Assignment 3: Buildings in use

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Brief: Choose five or six buildings and for each produce between two and four images that describe effectively and attractively the way in which these spaces are used.

One of the initial problems with this assignment was deciding which buildings to choose. Which ones would be easily accessible and offer a variety of viewpoints to produce interesting images? Another consideration is that the resulting images need to steer away from the architectural style often associated with photographing buildings.

I spent some time deciding on appropriate, interesting buildings to photograph. People have lots of experience at taking photographs of people in buildings, but never really connecting the two together. The building often acts as the background for either an activity or occasion. This also makes it difficult to associate particular photographers as masters of this discipline.

Another thing to think about was to include a variety of buildings in terms of type and size. In preparation for this assignment I spent a lot of time looking instead of photographing. Sometimes I would use my iPhone to document possible locations that I could return to. Other possibilities would be based on my own experience of buildings. Subsequently part of this assignment is also to determine what buildings I didn’t include and why?

1. Blue Planet Aquarium, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire

Marketed as ‘Britain’s best aquarium’, the Blue Planet Aquarium is a marine and freshwater attraction that cost £12 million to build and was opened by the Queen in July 1998. There is nothing too spectacular about the outside of the building, it just looks like a steel warehouse. However inside is an underwater world of tunnels and tanks. It has more types of shark than anywhere else in Britain!


1. f/4.0   17mm   1/20   ISO 3200

Whenever I think of an aquarium one image that always springs to mind is the underwater tunnel. One of the main features of Blue Planet is a 71 metre underwater tunnel. The image above has been taken from inside the tunnel, showing a mechanical moving track for prams and wheelchairs alongside a walkway. I waited long enough to photograph a family using a pram. I also intended for them to be at the end of the track so that the viewer is drawn to them. It was an added bonus getting a ray to be peering in overhead! I also chose a tilted camera angle to reflect how people usually look up and around in the tunnel.


2. f/4   1/20   40mm   ISO 3200

With over 71 metres of tunnel it was impossible not to include a second photo! The image above focuses more on the visitors being surrounded by sea life in the tunnel. There’s a look of apprehension on their faces, peering at different sides, whilst a shark lurks in the background.

Another main attraction is the 4,000,000 litre tank. The immense size of the tank overshadows the spectators who have been silhouetted because of the brightness of the water behind them.

3. f/4   40mm   1/10   ISO 3200

Tucked away in every corner of the Blue Planet Aquarium is an opportunity to get as close as you can possibly get to marine life whilst staying dry! One of the most impressive things about the building is how large the tanks are. The image below has been divided in two, illustrating the boundary between the people and the fish.

4. f/4   17mm   1/15   ISO 1600

As with many attractions there is of course somewhere to eat, and with an attraction the size of Blue Planet there is a good chance that you would get hungry on the way around. In keeping with the style of the image above, I split the frame vertically in two, dividing the eating area from the sign advertising other attractions at the venue, whilst the food counter is in the background. (below).

5. f/4   34mm   1/20   ISO 800

Usually when visiting an aquarium I would concentrate on what was in the tank but this assignment has enabled me to think beyond that and consider how the marine life is made as open and accessible to the public.The low level of light meant that I needed to use a much higher ISO setting, something which I rarely ever need to do.

2. Burt Chapel, Innishowen, Donegal, Ireland

Nestled beside the N13, between Derry and Letterkenny, is the small circular Burt chapel. It was built in 1969 and modeled on the nearby ancient stone fort, Grianán of Aileach. Part of the assignment brief is to use a variety of types of building and Burt Chapel is by far the smallest building in this set. Usually buildings in use would require people in the image, but the simplicity and shape of the chapel would be spoilt if it was photographed during a service.

1. Burt Chapel: f/22   19mm   1/10   ISO 100

When you enter the chapel it is refreshing to see that the doors are unlocked. The photo below was intended to portray this link between the interior and exterior. The glass reinforces this openness and provides a much-needed source of light inside. I used the reflection of the outside, whilst including the cross and altar in the background.

2. Doors: f/4   27mm   1/125   ISO 1600

Inside, the simple circular shape is border by a colourful stained glass window that goes around its entire circumference. I used a low view point of the aisle and pews to give a users viewpoint (below).

3. f/4   31mm   1/30   ISO 1600

I found it difficult not to be distracted by the architecture of this building. The shape has a strong influence on how the building is used. The image below was produced to show how the pews have been arranged to accommodate the shape of Burt Chapel.

4. f/4   23mm   1/20   ISO 1600

Burt Chapel is a very simply designed space that is fit for purpose. It is also very reassuring to know that a building such as this is able to remain freely open and accessible to everyone.

3. The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is the newest building in this assignment. It is built on the west side of the city centre. On it’s website it is described as:

rewriting the book for 21st century public libaries.

Having opened on the 3rd September 2013, and costing £188.8 million, it is considered to be the largest public library in the country. It houses Britain’s most impotant Shakespeare collection, containing 43,000 books!

It’s architect Francine Houben describes the library as:

a people’s place.

The library is such an spectacular space that it is very tempting to be sidetracked from the purpose of the assignment and produce architectural images. When you walk through the front door you are confronted by the enormity and space of the building. There is an escalator that enables you to access the main part of the library. The image below shows people using the escalator with a very distinctive blue illuminated hand rail. The books can be seen behind in the background.

1. f/4.5   1/45   ISO 400   28 mm

The escalator conveniently leads to a help and information desk, as illustrated in the photograph below.

2. f/8   19mm   1/8   ISO 400

As well as people to help there are also computers dotted around the building to provide assistance (below).

3. f/8   17mm   1/8   ISO 400

There is a great feeling of space within the library with chairs located at various positions (below). The library is so large that it was quite rare to find someone actually sitting, reading a book!

4. f/8   17mm   1/10   ISO 400

4. f/8   17mm   1/10   ISO 400

There is a much greater computer use in the library. The image below illustrates this with the book shelves leading to the man sat on a stool looking at a computer screen.

5. f/8   19mm   1/20   ISO 400

The final image below is the lift that goes to the very top of the library, offering views across the city.

6. f/4   17mm   1/500   ISO 400

Photographing the Library of Birmingham was a very enjoyable experience. The vast space and modern design enabled me to move around the building very freely, but also ensuring that I was respectful to anyone who might not want to be photographed. As we progress to everything being digital, it would be interesting to revisit the library to explore how books are being replaced by technology. This isn’t the type of library where you would quickly pop in to return a book. It invites you to spend time looking and reflecting.

4. The Bullring Shopping Centre

The Bullring is a major commercial area of Birmingham. It was opened on the 4th September 2003. The shopping centre consists of two main buildings which are connected by an underground passage lined with shops. The SkyPlane is a 7,000 square metres of glass roof that covers the building.

The Bullring, Birmingham

1. f/8   17mm   1/60   ISO 200

The image above illustrates the spaciousness of the shopping centre, enabling shoppers and browsers to wander freely around the building.

2. f/5.6   17mm   1/20   ISO 200

The Bullring is situated on three floors (above). For this assignment I concentrated on how the building caters for people going between shops rather than its main purpose.

3. f/5.6   40mm   1/20   ISO 200

Due to the large size of the shopping centre there are lots of places for weary shoppers to sit (above). They are there for convenience rather than comfort, because the retailers prefer the visitors to be in their shops buying!

4. f/8   17mm   1/15   ISO 200

As with many shopping centres, each level is connected with a series of escalators. I chose the viewpoint in the image above to give a sense of scale, with the people on the ground floor appearing tiny.

5. f/8   36mm   1/30   ISO 200

This final image of the Bullring (above) shows a man carrying a shopping bag with other people in the background eating, showing the multipurpose of this building.

Being aware of other people and how they would react to being photographed was again something to be aware of whilst photographing inside the Bullring. By using a wide lens I really wanted to convey the space available in the building, enabling shoppers to walk through at their leisure. Usually I would have focused in ai servo mode, but there is too much random movement in a shopping centre. Blurred movement didn’t seem to matter for this because I wasn’t intending to focus on a specific person or group of people. I would like to develop this further by experimenting with filters, in order to convey movement.

5. The Sky Dome, Coventry

Coventry Blaze ice hockey team play at the Sky Dome, a 3,000 seat arena.

1. f/1.8   50 mm   1/1500   ISO 1600

The image above was intended to show part of the ice hockey match with supporters seated behind.

2. f/4.5   160 mm   1/350   ISO 1600

Unlike sports such as football, ice hockey enables fans to get close to the action. The image above shows the Perspex screen that protects them from the puck.

I used a high ISO to freeze the action so that it was clear that it was an ice hockey match. However it would be interesting to revisit the arena to experiment further with blurring movement.

6. Coventry Transport Museum

Previously known as the centre of the British car industry, Coventry was the ideal location for a museum of British road transport. There are more than 240 cars and commercial vehicles. Incredibly, admission is free, making it well worth a visit.

1. f/4   28mm   1/10   ISO 400

I spent some time waiting for the image above. Peugeot were a key employer in Coventry until their Ryton plant closed in 2006. I thought the enlarged newspaper cuttings against a Peugeot made a striking backdrop, with the backs of factory workers in a photograph. I wanted this image to show how some people walk past exhibits without really taking the time. To appreciate what they’re experiencing. Using a 1/10 sec shutter speed enabled me to blur the passer by, emphasising their movement.

2. f/4.5   60mm   1/20   ISO 400

I thought that this image above captured the restoration of the cars, covered with a plastic sheet. I helps to create the sense that this is a continually evolving museum.

3. f/3.5   28mm   1/30   ISO 400

To follow on from the previous image, the photograph above was chosen to show how the cars are presented on ramps around a miniature road.

4. f/8   28mm   1/6   ISO 800

The final image above captures a visitor taking time to read information about Jaguar cars built in Coventry.

The Coventry Transport Museum is a wide open space that enables the viewer to walk around at their leisure and find out more information. The lighting changed in some exhibitions so I used auto white balance for convenience and then used Aperture to make any necessary adjustments.

Larger versions of my images can be viewed here.

Assignment Reflection

Completing this assignment has inspired me to pursue other project ideas. I used to go to a building and photograph people or the place, but never really considering how they interact. I would usually zoom into the action or finer details instead of standing back for the bigger picture.

This assignment also reminded me of the importance of sticking to the brief. I was lucky to photograph some incredible buildings and it can be all too easy to get caught up with the aesthetics.

Being restricted to just a few shots for each building also made me put much more thought into the photographs I took.

Response to tutor feedback

I was really pleased to find out that my tutor thought that I had "submitted a sound project that connects with the assignment brief." Since a lot of photographic work is based on fitting a brief, I was very happy that I had successfully completed this task. 

1. Blue Planet Aquarium

The different types of lighting and reflections in the aquarium were challenging to photograph, but I'm glad that my tutor thought it was a good location for this assignment. I agree that I could have waited until the couple with the buggy were closer, but I was also concentrating on the ray appearing to smile overhead, and so didn't want to miss it. I realise from this that I need to be more aware of what is happening within and just beyond the viewfinder to get the best possible shot. One solution would be to take a series of shots of each scenario and then taking the time to select the best composition. My tutor preferred the second image, with the man's face giving extra interest. For this shot I was more aware of the people walking around the corner of the tunnel, and not so concerned about the fish. 

My tutor thought the silhouetted image was visually appealing. I decided to crop the outer black border surrounding the fish tank so that there would be a greater sense of scale with the entire frame being filled with water. Unfortunately I don't have the original file, that I used Photoshop with, to show 'before and after' shots, which is another thing I must try to do in the future. I do have a similar photograph (below) which gives an idea of the scene before I cropped it.

A similar view of the fish tank.

The cropped version below shows my submitted image with no Photoshopping. I removed the security lighting and the distracting white glare from the lady's phone / tablet. I also cloned in a few more fish! 

A pre-Photoshop version of cropped image. 

Burt Chapel

The tiny church was such a small building to photograph, I'm very pleased that my tutor thought I'd presented an alternative view without over-doing it. He particularly liked the reflected colours, giving an ethereal quality to the interior. 

The Library of Birmingham

This building was at the other extreme when compared to Burt Chapel. The library presented many opportunities for photographs, maybe too many to choose from. My tutor liked the final two images in this set, whereas the others tended to record rather than demonstrate the character of the building. I think I may have focused too much on how the building is used, and realise now that such a modern design deserved more creative framing. 

The Bullring

The style and architecture of the Bullring is also something I hadn't combined in my submission. I tried to capture the impression of space created, but this was at the expense of the building's features. In some ways photographing buildings in this way is similar to photographing people. Portrait photographers concentrate on the features and form of their subject, and there are aspects of buildings which could be considered similarly. I also think that with such large interiors to photograph I took too many photographs. It is worth remembering that sometimes less is more!

The Sky Dome

I had never been to an ice hockey match before, and I think I got caught up with the action a bit too much! With hindsight it would have been worth using one visit to explore possible photo opportunities and then another visit to focus on them. My tutor suggested using my iPhone to capture details such as scratches on the safety glass. I can see how this would be a powerful illustration of the ice rink's use. iPhone photography is becoming so popular that it is something I need to explore more. It's not always practical to carry my DSLR around with me, but I always have my phone. 

Transport Museum

My tutor thought that image 1 gave more of an insight into my photographer's mind. In all honesty it was the one image I had taken the most time thinking through. I hand't planned the image before hand, it was something that I instinctively thought of taking when I was presented with the opportunity. My DPP course appeared to be very structured and considered, with me needing to have a clear objective in mind. However with People and Place I am realising that I need to adapt my objective to the types of opportunities I have in front of my lens. 

Image sizes

As a Wordpress blog I found it difficult to present my images with the option to view them at a larger scale. My tutor urged me to rectify this, especially in preparation for the final assessment.  Now that I have transferred this Learning Log over to Squarespace I have found it easy to resolve this problem. All images should be able to be viewed larger by clicking on them.