Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques

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Brief

Draw together the different lighting techniques you have been studying and apply them to one object. The idea is to use your new knowledge of lighting to bring out particular physical properties of the same object. Choose any subject that you can move around and take eight photos based on the four themes of the assignment. At the core of this assignment you should aim to show the following qualities of your subject, one at a time, by means of the lighting:

  • Shape
  • Form
  • Texture
  • Colour

Submissions

Small versions below for online viewing. Larger versions and contact sheet in a downloadable zip file.

UPDATEtutor report uploaded.

I used a ‘Gollum’ figurine from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, as I felt it had each of the four qualities that the brief requires.

For each of the four themes I have submitted one shot taken using artificial (photographic) light and one shot taken using natural (available) light. In each case I aimed to use the lighting knowledge gained in this section of the course to emphasise the quality in question.

As the intention is to demonstrate the themes through lighting techniques, the post-processing on the images has been limited to cropping and some white balance correction.

First: a gallery view of all the images – click a thumbnail to open larger versions. Then a brief analysis per image.

1. Shape: artificial light

1. Shape: artificial light

1. Shape: artificial light

I wanted to have one of the ‘shape’ images to be front-lit rather than go the easy route of backlighting both.

To flatten the image as much as possible I shot against a black velvet backdrop to avoid any background reflection, and used a snoot to direct a camera-mounted hotshoe flash head-on onto the figurine. I experimented with the distance and flash power until I got a clean outline without an overt ‘spotlight’ effect. This shot was achieved at -0.5 EV flash power, with a diffuser placed over the end of the snoot. Whilst there is a little highlighting in the cheekbone, lower right leg and rock base, the overall effect of flattening the object to a 2D shape is reasonably successful.

2. Shape: natural light

2. Shape: natural light

2. Shape: natural light

Here I chose the classic backlit silhouette approach, by placing the figurine in front of a window letting in bright midday sun. The surface details of the figurine become almost completely obscured, with the exception of the ears and the lower leg, where the material becomes slightly translucent.

3. Form: artificial light

3. Form: artificial light

3. Form: artificial light

In order to give some variation in the poses, for this shot I went in close to zoom in on a part of the figurine rather than the whole. I wanted to place the face partly in shadow to give the image a more mysterious and menacing air. Against a neutral backdrop, I positioned a tabletop halogen lamp to the front left-hand side, pointing upwards slightly. While I understand that a more traditional lighting approach is to point lights downwards onto the subject, given that the head is at an angle and I wanted to keep half of it in shade to emphasise its 3D form, I chose to light upwards onto the cheek, lighting just enough of the closest eye to show that it is not facing the camera directly.

The effect achieved is a decent differential between the lit parts (the leg, the fish, the neck, cheek and ear, the fingers) and the more shaded parts (the top of the head, most of the face, the shoulders and the top of the hand). This gave the impression of depth that I sought. I set the camera focus on the head and the resultant slight blurring of the lower left portions (the fish, the lower leg) further aids the sense of depth.

4. Form: natural light

4. Form: natural light

4. Form: natural light

Using the black velvet backdrop again, this time I placed it in front of a window where a diagonal shaft of mid-afternoon sun was shining directly into the room. The light from above picked out highlights on top of the head, the shoulder blade, the knuckles/fingers and the top of the feet. The light shining through the slightly translucent ears and the gap between the thigh and the calf further add to the sense of three dimensions in this shot. As in the previous shot, the focus on the head means that the feet, the rock base and the fish are thrown slightly out of focus, and again this adds to a feeling of visual depth.

5. Texture: artificial light

5. Texture: artificial light

5. Texture: artificial light

I placed tabletop lamps either side of a light tent to shine light across the front surface of the figurine. The positioning of the lights was chosen to create sufficient small shadows to demonstrate the fine grain of the surface, and the different textures can be seen here: the rough skin on the shoulders and torso, the smoother strands of hair, the slimy fish. Although the light tent material did diffuse the lamp light to a degree, the lamps were positioned close enough to create the desired effect; a similar lighting setup without the light tent material as diffuser created shadows that were too harsh and distracting.

6. Texture: natural light

6. Texture: natural light

6. Texture: natural light

My studies in this section of the course had taught me that an overcast sky can be very good for bringing out the surface texture of an object, so I took Gollum outside once the weather conditions were right. As expected, the diffused grey light really helped to emphasise the surface texture, especially the creases around the armpit and the raised scars on the back. Other smaller details become apparent on closer inspection: the pupils of the eyes in this shot reveal themselves to be indents rather than painted on the surface, and the strands of hair and the heads scar both have identifiably different textures. These details are much harder to ascertain in other lighting conditions.

7. Colour: artificial light

7. Colour: artificial light

7. Colour: artificial light

I illuminated the figurine with a combination of three lamps, two halogen spots pointing in from the front corners at about 45°, and a warmer tungsten desk lamp positioned almost straight on. To me, of all the artificial light images, this one correctly depicted the various colours of the figurine – the general skin tone, the redder skin on the fingers, the shiny green of the fish, the darker green of the base. I did try to underexpose to deepen the colours, but was unhappy with the overall darkness of the image so reverted to a ‘correctly’ metered image.

8. Colour: natural light

8. Colour: natural

8. Colour: natural

I took the figurine outdoors again, this time when the sun was getting towards setting so was low in the sky and shining almost horizontally. This helped to bring out the colours, especially the greens and greys in the rock base. I positioned the figurine against a backdrop of foliage to complement the greens.

Self-evaluation:

Although this assignment seemed to be reasonably straightforward from the brief, I confess that I found it to be most demanding to get the effects to my satisfaction, especially the ones using artificial light. In total I took over 300 shots and the vast majority of these were with photographic lighting, often with very minor differences in the positioning of the lights. I am however happy that the end results do depict the characteristics as requested.

Evaluating my submission against the Assessment Criteria:

  • Demonstration of Technical and Visual Skills:
    • I shot the majority of the final images with a good quality prime lens and in almost all cases stuck to my camera’s base ISO to keep the images as sharp and noise-free as possible
    • All of the artificial light shots and two of the natural light shots were taken with the camera mounted on a tripod, again to ensure a sharp and clear image
    • In the ‘form’ images 3 and 4 there is a deliberate blurring to the extremities of the figurine to emphasise the depth; other than that I aimed to keep the images as fully in focus as possible
    • I shot RAW format and as noted above only processed the images to the minimal extent – cropping and WB correction – in order to ensure that the effects achieved were indeed down to lighting changes (I actually found this a little challenging! I was very tempted to tweak the images further to accentuate the desired effect, and if this were not a technical exercise about lighting but a general gallery of images, I would certainly have enhanced most of them to some degree)
    • I still have difficulty in getting a white backdrop to render as white in the final images; it came through as grey in shots 3, 5 and 7, even when I set custom white balance in advance using a grey card… subsequent adjustments to the WB made the figurine colours go awry so I settled on the greyish background
    • I found the positioning of the lights in images 1, 3, 5 and 7 quite difficult to get right, to achieve the effect that I had visualised
    • Without wishing to lay any of the blame on the equipment, I did choose to work with the lighting instruments that I had to hand (two halogen photographic lamps, one tungsten desk lamp and my hotshoe flash) and with hindsight wonder if I might have been more able to achieve my visualised images with a wider variety of equipment?
  • Quality of Outcome:
    • I am particularly happy with the natural light shots, and reasonably happy with the artificial light shots; my preference is normally to work with available light and so this exercise took me out of my comfort zone (a good thing, of course)
    • I made an effort to take pictures at different angles and work around the figurine to get as many different views as possible, to provide a bit of visual variety
    • I believe that the images hang together as a coherent set, despite the variety of lighting conditions and compositional choices
  • Demonstration of Creativity:
    • After initially choosing a fruit as subject (a pineapple) I rejected this as being a little too unoriginal, after looking at other students’ efforts; I then spent a significant amount of time and brainpower searching for a subject that (a) demonstrated the four themes of the assignment, and (b) I was fairly sure that assessors won’t have already seen before
    • As noted above I did look for a variety of compositional approaches – full body, close-ups, from above, from below, front, rear, facing camera, looking away etc
    • In terms of creativity with the lighting, the two that I am most pleased with are 2 and 4, the images where I shot from indoors but using the light coming through the window at different times of the day
  • Context:
    • More so than the preceding assignments, I found myself referring back to the notes I’d made on the exercises as I went along; this may be due to the sheer number of exercises in this section (I seem to have been working on Light for a long time!) or may be more due to the fact that the new knowledge I’d acquired hadn’t fully embedded itself into my brain as much as on the earlier chapters… I had to make more of an effort to refresh my memory on how to use light in different circumstances to achieve the effects I needed
    • By far the most useful information source was Light, Science & Magic [1], a hugely informative book that is thankfully written in a very unfussy and easy-to-digest style
    • I also made some use of another book, Photographic Lighting [2] which was more technical and more about artificial lighting, but it did supplement LS&M on the more practical lighting issues that I was facing
    • As in previous assignments, I’ve been checking out the work of, and conversing with, other students who are working at about the same pace as me; I also looked at the Light assignment work of several past students, and in some cases they inspired me while in other cases I came away firmly believing that I could do better! (perhaps slightly egotistical there…)

To summarise: whilst it has been the most challenging assignment so far (and I know I said that about the last one), I am glad I got through it with a set of images that I’m happy with, and very much looking forward to getting feedback from my tutor.

Equipment and technical info:

  1. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/100 sec at f/4, ISO 200, external flash
  2. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/4000 sec at f/1.6, ISO 200
  3. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 45mm. 1/3 sec at f/11, ISO 200
  4. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400
  5. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens at 55mm. 1.5 sec at f/22, ISO 200
  6. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/50 sec at f/4, ISO 400
  7. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/35 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200
  8. Fujifilm X-E1 with XF 35mm lens. 1/1600 sec at f/4, ISO 200

References:

1.  Hunter, F. 2012. Light, science & magic 4th ed. Oxford: Focal Press
2. Harrington, R. 2013. Photographic lighting. Lewes: Ammonite Press

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5 thoughts on “Assignment 4: Applying lighting techniques

  1. Well done indeed – I think you’ve done a great job in really bringing out the objectives of the assignment. I also like the fact you’ve used natural and artificial light too. Good choice of subject – I am still thinking on this one !

  2. Hey well done on getting this one in the bag; really nice set of shots. Also really envious you’ve got it done; like Teresa I haven’t chosen my subject yet!

    • Ha, I was going to say that choosing the subject is the hard part, but actually when I think about it for more than a minute, it’s definitely the shooting that’s the hard part!!

  3. Pingback: Assignment Three Tutor Report | richardbrown56taop

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