Category Archives: Part 4: The language of light

Part 4 – exercise 4.3

Brief

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your notes try to describe the difference in the quality of light from the daylight shots in Exercise 4.2.

In the following images, I was inspired by Sato Shintaro’s depiction of the bright lights of the big city, largely without people. I spent two weeks in Chatswood, a very developed part of the Sydney sprawl but which has an identity all its own. My goal was to take straight street scenes, like Shintaro, which show it just as it is in a very factual way.

The white balance required a slight tweaking in most of the images, however due to the mixed light sources, it’s always a case of finding a compromise.

 DRG-24Jul2016-008  DRG-24Jul2016-013  DRG-24Jul2016-017
 DRG-24Jul2016-022 DRG-24Jul2016-027  DRG-24Jul2016-029
 DRG-24Jul2016-031

The quality of the light is very different from the daylight shots. It is bright, often harsh and creates sharply defined shadows. The mood it creates is also quite different, lacking the softness of daylight. The colour temperature of the light is also obviously different, varying depending the type of lighting e.g. tungsten, fluorescent etc.

Part 4 – exercise 4.5

Make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or any ordinary subject such as ‘apple’ or ‘sunset’. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images.

Following is a screen grab of the first page of a Google search for images using the term “apple”:

 

Exercise 4.5 - Apples

Ignoring the reference to the company, it’s safe to say that these images are stereotypical – they correspond to my mental image of what an apple should look like and don’t score highly on the creativity criterion. However, that doesn’t mean that some of them aren’t attractive.

Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the ‘Creativity’ criteria at the end of Part One. You might like to make the subject appear ‘incidental’, for instance by using juxtaposition, focus or framing. Or you might begin with the observation of Ernst Haas, or the ‘camera vision’ of Bill Brandt.

Following is a contact sheet of a number of images I took of an apple, using backlighting to show the form, but without the details. In this way, the apple becomes almost incidental to its own outline, which becomes quite imposing.

Contact Sheet

Add a final image to your learning log, together with a selection of preparatory shots. In your notes describe how your photograph differs from your Google Images source images of the same subject.

DRG-21Jun2016-012

My final image shows the form of the apple, but with the strong backlighting there is a sense of drama. My photo has mood, mystery and shows a quite different perspective from the “straight” photos from the Google search.

Part 4 – exercise 4.4

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object. Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form ….

Add the sequence to your learning log. Draw a simple lighting diagram for each of your shots showing the position of the camera, the subject and the direction of the key light and fill. Don’t labour the diagrams; quick sketches with notes will be just as useful as perfect graphics.

For this exercise I chose an egg carefully balanced using BluTack with a 50x70cm sheet of heavy black art paper as a background. For lighting, I used a combination of a small desk lamp (lens diameter about 20mm), a large Metz hammerhead-style flashgun used off-camera and a block of bright white paper as a simple reflector. All shots were taken with a 60mm macro lens set to  f/8 to give some depth of field since the lens to subject distance was quite small (200-300mm).

Photos are shown below with a short description and a lighting diagram.

Lamp RHS of camera, feathered

Lamp directly over camera to mimic on-camera flash

Lamp directly on top of camera

Lamp to side of subject

Lamp to side of subject

Lamp to side, reflector on left

Lamp to side, reflector on left

 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 1 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 2 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 3 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 4

Lamp directly over subject

Lamp directly over subject

Flash directly on top of camera

Lamp to right of camera, feathered; flash directly on top of camera

Flash at left of camera

Lamp to right of camera, feathered: flash at left of camera

Flash to left of subject

Lamp to right of camera, feathered: flash to left of subject

 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 5 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 6 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 7 Ex4.4 Lighting Diagram 8

In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lighting and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.

In the shots with just the lamp, as expected the white balance is on the warm side which is very similar to the early morning and late afternoon light quality in exercise 4.2 . On purpose I have not corrected this. By contrast, the shots with the flash have the feel of bright daylight. The flash photos all have the flash set to TTL but “turned down” 3 stops. Even so, the power of the flash quite evidently completely overpowers the small desk lamp.

I enjoyed this exercise. Although I have used studio lighting several times in the past for portraits, this is my first time experimenting with still life. The form of the egg, even the texture is nicely evident, especially on the shot with the reflector bringing some indirect light. By contrast, the flash is harsh and a useful development would be to try bouncing or diffusing the flashgun to get an umbrella or softbox effect.

Part 4 – exercise 4.1

Brief

Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful ‘grey card’) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it’s not necessary to focus). Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.

 Black - Auto Medium Grey - Auto  White - Auto
 Black HD jacket  Medium-grey card  White sheet of paper

Observations

As expected, in full auto mode, the camera exposes the scene to make the tone a mid-grey which is how the built-in meter is calibrated.  I know that this happens from my own experience of trying to photograph snow – it will invariably appear under-exposed if I just let the camera decide the exposure.

Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid- tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter scale with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either the left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations.

Black - Manual Medium Grey - Manual  White - Manual
 Black HD jacket  Medium-grey card  White sheet of paper

Observations

I have manually varied the exposure by several stops for the black jacket and the paper to get a result which looks more-or-less like how I perceive the object.

Conclusion

For a scene with a good range of tonal values from dark to light, the camera’s light meter will probably do a good job. For other scenes with restricted tones, it will be necessary to adjust the exposure to ensure that the resulting tonality is correct, at least in terms of how we expect the scene to appear. This has practical applications when trying to “expose to the right” in order to capture maximum shadow detail and reduce noise to a minimum. Depending on the scene, a large amount of exposure compensation may be needed.

 

Part 4 – exercise 4.2

Brief

In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to ‘work into’ your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of light in each image.

For the following sequence, I used a tripod and an electronic shutter release programmed to take a total of 15 shots spaced an hour apart starting at about 6:30am. I used the “sunny f/16 rule” (f/16, 1/125s, ISO 100) as an approximation for a reasonable exposure during the middle of what I knew would be a sunny day. In the end I adjusted the exposure of all photos by +1 stop in Lightroom because they were generally a little too dark, thus inventing the “sunny f/11 rule”.

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Quality of Light

In addition to the obvious change in light levels and direction during the day, the light of early morning has a slight bluish tinge to my eyes which moves towards yellow as dawn approaches. The intensity and directness of the light is pronounced during the middle hours of the day and everything is more or less evenly lit. During the afternoon, the light again takes on a yellow tinge.

During the middle hours, the shadows don’t change greatly – some change of direction, but not much. The pace accelerates rapidly towards the end of the day as can be clearly seen when comparing shadow lengths from 1630 onwards. In just 2 hours, there is a very rapid change.