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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Assignment 4: Light

This assignment is about drawing together different lighting techniques from the course notes and apply them to one subject. The brief being to photograph one object and use lighting to bring out particular physical properties.


Except where stated, the camera settings remained constant throughout the assignment. I kept the camera static on a tripod, as well as keeping the subject in the same position and angle also. The only thing I changed was the light direction, reflection, diffusion and power to cover the aspects of the assignment. I also chose only to use 1 light source to light the subject (that being photographic light - a canon 430EX II) for the main points of the assignment but also used a second flash unit for some fun extras; I also used a reflector / diffuser for some of the shots. The diffuser I own will also act as light reflector in the right circumstances as it has a diffused material that allows light through on one side but on the other side there are very fine lines of silver reflective material, making it a more efficient reflector than just bouncing light from the same white surface; essentially 2 jobs for the price of 1.

I used a handheld light meter to check my exposures throughout; and in most cases kept the exposures manually set in camera, I could of changed the settings in camera, to match the light conditions, however I wanted to ‘see’ how the light changes the subject and not see how to change camera settings to the conditions; I already know how my change my camera setting work! But also I wanted to push my skills using off-camera flash in a manual setting rather than an automatic.

General camera settings:

  • ISO 100 for maximum clarity in the images
  • 70mm focal length; to compress the image as much as possible, and narrow the depth of view on the subject
  • The aperture was set to f/8 for sharpness and depth of focus of the subject

As I was just using a single flashgun to ‘light’ my scene and I didn’t want any ambient light to be picked up by the camera, I chose a speed that would effectively prevent ambient light from being picked up by the sensor, I tested this by taking a shot in manual focus and the image was completely black and found 1/125 sec at the above settings was more than enough to achieve this.



This has to do with the shape and outline of the object.

For the first part of the assignment I set the flashgun behind the object. The flash light provides a small light source which is good for creating the hard light needed for creating clean hard shadows and highlighting the outline of object. I first tried the flashgun directly behind the subject at about same distance as the camera was to the subject in the front. I test fired the flashgun with the flash meter held at the back of the object pointing back towards the light.

Regardless of the output or distance of the flash to get an f/8 EV; with the flash pointing direct towards the lens, just created too much flare to see the object properly in camera. Even with a lens hood and a very low power setting on the flash (1/16th power), the flare was too distracting, making the image useless to achieve the aim of this section. To get round this I kept the flash in exactly the same position and distance, however this time I placed my diffuser in front of it. I again test fired the flash and noted that the output had decreased as I was now only getting around f/5.6. So I added more power to the flash with a setting of 1/8th power and this gave me f/8 on the light meter.

To summarise this first shot

I’ve set my exposure on camera for 1/125 sec ISO 100 and at f/8 this was enough to kill any ambient light in the room

I checked exposure at the back of the object with the light meter pointing back to the light source and adjusted the power so the reading was f/8

There was not enough ambient light in the scene to light anything without the flash.

Now look take look at the first image;

Art of Photography London

As you can see from the photograph, the light has created a high contrast between the light background and the object; however I also noticed that I could still see detail in the front, and the light was looking brighter than I expected with a ‘glow around the edges

If the camera’s exposure was f/8 and the light was f/8 then I would have thought that the front would be totally black (there was no ambient). However my theory is that as I was using a diffuser the light was now being bounced in all different directions, including the walls and ceiling where I was taking the shot. The light was also hitting the paper; and although the paper is black, light was still being reflected from it. So with all that light bouncing around it occurred to me that the flash light was reflecting from different directions back onto the subject, and ‘filling’ some of the shadows thereby reducing the contrast.

I tested this with the following shots, decreasing the EV by one f-stop each time; you will notice that for each shot the contrast gets higher between the light and the object.

Art of Photography London

At f/11 the contrast is higher as the front of the object becomes more underexposed.

Art of Photography London

Finally at f/16 the contrast is much stronger between the light and dark and the ‘shape and outline of the subject is clearly defined with sharp edges against the light background with minimal detail.



This section has to do with the volume  of the object; how 3 dimensional it looks.

As before I kept the settings and position of the camera static and left the object in the same position. The settings were ISO 100 70mm f/8 1/125 sec. To create a more 3D effect from the light I set my flashgun at an approx. 45’ angle above the object. I checked the exposure with my light meter and adjusted the power output of the flash to 1/8 power which gave me my exposure of f/8.

Photography Art London

In this first shot there was no diffusion it is bare flashbulb. The angle of the light is 45’ degrees above the object and about 30’ forward of the objects left side.

The small light source and angle has created some hard shadows (although there us still some detail in the blacks). The contrast between the shadows and highlights is quite strong, which adds to the sense of depth. The shadows direction and contrast on the object (as well as the angle of shadow behind and to the left of the object) gives our eyes clues that the object is not flat. Notice the the face;

Photography Art London

The dark shadows under the eyebrows, the angle of the shadows under the nose and even the texture in the beard; with the graduation of light to dark from the right to left all provides clues that the light is directional and that the object is 3 dimensional.

This second shot is exactly the same but I’ve changed the side angle to approx. 45’.

Photography Art London

Notice how the shadows are shorter where the contrast has reduced on the left side (as the light has been brought round more). However there is still plenty of shadow detail to maintain the 3D shape.

Photography Art London

For the shot above I used a reflector to reduce the contrast even further in the left side. The reflector (in my opinion) has created a more pleasing look that the first 2. There are still defined shadows and clues for the eyes about direction of light and shape. The reflector though has lifted the shadows enough so that more detail is visible without being so ‘flat’ that we lose sense of depth.

Photography Art London

for this final shot I used a diffuser as close to the object as possible (without it appearing in the shot) This is my favourite from this set. The diffused light has significantly reduced the contrast; the texture of the object also appears softer and the specula highlights are much softer; however there are still enough clues, (although much more subtle) for the eye to see we are looking at something with form and dimension.

Notice that the shadow behind the object has practically disappeared; but you can see a softer graduation of light from right to left (we still have direction) and it is almost as if the light is wrapping around the object.


This is about the quality of the surface detail.

From the last section I noticed that the direction and diffusion of the light affected the texture details; for example in the last shot where the light was diffused the texture appeared much softer in the image (very useful for portraiture photography), I also noticed that where the light hit the object flat on (in the highlight areas) this also reduces the amount of texture I could see. So to illustrate this further for this section I decided to crop the images to just a small section so that the changes in light direction would be seen more clearly. There is no diffusion on this set all images are bare flash.

The first image is with the light at 45’ above but the placement was direct to one side of the object.

Photo art

The light is effectively hitting the object side on. There is texture that can been seen but  where the light is direct onto the shoulder and chest area the bright and the highlights are very strong, there is almost no texture detail; there is detail there, the highlights are not blown out completely (almost but not quite) but the lack of texture is evident. Also look close at the ‘beard’ collar bone area on the right side and make a note of the detail for the next shot.

Photo art

This time the light was approx. 30’ behind the object. now note the right side of the beard and collar bone area. The angle of light is now more narrow to the surface of the object, you can see definite horizontal lines appear in the texture, the contrast between the light and dark areas of the ‘beard’ are also more pronounced, by the small hard shadows.

Photo art

Finally by taking the angle back even further to approx. 45’ I have narrowed the direction against the surface even further. You can now see the horizontal lines even stronger and the texture shows up even more detail of the than the previous image.

Just to make it even clearer check out the detail I’ve placed them next to each other

Photo art30 Degrees Photo art45 Degrees



This is about showing the object’s colour as strongly as possible.

Now this was a tough one for my chosen object, as it effectively has no colour! With that in mind I decided to show how the light temperature can affect appearance of colour (or lack of) in the subject.

In terms of white balance for the assignment; normally where possible in a controlled environment, I manually set my white balance using a grey card for each lighting change. A more long winded approach, but I’ve found with experience that getting the colour balance correct in camera can be better than trying to sort it out post production, however in this case I just used one of the camera’s pre-set of ‘Flash’ and corrected post production using the Auto white balance setting for all the images so that they would remain constant.The only thing that was changing was light. So this was quite interesting in terms of colour balance. To show this I set the flash above my head and at approx. 45’ to the object so the light direction was flat to the object (well apart from the height) for no other reason than I hadn’t used this direction yet for the assignment, but also it meant that the light would be flatter against the front i.e. cleaner to spot any colour changes.

I then took this first shot – White balance was set to flash and has not been been adjusted.

still life photography London

Now the same show with colour balance adjusted to AWB in Lightroom

 still life photography London

Not a great deal of difference but lets look at them next to each other

Still life photography LondonShot as taken on flash setting (on camera) Still life Photography LondonSame shot as taken on flash setting then WB set to auto (in software)

The difference is subtle but you should be able to see a clear colour shift between the images. This was done with software but it can also be seen when the settings remain the same throughout but the light changes.

Still life Photography LondonShot as taken on flash setting (on camera) Still life Photography LondonShot as taken on flash setting but with diffuser in front of light

Shadows, specular lights and contrast aside; look how just adding a diffuser changed the colour temperature! The power on the flash was increased to maintain the correct exposure but no other settings on the camera or in the software were changed.

I think this illustrates the point of white balance quite well, of course if I had more colourful object I would perhaps would have discussed how controlling exposure can effect colour saturation and brightness, (it would also appear that the colour temperature can effect the hue) however I think this was quite well explained in a project from last year, Controlling the strength of colour so I won’t cover this in any detail.


Although not included in the assignment sheet as such it did mention that we could photograph the subject in any other interesting  lighting; as the area of colour was more challenging to express I thought I would have some fun with colour gels over the flashguns and on occasion use a second flash.

For the first couple shots I set up one flash (not diffused) at a 45’ angle (side and above) and metered it for f/8 (nothing else has changed on camera) I then had another flashgun (handheld with a remote radio trigger and set it (without gels) at the same power as my key flash. I then put a blue colour gel over the end with an elastic band and had some fun holding it in different positions and firing the shutter! A lot didn’t work out so well but these two I really liked the effects. (note: white balance was set to flash setting on camera – nothing was changed in Lightroom they are effectively out of the camera)

Colour Photography London

In this first shot I held the blue flashgun to the left, of the object at about the same level. It was a little bit further away than the key flash; and has just given the shadow areas a nice blue hue.

Colour Photography London

I really liked the shot above! For this one the key light remained in the same place but I held the blue flash above and slightly behind (with the flash pointing down). The key light has wiped out all but a few spots of the blue light on the objects front, however the blue flash has cast a rim of blue light across the shoulders and has made the surface blue too. A really cool effect, although you do get the the odd double shadow, one out to 45’ degrees to the rear and the other to the front. The use of a diffuser on the blue light could have resolved this though.

the final 3 shots were really good fun. I used the same setup as above with the 45’ degree key light, but I also added a diffused backlight to the mix! all I did was to have a blue gel on over the backlight flash and swapped different gel’s over the key light. The effects were really cool!

Colour Photography London

Colour Photography London

Colour Photography London

You may notice the horizontal lines in the background; these are the silver lines that are built into diffuser that makes it a more efficient reflector on one side.

Finally just to reiterate, there is No Adobe Photoshop work in ANY of these images all were taken in RAW and converted straight to JPEG in Adobe Lightroom. The only digital work was some cropping to show some of the details and only where mentioned the white balance setting.

Course Thoughts

After having an extensive break from the course I’ve kind of jumped ahead with this assignment. Although some of the reasons for not keeping up with the course material were beyond my control and personal, some of it was down to my photography being pulled in the direction of business. In terms of technical understanding of my camera and controlling light, is miles away from where I was almost 2 years ago when I started the course; I’ve looked back on some of my images from before the course and some from earlier assignments and cringe in the knowledge if I was in the same circumstances how much I would be able to improve the shot, be it in camera or post production.

An area that has been neglected though is exploring other photographers from history. I’ve tended (so easily so in photography) to slide towards looking at more contemporary work and the current population of successful photographers; and with that concentrate on what’s the money shot and what sells; however what I have noticed with the current crop of professionals is that the ones with the most success are those that understand many area from the course and apply them!

In terms of assignment I’ve really enjoyed this one. Firstly it’s been a fresh start to the course for me; and the ability to ‘see the light’ and see how it affects the elements of a photograph is by far one of the most interesting aspects of the course so far. Perhaps my chosen subject matter is a little boring but I thought that I would challenge myself more by changing the light to achieve the scene rather than changing the camera settings.

Feedback extracts

“Your assignment is well put together and your notes are comprehensive, giving a thorough technical account of the exercise. Perhaps in addition, or instead of, in future consider making a quick simple sketch of the lighting set up. I take it that this may not be necessary when only using one light source like a flashgun, but for things like your fashion shoot, a sketch can be useful for future reference, if you come across a look that you really like.”

“I think you have demonstrated a good understanding of the terminology (shape,, form, texture and colour) and you are certainly able to use your flashgun and some relatively simple equipment to enhance these characteristics.”

“I think your ‘Extras” are (for me at least) the most interesting parts of the submission. The two bluer images are strong, and demonstrate a balance of the background light and the main light. The blue lends itself well to the metallic property of the object, and has a sci-fi/cult feeling to it.”


I was really happy with this assignment and the feedback I got. I have not included all the feedback as (obviously) I don’t want to give away all my secrets; and of course it is aimed at my development (and not you who is reading the blog). One thing that did come up was that the submitted prints appeared a little dull and less sharp over how they looked on screen. I feel this is a case of using a ‘cheaper’ printing lab as I do actually calibrate the colours and luminosity of my screen; something to bear in mind when having them printed for the next assignment. 

There are a few exercises that I’ve passed over; however the intention is to return to these going forward and complete before the final submissions.

Overall I think I covered the brief pretty well and still feel I’ve come a long way since my break and last assignment. There are other areas of photography I still want to explore; and I’m sure ‘light’ will come up time and time again, after all that’s what this art is all about!

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