Imagine you are on an assignment for an intelligent, thoughtful travel publication (not tourism promotion) that is demanding a considered, in-depth treatment.
Aim to show the character of the place and of the people who live there with as much visual variety as possible. Pick a place that you know well and have sufficient access to in order to complete a strong selection of images.
Summary / Evaluation:
My aim was to make a set of images that would be suitable for an in-depth article in a publication such as a weekend magazine. My intention was to show Regents Canal as a place that is both a tranquil haven within the city and a fun place for leisure that is used by locals and visitors alike. In addition I wanted to show the varied styles of living along the banks of the canal.
Overall, I think I have achieved my aims. I planned images with no people or a single person, green trees, reflections of clouds in the water all emphasise tranquillity. Canal boats, apartments and a mansion, it doesn't come more varied than that for living styles. I would have liked to have had access to a canal boat and taken pictures from that perspective, but I didn't have that opportunity and I couldn't trespass onto someones boat. Despite this, by using various lens and focal lengths I feel I managed to create a sense of life on and off the water. The image of the kayakers is an example of how I have successfully achieved a sense of being part of the activity on the canal.
Having a brief to refer back to and knowing what I was trying to achieve made it easier to stop taking the same picture over and over and focus on the overall outcome. There were days that I was guilty of that but, I would come back and assess what I had taken ask myself if I had achieved my goals. If not, I would go back with the specific intention of looking for a picture that would fulfil those aims. The brief gave a theme that enabled me to think about the type of photos I needed to take to meet my aim of conveying the overall picture of Regents Canal in all its facets.
- Sunday market in rue Manuel, Paris
- Life along Regents Canal
My first choice was a nostalgic one - to photograph rue Manuel in Paris. Having lived there for four years I know the street very well and planned in advance what photos I would take, I am very familiar with the market and know lots of locals. Every Sunday until 1pm the street is closed to traffic and becomes a real French market. It is a local event not something on the tourist trail.
I was going to be in Paris and would have the opportunity to photograph the street, although I would only be able to have one day to get all the images I needed.
I knew this was a risky option, as there were tight time constraints with little or no contingency. So I had a backup option that I knew would have lots of flexibility and contingency. I live close to the Regents Canal, and again, I am very familiar with the area, and it is easy for me to visit it often.
The Paris project didn't happen. The weather was awful. I'd organised to take photos from the balcony of a friend's apartment to support my on the ground photos, but she was ill on that weekend. It was always going to be difficult to pull off and the weather really just made it impossible as the casual bonhomie I was looking to capture seems only to occur when it's hot weather and this was not ideal for a "thoughtful travel publication".
Back in London I now focused on the Regents Canal project.
I imagined a travel pull-out like those in the Sunday newspapers, as they are the types of publications that would show an in-depth view of Regents Canal. The article would appeal to visitors to London who might like some respite from the bustle of the city and to those who like canal boat holidays. It would also appeal to locals who don't know or have forgotten about the treasure so close to them.
My aim was to emphasise the tranquillity of the canal. In the centre of a frenetic city you can also experience a peace normally associated with the countryside. It is also a place where all age groups find fun in leisure activities.
I planned to take photos showing people interacting with the space, drawing on the skills and techniques used in the exercises leading into this assignment.
The photos I wanted were:
- an aerial shot from a tall building to get a sense of place
- shots taken from along the towpath showing people using the space for leisure, both along the towpath and on the water.
- how people live along the canal, both in the long boats and the housing along the banks of the canal
- another view of how the space is used for leisure and living taken from on the water
- photos that would use the techniques in the exercises; a single small figure, a figure as an accent, busy traffic, people unrecognisable, figures anonymous, a matter of balance, and at least one image that used special post processing.
- The biggest problem was also the weather. Day after day of rain. If it wasn't raining it was overcast with flat light. Although rain doesn't prevent me taking photos, they none the less would not be ideal for a travel publication.
- Another problem I had to work around was that parts of the canal are not exactly charming and pretty. Litter and graffiti that were difficult to keep out of many scenes. There is a lot of work taking place along the banks of the canal, which means buildings with scaffolding or bright orange cones detracted from the pictures. Initially I intended to photograph the section of the canal from York Way to the St Pancras Lock. After a couple of weeks of shooting I realised I was going to have to find prettier parts of the canal, with or without ideal weather conditions.
- I was unable to get access to take photos from on the water. I was unsuccessful in gaining access to private boats. I tried taking a public canal bus but the passenger restrictions on where and how you sit aboard made it too difficult to get suitable photos. I could have chartered my own boat but this would have cost me £200 which I couldn't afford.
- I was unable to get access to any of the few tall buildings that would give me my aerial shot.
Resolving the problems:
- I couldn't do anything about the weather but I could take photos in a way that I would be able to use processing techniques. For example the photo of the mansion I have merged three images together to have some detail in the sky and the dark shadows on the edges of the water.
- I walked miles and miles of the canal finding sections that I could make look attractive for my imaginary publication.
- I couldn't get on the water, but I could vary the lens I used to give a sense of being closer or further away.
- I couldn't get an aerial view to give a sense of place so I looked for an alternative. I photographed a sign in one of the gates and cropped it tightly.
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