Exercise – The lighting angle

Top Front
Love Man by J Fray – Canon 5d2, iso100, 100mm, f/7.1, 1/100s, speedlight in 60cm softbox.

This exercise shows us the effect of moving a light source around the subject, or rather what information we can give on the subjects colour, shape and form by lighting from different angles. We were to choose a subject that was rounded and with relief, and was smaller than the surface of our diffuser – my subject met two of those three criteria. When I received the course material and read through for the first time, I pencilled in this piece of art as the subject for my fourth assignment. As it turns out, I now have other ideas for that and so here it is in exercise 37 (of the 46 that make up the Art of Photography course). The work is by an artist called J Fray from Settle in Yorkshire. I bought it for my wife a couple of years ago and while she was fairly unimpressed by it, I’ve always loved it. As a result, it sits beside my computer at home. I guess I’m keener on it than she is because I know how much it cost… Anyway, despite not being all that rounded, I decided that it was three dimensional enough to satisfy the brief and the texture and colours of the figure would make for interesting pictures. The camera and subject were left in a fixed position with a plain backdrop a little distance behind. I chose a 100mm lens to separate the subject from the blanket hanging in the background and used camera settings that meant than none of the ambient light would be captured, only that provided by the flash. The flash was set at 1/4 power and remained 4-5 feet from the subject but was moved around to vary the angle. ContactSheet-001 Beginning with the light at the same height as the subject and camera, I shot with the light in front next to the camera, then at 90, 135 and 180 degrees to the camera. Shooting directly into the flash meant that for this shot only (fig. 04), I reduced the aperture to prevent the figure disappearing into the light. For the pictures with the light to the right of the subject and at the same height, I used a black reflector to the left of the model to prevent any reflection from the wall to the left. We’ll get on to using reflectors to reduce contrast and fill the shadows in another exercise.

Next, the light was raised until it was pointing downwards at the subject at 45 degrees. The same three positions were used. Finally, the light was raised above the subject and pictures taken with it directly overhead, slightly in front and behind. When the light is in front of the subject, it shows the colours well but doesn’t give full detail on the form of the figure; that is, we can’t tell how three dimensional he is. As the light moves to the side we get more information about this. For example, fig. 02 gives size to his cravat and nose, but we need to raise the light as in fig. 05 to understand the shape and size of his feet. The pictures with the light behind the subject are a little dark and we lose almost all colour information, but the edge lighting still shows the overall shape of the subject. Fig. 06 gives the best detail on the heart that sits in his lap as the angle of its surface gives a diffused reflection of the light from the flash towards the viewer. The best view to show texture is when the light is directly above (fig. 09). Moving the light away from the camera in two axis (ie. up and across) but keeping it in front of the subject gives the best compromise on colour, texture, form and shape. The direct reflections are lessened meaning that we get more colour detail, and the shadows show the shape.

Fig. 09 - Light directly above
Fig. 09 – Light directly above

References Hunter, F et al. (2012) Light – Science and magic. An introduction to photographic lighting. Oxford; Elsevier Inc.


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