“For the first part of this exercise you will photograph the same view in sunlight and under cloud. You can do this at different times or on different days, but the easiest time is on a day when individual clouds are drifting across the sun. If it is windy, so much the better, as the light will change more rapidly. Choose two or three different subjects, such as a building, a person, and a street scene. Note the difference in exposures. Keep the white balance set to sunlight/daylight.”
– AoP Coursebook
“This is an exercise to demonstrate some of the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. Obviously, there is no sudden moment in the day when the sunlight switches between low and high but, as a guide, the sun is low within about two hours of sunrise and sunset, except in winter when it stays low for much of the day. In summer, this may not be a convenient time to go out shooting, but the results from getting up really early can be very rewarding. You can choose any subjects for this project, but they must be in sunlight.”
– AoP Coursebook
So, while he was down for the bit between Christmas and Hogmanay, I dragged James out for a walk down by the River Lea. When we were heading back home over the derelict golf course the light had dipped far enough to try out this exercise. The instruction was:
Take as many pictures as possible, but aim to produce four as a final result. If in doubt, bracket your exposures. If you can, complete all these pictures on one occasion. There is a tremendous variety of lighting, and you can capture this variety by changing your view point.
You can’t just assume with a 12 year old, but James was willing to pose and to turn this way and that so, here are the results: Continue reading
“You will need a sunny day for this exercise, or else sun at different times on differentdays. You are going to photograph one scene from dawn to dusk. The number of pictures you take will depend on the time of year, but get at least one per hour, and more at the end of the day when the light is changing faster. Find a landscape location with a fairly definite subject that will catch the sunlight even when the sun is close to the horizon. It needs to offer a good, clear view that is lit throughout the day – containing an isolated building, perhaps, but convenient to reach, as you will need to keep going back to exactly the same spot. Try and keep the composition exactly the same for all the photographs; either remember which parts of the scene touch obvious points in the viewfinder (such as the corners or any markings on the screen) or draw a little sketch. Keep a note of the exposure for each photograph”
– AOP Coursebook.
I took these pictures over the course of three days, way back in November. I’d set my tripod up, leaning into the velux window in the attic, looking out from my work-room (it’s where I’m sitting typing now) to the northeast. The view was open to the south so the light would pass over the view revealing detail and creating shifting shadows for the whole of the period of daylight. Continue reading
“For this exercise produce between four and six photographs which are deliberately lighter or darker than average, and say why in your written notes.”
– AoP Coursebook
It was my birthday yesterday, and to celebrate it, we drove down to Margate, because I’d never been there and because it’s on a corner. The weather was warm with the first hints of spring, so we sat outside and ate fish and chips for lunch and then had a beer at the pub on the pier. There was a slight mist which diffused the light spilling across the beach from the south west and caused everything to gradually dissolve into the distance. You could see where Turner (a onetime resident of the town) got it from…
“For this assignment you will draw together the different lighting techniques you have been studying and apply them to one object. The idea is to use your new knowledge of lighting to bring out particular physical properties of the same object. It is also a test of your observation. Choose any subject that you can move around and take 8 photos based on the 4 themes of the assignment. At the core of this assignment you should aim to show the following qualities (Shape, Form, Texture & Colour) of your subject, one at a time, by means of the lighting.” – AoP Coursebook
All pictures were taken using a Nikon D50 with the ISO set to 200.
1: Shape – This quality has to do with the outline of an object – its edges. These are likely to stand out more clearly if they contrast with the background, and if there is minimum detail visible in the object.
i – Late afternoon sunlight from behind, diffused by curtains; no fill. Long focal length (112mm/168mm 35mm equivalent) to flatten image somewhat, with camera approximately 4 metres from subject and the flowers 1.5 metres from the background; wide aperture was used to help separate subject from background by reducing the depth of field. Colour original very yellow due to low angle of sun and the oatmeal material of the curtains – when it was converted to B&W, I increased red/orange/yellow in the mix while reducing blue/green in order to lighten background while further darkening the silhouetted jug of carnations.
ii – Bright Field Lighting (Hunter, Biver, Fuqua – Light, Science and Magic – Chapter 7) using a light box, fairly close to the rear of the subject; no fill. I used the zoom lens to keep edges of the light box at the edges of theframe in order to achieve the black outline of the jug and it’s handle through the creation of internal reflections. The image was then cropped so the subject filled the frame. With the camera positioned close to the lens’ minimum focus distance, sufficient depth of field to keep the whole bunch of flowers sharp was achieved with a small aperture (f16) and a relatively long exposure of 1/15″ to correctly expose using the relatively weak artificial light source. I did not convert this to B&W as I rather like the almost pen-and-ink-on-parchment feel of it, and the slight hint of magenta flowers coming through.
2: Form – This is another way of describing the volume of an object – how 3 dimensional it looks. The modelling effect of the light and the way you deal with the shadows is all important. Try to show as much depth as possible in the subject.
iii – Late afternoon sunlight (about 40 minutes after fig 1) through window on the left of the frame. This contrasty low angled side light was softened slightly by sticking a sheet of grease-proof paper onto the window, but no attempt was made to reflect light back from the right to soften the shadows, emphasizing the 3-dimensional nature of the subject. The low sunlight did not directly strike the background, resulting in it being underexposed and so, I hope, further separating the lit subject from the background, again adding emphasis to its form. Depth of focus was boosted by setting the aperture to f9 and by using a shorter focal length than the more flattened picture in Figure 1. This picture was one of ones taken earlier during the exercise, so the flowers are less open, leading to them having less form to define.
vi – The subject was placed on a strip of black velvet which was then taped to the wall about a metre behind the jug and flowers. The key light was a Nikon SB-27 Speedlight firing through a white umbrella above and to right of the subject; a silver reflector was then positioned to the left to create the shape-defining band of reflection in the glass jug and also to stop the unlit side of the subject vanishing into the black of the background. Again, the aperture of the lens (a 35mm prime) was shut down to f11 to keep as much of the subject in focus as possible, but this time, due to the brief duration of the strong light from the flash, the shutter speed was able to be a fast 1/400″ rather than the 1/15″ used in fig. 3.
3: Texture – This is a quality of the surface detail. Fine detail, such as that on sandstone or skin, stands out best with a pattern of small, hard shadows, so you will have to consider both the diffusion (or lack of it) and the angle of the light. Of course, a shiny surface like chrome, although it is thought of as being smooth, also has a texture of a kind.
v – Undiffused late afternoon sun shining through the jug, creating reflection on the surface of bubbles in the water which had collected on the inside of the jug the flowers were standing in. The lens used was a Micro Nikkor 55mm 1:3.5 prime macro lens shut down to f16 with an exposure of 1/8″. The picture has been rotated 90 degrees from landscape to portrait to match the others in the assignment.
vi – Improvised using a Mini Maglite pen torch with the beam focussed on the carnation to the left of frame and a kitchen foil reflector to the right to reduce contrast in image. 55mm micro nikkor 1:3.5, f16, 2″. The length of exposure – intended to compensate for the low light output of the maglite and the small aperture used to create enough depth of field for the picture to be about the texture – inadvertently smoothed out the effect of my hand trembling as I held the foil reflector in position giving a more softened edge to the reflected fill.
4: Colour – Choose a kind of lighting and exposure setting that shows the subject’s colour (or colours) as strongly as possible. In addition, you could photograph your subject in any other interesting, unusual or attractive lighting.
vii – Nikon Speedlight through umbrella to rear and above subject. Lens was a Nikor AF-D 35mm 1:2 at f4; exposure of 1/500″ to restrict the light to that provided by the strobe. The pale blue of a background (a bed-sheet) was chosen to sit in the spectrum between the magenta of the flowerheads and the green of the stems; the magenta was further highlighted by slightly underexposing the image as covered in part 3 of the course. White balance was set to Flash in the camera and did not require any correction later.
viii – Mixed light from a Nikon Speedlight with a cheap, “gold” (nearly tungsten, but not quite) Flash Bounce Diffuser restricted by long black-wrap snoot to only illuminate the flower heads acting as the key; fill provided by very early morning daylight on a cloudy day through west facing window in shot to left of camera. Lens was a Nikor AF-D 35mm 1:2 at f6.3 with an exposure of 1/3″ to allow the blue fill to burn in after the initial brief punch of coloured light from the flash. The camera’s white balance set to tungsten, but adjusted slightly in Lightroom to give a less blue cast to the entire picture as the original effect was overly lurid, resembling 1930’s technicolour a bit more than I wished.
“Choose any subject that you can move around and take 8 photos based on the 4 themes of the assignment. ” – AoP Coursebook
The themes for assignment four were Shape – the 2D aspects of the subject – Form – the 3 dimensional aspects of the subject, adding depth to the outline – Texture – bringing out details of the surface – and Colour – which I took to relate both to the colour of the subject and also to the colour of the light falling on the subject.
So, the first task was to choose a subject that gave enough scope for all four of these to be shown, without too much repetition between pictures. I also wanted to use a variety of different sorts of light for this, using daylight and artificial light and also specifically photographic lighting to gain the effects required.
I started looking at lights that were already present in the house with the idea of the subject lighting itself in some of the pictures, settling on either an anglepoise-type lamp which offered a lot of nice, variable geometry or a 1920s wooden standard lamp in the form of an oriental dragon which would produce more diffused light through its paper lantern lightshade.
Shape and Form would be fairly easy to get, with the anglepoise offering a wider variety of silhouettes and the chinese standard lamp offering more interesting possibilities to cast shadows bringing out its form. There was plenty of texture in the carving of the standard lamp while the anglepoise had a rough cast iron base and silvered springs which would make fine closeups. But both were black: colour would be a bit of a problem although one picture contrasting the orangey light of the lamp itself with white, photographic light would be achieveable as would trying to give some idea of depth by using two lights coloured with gels to give contrasting (red in the foreground and blue further back) highlights.
I had already discovered the amount of space needed to light a subject during the photographic lighting exercises that led up to the assignment; the attic where I have my workroom probably wouldn’t be large enough to do wider shots of the standard lamp while clearing the living room of the clutter left by me, my partner and our 2 year-old would present problems.
I put the idea on hold, while I tried to think of other more easily isolatable subjects, coming up with a typography of old Russian cameras – again, good shapes and nice textures but not a lot of colour – a battered old pair of shoes and an avocado plant, grown from a stone and now showing some nice structure for both the form and shape pictures, good textures on the leaves and trunk/stem and also a variety of colour in the leaves which contrasted nicely with the soil in the pot and the pot itself.
At this point however, the deadline for the assignment was looming and I just needed to knuckle down and shoot something; it was Valentine’s day and my partner gave me a bunch of carnations. As they fell into some sort of arrangement in a glass jug, I realised I had found my subject and also that the short lifespan of cut flowers would force me to work reasonably quickly. I cleared enought space in the living room to make a start and began making the pictures.
I will confine detailed notes and contact sheets to 4 of the 8 submitted pictures…
For the first shoot – trying to get a natural light Shape and Form – I put the jug of flowers on a table in front of a window and then raised it on an upturned earthernware plantpot so that the base of the jug was inside the area of the window. I took an initial shot using a venetian blind to control the intensity of the light somewhat, but did not like the effect (shot 1 on the contact sheet); instead closing the curtains gave a much softer diffused light while the folds of the cloth gave some variety to the background without being as disruptive as the hard horizontals of the blind.Liking the overall effect (shot 2) I took three further shots made with the same exposure, but varying the aperture to give an increasing depth of field to try and catch the outline of the whole bunch of flowers in focus. (check exif).
I then shifted the camera 90 degrees so the light was coming from the side of the frame rather than directly towards the lens. I experimented with trying a landscape formatted picture, but felt that – without something interesting on the background (shadows, perhaps) – the flowers suited a more vertical treatment. The low evening light was quite strongly warm, particularly when filtered by the oatmeal curtains. I tried different white balances, but overall did not like the resulting muted colour and lack of contrast (10 on the contact sheet). I drew the curtains to get more contrasty, undiffused light. I had draped a wider support (a cable drum) with black velvet to cut down on internal reflections but as the sun sank outside this did not raise the jug high enough for it to remain evenly lit, so I went back to using the upturned plant pot, but this time draped with the cloth. The effect was better, but the light hiting the water-filled jug reflected a sharp shaft of light on the wall behind the flowers (shot 11). To stop this, I taped my notebook to the back of the jug (shown in shot 16) and took the final shot. Annoyingly, you can just see the notebook to the left of the jug’s bottom (12) but – with the light vanishing for the afternoon and tea needing to be served on the table – was able to clone it out later (12-edit, the submitted image).
I thought it would be fairly easy to get a flash-lit form picture using a plain background (a pale blue sheet)and a relatively strong undiffused strobe set to give a wide beam of light to cast nice sharp shadowws. Shooting down into the vase I thought I would effectively get a front and side elevation combined in one picture to give a stong idea of the 3D shape of the subject. I was wrong…
Firstly, getting the sheet anyway near flat enough to not cast distracting shadows proved almost impossible. And the strong contrasty light was focussed by the lens-like effect of the water in the glass jug, drawing more attention to the background than the flowers. Moving closer (44 and 46) gave a better effect than the wider shots I started off with, but it never quite worked for me at the time. In retrospect, I quite like some of them now, but still think I’d have needed to do more work to get them just so: rearranging the flowers to hide the hot spot; maybe raising the whole set up up and taping the sheet to a wall so I could work along the horizontal axis, rather than looking down on the jug of flowers while gravity pulled the ruckles out of the sheet. I almost got to this set up by draping the sheet over the front of the couch (56) but lacked the height I’d have had with the flowers on the table and so couldn’t really get the strobe low enough to send a shadow out straight to the side. It would also have allowed me to set the camera on a tripod and work on small improvements to lighting without worrying about framing and where I wanted the shadow to fall.
But instead, I gave up on the hard shadow 3D effect and instead added a shoot-through umbrella to the lighting setup, diffusing the light and losing a lot of the shadow; I also started working closer (69 onwards) losing the sense of 3 dimensions as I moved in but gradually becoming aware that the magenta of the flowers was nicely set off by the pale blue of the sheet, while the green of the stems stood out on the other side of the blue. Rather than a form picture, I was making a colour one. Picture 90 (the number of pictures shows the other downside to not using a tripod – rather than being able to sort the framing and then concentrate on the lighting effect, I was constantly reframing as well) is the one that I plumped for in the end; it also works at giving an idea of depth, thanks to the shallow focus and isn’t bad in terms of the texture of the flowers either, but the colour I think is closest to the effect of the carnations in reality…
All along, I had wanted to combine tungsten light with daylight, limiting the background to blues while the subject was rendered naturally by adjusting the camera’s white balance setting to compensate for the orangey light of a filtered strobe. Dawn looking west would maximise the contrast, I hoped.
My first go – 148-191 – placed the flowers in the livingroom bay window, relatively close to the pane and with the light high up to the left of frame in an attempt to avoid reflections of the light in the glass. I once again tried a landscape format composition (it left less vertical space for reflections to form and also was going to result in a nicer silhouette of the buildings across the street); I then blocked spill onto the background using a piece of black-wrap as a barn door on the window side of the strobe. I got the aperture part of the exposure correct; locked everything off and went to be. In the morning, I’d find out how long an exposure would be required to get a suitable blue outside and then take the picture.
Then in the morning, I realised that there were still reflections in the double glazed glass and also that getting the focus right in near darkness, was very hard indeed. I managed to crack the focus thing (a torch shone on the bit I wanted sharp allowed the autofocus to work much better) but couldn’t lose the reflections. I moved on to using much the same position as I had used for 1 and 3 with the jug in front of a different window (104-106) and adjourned til the evening. I then ran through the same process as the previous attempt this time realising that the problem with the view directly accros the street was that the houses opposite and their white window frames distracted from the actual subject and its colour while the brickwork didn’t end up blue enought for the effect I was looking for. I did however notice that he window shot from an oblique angle, into the corner gave plenty of blue, without either reflections or distracting detail (Contact Sheet 4, 33-42.
So, that night, before going to bed, I went through all the same steps again – although this time, I created a rolled tube of blackwrap to concentrate the orange coloured light form the strobe on the flowers, casting a shadow on the wall behind – only to find that the morning was not clear and birght, like the previous two days, but was instead really rather overcast (54-57) and so there was much less light from the window, resulting in a much longer exposure being required. I shot anyway, and rather like the effect, even though, after necessary slight adjustment of the WB form the cameras tungsten preset in Lightroom the blue is much less pronounced than I’d been hoping for.
I didn’t do a lot of editing on the pictures gathered, limiting myself mainly to cropping, with a little bit of getting the overall exposure closer to filling the space from black up to white. Some colour adjustments (beyond converting some of the final pictures to black and white) have also been made, if necessary, but this has been kept to a minimum…