Assignment 4 : Light

The Art of Photography

Assignment 4: Light

During the time I was doing the exercises for Part 4 I also became interested in other things.  I spent a few days in the Peak District to reconnect with my childhood and took many photographs with the intention of doing a personal photography project. Hopefully I can get back to this once this Assignment is complete and I have a little spare time before I start on Part 5.

I began drawing classes, which will continue and also decided to learn how to use Adobe In-Design with the intention of making my own book.  My interest in this came from going on a bookbinding one day workshop. I bought a Pentax film camera and then a fellow student very kindly gave me an Olympus OM1-N. My experiences with these will be appearing in another post.  My tutor had suggested I look at Edward Weston’s ‘Pepper’ and Robert Mapplethorpe’s ‘Flowers’.  I attempted a pepper shot, which turned into a pineapple one and then fell in love with Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. More blog posts with images to follow.

I also attended a Study visit to the Post-Modernism Exhibition and went I went into the separate photography Exhibition I realised I understood the intentions of the photographers. This gave me quite a boost.

All in all, given all these different preoccupations,  it’s taken me quite some time to get to this Assignment. I particularly found the use of photographic lighting and accessories to be quite challenging when I did the relevant exercises.  I used those available to me and wrote up the results but didn’t feel comfortable with them.  This is due to three main factors I think.  I’m not a naturally technical person and had to get used to quite a lot of exposure alterations to allow for remote flash. Flash didn’t seem to be a good medium to use for some of the subjects I chose (e.g. an alabaster statuette and an ivory figurine). I found I was focusing more on getting the flash lighting right than connecting with my subject.

I used several subjects for the exercises, in anticipation that one of them might be a good subject for this assignment.  These were an alabaster statuette, three ivory figurines and a roman bust. I thought some of the images were good but I found it difficult to find eight images of each which fit the criteria.  I eventually decided I would use a small Japanese porcelain cup which is both delicate and colourful. I have allocated a specific description to each image as per the criteria although, of course more than one criteria has been met.  Here it is:-

No. 1: Form

In the garden  and lit from the back by sunlight. Depth is shown by the angle which captures the back of the cup and the placement of the berries within and without. The light is harder and shows the blueness in the porcelain. It looks as if it might feel cold when I hold it.  Landscape view because I wanted to include some of the texture of the tree bark.

No. 2: Form

Taken indoors and showing the other side of the cup. I used a light tent (with black base) with curtains drawn and a small photographic lamp angled 45 degrees overhead from the left. . A black reflector was used on top to control the light, and placed so that the light would fall down the front of the cup. You can particularly see the form and shape of the handle and the berry and, of course, the colour of the berry.  The shadows around the bottom of the cup also delineate the shape of its base.  This has a softer look than no. 1.  – as if it would be warm against my mouth.  In terms of form, the cup looks more insubstantial than No. 1 so I think it is less successful. I decided this would look best in square format.

No. 3 – Colour and texture

In the greenhouse which has a N/E light. Again (as No. 1) this is a harder but clear light (although more diffused through the greenhouse windows). It shows up the colour of the cup pattern. The shape of the left side/bottom shows clearly against the plant pot in the background and the different, rougher texture of the wooden shelf.

No. 4 – Colour

Sunlight from the front provides a clear light which brings out the colour of the pattern. Form is highlighted by the angle of the shot and the shadows at the bottom of the cup delineate its roundness.

No. 5 – Texture

Similar lighting to No. 2. The light falling on the handle and left of the cup brings out the texture of the pale-blue paint on the cup and also the shape and form of the handle.

No. 6 – Texture and colour

Daylight outdoors. Composed so that the light falls from the side upon the red berries and highlights the shine and colour of them against the muted colours of the cup in the background.

No. 7 – Shape

Indoors, with the cup against a black background which shows shape of cup and berries. I held a dark blue card over the top of the tent but this wasn’t quite enough to remove the shine from the cup.

No. 8 – Shape

Shape shown by backlighting from a small Lightbox. If I did this again I would  make more effort to control the light falling on the front of the cup. It certainly provides edge-lighting on the handle but I would prefer not to have shine on the front of the cup.

No. 9 – Something different

I had been experimenting along the lines of Mapplethorpe’s flowers and decided I wanted to do something similar with the cup. This was taken in natural light. I placed the cup on green felt on the windowsill and drew the curtains almost shut. There was a black card at the back and I used silver reflectors on the lower left  (tilted slightly upwards) and on the right side to reflect the light on the petals.  In processing I used just a touch of high-pass filter in Photoshop and low-key filter in Nik Color Efex. There is some shine on the cup and I can see the green of the felt reflected on the bottom of the cup.  However, I still like it and want to do more of this type of work. I became very absorbed in placing the reflectors and working out where the light fell – much more so than with flash/artificial lighting.


I’m pleased to have actually completed this Assignment as I was getting worried this would never happen.  It’s very different having to do eight compositions of the same object to bring out its various qualities satisfactorily and whatever I did I wasn’t satisfied which is why there is a No. 9. I thought I’d completed but was still waking up in the night with yet another idea. I most enjoyed making use of natural light in different ways but know that I do have to become more competent and confident in using artificial lighting.

8th December 2011

Summary of learning from Part 4 : Light

Summary of learning from Part 4: Light

The exercises in part 4 seemed to be endless to me.  I became aware quite early on that I was taking a rather mechanical approach and so made a conscious effort to free myself from this by, yes, doing the exercises, but also attempting to inject more creativity show improvements I’d made as time passed.

I’m just about to write-up the Assignment and so thought this would be a good  time to identify learning from the exercises.

Exercise 1 and measuring light

  • Some underexposure works well on flowers and foliage as it brings out the colour.
  • Over-exposure (and consequent clipping) affects the sharpness of an image so it’s best to use spot exposure metering on brighter parts and then deal with the shadow detail in processing.
  • If the highlights are too clipped then playing around with exposure in adobe CR won’t bring back detail that wasn’t there in the first place..
  • Large extremes of contrast are difficult. You either have to decide which is more important and expose accordingly or use bracketing.  Exposure fusion can work quite well if you’ve used a tripod and don’t alter the position of the camera.
  • I made life complicated for myself by using several different, new, lenses. Getting used to them diverted some attention away from the purpose of the exercise.

Exercise  2 – Higher and lower sensitivity

  • Longer lenses need a higher shutter speed if they’re going to be hand-held, which often means using a higher ISO and the risk of more ‘noise’

Exercises 3 and 4 – Colour temperature

  • Auto white balance provides varying temperatures which might be more appropriate than using the different WB settings which give standardized temperatures.

Exercise 5: Light through the day

  • Realisation that I do tend to take a lot of photographs in the middle of the day .
  • Shadows can create more interesting compositions.
  • Make sure to check all my settings.

Exercise 6 – Sun low in the sky

  • I prefer the quality of the light in the  late afternoon as the colours are more intense and I can use shadows creatively.

Exercise 7 – Cloudy weather and rain

  • The effect of rain deepens colours, detail and texture.
  • I love rainbows

Exercise 11 – The lighting angle

  • Backlighting shows more of the shape of the subject
  • Raised flash or light coming from 45 degrees overhead at the side are best at showing the form of the subject.
  • It’s not good to use flash on Alabaster because it seems to pass right through it.

Exercises 12 to 14 – Photographic lighting

  • I prefer the use of natural light wherever possible.
  • I need more practice to build my confidence in using photographic lighting – probably a day workshop would be good and more intensive for me.
8th December 2011


Part 4: Light – Exercise 12 to 14: Contrast and shadow fill, concentrating light and shiny surfaces.

Part 4 : Light

Project – Photographic Lighting

Exercises 12 to 14 : Contrast and shadow fill; concentrating light and shiny surfaces

Even at an early stage the exercises in Part 4 seemed to be going on for ever to me. I was starting to feel quite burdened by them, in fact by the idea of having to do any exercises on the Course at all. I had completed many of the exercises but felt reluctant to get down to the task of writing them up and editing the photographs. I wanted to be outside and enjoying the good weather whilst we still had it! Additionally, I had become interested in film cameras and acquired two that I wanted to experiment with (this will be a later post).

By the time of writing up Exercise 5 (Light through the day) I had decided I needed to record this differently – documenting the basic exercises briefly and then using later images to evaluate how I was absorbing the learning. I felt much freer from doing that until I reached this current Project.

My preference for hand-held camera work, and the use of natural light, is a combination of two main factors. – I like to be spontaneous and technical aspects still cause me anxiety.  The moment can be lost by the time I’ve struggled to put up the tripod. And even the thought of doing it seems such a palaver even though, now, I can put it up much more quickly. Then there are external flash units, light meters and all the other paraphernalia that can go with them. They make me feel practically inept (both literally and figuratively).

I made another new decision. I would focus on the subject this time, although obviously keeping the exercises in mind, and then see how the different techniques applied.  I also had in mind some possible subjects for the Assignment so wanted to use the exercises to explore these possibilities. Additionally, my tutor had suggested that I look at the work of Edward Weston (his pepper) and also Mapplethorpe’s Flower images. I will write about these later in a separate post, but these became a part of the exercises as well.

I worked with different subjects on different days so will comment chronologically, endeavouring to link with the exercises/Handbook pages where appropriate.

Japanese Ivory figurine

I used different combinations of  natural daylight; built-in flash; overhead ceiling light; tracing paper as diffuser; reflector/diffuser and a torch.  I used a black velvet background. With the figurine on a stool in front. The following images show a few of the results:-


This was taken in daylight with curtains drawn. f/14 @ 2”. There are no shadows, but you can still see some detail and the ivory colour comes out well.


With built-in flash, which created shine on the surface. I used a small diffuser as well but it made no difference.

Next I used overhead lighting (tungsten) with diffused flash and gradually stopping down, which gave longer shutter speeds, in attempt to get the exposure just right,  Auto and tungsten  white balance made the ivory white; flash balance made it yellow and fluorescent balance made it pale pink.


I experimented more with contrast and shadow fill (Handbook, p. 135), this time wanting to create more shadow, which I thought might show better if the background was white. I was using side flash and a dark card opposite here but decided there was too much shadow,  so experimented to begin to show some texture on the figurine:


You can start to see the inlaid pattern on the dress. However, I decided that a white background wasn’t good here to then begin to experiment with form and went back to the black velvet.


Here form, shape and detail/texture are beginning to come together. I noticed with using the flash though that there was a more yellow colour and altering it also changed the colour of the background. I was also beginning to wonder whether the figurine might be too slender to show the extent of form I was looking for.  Using remote flash was more complicated in terms of anticipating the results and working out exposures.  I wondered whether I’d be better working with continuous lighting. I also turned to a different figurine which had much less ivory.

Wood/Ivory figurine


A small lightbox at the back of the figure with a diffuser in front of it.

(7) and (8)


Tracing paper in front of the Lightbox to see how different this was from using a diffuser.


Back to a black background with an led torch to cast more light on the kimono to show the patterns (p.136).

Roman bust

I still kept hankering after natural light so decided to see if I could create similar effects.


Sun behind – outdoors. It looked flat somehow.

(11) and 12


Sun on the left – outdoors.  More interesting – showing shape and form

(13) and (14)


In the conservatory, so light is more diffused, with black background. I introduced more light and colour introduced, but there was too much light and it looks blown-out. There’s shape but it looks more like a cut out. F/11 wasn’t enough to get sharpness in the beads. 


Indoors towards dusk, choosing shadows. It could have been an interesting effect if the shadows had been  a different shape. That’s the trouble with natural shadows – they don’t go where you’d like them to go!


These are just a selection from the many photographs and I haven’t included all the subjects.  I think I probably got a bit too carried away with experimenting.  Even so, I now had an idea of the effects of the various forms of lighting but still preferred natural light whilst knowing that it was difficult to produce all the effects I might be looking for. Continuous lighting might be a better alternative at the moment. I had made a comment on Flickr about lighting and one of my contacts kindly  send me some information about his set-ups. I decided not to use the bust for the assignment but to look for something smaller but with sufficient colour, detail and texture. If it was a smaller size I could utilize my light tent with various additions so I would have better control of lighting.

2nd December 2011

Part 4 : Light – Exercise 10 and 11 : Softening the light and the lighting angle

Part 4 Light

Project – Photographic Lighting

 Exercise 10 : Softening the Light

I’ve recently bought a set of reflectors, including a diffuser as well.  I can borrow my husband’s fabric soft-box as well (it’s a bit fiddly and liable to fall-off though!). For this exercise I just used the inbuilt camera flash and then a small diffuser fitted onto it.


Straight Flash. f/16 @0.3 ISO 100


Diffused Flash: f/16 @0.3 ISO 100

The Handbook states that the exposure settings will be different (p. 131) but they are the same. The RGB histograms are different though – straight flash gives R216, G58 and B94 whilst diffused gives R160, G0 and B36.

I can’t see much difference although the diffused flash version does give a softer image.

Exercise 11 – the Lighting Angle

I used a small alabaster statuette of Nefertiti for this exercise. Again I used the camera flash with diffuser fitted and went through all the different positions suggested. Here are some of the results:-


Flash in front. Good profile but it looks flat somehow.


From the side. The alabaster looks more translucent with more form to the head but there is light glare as well.

I then got very caught up in using reflectors  from various angles to see if I could bounce the light away and reduce the glare.


This was the best result, by which time I was also using a remotely operated flash unit and having help from my husband with holding the reflectors.:-


Flash raised 45 degrees at the side.  To me this starts to add a more mysterious atmosphere and the head also seems to stand out more from the background.


The above was taken from behind to one side at 45 degrees. It looks like the head of a foetus in the womb. Not a good angle for the statuette.


Behind, to one side, but not at an angle.  This view brings out more of the colour in the statuette.


The shape of the head is more dramatic shown from directly behind.


No. 4 was the best (flash raised 45 degrees at the side) at showing more form. No. 7 provides more drama to the image and shows shape. I prefer this one for this particular subject. In retrospect I don’t think that the statuette was a good subject to use with flash, even diffused.  I think use of natural daylight would be better as it would have a softer effect.


30th November 2011