Assignment 4 – Subject Choice

I’ve now completed all but one of the exercises in the lighting section of the course. The one I’ve missed is the impractical ‘lighting through the day’ that required repeat visits to the same spot between sunrise and sunset. Given that there are 18 hours of daylight at this time of year and I work full-time, I’ve just not had the opportunity. My plan is to set up a camera and intervalometer in a bedroom window, I just need a sunny forecast on a day when I’m not shooting anything else.

Reading through other student’s blogs, I was expecting these exercises to be long-winded and time-consuming, but I’ve found them interesting and fun for the most part. With them behind me, it’s time to think about a subject for assignment 4 – Applying Lighting Techniques.

Again, reading through the blogs of students that have gone before me, the majority seem to have chosen a small, portable object, often it would appear, a holiday souvenir, that they have photographed at home using natural and photographic lighting. There is one notable exception in Tim Dunk’s exceptional interpretation of the brief.

Fig. 05 - Light in front and 45 degree above

Fig. 05 – Light in front and 45 degree above

As I mentioned in my post on the lighting angle, I had intended to shoot a small sculpture that we have at home. It has interesting texture, plenty of colour and an familiar shape. I was happy enough with some of the shots in that exercise, despite being my first using backdrops and stand mounted lighting. But, having read the brief repeatedly, I began to think about using a subject that wasn’t moveable and for which the lighting of would have to be natural. It meant that the exercise would be less about equipment and more about investigating which natural lighting conditions best enhanced the various facets we were looking for and adapting to whatever I was presented with.

Bradgate Tree

Bradgate Tree

I live a mile from a country park that began as a medieval deer park and is home to several ancient oaks that are many centuries old. One in particular has a prominent position overlooking the city at the junction of several paths and has always fascinated me. I used a picture of the tree (above) in my second assignment. The trunk has split and twisted over the years and is now only a fragile arc of pockmarked, weathered wood. When spring arrives each year, I’m surprised (and relieved) to see that it is still healthy enough to grow leaves. It seemed an ideal subject.

I’ve taken a few dozen pictures of it so far, across a number of visits and now I’m not so sure. Because the tree is more than a mile into the park (all up hill), a trip to photograph it, especially carrying tripod, lenses and lighting gear) becomes an expedition. I began setting the alarm for 4am to get up and check the sky, hoping for the magical light that dawn can provide. More often than not, I went back to bed. I visited a couple of times late in the day and while it is a beautiful place to be, it can frustrating to give a couple of hours of my day up waiting for light that doesn’t actually materialise. The practicalities of using reflectors and artificial light seem too great for my meagre equipment.

So, I’m thinking of lowering my sights once more.

Dark-field Lighting

Dark-field Lighting

Last night, rather than walking into the park again, I experimented for the first time with dark-field lighting as described in the excellent Light – Science and Magic book that forms part of the course’s reading material. After a few false starts, I began to produce pictures that might be useable in an assignment.

So do I take the easier route and lock myself away in the spare room for a couple of hours and produce the set I need, or do I persevere photographing the tree, getting fitter at the same time? Or should I do both and see which I like best?

The next post will probably let you know…


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


Exercise – concentrating light

Keeping the set-up from the previous exercise on lighting angle, the next photographs taken were using a concentrated light rather than diffused. Fig.01 shows the result when a large, diffused light source is used close to the subject. Soft-edged shadows are present, providing visual clues to the texture, form and shape of the figure. The light is next to the camera and looking down at approximately 45 degrees, meaning that the whole figure is evenly lit with good detail and colour information.

Fig. 05 - Light in front and 45 degree above

Fig. 01 – Light in front and 45 degree above

If the intent  is to draw attention to only a limited part of the scene, then one option is to concentrate the light produced by the light source – a speedlight in this example. So instead of a diffuser that is much bigger than the light source, an inverted cone is used that effectively funnels the light. These snoots can be bought to fit over the flash gun, or made from card and attached to the light. Fig.02 shows the effect of this lighting with the light in a similar position as the picture above. Only a small area is lit and because of the absence of any diffusion, shadows are very hard (under the cravat for example). There is a small amount of light that has bled onto the white box that the figure is sitting on and we can just about make out his hands. The edges of the pool of light are slightly soft.


Fig. 02 – Concentrated

Further concentration is possible by using a honeycombed grid in the front of the snoot (fig.03). This is an array of hexagonal channels fitted to the front of the snoot down which the light shines. Where normally light beams would be able to spread into a wide pattern, here they can only travel in a reduced spread, straight down the channels. Even though the material used is matt black, some light does bounce off the walls of the tubes causing softening of the edges of the spot of light. These grids are often used in low-key portrait photography for just this effect.

Concentrated Grid

Fig. 03 – Concentrated with grid

Exercise – Contrast and shadow fill

Having learnt to soften light using diffusers in the previous exercise, this explores how we can change the contrast in a scene that is lit by photographic lighting by filling the shadows and reducing the difference between light and shade.

The camera was mounted on a tripod with a 100mm lens looking at a pile of junk on my shed floor carefully constructed still-life arrangement with the flash 90cm to the right of the shot and slightly higher than the subject, set at full power. Camera settings remained the same throughout the shoot.

Naked flash only - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Naked flash only – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

First off, I photographed the scene with the flash gun only. As seen previously, this high-contrast light gives sharp-edged shadows and high contrast – that is a big difference between the lightest highlights and darkest shadows. It means that any part of the scene that is in the shadow of the saddle and cogs to the right of the image are invisible in shadow.

Diffuser - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Diffuser – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Next up, I fitted the same 60cm square diffuser used in the previous exercise. It softens the edges of the shadows and because the size of the light source is bigger, it is able to light areas that were in shadow when only using the flash. The contrast is reduced, but at the same time, because the same exposure settings were used, the image is slightly darker overall.

Reflector 90cm - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Reflector 90cm – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

For the third image, a circular reflector was positioned to the left of the scene, opposite the flash at about 90cm from the saddle, roughly the same distance as the flash is to the right. The reflector was white material with a matt finish but reflects enough light to begin to give some detail in the shadows. For example, we can now see some shape in the front part of the saddle and the curve of the leather.

Reflector 50cm - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Reflector 50cm – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Next, the same reflector was then moved closer, to around 50cm from the saddle. The intensity of a diffuse reflection, such as the one bounced from the reflector, follows the inverse square law meaning that a source at any particular distance will light an object with and intensity four times as bright at the same source, twice as far away. Or more simply, move the reflector closer, it’ll have a greater effect. This is demonstrated in the image above that is now much more balanced with good detail in the areas of the image that are not lit by the main light.

Silver reflector - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Silver reflector – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

The white reflector was then swapped for a silver reflector with a shiny surface, meaning that even more light is being reflected back towards the scene from the main light. There is still a gradient (the flash is still brighter than the reflected light) but the balance is much better. We can now see colour and form in the saddle and highlights on the rails showing is that they are a tubular shape. We can now identify each individual part in the scene.

Gold reflector - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Gold reflector – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Swapping the reflector for a gold coloured shiny surface means that all of the reflected light is now coloured. This demonstrates what we have learned above in that all area lit only by the reflector are gold. Surfaces lit by both are less coloured and to greater or lesser extent.


Fill flash full power - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Fill flash full power – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Rather than using reflectors, the same effect can be achieved by using a second light source. Here, I positioned a second flash gun opposite the first, at the same distance from the scene and used a hand held diffuser in front of it. Guide numbers of flash guns is probably a topic for another time, but suffice to say, the Canon light on the right, used as the main light (guide number 43) is slightly brighter than the Jessops unit on the left (GN36). The resulting image is well balanced and pleasantly lit. There are still some areas of shadow, but they are very soft edged. It is the lowest contrast image of the set.

Fill flash half power - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Fill flash half power – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

This time, the second flash was not diffused, but reduced to half-power. The highlights (on the inner curve of the leather) are bright and some detail is lost.

Fill Flash 1/16th - Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Fill Flash 1/16th – Canon 5d2, iso 200, 100mm, 0ev, f/16, 1/100s

Finally, the same arrangement but with the flash at 1/16th power. The small, high contrast light source does little to to reduce the contrast of the scene or soften shadows. It only contributes some highlights and edge lighting (to the spanner for example), improving from the earlier single diffused light picture.

This was an extremely useful and satisfying exercise. A high contrast image can be powerful and useful to show outline and shape, but often at the expense of detail that will show us form and colour. Understanding how to reduce contrast is valuable.

The set-up

2014-07-12 13.24.52


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

Exercise – Judging colour temperature 1

Having completed the exercises on lighting slightly out of sequence due to the vagaries of the English weather, I’ve already explored the changes in the colour of daylight and the reasons for it in the post Judging Colour Temperature 2, before moving on to similar exercises with artificial light. Continue reading