Art of Photography

Rob Townsend

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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.