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


2 Comments on “Part 4: Light – Exercise 12 to 14: Contrast and shadow fill, concentrating light and shiny surfaces.”

  1. vicki loader says:

    Hey Catherine
    You are starting to sound more positive about light! And enjoying it more? I played with light in my first assignment—although all I did was blast the subject with light! Looking forward to playing more when I get to that next assignment!

    • Hi Vicki, You’ll certainly have plenty of scope to play, given the number of exercises!. I’ve now reached the stage for writing-up the Assignment itself which is good as I have quite a list of other things I want to write about.

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