More Image Analysis

Panda and White Wall. This was a purely “Intuitive” image based on seeing a “Design”. It was seen and taken in seconds, without thought. The boxy shape of the car against all the straight lines and rectangular shapes and, that they are both white was instantly attractive. The juxtaposition of the car’s headrest and the vertical pipe was perfect.

This is a 2-dimensional image with bright but flat light that conveys a sense of quiet, calm. The car is facing the wall which adds to its appearance of loneliness.

Below is another 2-dimensional “Design” driven image. It was the pattern and balance of the shapes plus the contrast between the oranges of the walls with the turquoise of the doors that attracted me Regarding the balance of elements, the vertical pipe is like a fulcrum. On the left is the smaller window but it is also much darker, and so, visually heavier. On the right is the larger but visually lighter door which, added to the dark wall stains (right side) and the electric wiring top right, nicely balances the left side window around the fulcrum.

Again, there is flat light with muted colours giving a sense of clam. However, the open window adds a touch of intrigue and narrative potential to the scene.

The next image is one of my favourites of 2018. It was taken at Stennes on the Orkney mainland in March.

My inspiration was Dutch 17C Landscape painting with big skies and the tiny (within the scene) signs of human presence. The muted colours and flat light indicate a calm, quietness whilst the emptiness surrounding the small scale, human constructs imply isolation and solitude. It feels like the house and stones have gathered together for protection in the wide, open landscape and this juxtaposition of the 4000-year-old stones and the modern, red roofed house adds an element of incongruity.

Here are 2 images that, a few years ago, I would have been very pleased to have taken.

I still am very happy with their technical and documentary characteristics but now feel the extreme dynamics of the composition overpowers any more subtle references to mood and there is little space for enigma. The foreground pipes overwhelm the rest of the image.

Today I find this next image much more satisfying.

The mood, the lack of recognisable context plus the relative scales of the subject and its environment say a lot about my feelings at the time as well as providing significant space for the creation of narrative by the viewer. It is much more than a straight document.

To quote from David Ward, in “Where does the viewer live?” (On Landscape #65 p16).

“…we need to think about how the sensation of being in the landscape is making us feel but we are so often wrapped up in operating the camera we don’t stop to think about how we are feeling or what the landscape means to us. If we fail to think about how we feel, how can we hope to inject feeling and emotion into our photographs? If we can, amidst the rush to get the technical stuff right think, too, about what’s going on inside us then we are taking the first step to creating images that are a reflection of who we are, not who others are. We are all different and if we allow our individuality to come through in our images they will project this to our audience.”


Looking at images that failed to satisfy me in the longer term

Up to now I have been identifying “successful” images and trying to analyse why I considered them successful. I will now look at others that failed to appeal to me once I had made them. At the time I thought they would be great but later they were not.

I include some images that, by my criteria, are a longer-term success as a comparison.

The light here was spectacular, and I thought the juxtaposition of the seats half buried by snow would be interesting rather than just a record.

It wasn’t intuitive. I had a “Belief” that this image would work. However, the spectacle and narrative are insufficient to create an emotional connection for me. It is a good record of the moment but little more. It is too obvious and lacking in intrigue.

This image is better. It was also based upon a “Belief” that a good image

was to be found in these fences. There is an element of intrigue in why this awkward and varied collection of fences plus the wall are here and what is beyond the frame. However, I found myself having to make the light more dramatic to focus attention on the shapes rather than the surroundings. The basic composition is not simple, nor strong, enough to provide the mood I was hoping for. Perhaps this is due to the inherent 3-dimensional, realistic perspective of the image resulting from the lack of horizon and the front to back gradation in light levels. It is also an unusually romantic style of image for me.

Conversely, this next image, of the fumarole at Reykjanes, is very simple and certainly not romantic. The foreground is wide but almost empty of complexity. Then there is a narrow band of subjects, the fumarole, the wooden staging and the intrigue of a disappearing bus. Beyond that is a horizon and space but little further information. Despite being bright the light is not spectacular. It is very even and lacking in contrast. Consequently, this image is more 2-dimensional than 3d. The perspective is quite flat in comparison to the above and the image has an unreal feel to it as well as a strong narrative potential.

I believe the composition of this image of a temple at Paestum, Italy, works for the same reasons as the image above. All the interest is in the middle of the frame. What is beyond those trees? Maybe a void?

However, I find the clouds a little too detailed and demanding of attention. I think this image would be more powerful with a simpler sky.

Despite the far simpler sky, this next image does not work as well for me.

The composition is good by traditional standards. The light is dramatic and perspective depth is obvious. This is not a 2-dimensional image. It is an interesting record of a place but has little intrigue within the image itself. It is not about the place nor is it about the photographer’s emotions. All the narrative potential comes from the viewer’s knowledge of the history of the subject, not from the photograph itself.

Here are pairs of images to demonstrate the differences between compositions that are “records” versus those that have intrigue and or capture something of the photographer.

This first, of Kalfshammarvik lighthouse, is dramatic, spectacular and records the moment well.

The angle of the waves and of the lighthouse both emphasize the 3-dimensionality of the scene. However, it does not satisfy me as much as the next image, of the same lighthouse. Both images were taken within minutes of each other.

The drama of the light and waves has been replaced by a calm, quiet, stillness. The lighthouse is now facing the viewer and is centred so the image appears more 2-dimensional. The path, snaking its way up the image should counteract the 2d effect but instead just leads the viewer.

The lighthouse could now be a sculpture or perhaps a religious monument (is that a cross at the bottom?), whereas in the previous image its function was obvious.

This image of a derelict house at Eyvik, north Iceland works, for me, by showing calm, silence, and loneliness but its narrative could be enhanced with some additional information.

The small addition of the snow and increased detail for the ditch in the foreground, now provides a barrier to the viewer that enhances the sense of isolation of the house. This is similar to the effect in the painting “House by the Railroad” by Edward Hopper.

This image was an attempt to juxtapose the remains of a WWII building against the Sullom Voe Oil terminal. It was a rare (for me) “pre-visualised” image. It has turned out the way I had planned but fails to excite me emotionally.

As with the earlier image of the fences in the woods, it is very much a 3d image and also needed a lot of brightening and darkening of different areas to create a mood that was not present at the time.

This is a wind turbine on Yell. The lighting here is spectacular and very much the reality at the time. It was an “intuitive” composition based around the narrative of a soldier leading his troops into action.

As with the image of Sullom Voe I think it is a good traditional image with its dramatic lighting but it no longer excites me. I think that is because I find the spectacular lighting too demanding of attention, and this somehow becomes a barrier to appreciating the subtler aspects, like calm and silence, and the narrative potential of the image.

The image below is not excitingly lit or dramatic, yet, for me, it says far more about place and its isolation. I realise now that the size of the main subject in the frame is part of this effect. The large size of the turbine, which is above my viewpoint implies that it has power and control. Whereas, the small size of the turbines below, almost appearing to hide behind the shed, implies a timidity that is reinforced by the vast expanse of their landscape.

These images were taken from locations just a few metres but 2 days apart. They convey very different messages. One is of the turbines taking over and the other of a much more benign presence, that, if anything, adds interest to the landscape. They demonstrate how very different messages can be contrived by small changes in viewpoint and using another quality of light.


I find dramatic, spectacular light can be a barrier to revealing the subtler moods and narratives that I want to convey in my images.

Similarly, too strong a depth perspective is itself a source of compositional drama that distracts from moods and narratives. I tend to prefer compositions that have little depth and are almost 2-dimansional.

The size of the primary subject in the frame can determine whether the subject is the story or whether the story is its relationship to the environment. Size and angle of view are both key to the power relationship between the viewer and the subject.

What “look” am I trying to achieve?

I have long enjoyed and been influenced by Dutch painting and by the Belgian Surrealists, Magritte and Delveaux.

The Nieuwe Kerk in Harlem by Pieter Saenredam.

Looking at this painting and the 2 landscapes below, what strikes me is that they are ostensibly 3 dimensional yet appear quite flat. Their perspective has been rendered geometrically but not realistically. In Saenredam’s painting I suspect this is to emphasise the grandeur of the church space. Depicting the people at an unrealistically small scale adds to this effect.

This 2-dimensional look appeals to me. Why?

Carl Hasenpflug

 Jacob van Ruisdael

These landscapes also have a flat rather than realistic perspective. In both cases it gives the impression of the horizon being the end of the world. The sky is just a backdrop that sets mood and scale for the scene by hanging just beyond the edge of the earth.

There is a formality and narrative, rather than realism, in these paintings. They are about evoking emotions and telling stories rather than accurately recording a scene.

Dutch Still Life paintings are far more realistic (albeit, that they are completely contrived) but, as with the landscapes, there is little visual depth. Everything of interest is lined up on a narrow stage with the horizon (the edge of the earth?) close behind.Willem Claez Heda                                      Floris Gerritsz. van Schooten

Is there a connection between the flat field, edge of the world impression given by Dutch landscapes and the lack of depth in these still life paintings?

Looking a Magritte and Delvaux I see further evidence of the flattened perspective. In this painting by Magritte even the narrative, or a significant part of it, is about an absence of depth to the perspective.

Delvaux’s paintings (below), like Saenredam’s church interior, have visual evidence of perspective depth (strong lead-lines and reductions of scale) but they also appear very flat and 2-dimensional, with the figures looking like paper cut-outs.

All of these works have quite subdued colour palettes and their overall effect is of calm, silence and stillness. These are attributes that I am attempting to convey with my images as well.

Edward Hopper is another strong influence.People in the Sun                                                        House by the Railroad

As with the Dutch paintings these have a very flat feel, a sense of calm, silence and stillness.

This flatness again results in an edge of the earth feel. However, with the House by the Railroad, this effect is doubled as the railroad, cutting horizontally across the scene. This is a viewer’s, impossible to cross, barrier as well as the house appearing to be on a further edge, having only the sky behind it.

All the above paintings convey a mood that appeals to me and one I try to emulate. This is achieved with:

  • Subdued colour palettes
  • Lighting that is sometimes bright but often subdued and always of quite low contrast and never spectacular itself.
  • A very flat perspective. Images that may have evidence of 3-dimensions but where the depth is somehow suppressed. They can easily read as 2-dimensional.
  • Apart from the Still-Life paintings they all have a great sense of space beyond, even if that space is not accessible to the viewer.