The penultimate assignment for The Art of Photography module leads me to apply my learned knowledge of light from this part of the module to one object. This is quite a departure from previous assignments for which I have applied the knowledge learnt through the module to a subject or of range of subjects. Here I was constrained by choosing one object from which I had to produce eight photographs. Two photographs each of the following subject areas;
Shape, form, texture and colour.
The aim was to show these different physical attributes of my chosen object by lighting it in different ways. As I have described before in the previous assignment, studio lighting is not a particular strength or interest of mine but, as this would effectively be a study in still life, it was relevant for me to gain a little more experience in this side of photography to further strengthen my armoury. I decided that I would take half the images with controlled studio lighting and half with natural lighting. Indeed, the controlled lighting should provide an easier way to show these characteristics than using natural light which, as I have shown in my exercises, is unpredictable and therefore difficult to control.
I was keen with all these photographs not to interfere with the colours in post production to try and prove I have control over the situation. What I have done in each case is added some definition, contrast (a small amount) and sharpness. The exposure remains as taken in camera.
The assignment notes define it like this;
“This quality has to do with the outline of an object – its edges. These are likely to stand out more clearly if they contrast with the background, and if there is minimum detail visible in the object.”
I decided to use the benefit of the extremely bright light here to my advantage. I used a plain white backdrop and shot at around 10-11am to give myself some angle of the sun to play with. My objective was to produce near silhouettes with very dark shadows, doubling the effect of defining the shape of my object. Both were take from almost directly above the object.
In exposing for the very bright white background, the object is forced in to darkness. There is arguably more detail in the shadow than in the silhouette.The shadow itself is not quite black, unlike the object which is almost completely black. It is also noticeable that the shadow is very black where it ‘connects’ which the object but as it moves away the light starts to flood back in to the shadow causing it to have a grey appearance instead of totally black. This is a result of my lack of control over the lighting in that immediate area.
“This is another way of describing the volume of an object – how 3 dimensional it looks. The modelling effect of the light and the way you deal with the shadows is all important. Try to show as much depth as possible in the subject.”
These two images were taken under a one lamp, softbox studio lighting set up. I also used a silver reflector to fill as necessary. I shot with a black background to deaden the reflective light so I could concentrate on giving some depth to my object.
This first image was made with the light shining directly from the floor and above the objects head from a distance of around 3 feet. I used the reflector to bounce some fill light on the top of the animal so it wasn’t in complete darkness. This helped give it some slight highlights to enhance the darker areas and give the object some weight.
My second image uses a lot of shadow to give a sense of presence. Indeed some detail is lost in the shadow. This serves to give depth to the object and along with a shallow depth of field draws the viewer in to the frame. I again used a softbox but this time pointing level with the head of the object from the right hand side. A little fill was used on the left hand side to lighten up the darkest areas.
“This is a quality of the surface detail. Fine detail, such as that on sandstone or skin, stands out best with a pattern of small, hard shadows, so you will have to consider both the diffusion (or lack of it) and the angle of the light. Of course, a shiny surface like chrome, although it is thought of as being smooth, also has a texture of a kind.”
Again I decided that I would use the studio set up for this attribute. I knew that I wanted a very controlled, raked light and that I was unlikely to come across this very easily waiting for the natural light to be just right.
Again with a single light and black background I fitted a snoot to the light and positioned it very close to the head of the object. I wanted full power to create highlights and low-lights to accentuate the rough texture of the skin. I needed the lighting to be harsh and knowing that the surface of the object was not terribly reflective, it meant I could get in close for the detail of the scales on the bridge of the nose.
For the tail I positioned the light (this time without the softbox) directly above the object. The viewer can see the distinct highlight on the top whilst creating shadows with the skin and notably the vein 2/3 of the way down the tail’s length. The deadening nature of the black background lets the tip and the bottom of the tail slip into the darkness.
“Choose a kind of lighting and exposure setting that shows the subject’s colour (or colours) as strongly as possible. In addition, you could photograph your subject in any other interesting, unusual or attractive lighting.”
Here I went back to natural lighting, using a white base and background. It is early morning and I am using the shade to diffuse the light.
The warm nature of the early light gives an orange hue to both the object and the background. The yellow eyes are quite accentuated. The greens, however, are slightly subdued because of it. The light underbelly and chin area take on the orangey hue also. The image is underexposed by 1/3 stop and the white balance changed to cloudy to give more natural contrast and more depth in colour.
Taken on the same day as the previous shot but maybe an hour later, this image shows a big difference in colour. The background is now nearly white as the sun rises and any remaining warmth is offset by the vivid warmth of the pink colour enveloping the object. The object is still in shade but just out of shot is in direct sunlight. Here I have positioned a hot pink reflector to the right of the object, right in the bright sun to give maximum reflective value. What is interesting to me here is how ‘hot’ the main part of the object is whilst the top of the head and certain other areas are extremely cool in colour. The green’s are absorbing a surprising amount of the very warm light. After the relatively cool colouring of the previous images, this one brings quite a shock to the eyes.
Light is, of course, fundamental to photography, it’s raison d’etre. It’s vagaries cannot be underestimated. This assignment proved this to me by virtue of the lack of effort I had a to go to to change minute, fine detail on the object in question. Every degree, fraction of adjustment or movement of a body in the background had a terrific effect on the outcome of my image. At one stage I was tearing my hair out wondering why a set of images taken with apparently the same lighting, angle and exposure were appearing differently in each frame. It took quite some time to realise that I still had the ceiling fans on which, in their oscillation, were casting minutely different shadows each time I pressed the shutter. Decisive moments indeed!
I had set out to produce images with startlingly different qualities merely by changing the way the light was hitting the object. Only in the last image did I introduce a ‘foreign’ body in to change the colour somewhat drastically. As with the previous chapters of the course, my photographs prove they are the sum of their parts. All the images are entwined, none are completely separable. Texture is very apparent in all the images, even the silhouettes. Colours didn’t change anywhere near as much as I would have thought until I actively changed it with a coloured reflection. I had difficulty in separating form and texture, even though I knew how I wanted to change the lighting to achieve it. I’m sure with more (much more) practice I would be able to subtly change arrangements to make a more satisfactory distinction. I don’t view this as a failure, more a reinforcement that I need to ‘see’ everything before the shutter is pressed. All the elements are inter-relatable and intrinsically linked to producing the final image I desire.
I think this element of the course has had a positive effect on my (somewhat occasional negative) thoughts about still life and the (artificial) lighting thereof. I still wouldn’t naturally gravitate towards it automatically but it has swayed me to at least consider it if only for it’s convenience over waiting for the right light to appear, quite literally sometimes, on the horizon.