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  • Writer's pictureGareth Partington

The Photography Bar Competition - Part One

I had been listening to a podcast called "The Photography Bar" and during lockdown of 2020 and they decided to run a competition. I had not entered a photography competition for years and wondered whether I should or not. If I did what did I have to loose?

There was going to be three themes, one realised each week where you had to interpret the theme and create a photo. I had not flexed my creative might for some time and so decided I would give this a go.

Theme One

The first theme which was realised was to create a photo centred around the word "food and drink". My initial thoughts were to create some sort of still life with an assortment of food related items. I pondered on what I could use thinking about grapes and apples and started looking for inspiration.

The initial idea didn't strike me with any sense of passion so I kept scratching my head. I wondered if I could do something biblical with bread and fish? As I started to look at paintings I was more drawn to the fish element. I am a fisherman myself, so could I use some of the equipment I have in order to make a still life photo?

The Set up

The garage was once again turned into my make shift studio and I started to assemble the props in order to create my photo. The first thing I did was to pop to the supermarket and find a suitable fish.

The idea of buying just a fish to use in a photo seemed quite wasteful to me so I wanted to make sure I could eat the fish afterwards. I looked at the usual assortment of fish on the fish counter and spotted some Sea Bream. They had a wonderful silver colour and a distinct shape so decided these were the ones I would use.

As I was looking through my old books again I came across a chapter called "The Miracle of Many Signs and One Fish" Perfect! I thought I could use this in my photo and it would then go with the previous still life's I had made using the deceased birds.

I wanted there to be more of a story than just a fish and a book so I decided to add in some fishing equipment like the filleting knife, hooks and weights. As I looked at the set up I thought perhaps it should be a scene where the fish were in the process of been filleted. This would fit in better with the theme of food as it would show they were actually food and not just some dead fish.

Not long before the photo was created we had been on holiday to the coast and I had found some fish skulls on the beach along with some drift wood. The scenes was starting to come together but I needed to figure out the lighting before I began to fillet the fish.

Focus Stacking

I have become quite obsessed with this process of focus stacking images to make super detailed photos so it was the approach I was going to take again. I had learnt a much better way of doing it though than in photoshop and required the use of some software called "Helicon Focus" If you ever want to try focus stacking I recommend you give the software a go. It's a little complex but the results were so much better and I didn't loose any of the edge of the image which happened previously in Photoshop.

You can see in the above photo the raw photos getting processed in Capture One. As I was photographing I decided to add a blue gel to light, to camera right of the scene in order to add a little pop of colour into the skull and under belly of the fish.

I wanted to keep the image looking quite warm and painterly again so I added an orange gel to the light to camera a left.

The final photo

This is the final image. There were many different attempts as I adjusted the props, position of the fish and lighting but I felt I got to a scene where the story telling was strong and the composition worked well.

The drift wood was used to lead you round the image and as you explore you should start to see the fish skulls, weights and hooks. I only filleted one fish as I thought perhaps it would look better if it was in process, rather than both fish been filleted.

The detail on the image was so good after the focus stack had been created but there was one thing I really wanted to change and that was the title of the chapter in order to work with my two fish. So I went about finding the correct letters though the book to photograph separately in order to change the title from "One fish" to Two fish" It is a subtle thing that no one will ever notice but I do think I did a very good job at making it look seamless.

Now I know this again is an image not to everyones tastes as it is quite macabre. It also takes the theme of food and drink quite loosely, but I can promise you after the photoshoot was complete myself and Emma had the most delicious fish supper for tea.

If you have never tried Sea Bream I recommend pan frying it in a little flour and butter.

I did create a video of the creation process but if you are squeamish you might not want to to watch it as it does show me filleting the fish, you can find the video at the bottom of this post.

How would you have interpreted the first theme? Would you have done something different to myself? Let me know in the comments, email or direct message, even if you don't like my approach I'd love to hear your feedback.

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