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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.

You don’t need a studio light for this exercise; a desk lamp or even window light will be fine, although a camera flash that you can use remotely is a useful tool. The only proviso is that you can control the way the light falls on the subject.

Take some time to set up the shot. The background for your subject will be crucial. For a smallish object, you can tape a large sheet of paper or card to the wall as an ‘infinity curve’ which you can mask off from the main light source by pieces of card. You don’t need to use a curve if you can manage the ‘horizon line’ effectively – the line where the surface meets background. Taking a high viewpoint will make the surface the background, in which case the surface you choose will be important to the shot.

Exposure times will be much longer than you’re used to (unless you’re using flash) and metering and focusing will be challenging. The key to success is to keep it simple. The important thing is to aim for four or five unique shots – either change the viewpoint, the subject or the lighting for each shot.

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. 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.

 I have been saving a lovely, curved beech leaf that fell in the Autumn, all be it a little worse for wear than when it fell from the tree in the garden.

I’m perhaps fortunate to have a small studio equipped with various modifiers, flash heads and backdrops to create several setups and experiment with direction and colour of light for this exercise.

I utilised my angled desk lamp fitted with a daylight crafting bulb at 6,500K and the use of window providing natural daylight.

So, I started with the most complex of the setups and assembled two flash heads, one fitted with a beauty dish and honeycomb grid as my main light source. My second head, the fill light was a small gridded strip box, which I flagged the lower half. This prevented the amount of light being output across the lower half of the black infinity curve I had created using a piece of black material. The Beauty Dish created a narrow pool of light, focalised onto the subject rather than a soft light; which would have been produced from say a square softbox. I fitted the stripbox with an egg crate again to produce a controllable beam of light. All of the three setups I used a handheld lightmeter and 18% grey card to set my white balance in camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I kept the focal length and distance constant for the three types of lighting although I had to adjust the ISO for the natural daylight example. This was primarily because of the incident light falling from the window to the subject was quite low. However, this produced a rather delicate result.

I found an online resource to draw my lighting plans which I have attached to the learning log.

The Studio lighting produced a balanced, detailed still life image with a punchy contrast. By being able to control the lighting, direction and power of each head gave various results. I was able to fine tune it unlike the light bulb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how did this compare to exercises 4.2 and 4.3?

Quite simply, I was able to use a grey card to create a custom white balance and using colour calibration card to produce an exact reproduction of the colour cast using flash photography. Rather than mixed artificial light complicating the white balance. This was very specific way of photographing a subject almost clinical in its approach and nothing was left to chance. The end result in my case a highly detailed crisp, which is rich in colour with shadow and contrast exactly where I wanted it. By using flash I was able to exaggerate the texture, shadows and highlights evenly with a relatively shallow depth of field. My final choosen photograph produced a technically perfect and balanced photograph.

In my next attempt I used my desk lamp, which is fitted with a 6,500K daylight bulb. By using a single lamp source, the direction of the lamp restricted how the light could fall or strike the leaf. It tried to be as creative as I could but felt rather restricted and somewhat frustrated with the end result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I tried to position the lamp over the 10 exposures and moved the leaf into various positions in an attempt to cast varying areas of shadow. This proved difficult and although it changed the angles and shadows the length and depth didn’t seem to change that much. It was not as crisp as my previous set using flash photography and lacked strength or control over the flash heads. Whilst I accept that I could have experimented with reflectors this would have perhaps given a little fill to the shadows but I question how successful this would have been. Perhaps this is something I should revisit.

In my opinion though the final result was simple and subtle with shadows falling minimally producing a low-key photograph.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how did this compare to exercises 4.2 and 4.3?

In the case of exercise 4.2 there is no comparison that could be made. However, with the case of 4.3, this light was artificial but had a specific wavelength, which replicated daylight. Using a single light source and having some control helped with both outcome and avoided mixing light sources confusing my white balance.

I then moved the setup to within five feet of a small kitchen window. The daylight in the mid-afternoon was dull and overcast ideal for this task. The incident light falling onto the leaf was very low even if I moved the subject even closer to the window. The ISO increased to 3200 even with a wide aperture of f4.5 maintaining a shutter speed of 1/125th as I had done for the other two light sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I think on reflection gave the most natural of all the results because the light flooded through the translucent leaf. It managed to cast even and long shadows across the black velvet. The detail was sharp and allowed the magic of the shadows across the underside of the veins to look like peaks and troughs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how did this compare to exercises 4.2 and 4.3?

Well, this was the opposite of the previous lighting setup and gave a lovely result, which I could easily see have differing results had I left the leaf in situ throughout the day and taken a shot for example every hour.

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