AS Level Photography
Welcome to the diary of AS Level Photography, a course I will be reviewing on a weekly basis for ePHOTOzine readers. The course I will be taking is from the AQA examination board, run by Rotherham College of Arts and Technology and involves a three hour lesson one night a week. Candidates are expected to have some prior photographic knowledge before commencing the course and absolute beginners may be advised to enroll on the GCSE Photography course instead.
The total cost of the course is £222.00, a fee which differs from college to college, but fees are not applicable to those who are out of work at the time of registration. An exam registration fee of £74.16 may also be incurred later on in the course. An SLR camera (either film or digital is fine) is essential for this AS Level Photography and in this particular course, cameras are not provided. I will be using the Olympus E400.
Week one - Induction
Today was the first day of term and involved a general introduction by our tutor Mike Burgess to the AS level course and the facilities available within the college.
To begin with we were given details of the individual coursework units throughout the year including what they would involve and when they would need to be submitted. Coursework is due at three stages during the AQA course during December, March and finally, May.
The first two units represent 30% of the total marks each and involve choosing a subject, i.e. landscape or documentary, brainstorming ideas and researching that subject, and then producing a busy book (a type of scrapbook) with images taken, to demonstrate the progression of ideas. Both units culminate in the production of two photo boards which present a selection of images taken throughout the unit. Unit three will be the final piece of coursework and constitutes preparation for the final exam. The preparation part of the exam involves researching and investigating our chosen photographers and artists, much like the first two units, and is followed by a five hour controlled test. During this time students are expected to carry out out the production of photo boards, including the capturing of images, processing and presenting. This unit carries 40% of the marks which make up the final grade.
Students were then shown the work of previous students and books were recommended as reference, in particular Ian Jeffrey's The Photo Book and 1000 Photo Icons by Anthony Bannon and George Eastman House. After a tour around the college including locations of the learning resource centre, computer room, studio and darkroom, we were free to go. No homework was given as such, but we were told to decide on a subject for the following week and buy something that would constitute as a busy book. I have decided for unit 1 to look at landscapes.
Week two - Aperture and Shutter Speed
Today's lesson involved an explanation of how to improve our photography generally by manipulating shutter aperture and shutter speed, and paying more attention to the way an image is composed.
The lesson began by a useful explanation of how a camera works, and how aperture and shutter speed work together to create an exposure value.
Firstly, we discussed aperture. Aperture is the hole in a camera that controls the amount of light entering the camera and hitting the sensor. The size of the aperture can be altered to creative affect and to control the depth-of-field and is represented by a number called an f-stop. The smaller the f-stop, the bigger the hole and the more light is allowed to enter the camera. This results in a shallower depth-of-field, i.e, a certain part of the image is brought into sharp focus while the rest of the scene is blurred out. Alternately, a larger f-stop (smaller hole) can be used if the photographer wishes to bring the whole of the image into sharp focus.
Secondly, we discussed shutter speed, which affects for how long the light entering the camera is allowed to act. Shutter speed becomes the important factor when there is movement in the picture and can be used to freeze movement (fast shutter speeds) or to blur it slightly. If there is no movement in the scene then manipulation of the aperture should be used instead.
A slide show was shown to demonstrate how these factors can be used to create different effects with classic examples such as fairground rides, waterfalls, portraits and landscape scenes. The rule of thirds was also demonstrated here, which refers to how a photograph is composed, and offers an alternative and more effective result than simply placing the subject in the middle of the frame, or having an image composed of half landscape and half skyline. We were also shown how lines can be used to lead the viewer's attention to the main subject of the image.
Various other tips were also given such as how a lens can be zoomed during exposure for a type of light explosion, and how focusing on the foreground of a landscape rather then the sky can prevent over-exposure.
While I already had some prior knowledge of aperture and shutter speed, the re-cap was useful and examples in the slide show definitely helped to increase my understanding of the subject. The tutor also covered how to correct common problems in photography, such as under and over exposure and gave tips on how to achieve better composition. Everything covered today was explained in a clear and concise manner and any questions raised by students during the lesson and were answered effectively. I know feel more confident about going out and carrying out some practical work and feel I may avoid a lot of the mistakes I might have made before.
We were told to begin researching photographers in our chosen field for the following week and begin the 'busy book'.
Week three - Tutorials
Today's lesson involved individual tutorials in order to discuss any problems we might be having and the progress we have made so far. We were told that from now on lessons would be for tutorials if needed, and for researching, using the darkroom, using the studio etc if not.
The subject I have chosen to work on for unit one is landscapes and I discussed my plans for that in the tutorial. I will begin by photographing the wider landscape in various locations, and then go on to work on close-ups within that. Some photographers I am planning to look at as part of my study are Joe Cornish, Charlie Waite, Lee Frost and Ansel Adams. I will be including examples of their work in my scrap book, describing what I think is effective or un-effective about the images and use them as inspiration for my own photography.
Week four - Tutorials
During the week I have been brainstorming ideas and researching my chosen photographers in my busy book as the basis for my own work. Next week I am planning to begin my photography and I have decided on the picturesque Peak District in the Derbyshire Dales as my first location. I have been slightly disappointed with the last two weeks of the course. This weeks session was once again for tutorials, and while I understand it is important to get feedback and support for any questions and queries along the way, I also expect some of the three hour sessions to involve some sort of lesson. This week I am especially annoyed as I had to sit and wait two hours before I was even acknowledged and am starting to consider the attendance of the lessons as a waste of time. As has been the case with the previous week, priority was given to a small group who had been on the GCSE Photography course the previous year. Myself, along with three others were left until the end with nothing much to do except sit and wait to be seen. While I am also understanding of the fact that much of the work at AS-Level is considered to be 'Independent learning', I am beginning to feel as though I may as well have taught myself entirely from the beginning and avoided the £222.00 course fee!
During the week I have been continuing with my research which is now almost complete, meaning I can move onto the next level of starting my own photography. I had planned to carry out some photography last weekend but was held back by the weather.
This week's tutorial was a much more productive one. I received some useful feedback on the research I had completed so far, advice on the best times and locations to carry out my photography and specialist macro equipment that I might need for my close-up work. During the three hour session I looked at some books on landscape photography as well as the work of previous AS level students on the course as an idea of how to layout and present my 'busy book'. I am intending to finish the research section of my book before next week's lesson and also have another attempt at some photography. Fingers crossed that the rain holds back....
Having carried out the majority of my photography during the weekend in Derbyshire's Peak District, This week I have completed the final parts of my photography at Clumber Park in Worksop. The weather was clear and bright and I managed to get some good shots, completing the work to be mounted in submission for Unit 1. My work could have been improved by the addition of equipment such as polarising and graduated filters, which I intend to use in future landscape photography.
I then printed copies of the images at a local processing lab, and took them in to college to discuss with the tutor. After some consideration, we selected 19 shots from my collection of images, which I went on to analyse in my 'busy book'. Analysis of the images included details of how and where the shots were taken, how they related to my previous research of landscape photographers, what specific techniques I had employed and whether or not I felt they were effective and why. I also included the shots that weren't selected, explained why they weren't selected for final submission and how they could have been more successful.
This week was the final lesson of unit 1 before Christmas holidays and submission date. After enlarging my images to 7 x 5in size, I spent the day mounting my selected shots onto display boards, and wrote the conclusion of my busy book detailing what was successful and unsuccessful about unit one, any problems encountered during the course of the unit and how I felt I could have improved my work had I had more time to. After submitting my work to the tutor, I was told to think about what I may like to concentrate on for unit 2. I have since decided that I am going to develop the landscape theme, concentrating on macro photography during the second term. Having completed unit 1 I now feel more confident to go on and compete unit 2. College lessons are due to re-commence on the 10th January 2008.
Rebecca left ePHOTOzine before she started unit 2 so we only have a diary of unit 1.