Simon Lewis

TAoP Assignment Four

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iv. Applying Lighting Techniques

I approached this assignment with a plan to not only illustrate the effects of lighting at different times of the day but to do so by placing my chosen object in context. I wanted more than just a series of studio lit objects taken in isolation of their environment. After a lot of hunting around, I found some coloured lanterns in John Lewis and for £3 each and decided they were perfect for my needs. Spring had finally put in an appearance and, after a long period of dull weather, the sun was out...

My Tutor's comments are shown below each image and where relevant I have shown a corrected version of the image. You can download a copy of my tutor report for this exercise by clicking the button below.

You can read a summary of my learnings from this assignment and the accompanying exercises at the foot of this page.
Above: Shape. It’s 7.30am and the sun had just risen over the tree tops. Despite the brightness, it was still pretty chilly, so Beth was an angel to skip barefoot through the dew in her white frock. I like the glimpse of sun on her dress and diagonally back towards both sides of the pink lantern, the blue one and into the sun, just out of shot, top left. The backlighting defines the curve of the lantern and a white reflector adds detail to the right side.

Tutor comments: There is an interesting juxtaposition of subject matter in this shot. Beth on the right hand side of the image balances nicely with the in focus lantern on the left. The out of focus lanterns in the background are attractive to the eye and Beth (although out of focus) adds human interest to the scene. The only thing I can suggest to improve this image is to tone down the high lights a little. (SL: Small adjustment made below)
Shape 1
Shape 2
Colour 1
Shape: Turning towards the sun I was able to capture the lantern in silhouette while managing to illuminate the glass from behind. The result shows off the shape of the lantern and chain nicely. 1/8000s f2.8 ISO200 7.30am

Tutor comments: Again you have a nicely composed image in silhouette. This time the lantern is framed by the silhouetted trees and again placed on the left hand third of the frame. Also the background high light is not as bright as that of some of your other shots, which is more pleasing for the viewers eye.
Colour: Again the backlighting defines the shape of the lantern, but here the direct sunlight (no diffusion) penetrates the pink glass picking out the colour, details and flaws in the glass. 1/125s f7.1 ISO200 8.30am

Tutor comment:
As you say in your notes, the backlighting defines the shape of the lantern and picks out the color in the glass. You will also notice that this image is suffering a lot from flare, particularly on the left hand side and this de-saturates the color. The answer to this would be to crop off the left hand side, or use your free hand to provide more shade for the lens if the lens hood is insufficient. (SL: The flare was actually an intentional part of this image. I was trying to convey a sense of early morning 'brightness' and dazzle.)
Colour: More backlighting, this time diffused somewhat by the melted wax inside the lantern. This gives the lantern a vibrant colour but with less detail in the glass than in the last image. There’s just enough light catching the left side of the lantern to help separate the shape from the background and again a white card was used to reflect some detail back into the ornamental base.
1/200s f6.3 ISO200 9.00am

Tutor Comments: I like this image very much. This time the back lighting is more controlled than the first image in this assignment and the lantern is nicely placed on the left hand third. As you say in your notes the use of a white card as a reflector has highlighted the detail in the base of the lantern. Again the use of a relatively wide aperture has rendered the background out of focus which forces the viewer to concentrate on the subject.
Form: This is one of my favourite images in the series. It clearly demonstrates the three dimensional shape of the lantern with enough direct sun and reflected light to pick out plenty of detail in both the glass and ornate metal. A golden reflector was places below and to the left of the object.
1/640s f2.8 ISO640

Tutor Comments: Again the subject is well placed within the frame and there is lovely detail particularly on the surface of the glass, which is never easy to achieve. Certainly the form and shape of the lantern is evident. The highlights in the bottom of the frame are a little distracting and need toning down a little. (SL: see below)
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Texture: A closeup of the metal carvings and pink glass demonstrate the texture of the object. Natural light from behind the lantern creates a glow from within and helps to pick out the flaws and other detail while a silver reflector to the left of the camera adds some dimension and depth to the filigree.
1/80s f13 ISO400 9.00am

Tutor comments: Another shot that I like very much. There are highlights in the glass of the lantern but these are not too distracting. The texture detail is evident particularly on the edge of the lantern. A very nice image.
Texture: Much later in the day now and the sun is beginning to fall. The camera is aimed in exactly the same direction as the first image in the series so it’s easy to compare how the light has shifted position. I ‘grabbed’ this shot but nonetheless I’m more than happy with how the direct light (and resultant shadow) picks out all the details in the lantern. Actually this image works for shape, form and colour too. 1/13s f9 ISO200 7.30pm

Tutor comments: The lantern on this one is just a fraction too close to the edge of the frame although you do say in your notes that it is a grab shot. This time the flame is prominent in the image which adds further interest to the figures in the background which again is nicely diffused.
Form: Turning the other way, the sun was dipping down towards the horizon. With some reflection back towards the lantern I was able to fill in enough detail to prevent a complete silhouette. The ‘shadow’ side of the lantern has a really warm glow which complements the warmth of the sun. At this angle, the sun has picked out ripples and dimples in the glass which together with reflections on the chain, adds to the three dimensional shape of the subject.
1/60s f4 ISO200 7.30pm

Tutor comments: As you say in your notes there is a warm glow to this shot because the color temperature is lower than some of your previous images; notice how the metal on the lantern is also warmer than the previous shots. Again the subject is nicely positioned in the frame but try and reduce the highlight on the left hand side, even if it means a crop. (SL: Revised crop below)
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Shape: With the glow of sunlight rapidly disappearing over the horizon there were just a handful of rays left to illuminate the left side of the lantern, chain and glass. Although there is now a candle inside the lantern, much of the ‘warmth’ comes from sunlight penetrating the glass from behind - though obviously the candle adds it’s own personality. A reflector bounced light back to the right side of the object to add good detail into an area that would otherwise have been in shadow. Jordan in the far background is thrown out of focus (I shot at 200mm, f5, so plenty of DOF) where he serves as a counterpoint to balance the image and to allow his fuzzy shape to emphasise the crisp shape of the lantern. 1/30s f5 ISO200 7.55pm

Tutor comments: You do really have some ice images in this assignment and this is no exception. No distracting highlights in this shot and because the light is fading the flame is prominent in the image which gives further pictorial interest. Jordan in the background has a ghostly effect to the shot and balances with the lantern very nicely.
Texture: This is the only image to use artificial light as a light source. Here I used the shape of the trees and bushes to frame my image and positioned the lanterns in an interesting arrangement. Two flashguns were used. One low right and this was aimed directly at the main pink and yellow lanterns. The flash from this gun reflects back to the camera to reveal good texture detail on the lower right side of these lanterns. There’s just enough spill from the flash to pick up some shape to the lower blue lantern too. The second flash was reflected into a white card to provide some diffusion and this comes from mid left. The diffused nature of this light gives plenty of texture detail to the lower right side of the lantern and also adds a nice highlight to the top left of the metalwork. This same flashgun adds some detail to the tree trunk. The candle within adds sparkle to the glass and everything is set off nicely against a clear blue sunset. This image works well in each of the four categories: shape, colour, form and texture but I feel the texture of the pink lantern stands out more here than in any of the other images in this collection. 1/20s f9 ISO640 8.15pm

Tutor comments: The nice thing about this shot is that you can hardly tell that flash has been used at all. Again the five lanterns are nicely positioned and the silhouetted trees form an interesting background. Pictorially the five lanterns make a better composition than an even number so all in all another winning shot.

Here's What I've Learnt:

This was a long chapter and it took ages to complete - but I loved every second. I found it amazing to discover how we take our eyes for granted: light falls on a subject and we see it. It happens all day long (and at night too) yet we never stop to realise how a) the colour of light is changing all around us and b) how a small adjustment in the intensity or direction of light can make an enormous difference.

There were so many exercises here that provided incredible lessons for me:

- A simple reflector made of card, paper or silver foil can have a significant effect in adjusting and controlling light.
- A tracing paper cone around a shiny still life diffuses the light from uni directional to omni directional: brilliant!
- Side lighting (early morn, or late afternoon) can really lift an image by illuminating detail that would otherwise be lost - or at least not picked out.
- Light changes through the day in terms of direction, colour and intensity.
- Light is a tool, so use it with volition!

And of course I now realise that light has two default settings, with light and without light. In other words I can be selective over what (and how) I choose to illuminate a subject, but also equally importantly I can choose what
not to illuminate. So shadows are just as important as non-shadows. Pardon the pun but this really has been like shining a light on the whole subject.

It helps that, quite by coincidence, I have been editing a manuscript written by my great uncle in the 1960s. He was a film cameraman and special effects designer in the British film industry throughout its heyday. It turns out he was one of the pioneers of the industry here in the UK. His book was never published (not until now anyway) but it tells dozens of stories about how they had to find lighting solutions for all sorts of settings - mostly with the aid of giant glass mirrors. We have it so easy with Lastolite, flashguns and Pocket Wizards. It’s a fascinating read and a real education.

Also fascinating is Light, Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, steven Biver & Paul Fuqua. There is a fair degree of science inside but this entire chapter has brought the book to life. I can’t wait to put my new understanding into practise…

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I'm delighted Peter (my tutor) liked my images. I'm happy the majority of comments related to technical 'tweaks' rather than critical comments to do with the exercise itself.

However, I do feel he misinterpreted Colour 1. It was my specific intention to include the sun's flair - yet Peter thought this was an accident. This shows me how important it is for the photographer to convey his intentions visually. That Peter did not realise my intent shows there is room for improvement next time...