This assignment is designed to demonstrate how effectively we can apply the different lighting techniques studied to date, by applying them to one object. The chosen subject has to be something that can be easily moved around. The core of the assignment is to show the following qualities of the subject, one at a time, by means of the lighting, in eight separate photographs. The four themes being shape, form, texture and colour.
My first task was to clarify the definition of ‘object’, which for the purposes of the assignment, I’ve taken the literal interpretation of, which is ‘a material thing that can be seen and touched‘. This led to further deconstructing of ideas around the subject in regards to whether it could be one which could change shape and form, such as a vessel filled with water, a person, or a garment.
Having read through several of the OCA forum threads, the overall view was to avoid objects which were either too reflective or transparent, i.e. metal or glass, but apart from this, choice seemed open to personal interpretation, as long as the assignment aims could be met.
Although this made sense, I wanted to avoid the other extreme of the object being completely devoid of reflective properties. Preferring subjects with a degree of texture I initially considered things such as rope balls, rusted architectural forms and others too numerous to mention. Although all of the objects would have sufficed, I didn’t feel any particular affinity with them, and wanted something I already had in my possession which held a degree of interest or familiarity.
It was only when I was trying to clear a workable space on my desk that I moved an old box of slides recently unearthed, that I finally found my subject. I initially moved the box around and viewed it under different lighting sources to see if it would effectively show all the qualities required. The object had texture in the printed and raised text on the box itself, and the slide edges also conveyed texture well. Colour was well represented with the base of the box being a deep egg yolk yellow, and the top, an aged almost sepia based tone.
The possibility of using one or more of the slides themselves to demonstrate colour was another option, in conjunction with the object itself. Due to the subject’s transparent top, I felt it would be ideal in demonstrating both form and shape. Shape is the one theme that I’ve purposefully left until last as I felt it would present the biggest challenge. It was a very obvious and simple shape, which I felt might be difficult convey as anything other than boxy and boring. Separating the subject into individual components did concern me, and I wondered if this was twisting the remit of the assignment slightly.
Referring back through study notes, the words ‘demonstration of creativity‘ came to mind, along with ‘context‘ and ‘quality of outcome‘. With this in mind, I decided that a little dissemination was within the boundaries of the assignment brief. Apart from wanting to use a combination of natural, domestic and dedicated photographic lighting, I didn’t want to restrict myself to how many of each would be used.
My main aim was to ensure that a wide variety of lighting techniques were used to suit the individual themes. I also wanted to have fairly clean and simple lines throughout the series of images, without the background scenery overpowering the subject itself. Feedback from a previous assignment pointed to an ‘eclectic mix’ of styles, so I was keen to produce a more cohesive set of images for this one. My range of lighting equipment is quite basic, and consists of a slide projector, foil, LED camping light, and a light box.
The camera used was a Canon 5D with a tripod and cable release. The initial choice of lens was a 24-105mm but as this does not have a lens lock, it was difficult to use in downward facing shots due to lens creep. Therefore a Canon 50mm macro 1:2.5 was used instead. Post processing was carried out using a combination of Adobe Raw and Photoshop CS6. I’ve also just installed an X-rite colormunki display calibrator.
All images were taken in manual mode as I wanted to get more in the habit of working this way, and also to reduce the amount of post processing as a result. White balance settings were varied and are detailed against each image. Images have also been reduced in resolution for web purposes.
The definition of texture is, “the representation of the structure and minute moulding of a surface, as distinct from its colour“. My first consideration was whether to show purely texture without form or colour. A number of shots were therefore taken to see how revealing too much form or colour took the lighting emphasis away from texture. I also experimented with depth of field, and close cropping to isolate certain areas of text. The intent was to see if this would work more in tandem with the lighting technique used.
Researching the work of photographers who emphasised texture, I once again came across Edward Weston. He created richly detailed images of still life, particularly of natural forms, which tended to refer back to days when images were largely produced in black and white. This did make comparisons difficult to make. Large format cameras were also used, so again the results are difficult to compare with today’s technology.
This led to further musings as to how photographs taken in the 1920s on less technically advanced equipment, could produce such amazing tonal ranges with their lighting techniques. Perhaps the labour intensive methods of seeing the final result instilled more determination in producing a piece of work, as opposed to the instant gratification of the digital age.
Having decided to retain colour, the required angle, and amount of detail to include in the shot, I used black velvet material as the background. The projector light was used to create the small light source needed for sharply defined shadows. In ‘Light, Science and Magic’ (2012) there were some useful lighting diagrams and suggestions for photographing reflective objects with texture. The key point being to light it sufficiently by skimming the surface, with the light source being far enough away to remain bright, but whilst still providing an even source across the object. This was also when the Inverse Square Law finally made sense.
To achieve an even light source, a piece of crumpled foil was used directly opposite the projector light to illuminate the left hand side. This caused too many highlights, so a wider aperture was then selected. By skimming the surface only, this also removed the issue of having light spilling onto the background. The raised text itself proved quite difficult to light, and took over twenty attempts. Moving the light even fractionally caused quite a dramatic shift in shadows on letters which were only around 1mm in depth.
Eventually I managed to achieve the required effect, which was to show more shadow on lettering on the right hand side in order to emphasise it, and convey less of a flat surface across the whole of the base. By cutting some of the text out on the left side, I also wanted to lead the eye towards the three main words on the right, which I think comes across. The brain automatically looks for order and closure, similar to the Gestalt laws of perceptual organisation. By showing only the text, and not overly emphasising form, I feel that any ambiguity as to which of the four themes is being demonstrated, has been achieved.
In post processing, contrast was increased and brightness was fractionally reduced.
I’ve maintained the angle for the second shot demonstrating texture, as it is the flip side of the object, with the lid removed. Having experimented with just the slides themselves, I felt that the individual components should relate, at least partially to keep the set of images as a whole from becoming too fragmented. By slightly angling the object, contrast has been increased to emphasise texture, and also to reduce depth of colour which seemed to detract from the theme.
The lighting technique is set up as per the previous shot. When using the crumpled foil to reflect light back onto the object, the angle has been altered to highlight the textured area across the slide tops. This also produced deeper shadows and reduction in colour, in conjunction with the object’s angle. The most difficult aspect in this image was in maintaining an even light source across the shot, which the foil managed to overcome.
Although text can be seen in the image, I’ve selected a depth of field which reduces its clarity and therefore stops it from becoming an automatic draw on the eye. Without it the composition looked slightly unbalanced, and although colour was not a requirement in this instance, the subtle addition seems to provide the balance that it initially lacked.
In post processing, dust specs were cloned out, exposure was increased by .11, and the image was slightly sharpened.
Form relates to the 3 dimensional quality of an object or its volume, which can be reinforced by the way in which shadow is used, and the modelling effect of the light. The object I’d chosen was a fairly simple design which in itself made it difficult to portray effectively, as the choices at first seemed limited.
As I had already taken shots of the box itself in previous images, doing the same again just seemed a repeat performance with a different angle. Demonstrating the required theme with the use of reflection was something I wanted to convey but the base of the box seemed too dense, and did not show the translucent element that I wanted to achieve.
Fay Godwin’s ‘Pioneer Glassworks Series’ included images whose subjects were separated from the viewer by a medium which coerced you into looking through the image as opposed to ‘at’ it.
This is something which I toyed with, and one such image can be found in the reject set further on. I felt that this style was better suited to something less dense in structure to produce a more layered effect, and therefore a greater sense of form.
The lid of my object on its own was more versatile particularly when combined with the slides themselves. Its transparency when coupled with a lighter and more reflective background, produced a subtle but effective form. The backdrop of the projector screen provided the right amount of light when used with a softbox from above and to the side, at the 5.00 o’ clock position. The LED light was used for shadow-fill to create an even spread of light. The base was an upturned laptop tray which was an off white colour, and helped to reinforce the similarity in tones across the images.
Post processing included adjusting the levels, and slightly cloning out some specs of dust.
In hindsight I would have selected a more transparent slide on the right of the image as the one used is too dense. I feel it hampers the feeling of depth on that side, although conversely it may have been too obvious to have complete symmetry across the image.
Having recently read ‘Why it does not have to be in focus’ (2013), the idea formed of trying to create an image which portrayed the necessary quality but without the standardised sharp focus treatment that is usually depicted. I also didn’t want to end up with simply a blurred shot of something which could have been anything vaguely box-like and yellow.
Looking at the object from all angles, I realised that if I could somehow show it as though it were rotating, the sense of form could be increased.
The only turntable at my disposal was the microwave plate, so this was placed on a black glass hob next to a north facing window. The afternoon light was bright but diffused with cloud, and provided the ideal level of illumination without being overpowering against the glass.
I initially tried to capture the object without the use of a tripod as this was less restricting, but this did not retain the amount of sharpness required to view the object as a solid structure, with an adequate degree of detail. A tripod was therefore essential.
After approximately thirty shots, frustration and an inability to spin a microwave turntable without frisbeeing it into the stratosphere, almost ground the idea to halt.
After a re-think I realised that slowing the process down to achieve more of a double-exposure style shot would be more effective in demonstrating the notion of ‘form’.
After a few more attempts, one shot surfaced which conveyed the subject lit ‘almost’ as I’d visualised it. Although I was satisfied with my progress at getting the images to date right in-camera, I realised that this one was probably going to need some help in post processing.
I didn’t want to replicate the previous image with regards to the amount of reflection shown, and just needed enough to give it some grounding and provide a contrast to the left side, which hopefully increases the sense of depth.
The white lines radiating out from the same side of the image are the print of one of the hob rings, which I felt helped to convey a sense of rotation, and therefore movement and depth.
Having read through other students work, I was conscious that some had either removed colour from the object or decreased the vibrancy levels in order to emphasise form over colour. I did weigh up the options and consider whether this was something that would detract from the theme itself, but decided against the idea of altering the colour’s vibrancy levels or saturation. I felt that doing so was rather like pointing a large red arrow at the subject to explain what I’d done. If it didn’t work with the colour as photographed, then I hadn’t demonstrated ‘form’ very effectively.
In post processing the black level was reduced in Adobe RAW, and the image was slightly rotated. Shadows were adjusted at the highlighted edge by painting at a low opacity, and contrast was increased by +15.
A few of the reject shots for form are shown below:
As the object’s colour has been evident in most of the previous images, I felt that I needed to convey this quality in a different way, whilst still showing the colour ‘as strongly as possible’.
Contrasting it with a cooler and larger area of colour such as blue was the starting point, as orange is twice as luminous as blue. Utilising the light box to brighten and lighten a blue gel provided the right balance of colours but the composition still seemed unbalanced.
I then tried placing one of the slides onto the gel which seemed to address the balance and give more focus to the colour of the box itself.
Cutting out a piece of the gel to allow the slide to be more visible also portrayed more of a supporting contrast but I was mindful that it didn’t dominate and take away the aim of the theme.
Although I was now happy with the composition and it’s outcome, getting the exposure right took a while. Initial attempts produced a flat image with no real focus on the object itself, and everything was overexposed. There were too many things for the eye to process and no real direction as to the point of the image.
Adjusting the exposure to cast the right hand side of the box into shadow took the emphasis away from this area, as it did to the slide’s border.
I felt that the blue was of a sufficiently light enough tone to contrast and support the object, without being the dominating factor.
In post processing I adjusted a few lines to even up perspective, as the composition was quite geometric. Without this the slanting edges of the gel were distracting and took the eye away from the main objective.
The second image was the most difficult, both in terms of setting it up and justifying that it conveyed ‘showing the subject’s colour as strongly as possible‘.
Colour theory was outlined in the course as working on three levels; ‘visual‘ being the most obvious, ‘expressive‘ or the emotional level which evoke sensations that can be subjective and non-visual. Finally there is the ‘symbolic‘ or cultural level, where certain colours and combinations are associated with things that we have been brought up with.
The question in this part of the assignment was whether it was necessary to include all of these elements or purely concentrate on the visual aspect alone.
Would including all of them make the image any better or more to the point, would it demonstrate the aims of the theme.
As yellow or in this case yellow/orange is a colour which can radiate light very effectively, I wanted to project an image onto the object and highlight this quality whilst still showing strongly the colour itself. My concern was whether this would distract from the main aim.
I wanted to highlight the fact that the image was projected onto the subject, but initial attempts just produced an image which looked as though the picture had been printed on it.
Retaining any degree of sharpness from a slide projected from a short distance was not possible.
I realised that I was moving away from the aim of the image. I was trying to show colour, not a sharply focussed image.
The slide was taken in 1969 – (I am the small blot on the left), on a Kodak Brownie 127 on a fairly wobbly rowing boat, so the quality wasn’t great to start with.
Once I’d let go of the image quality issue, the process of getting the lighting right became easier, although it still took infinite minuscule adjustments to the projector itself in order to show the light falling on the area directly in front of the subject.
This I felt was necessary to show that the image was projected and not printed. As the object itself wasn’t solid it was capable of portraying a range of hues, brilliance and saturation levels, depending on the type of light around it. This is what I wanted to convey with the projected image.
Again I’ve left the background completely black so as to add to contrast, and placed the slides in the box with text out of sight so that this didn’t detract from the overall aim.
My only reservation was in not using the box lid to enforce strength of colour, but as I’m trying to not continually tweak and disseminate images once completed, I’ve gone with the initial image shown below.
In post processing it was hard not to alter the projected image to bring out the natural colours intended. Instead I slightly rotated it to gain a better perspective. Exposure was increased to .05, and highlights by +1.
I had purposefully left this theme until the end as I felt it would present the biggest challenge. Although the object’s shape is simple, I was concerned that this in itself would present difficulties.
I was back to ‘boxy and boring’ in terms of ideas, and began to doubt whether it was a viable option.
Assignment notes stated that the quality of shape had to do with the outline of an object – its edges. These are more likely to stand out more clearly if they contrast with the background, and if there is minimum detail visible in the object.
At this stage I had only a vague notion of wanting to light it from several angles, particularly from underneath to highlight the edges in some way.
It was only when I walked past my oven that I could see a way of doing this. The oven provided a ready-made shelving system, and an area which would contain light if required.
I didn’t really have a pre-conceived plan at this point, and just tried several lighting angles with the LED light, and gradually added a crumpled sheet of foil at the top of the oven to bounce light back from a lightbox placed under the object. A yellow gel finally provided the contrast and light level required. It was then just a case of fine tuning exposure levels to obtain the silhouette effect.
In post processing, the image was cropped to convey the lights extending beyond the frame and put the emphasis on the object as the solid and complete component. Contrast was increased, and levels adjusted.
Oven light setup for shape is shown below:
For the final image I wanted to use natural light, and sunset seemed an ideal choice to highlight the object’s shape.
The challenge was in trying to capture the light at just the right moment before the sun set completely.
The first few attempts were unsuccessful, partly due to the background intruding into the scene, and secondly as the sun was still too high.
Trying to take the image outside didn’t work as I couldn’t get the angle of the sun to tie in with the parts of the object that needed illuminating. Moving to the window on the first floor of my home gave a better angle, although a fairly uninteresting background.
Moving the window frame into view and throwing it out of focus provided the background contrast that I felt the composition needed, and the sun highlighting the top of the box gave just enough brilliance to light the pertinent edges of the rest of the object.
In post processing exposure was slightly increased to bring out a touch of colour in the object, without detracting from the theme.
Rejected shots showing shape are shown below:
When I first considered the lighting equipment for this assignment I was concerned at my lack of dedicated photographic lighting. At the same time I didn’t see the point in rushing out and buying equipment that I didn’t really understand the merits of.
Since completing it, I have at least gleaned a greater understanding of what can be achieved with fairly understated pieces of lighting equipment, and now have the confidence in being able to create the right lighting scenario for a range of subjects.
Conversely I can also see how additional items would have been useful. Concentrating light onto specific areas, particularly in the texture shots was difficult, or perhaps more precisely, frustrating. Visualising what you want to achieve but not being able to quite capture it without lengthy trial and error procedures was exasperating at times.
I have at least become much more intuitive throughout the course with my camera, and find myself changing settings without thinking about it too much beforehand. Working in manual mode has become easier. Although I’ve probably taken far more images in this assignment than any other to obtain the final eight, this has been due more to a perfectionist streak than technical inability
Although my choice of object was perhaps not the easiest or most conventional, I’m still glad at the choice made, due to the challenges it presented. Perhaps having an emotional link was part of this, but being able to separate it into different structures I felt gave me greater scope over a more solid and complete entity.
Procrastination on choosing a subject and then photographing it has always been a bugbear, although I’m managing to improve on this irksome trait by developing distractions which halt any over-thinking.
Instead of trying to always achieve a result, such as with the second image relating to form, I stop trying to produce results and just take shots without any prior notion of what I’d like the outcome to be. This seems to free up the creative process and spark ideas which would not necessarily have come to the fore.
I realised when thinking initially around which object to choose, that one of my preferences was in finding something which had a ‘familiarity’ to it.
Since completing the assignment I have questioned whether this is a luxury. In a commercial environment I would need to work around whichever subject was presented, whether it was familiar, interesting or something I was particularly adverse to, within reason.
Trying to detach myself from the subject and simply select an object which would have met the aims of the assignment more easily, would have made life easier. I don’t really think though that I would have learnt as much as I did, or have been able to work around lighting problems when they arose quite so much.
I’ve repeatedly referred back to the assignment aims throughout as sometimes creativity takes over and you suddenly realise that the image you’ve just taken two hours to produce, is far off the mark in achieving the main aim. There is still a niggling doubt with the projected image on ‘colour’, although if I ask myself whether it was in the right context, and achieved its aim, then I would still have to agree that it did.
I think this assignment more than the others has developed my creativity in problem solving a situation or in expressing a quality where required.
At first, producing only eight images seemed a much simpler task than previous exercises. The very fact that a small number was required meant that ideas, lighting techniques, and subject had to be carefully considered to produce the exact result in line with the assignment aims.
Freeman, M Luck, S. (2012) The photographer’s exposure field guide. 1st ed. China: Ilex
Golden, R Craig, P. (2008) Masters of photography. 1st ed. Chine: Carlton Books
Higgins, J, Coultos, H, Gee, B (2013) Why it does not have to be in focus. 1st ed. China: Thames & Hudson
Hunter, F, Bivers, S Fuqua, P. (2012) Light science and magic. 4th ed. China: Elsevier
Bavister, S (2007) Lighting for portrait photography. Revised edition. Singapore: Craft Print International Ltd
www.photoflex.com 19th April 2014