October so I decided to video my walk around Swanpool Lake. I met a lovely lass called Debbie and got chatting. In total I had about 35 minutes of video showing some beautiful scenery, Debbie, the ducks and a family feeding the swans. At home I played back my tedious, slow progress around the lake wondering whether I could edit anything out of it into a story, and if so, how?
The audio quality of my video was very poor and I thought of adding a soundtrack instead of dialogue. Naturally I chose Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (Op. 20)! I found a track just short of three minutes long and using the VideoPad software I had downloaded I set up a “New Project”. I added the audio and the video and cut and cut until I had a passable story. I linked the scenes together, added subtitles, a title page and an ending page. I don’t quite know how, but I referred to the help page quite a lot!
Forgive the jumpy camera action, the cropping off of the participant’s heads and that I managed to obscure the camera lens with my finger at 2.27. I got my three-minute video story and accomplished something I had never done before. I even tried to be a bit clever by matching the action in the video to the soundtrack, to synchronise the scenes and action with the emotion conveyed in the music. Of course, Hitchcock did this much better with the screeching violins in the shower slashing scene in Psycho, but you get the idea. My attempt works passably in places and is awful in others.
- Scene One opens with an establishing shot over the lake. The tranquil scene is matched by the opening bars, the first phase, of the Swan Lake music (15 seconds).
- Scene Two shows an unknown character walking away into the distance. To me, the passing cars in the background represent (rather large) ballerinas gliding across the stage. This scene matches the second phase of the music (15 seconds).
- Scene Three introduces the actor/participant, Debbie and the first dialogue which explains the purpose of being there – to find the swans. I tried to match Debbie’s arm movements as she scatters breadcrumbs to the rising lilt of the music. The seagulls flapping up and down were like ballerinas dancing to the fluttering of the string instruments and harp (12 seconds).
- Scene Four shows Debbie walking away, with the instruction to follow her and the music and suspense continue to build (10 seconds).
- Scene Five coincides with the music reaching a crescendo, the action matching the dramatic climax. We have found the swans! (10 seconds). This might be a little theatrical, but hey, that’s what it’s like in Hollywood or Hollyoaks… I’m buzzing here, I’m making Movies! And we’re only one minute in to the action.
- Scene Six just goes with the flow of the music. When filming this, I had initially focussed on the swans and moved back to include the family throwing bread. Purely by luck, this is effective in the edit and the swans and seagulls again resemble dancers. This long scene works by allowing the viewer to become absorbed with the action and the music. The scene is just over a minute long and the editing was based around matching the little girl’s exit from shot with the dramatic pinnacle of the music at the end of the scene. Although I would love to take credit for fantastic editing, any other co-ordination between the visual and the audio in this scene is purely co-incidental.
- Scene Seven is the winding down section. The bread has all gone, the dancing finishes, the show is over, the music ends (35 seconds).
During this task I learned some very basic video skills and developed a huge respect for those who work within the industry. I know it gets easier with practice and there are much better professional programmes available to help with the process.
Anyway, here is the masterpiece!
Project 4. A person with passion
As a lead into this project, Tom showed us examples of films created using stills images accompanied by dialogue, music or sound effects. It is an alternative and creative way to tell a story.
Unlike the other projects, I knew immediately who I wanted to star in this film; my very good friend Liz. I have known Liz for over 20 years. We first met when I was doing work experience in the hospital she worked at. Later when I was employed at the hospital we would meet at department meetings and occasionally on the wards or at lunch. Liz is an amazing person; kind, compassionate, generous, funny and many other qualities besides. Among these I will say that Liz is a person with passion.
In this case, I am referring to the time that Liz began making sock monkeys. At first I remember seeing the occasional photo on her newsfeed on Facebook. Then things accelerated, the monkeys began to get names, develop personalities and they had begun posing for their pictures. I felt like they were coming alive! It was very amusing to follow.
In the interests of helping me finish my education, Liz agreed to be interviewed to talk about the sock monkey days. I chose a documentary style and prepared some questions. In a relaxed setting in my home, we ate cakes and drank coffee while looking through a selection of photographs of sock monkeys. I recorded Liz as she told the story in her own inimitable way. It was hilarious, we rolled around laughing until our faces hurt. This was undeniably the most fun project that I ever completed while at uni. Liz was a great sport.
Later, I started a new project on VideoPad and imported the audio. I had about half an hour of audio which I edited down to just over two minutes. A lot of it was us laughing and giggling. I shortened the anecdotes and linked eight of them together. Then I matched the photos to the audio, added the title page and the end page and that was that.
If I had more time or experience, I would have used a proper microphone to achieve a better sound quality. I would also have learned how to fade out and in to link in the narrative together more smoothly. Anyway, here is the end result.
I would like to thank Tom for his patience and for introducing me to the wonderful world of the visual arts. I definitely had more confidence after experimenting with these projects. I was so inspired that I recently bought a DSLR camera. It will be fun to practice my new skills.
I would also like to thank all the participants as without their contributions, none of this would have been possible. And finally, I would like to dedicate this post to Liz as a birthday present for being a great friend and making me laugh.