Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

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Exercise – Shiny surfaces


Take a photo of a highly reflective object against a plain background, with direct lighting. Then using a cone made of tracing paper covering the space between the lens and the object, repeat the shot, experimenting with the position of the lighting, with the intention of minimising the reflection.


I chose a metal bottle stopper (which looked surprisingly grimy close-up, so I’m glad we don’t actually use it…) and placed this on a black cloth backdrop, and shot from above as suggested.

1. Direct light:
Significant reflection here, showing the tripod, the light, the camera strap and the photographer.

Direct light

1. Direct light

2. With diffuser cone, lit straight down:
Much less reflection straight away, and the background is rendered darker. Reflection of camera still visible as a dot in centre of sphere.

With diffuser cone, lit straight down

2. With diffuser cone, lit straight down

3. With diffuser cone, light moved further away:
Moving the light further away had the effect of reintroducing a little reflection in the sphere, but more notably the clear line down the length of the conical spike.

With diffuser cone, light moved further away

3. With diffuser cone, light moved further away

4. With diffuser cone, lit horizontally across the top of cone:
Less reflection than the last one, but not quite as smooth as number 2, where the light was pointing straight down. Camera reflection ‘dot’ most prominent in this one.

With diffuser cone, lit horizontally across the top of cone

4. With diffuser cone, lit horizontally across the top of cone

The most successful reduction of glare was in shot number 2, where the light was in the same straight-down position as in shot 1, just with the addition of the conical tracing paper cone.

What I’ve learned:

This was another interesting exercise in controlling light. The ability to reduce glare on shiny objects is a useful technique.

I am however glad to get to the end of the exercises in this section! Especially these photographic light ones; I’m not really one for using inside lighting like this. It’s been good to get out of my comfort zone but it hasn’t really changed my mind about indoor lighting. I like light, I just don’t like lightS so much ;-)

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Exercise – Concentrating the light


Make light fall onto a specific subject using a tube or snoot to concentrate the light, leaving the surroundings in shadow.


Following advice on the internet I made a simple snoot using a cleaned-out Pringles tube, which I attached to my speedlight. After a bit of trial and error on focal length (as long as possible, both for the correct concentration of light, and to avoid the end of the snoot creeping into shot), the flash strength (I had best results from -1.0 EV) and the aperture/shutter speed combination, I achieved the effect I wanted on this wooden doll. The backdrop is successfully rendered almost fully black.

Concentrated light

Concentrated light

What I’ve learned:

Concentrating light with a snoot is much simpler than I expected, and less hassle than some of the other lighting exercises. A nice simple but effective technique for controlling light.

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Exercise – Contrast and shadow fill


Set up a still life subject lit directly from the side. First take a shot with direct lighting, then with the light diffused. Then place a series of reflectors opposite the light: white card, the dull side of aluminium foil, the shiny side of the foil, and the foil crumpled and re-flattened. Observe the effect on contrast and shadows in the resultant images.


I actually took a few more shots than requested; the exercise called for the white card to be placed at two different distances but I also did the same thing with the foil-covered cards. The reason for this was that I was concerned that I wasn’t seeing the difference in the lighting effect as the light source I used was quite small and the subject quite dark. So I moved the foil-covered card closer, and in total I made 10 exposures.

(click a thumbnail to open slideshow view)

I have placed the results in order from the most contrasty/shadowy to the most evenly lit. What I saw was that the two factors that impacted the clarity of the image the most were (a) how shiny the reflector was and (b) how close the reflector was to the subject. The difference is most noticeable in certain areas of the subject, such as the top right part of the face, especially around the eyes, and the fingers on the lower hand.

Shiny Foil closer

Best exposure – Shiny Foil closer

What I’ve learned:

This is the first time I’ve really worked with reflectors, and I found it quite interesting. Moving the reflector and using different surfaces had a noticeable effect on the parts of the image that would have otherwise been in shade due to the position of the lighting.

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Exercise – the lighting angle


Start with the light, fitted with its diffuser, at the same level as the subject and camera. Between shots, move it around the subject, so that you photograph this lit from the front (with the light next to the camera), from the side, from behind and to one side, and from directly behind.

Then raise the light so that it points down towards the subject at an angle of about 45 degrees. Again, move the light right around the subject between shots.

Finally, suspend the light overhead, pointing down, and take three pictures: directly overhead, from slightly in front, and from slightly behind.

Lay out all the photographs together. Study the differences in order to become familiar with the effect of moving the light. You should find that certain qualities of the subject are revealed better by some lighting directions.


First, with the diffused light horizontal to the subject, (L-R) front, side, rear-side angle, rear:

Of these, the side lit one looks best, as it reveals more of the detail of the texture of the flowing skirt to the left. The front one looks too flat. The rear-side one is too dark and the rear one is in almost full silhouette, which is good for seeing its (two-dimensional) shape but does not reveal any texture or form in three dimensions.

Then the same four positions with the light raised and pointed down at an angle of 45°:

To my eyes these initially look very similar to the first set; maybe my light source wasn’t strong enough or the right distance away to really demonstrate the differences? Upon close inspection the nuances become visible, especially on the preferred side-lit shot; the creases in the skirt appear a little more prominent.

Finally, three lit from above, (L-R) directly top down, slightly in front, slightly behind:

All three of these looked more pleasing to my eyes than those in the first or second set. The middle one, lit from above and slightly in front, is my firm favourite in this set and in the whole exercise; it has most successfully illuminated the whole of the subject and shown the subtleties of the surface texture.

Top front

Top front

What I’ve learned:

I initially found this to be a frustrating and time-consuming exercise, mainly as I think I lacked the right kind of equipment and space to really do it justice. Once I got it all set up to a satisfactory degree I found the actual shooting and moving the light source around both simple and informative. I wish I’d been able to show more of a difference in the set with the 45° downward angle lighting but think I was restricted by my setup in this instance. I did however get to appreciate the huge difference that can be achieved with the movement of the light source.

The learnings from this exercise have complemented my reading in the excellent ‘Light, Science & Magic’ book [1] that I got a copy of for this part of the course. Some of the key theoretical principles discussed in the book really came to life for me during this exercise.

1.  Hunter, F . 2012. Light, science & magic 4th ed. Oxford: Focal Press

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Exercise – Softening the light


Using a diffused light source to soften the shadows and highlights take two photographs, one with just the naked lamp, the other with the translucent material held between the lamp and your subject (but out of view). The two exposure settings will be different.

Look at the results, and write down exactly what you see as the differences. Look, for instance, at the strengths (blackness) of the shadows, their extent, and the hardness of their edges. Look also at the highlights, and at the contrast. Finally, was the diffusion an improvement? Record your answer.


Direct light

Direct light – 6.5 sec at f/22

The direct light source causes the shadows to be clearly defined, with quite dark, sharp edges, tailing off a little to a more blurry effect. The shape however is still clearly identifiable.

Diffused light

Diffused light – 10 sec at f/22

With the diffused light the shadow is barely discernable; you can just about make it out close to the object but it has indistinct edges, is greyer in tone, and the patterns of the internal loops and whorls are not evident. The overall surface looks flatter and more consistent, with the slight reflections at the edges diminished. This version needed a longer exposure, as expected.

In many cases (e.g. product photography) removing or reducing the shadows would produce a more pleasing image. In this particular instance however, I’m more drawn to the direct light version, with the defined shadow, probably because the object lends itself more to this as a creative execution.

What I’ve learned:

Diffusing the light has the significant effect of softening or removing shadows. On a grander scale this is evident in the difference between bright sunlight and an overcast sky, but it is interesting to experiment in this manner to control artificial light on a smaller scale.

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Exercise – Tungsten and fluorescent lighting


Part 1: take a photograph in which both the interior lit by tungsten lamps and the exterior at dusk are both visible. Wait until the light levels inside and outside are approximately equal, and take three photographs, as follows: with the white balance set to Auto, with the balance set to daylight, and with the balance set to tungsten. Compare the results and note the differences.

Part 2: find two different interiors lit by fluorescent lamps. Take two or three photographs, identically composed, in each location. The first image should be with the white balance set to Auto, the second to fluorescent, and if there is a choice of different fluorescent settings, the third to the alternative fluorescent.


Part 1: tungsten and daylight

As recommended I waited until the outside daylight had weakened enough around dusk. Taking sample meterings from around the room there was a clear variation in shutter speeds needed to capture an image at f/2.8 and base ISO (200). Evidently the eyes do compensate for different levels and qualities of light as this variation wasn’t clear to the naked eye.

The results were startling. The scene seemed to be well-balanced to my own eyes, with no strong colour tint to the light either inside or outside the room. However, the Auto WB version (3850K) tries to cope with the different types of light and ends up with a compromise that simultaneously makes the outside light slightly blue and the inside light slightly orange. The second shot, using Daylight WB (4900K) renders the view outside in natural-looking colours but increases the orange tone to the interior. Conversely, the Tungsten WB version (2850K) makes the room look quite natural yet throws the outside scene into an extremely strong blue tint. None of these looked true to life.

Part 2: fluorescent

First, a scene in the main thoroughfare of a shopping mall. My camera has three Fluorescent WB settings so I tried them all.

  • For the Auto WB version my camera selected 4700K and this looked pretty close to how my eyes saw the scene
  • Fluorescent 1 gave colour temperature of 6550K and looked too warm, too orangey – overcompensated
  • Fluorescent 2 gave colour temperature of 5150K and still looked too warmed up
  • Fluorescent 3 gave colour temperature of 4450K and looked a little too blue

In this set, the Auto WB actually looks most natural.

Secondly, a scene inside a supermarket.

  • Auto WB gave colour temperature of 4000K and this looked close to how my eyes saw the scene
  • Fluorescent 1 gave 6550K and looked too orangey
  • Fluorescent 2 gave 5150K and still looked too warm
  • Fluorescent 3 gave 4450K and this looked better, but still a little ‘off’ – slight red tinge

So again in this set, the Auto WB looks most natural, albeit at a lower colour temperature than the previous image. I conclude that my camera is pretty good at selecting the right WB for the situation, but two of its three Fluorescent presets were significantly off, for both of these particular locations.

What I’ve learned:

The exercise has really brought home something that I’ve understood in theory for a while, namely that the human eye/brain can quickly adjust to different lighting conditions and will normally refuse to acknowledge the wide variations in light colour and strength that the camera sensor will clearly reveal.

The tungsten/daylight shots at different colour temperatures were so significantly different that it took me by surprise. I now have a much better appreciation of the differences in light that my eyes can’t detect but the camera can.

The wide variation in fluorescent lighting, and the fundamental problem of their limited colour spectrum, is something that again I was aware of in theory but has really come to life here. I now understand why my camera has three Fluorescent settings! I’m glad that I always shoot RAW+JPG these days, so that if needed I can reprocess the RAW with an appropriate WB adjustment. I will be particularly wary of shooting in fluorescent lighting situations in future.

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Exercise – Light through the day


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.


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!)