Semiotics

Introduction

The new topic for this assignment is Semiotics, which is the meaning of signs and symbols. This was broken down into signifier and signified, in which I had to take two photographs of the signifier and one of the signified.

Theory Of Semiotics

The signifier is a symbol that allows the viewers to immediately associate it with a meaning. For example, A large yellow ‘M’ is iconic to the McDonald’s logo. No in depth meaning behind the image is needed, instead, it is an instant understand the message provided to the viewers. This is important when needing to warn people of certain hazards or rules, such the traffic light colours can be immediately identified to whether it is safe to drive or cross the road. 

The highly credited theorist, Roland Barthes created a theory surrounding the practice of semiotics. He outlines the use of signs to create meanings, including imagery, text and spoken words (Robinson, 2011). He expanded his research into semiotics further, creating the theory of codes and conventions. This is the division of the signs to mean certain things. For example, this theory has been highly regarded in the cinematic universe. Signs have been categorised into genres that make certain elements immediately identifiable to the audience to a particular genre. Such as, the use of red, low-key lighting, and inhuman characters are all visual codes that are linked to a horror convention.

My Images

This theory was then applied to my own images. A lot more thought had to go into these images. I found that creating images that had deeper meaning was easier than images that had a direct meaning. This was not expected as I thought planning a photograph for the signifier would be easier.

Signified 

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Figure 1

Above is one of the final images for the topic ‘signified’.  This was initially for a client who wanted poster designs for a theatrical play of Alice In Wonderland. However the way I planned this image was to have a meaning behind the props and design, so I thought it suited this particular topic and was taken within the timeframe permitted.

Camera Equipment and Settings

For figure one and two I used Canon 7D with a Canon 16-35mm L f2.8 IS USM lens. The Canon 7D is my personal camera, so will most often be the camera used for my images, but I chose the wide angle lens because of the image quality it produces and the wider spectrum provided. Although I love the quality it produces wide angle lenses can be more difficult to use in portraiture due to distortion. I did not find any distortion on the images but was careful when positioning the model and angle of the camera. The wide angle also made it difficult to capture only the backdrop, as parts of the room would also be in the shot even though I was close to the model and could not go closer without being too close for what the intended image was meant to be. Non the less I am still satisfied with the image quality outcome with some cropping to frame the picture effectively. 

I did not use a tripod as the flash allowed me to set the shutter speed fast enough to freeze slight movements from the model. A light meter was used to quickly find out what setting to use for the camera. The 100 ISO created the minimum amount of noise, which personally makes the image appear cleaner. I do not like noise in images unless it is the desired effect. Therefore wanted the lowest ISO possible. The aperture was set to f8, which is a comfortable middle ground aperture that keeps the model in focus whilst still blurring the background. 

Lighting and Setup

I was able to use the university studio, which made the experience enjoyable and beneficial for the development of studio lighting skills. Two modelling and soft boxes were used with flash. The lights were placed on either side to evenly light the model but were not on full power as I wanted a low key lighting effect. The flash enabled me to use a higher shutter speed and low ISO, making the images sharper. I enjoyed using the flash and felt that I had creative control over the lighting conditions and effect it had upon the image. I feel that the model could have a had a small amount of extra light on her face, as it appears slightly too dark.

I bought a backdrop which I brought for this shoot. It had a cloudy effect which made the image appear darker with an eerie atmosphere. I thought this created a dramatic approach to the image and more points of interest.

Composition and Symbolism

The model is the centre of attention, however, the chessboard is her focus of attention which attracts the viewer’s eye to the board. I used Alice In Wonderland chess pieces to signify the story and connote that the model is the character Alce. I made the model hold her own character that she is portraying to signify that it is not just a game in this situation. The aim was to connote that her life situation is like this game, and has to be played carefully. This game is also a reference to the red queen within the narrative and how Alice is a game of survival against her. The binary opposition the two different colours of the chess pieces connotes the battle between good and evil, divided into two s058ides of the board with the character holding the lighter piece. Conventional heroes or innocent is conveyed with the colour white which connotes that the model is a good character and has to defend herself from the dark. 

The experience I had photographing this image was pleasurable and encourages me to continue working in the studio. I enjoy creative themes for images and thinking more in depth about meanings for images. However, I believe another picture from the same shoot would have been better suited for the task. It shows the same meaning but with a different composition.

As shown the chess pieces are much larger and in focus, with the model out of focus in the background. I think this has greater impact and connotation to the importance of the game and her involvement.

Signifier 

The signifier proved to be a challenge, as I could not decide what would be an interesting photo but still iconic of a particular subject area.

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Figure 2

The image above is another photo from the Alice In Wonderland photoshoot but this time selected it for the second category of the assignment.

Camera Settings and Equipment

The same camera equipment was used as the previous image due to it being the same shoot. I found that the equipment worked well, therefore did not change anything or the camera settings. Instead, the only technical aspect that I changed was the lights themselves and left the camera the same. The only thing I would change is the aperture. I think that I should have used a smaller aperture around f11 instead of f8 to ensure every part of the model was in focus now that more of her body was in the frame.

Lighting and Setup

The lighting was the same as the previous image but this time the setup was different. I made the model stand up, moving away from the chess design. Instead, I wanted to use the dramatic impact from the backdrop to create a situation and atmosphere within the image.

I turned up the brightness of the modelling lights to light the model further so that she stands out from the background. I found it a lot more comfortable to use the flash. It allowed me to hold the camera and use preferable camera settings. The flexibility of the lights was definitely beneficial. I could change the brightness, turn certain lights off or add and direct them in particular directions The main thing I would change is the amount of light on the models face. I feel that the lights were directed at her body, making the top half of her face dark which I am not satisfied with.

Composition and Symbolism

The model was told to a situation to act out for the picture. I told her to imagine that she was in the dark forest in the story and is in wonder but lost. She was then able to create an expression that matched this situation that I think worked well. It was easier working with an actress as she would understand the situation I was looking for and could portray it easily and effectively.

In editing, I added the vines and leaves to connote the forest environment. It was not meant to appear realistic, but more of a silhouette effect. This was a simple and quick process that I did in Photoshop CC, using the copyright free brush presets available. I also created the Cheshire cat’s eyes that are in the background. The eyes were done by using the shape presets and warping them to create the shapes that appeared more like eyes. I think it’s rushed and could be better but shows the general idea I was trying to portray.

This was selected for the Signifier image because I thought the costume was symbolic of Alice In Wonderland, as well as the Cheshire cat eyes. I think that the viewers can quickly identify it with the fictional character but it still is not clear enough for what the lecturer was looking for. After presenting the image he suggested to keep idea simple and not overthink them. I agree with this and understand that many of the images submitted for these tasks may not be directed suited to the themes.

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Figure 3

For the final image, I tried to capture something that had a simpler design with more obvious symbolism.

Camera Settings and Equipment

I used the Canon 7D with Canon 16-35L f2.8 wide angle lens. The wide angle enabled me to capture more in the frame which I found more interesting to experiment with. I used 100 ISO to reduce the amount of noise in the image, set to the minimum. In reflection, the aperture of f4 should have been changed to a smaller aperture of around f8. I wanted to create a shallow depth of field, blurring the background but think a smaller aperture would have been better to use to capture both pumpkins in focus.

I used a tripod to ensure that the image was straight. The tripod allowed me to experiment with slower shutter speeds without the risk of camera shake blurring the image. However, I found that I was more restricted and prefer to use the camera handheld. Moving the tripod also made the process slower, which for this was inconvenient due to the lighting changing continuously I tried moving to different angles but the tripod would make the process slower and less enjoyable.

Lighting and Setup

I used the natural sunlight for this image. It was taken during the golden hour of the sunset so that the light had orange rays and a strong glow. I think the sun may have been too strong however and have overexposed areas of the image. I am not satisfied with the overexposed areas on top of the pumpkins, therefore would make the shutter speed faster to lower the intensity of the bright sun and change the location to where the pumpkins were not directed in the sun rays.

An issue I found was that the lighting was constantly changing, which would make images overexposed and then underexposed constantly. This was a challenged but I also enjoyed improvising and it enabled me to learn more about the camera settings and how to work with uncontrollable light.

Composition and Symbolism

I used pumpkins and leaves to symbolise Autumn and Halloween. I think this is a simpler and clearer design to signify the season and holiday celebration. The pumpkins were the primary focus on the image, positioned in the centre dominating the frame. The large autumn leaf in between the pumpkins also symbolises the season.

I used a colour palette ranging from browns, yellows and oranges to signify the autumn colours. I think that the colours of the pumpkin may be over saturated, losing detail and lowering the image quality. Therefore I would be more careful of this issue if I were to take this image again. I found it enjoyable to create this picture and use the natural light and surrounds. It was a beneficial experience to improvise with what was around me.

Conclusion

Overall this task was harder than previously expected. I found that the thought and planning  involved was enjoyable and interesting but begun to find it difficult to decide on a good photograph idea for the two signifier images. I prefer creating an image where the viewers have to read into it more, with hidden meaning and symbols. However producing an image that immediately identifies with a particular subject or topic was less interesting. I found it difficult to think creatively and did not want to take pictures of actual logos and signs, such as traffic signs because it did not feel like a creative photograph, instead completely reliant of the sign. I think I thought too deeply into the signifier images and should have chosen simpler and clearer ideas to photograph. 

References

Robinson, A. (2011). An A to Z of Theory Roland Barthes and Semiotics. (online) Ceasefire. Available at:   https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-barthes-1/  [Digitally Accessed 2 Dec. 2016].\

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