Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


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Exercise – Light through the day

Brief:

Photograph one scene from dawn to dusk. The number of pictures you take will depend on the time of year, but get at least one per hour, and more at the end of the day when the light is changing faster.

Results:

All of these were shot at f/11 and ISO200, letting the camera choose the shutter speed, which ranged from 5 seconds at sunrise to 1/300 second by late morning. This way the overall exposure remained comparable and I could concentrate on the quality / colour of the light rather than its brightness.

I actually found the light changing most rapidly at the start of the day rather than the end, possibly as I chose a subject that was directly illuminated in the morning rather than the evening. The biggest change was just after sunrise, when the light changed from being tinted very slightly red to glowing a fiery orange. I would have taken more pictures around this time, but maddeningly my camera battery died right after the 08:18 shot and by the time I returned with a fresh one, the light had gone to a very plain white.

Most of the daytime shots had the same look to the light, and it only really got noticeably different when the monument was in full shade and a blue tinge appeared. Then as expected, towards the end of the day as the sun lowered again, an orangey-red tint was apparent, although somewhat weaker than in the morning given the different direction of the light source.

What I’ve learned:

Looking back at the series, it is remarkable how much the light can change on a scene depending on the height and direction of the sun. The speed with which the light changed, particularly in the morning just after the sun rose, was much quicker than I would have imagined. I now have a better appreciation of the quality and colour of light at different times.

(I also learnt to always carry a spare battery!)


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Exercise – Variety with a low sun

Brief:

Take a series of photographs when the sun is low, for example early morning or early evening. Select four that demonstrate:

  • Frontal lighting
  • Side lighting
  • Back lighting
  • Edge lighting

Results:

As recommended, all of these were taken in the same shooting session, over the space of about an hour. The sun in this part of the world (south of France) is usually very reliable in the ‘golden hour’ but this week’s been uncharacteristically rainy… this was the only fine day we’ve seen so far so I had to get out and make the most of it (the ‘light through the day’ series is from the same day).

Frontal

This beautiful yellow building, a former home of painter Henri Matisse, catches the straight-on early evening light beautifully, it really glows at this time. I imagine it must have been positioned there for this very reason. Over the years I’ve captured it even more golden and glowing than this, but this is what I got when I shot for this exercise…

Frontal lighting

Frontal lighting

Side lighting

The left-right split on this palm tree trunk was achieved by shooting at 90° to the direction of the clearly evident shadows, as this is how I knew I’d get side-lighting. As expected, the detail in the shaded half is lost to almost black, while the half still enjoying the sun is showing off its texture.

Side lighting

Side lighting

(interesting note: well, interesting to me anyway… I’ve recently recognised this side-lighting technique in TV and films, particularly to imply that a character is morally ambiguous… spotted it again the other night in a tense dialogue scene in Breaking Bad, with the close-ups of the two protagonists faces being shot in precisely this ‘two-faced’ fashion)

Back lighting

This kind of lighting can render the subject to be almost entirely dark and so suits strong, recognisable shapes that can be identified by their silhouettes. I felt that this capture of a group of friends in a row enjoying the setting sun fell into this category. I love the warm orangey-brown tones of the image, almost sepia in style but straight out of the camera.

Back lighting

Back lighting

Edge lighting

I found this one the hardest to achieve by far. In the end I think I kind of got it with this shot, albeit the effect isn’t particularly strong. If you look carefully you can see a distinct edge to the right of the people, as I was shooting into the sun but keeping the sun itself out of the frame.

Edge lighting

Edge lighting

What I’ve learned:

I already knew about the ‘golden hour’ and like to think that I have had many good images over the years using this kind of light. However, looking back at my archive of old images, it’s evident that I’ve mostly used this time of day and this type of light for the frontal lighting technique. This is perhaps the most obvious use of the low light, to directly illuminate the subject (especially if the colour, shape or texture of the subject lends itself to this kind of direct illumination, like the yellow of the Matisse house). Sometimes I’ve taken a nice sunset shot but that’s seeing the sun as the subject itself, not the light source.

What this exercise has taught me is that there are other ways you can use a low sun; what you can do with side lighting and back lighting in particular appealed to me. Edge lighting I found a bit harder to achieve, so maybe I’ll keep trying with that.


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Exercise – Cloudy weather and rain, parts 2 and 3

Brief:

This exercise is in three parts; however, due to the lack of appropriate conditions for Part 1, I have posted my results for parts 2 and 3 here, and will post Part 1 when I get the right weather conditions.

  • Part 1: take photographs of the same view in sunlight and under cloud, using 2-3 different subjects [to be posted separately]
  • Part 2: take three photographs on an overcast day that make good use of the enveloping,
  • shadowless light, choosing subjects with strong colour and/or surface texture
  • Part 3: take at least two images in the rain

Results:

Part 2: overcast

The texture of the surface comes over well in this image, without any distracting reflections or harsh shadows.

Lamp post

Lamp post

Again the subtleties of the texture are evident here, and the lack of direct sunlight means no deep, harsh shadows or risk of the white bleaching out completely.

Post

Post

As well as the texture being discernible here, the colours are nice and strong too.

Rock

Rock

Part 2: rain

I found shooting the rain very difficult! Unless it’s raining on or against something, it’s difficult to make it stand out. For this first shot I took advantage of a puddle capturing the drops coming down, using a fast enough shutter speed to catch the drops bouncing back up again.

Puddle

Puddle

For this slightly more stylised image I pointed the camera downwards from an upstairs window, shooting through a Christmas decoration above the street. The street lights illuminated the streaks of rain, evident against the black of the canopy and the wet street below. The sleek, reflective surface of the wet ground is an aesthetically interesting aspect of rain photography.

Street

Street

For this last shot I chose to go close-up on the after-effects rather than the rain as it was falling, as my eyes were drawn to the droplets forming under the rail.

Rail

Rail

What I’ve learned:

Having always assumed that you need a sunny day for good photographs – and in recent years realising that direct overhead midday sun is usually too harsh, and early/late sun is much more interesting – this exercise helped to further open my mind to the possibilities of differing light conditions. Once you become aware of it, the extent to which the overcast sky acts as a giant diffuser and evens out the light source can be very noticeable, and a useful natural lighting ‘tool’.

With regards to shooting in the rain – I confess this was the first time I’ve really tried it. Like most people, I don’t care much for getting wet when I could be staying dry! … and I suppose I do worry about getting the equipment wet too. So it got me out of my comfort zone in a literal sense. But I did find the exercise interesting; challenging too – which isn’t a bad thing at all. I don’t think I got fantastic images in the rain, but it has made me more aware of the possibilities now.