Photography Arts | Field Notes |

October 26, 2019

Conceptual Photography | Materials | Concept development 01


This post is an update on my earlier 'Defining a Theme' post. It's a mid-way roundup of the process I have followed as I've of thought through the creative concept and each milestone along the way. At every step I've looked at how the physical process and the conceptual logic affects the specifics of materials choices. This blog post catalogues my thoughts as I've worked through this concept and I've included pages from my sketch book that illustrate key stages.

How to return the centre element back to the original scene.

As outlined in my project proposal and a previous post, my theme hinges on the idea of creating four 3D photographic collage sculptures made with mixed media and analogue printing processes. Then taking these sculptures back into the scenes (as central elements) where they were originally shot. The final pieces are intended to be a confrontation between the objective and the subjective—the 'real' and the reconstructed. So I needed to identify a method of returning my images to their locations.

Using a projector

One of my first thoughts was to bring the photo collage sculpture back into the outdoor location where it was shot using a projector. I researched projector hire and ideas around powering the projector on location (hiring a generator). I thought it would be an interesting way of getting the necessary scale to the inset image. I thought that a large projection screen, such a as a sheet suspended in the original scene could be large enough to work. I thought there could be an opportunity to apply materials design thinking to the surface I would project on. The execution could be developed further by making a multi-layered projection screen with gaps or holes in each layer. The light would travel through and make the image. It would resolve as a clear image when viewed with the projector behind the viewer, but as the viewer moves around it would cause the image to fragment into the various layers of screens.


  • Scale
  • Opportunity to develop ideas for materials use in the projection screen design
  • Final image aesthetics


  • Loss of image sharpness caused by the projector
  • Practical limitations of suspending the screens on location
  • Projector, generator, assistance hire cost


I would like to pursue this idea in a future project but I decided to abandon projectors for this piece. I felt that the set up of large screens in forested landscape locations was beyond my reach in practical terms. Better to begin with something more immediately achievable and revisit the theme in the future.

Identifying project steps

I realised that I was starting a creative process with multiple steps, so I started to make rough sketch maps to break down the steps with the goal of identifying a path to take to completion. My goal was to identify an achievable path without compromising the integrity or meaning of the images produced. I also needed to understand which parts of the process I would approach digitally and which analogue, what materials I would use and why. And I needed to gain an insight into costs, travel, and time commitments against deadline.

Photo sculptures

Having abandoned projectors I started working through other ideas for the centrepiece images. Perhaps bringing the physical photo sculptures to the locations, or large prints of them placed back into the scenes where they were first shot. I evaluated the idea of photographing my centre pieces, making large prints and then bringing these back to the locations and shooting them, but I decided against this approach because I didn't want the centrepieces to be clean rectangles—I thought this would be too structured to represent something as organic and indefinite as a memory.

I decided to pursue the idea of bringing the physical photo sculptures back to the locations and shooting them there.


I settled on making some kind of photo sculpture. A 3D object that I could either photograph in the scene itself, or digitally composite back into the scene.

Making determinations

If this was to be the direction then my first task was to determine the size and position of the proposed object and whether I could place it in the scene and achieve sharp focus on the object as well as the background. I set up a series of outdoor test shots to determine the following:

  • Lens choice for a stitched panoramic shot
  • How many shots required to build the image
  • The size of the object
  • The distance from the camera of the object
  • The focus distance
  • The lighting requirements
  • The object materials
  • The desired final piece outcome (dimensions and material)

Desired final piece considerations

Having shot medium and large format images as part of this module I became interested in the possibilities of shooting my final piece on analogue film. I knew that my final images would be an image repeated within a larger version of the same image. From this conceptual starting point I knew that the final pieces would need to be large enough that the central repeated image would be large enough in itself to be examined in detail by the viewer. I also knew that of the many things that represent memories (for example, places, objects, people, rooms) I wanted to focus on places—specifically outdoor places I remember (or think I remember) from childhood. These considerations led me to think of my final pieces as landscapes and therefore panoramas. My research referenced the work of Ellen Kooi as a fine art photographer who creates large scale panoramic landscape prints. The proportions and scale I found in Ellen's work appealed to me for this project so I looked into possibilities for creating images for large scale printing. One example of a camera that can achieve this kind of detail is the Shenhao TFC617. This camera can shoot a 6x17 negative capable of being enlarged to 6'x2' at 300ppi. This size would allow my centrepiece elements (which would be much smaller) to be large enough for detailed viewing and I appreciated how consideration of materials (in this case analogue film) led me to identify the desired size and proportions of my final images.


My next step was to devise a set of experiments that I conducted in Battersea Park to see how I could achieve the desired results with respect to two key considerations: Final image size and the size and distance from the lens of my photo sculpture centre pieces. With respect ot the former, I do not have access to a Shenhao but I determined that I could achieve a 6'x2' print at 240ppi by stitching together five portrait aspect images taken with my Nikon D800. The sketchbook pages shown below show how I worked through questions around focal distances when shooting an object near the lens and also having a sharp landscape background.

Beginning to identify physical characteristics and materials

I used the Simple DoF app to work out focal distances. I set up a test shoot in Battersea Park to answer the questions I had about placing a physical object in the scene. The exact specifics of the test are beyond the scope of this post (being that it is about Materials Concept Development), but the images below show some of the process. These experiments also helped start the process of identifying the size, form and materials of the centre pieces. What form would they take? What would they be made of? How big would they be? How would their materials choices support the concept of the piece? How would I make them?

Figuring out test shoot goals
I used a reflector on a light stand to gauge size, distance and focus.
A three-image stitched panorama
A five-image stitched panorama

Experiment conclusions

The results of this set of experiments showed that I should use a 50mm lens at F16 if possible. F16 might result in refraction at distance but both F16 and F8 would give good focus on the object and background if the object was 1m in width and 6m away from the lens. I tested 35mm, 50mm and 80mm lenses at F8, F16 and F22.  

My research indicated that refraction at F16 might compromise sharpness, but a shorter exposure time would do more to achieve a sharp image given the movement of the scenery, so I concluded that F8 would  be preferable. I was able to go to the final shoot location with a good understanding of the necessary size and distance of my proposed object and would be able to further evaluate the practicality of the idea on location.

My tests pushed forward my understanding of the practical requirements.

Next steps

My next step was now to travel to the locations and shoot the digital panoramas. I knew I needed a five-shot panorama to achieve the pixel resolution I would need for my goal of 6'x2' prints. I also knew my lens choice likely F-stop choice and proposed distance from the camera of any physical object. I would be able to further evaluate questions around re-shooting these scenes with the physical photo sculpture centrepiece in them and draw my conclusions having experienced the location spaces themselves.


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