“If only you knew the things I have seen in the darkness of night…”
– M. C. Escher
After some quite interesting background reading (and a fair dose of procrastination) I thought it would be better to start actually putting together some shots for this exercise.
I found that by reading through the coming exercises I can always keep those exercises in mind when out and about, and, in effect, I have been taking quite a few shots relevant to these upcoming exercises (as well as mini personal projects I’ve been working on too).
I have been reasonably well organised and have even attempted to create some virtual folders collecting my old and new night shots with the idea being to review some of my older shots together with the new ones here.
Camera settings were the usual: manual, range of lenses (25mm and 50mm fast primes/zooms 14-42; 40-150; low ISO for detail as I was using a tripod and shutter release cable), with an eye on the white balance settings. I also (luckily) did most of my night shots after some rain to hopefully grab some nice effects with reflections and textures alla Brassaï.
All of these shots are JPEGs straight out of the camera unless stated otherwise in the notes below and have no post production.
Nighttime: first efforts and comments
My initial idea with this tricky shot (it was on a slope) was to try and put the camera’s sensor to the test and try to trap those different light sources.
What I find with these first two shots was how the camera seems to bring out those hidden colours: I really couldn’t see that much orange light – and definitely not the darker shadows (reflected bushes) towards the bottom of the wall to the right.
With shot two, the unintentional torch-light (got in a right state trying to sync my cable release and torch button, twit!) actually adds to the light analysis one could say. Interesting to see how, at first, the overall exposure didn’t really seem to change at all even if I had my camera’s exposure metering on centre weighted ? But a closer look at the shots reveals some subtle differences: the whiter light reflected on the furthest wall (with the cable and light switch) in shot 1 is ‘colder’ than shot 2 which has a warmer tone and definitely a touch of yellow tint to it. I also think that the orange wall to the top right of shot 2 is slightly brighter. Ok, decent start, I reckon.
Shot 1 – 3,2 sec at F/5,6, ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 2 – 10 sec at F/8,0, ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 3 – 10 sec at F/8,0, ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 4 – 10 sec at F/8,0, ISO 400, 14mm
With this second set, my main idea was to again try to reveal any tones and colours of light on the various surfaces available as well as trying to bring out some of the textures with a couple of hand-held torches (I had my slave, I mean, my teenage son to help me out here!).
Overall, I feel that this wasn’t too successful. Shot 1 wasn’t exposed for long enough at 3,2 seconds and what with the low ISO of 400 (trying to maintain detail), and a fairly slow aperture of F/5,6, (also for detail) then, I suppose, that was to be expected.
The other three shots – all taken at a 10 second exposure time – clearly show more details. Again, as with the first attempts above, we can see some nice orange street lights reflected to the right, and my son and I’s “torch play” (especially shot 2) obviously highlights some more details as well as almost balancing the shots in terms of light to the left and light to the right… If you see what I mean. Although, I think we should have lowered the torch-light (they can be regulated) and possibly tried to focus on those curious white sblodges on the ramp itself. Might have produced some interesting effects.
Shot 1 – 10,0 sec at F/8,0 ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 2 – 20,0 sec at F/8,0 ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 3 – 15,0 sec at F/9,0 ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 4 – 15,0 sec at F/9,0 ISO 400, 14mm
Shot 1, maybe too dark, but still getting some nice reflection/shadows on the wall.
I lengthened the shutter time to try and get some more details/effects as well as using the blue torch-lights to try to create some sort of difference (in terms of light quality, or temperature). Shot 2 with its 20 second exposure certainly gave me more detail on the histogram – especially blue light thanks to the torches, and richer details on the floor too. With shots 3 and 4 I tried to capture my son walking across the frame which didn’t work out to well. Although shot 4 there are a few of him spaced across the frame if you look close enough. Frustratingly, not too successful at catching movementonce again…
I wanted to avoid direct light into the lens, but I thought that this shot with its reflections might provide some nice observations regarding the light.
Shot 1 I used a longer shutter (40sec) and left the WB on auto. I find that the Olympus auto white balance hits the mark 95% of the time (for me of course), and it did a pretty good job here I think considering the tricky amount of light sources in the frame.
Shot 2 was with the same WB but I wanted to see how it looked with a much shorter shutter speed – there’s definitely a less greenish feel to it, and it comes closer to how I saw the scene – although it was much darker to the naked eye. For shot 3 I used the incandescent WB setting and a much longer shutter speed of 57 seconds (as well as dropping the ISO to 100 to try and pry out a little more texture). Clearly the incandescent setting is much colder than auto, almost as if I’d used a coloured filter. We used a couple of torches on the foreground pavement (quite effective) as well as the tress to the right (ineffectual).
The final shot, shot 4 (72 second exposure) I set the camera to a flourescent WB setting, and we can see a difference. At first glance, there seems to be a similar light quality to shot 1 (using the auto setting), but on closer observation shot 4 appears to be a redder, magenta hue even. When compared to shot 1, shot 1 looks green/yellow! I must admit, I dislike both of those tones/hues/temperatures and prefer a mix although leaning towards the magenta temperature. Interesting.
These two shots are quite obviously inspired by my readings into both Brassaï’s immense night work, and the sweet work of Rut Blees Luxemburg.
Here we can see at the top of the frame some white light (from a nearby stadium) reflected on the tarmac which didn’t quite give me the effect I wanted so I used the torches to direct two extra sources of light. The first from the top right behind some bushes which I liked reflected on the pavement towards the camera (almost a mix of backlighting and cross lighting; and then light directed from behind the camera (axial light) just in front of my feet and the camera (seen here to the bottom of the image.
Shot 2 is a edited version where I added some warmer temperature to the overall image and cropped to a square as well as adding a little clarity and raising the highlights a touch. I also tried a BW shot, but found it too dull so I went with this warmer version.
With these shots I used the 50mm prime lens. Shot 1 was with the auto setting, whereas shot 2-3 were with the colder flourescent WB settings, and we can see a difference here. Shot 2-3 I tried to change the focus from near to far but can’t say I like these efforts too much but also realise we need to see what doesn’t work as well as what does.
I would stress that with this shot, being taken with a manual lens for full frame, there seems to be some chromatic anomalies: the purple focus plane in shot 2 is evident and I probably would remove that in post production.
Shot 1 – 10,0 sec at F/4,5, ISO 200, 14mm
Shot 2 – 8,0 sec at F/1,4, ISO 200, 25mm
Shot 3 – 10,0 sec at F/1,4, ISO 200, 25mm
There seemed to be some decent light effects here with the puddles and the several different light sources so I first tried with the kit lens (14-42mm – 28-85 equivalent) and then for shot 2/3 I used one of my cheap fun primes from China: a 25mm F/1,4 CCTV lens. The kit lens performs quite well with a good range of tones and detail I thought; whereas the 25mm with its much faster aperture gives us a brighter image at 8 seconds but with noticeable loss of image quality clearly towards the corners and with the characteristic vignetting of these lenses caused by their small size. An important thing to notice here is how the WB (auto mode) manages to produce faithful light qualities with both these very different lenses (bearing in mind the view seemed pitch black to us). Shot three we can just see the oncoming headlights of a car – which adds detail to the road as well as raising the overall brightness of the image with those white lights: a pleasant inclusion for once, as cars tend to usually bug me.
Shot 1 – 1,3 sec, at F/1,8, ISO 3200, 50mm
Shot 2 – 1/3 sec, at F/4,0, ISO 3200, 50mm
Shot 3 – 2,0 sec, at F/2,8, ISO 3200, 50mm
Shot 4 – 2,0 sec, at F/1,8, ISO 800, 50mm
Using the Olympus 50mm prime (which as I said before performs like a 100mm on the micro four thirds sensor) I was looking to get some of that ambient light using a range of apertures. For shot 1 I set the ISO at 3,200 which, I must be honest, I hardly ever do. The orange street light with seems to cast a sickly green light on this scene; can’t say I am a fan of this light, but it has to be said, a lot of detail can be seen and the noise seems to be reasonably well contained by the Olympus compression. Shot 4 I put the ISO down to 800 and at shutter of 2 seconds with fair results, I think: I really like the way the chunky red fence seems to ‘pop out’ thanks to the street light – something that was basically invisible to the naked eye.
Shot 1 – 8,0 sec, at F/8,0, ISO 800, 32mm
Shot 2 – 1,0 sec, at F/1,4, ISO 800, 25mm
Shot 1 seems to be dominated by that sickly yellow/green tint (something that I would adjust in post production – although I don’t know why I didn’t try different WB settings here IN CAMERA!?); shot 2 – using the 25mm CCTV lens at F/1,4 I could come down with exposure time to 1 second thanks to the very fast F/1,4 aperture. I also like the less sickly yellows and greens here, the picture seems more natural to me (apart from that ridiculous – but fun – swirling at the borders!).
I wanted to put these in as they show how different the camera ‘sees’ reality compared to our own eyes. Shot 1 was with the 25mm again, and in terms of the colour quality it is pretty close to how I saw the actual light; the second shot reveals light shadows and colours that were hidden to the naked eye.
Shot 1 – 0,4 sec, at F/5,5, ISO 800, 40mm
Shot 2 – 0,4 sec, at F/5,5, ISO 800, 40mm
Shot 3 – 3,2 sec, at F/5,5, ISO 200, 40mm
Shot 1 was set to auto white balance whereas shot 2 was set to the flourescent setting giving us a slightly more natural feel to the light; shot 3 was the incandescent setting and this is much brighter and has returned to the more orange hue (thanks also to the longer shutter time of 3,2 seconds).
Nighttime: older shots, reviewed
These two shots taken a few weeks back were with the 50mm again wide open. I was trying to see the difference with and without car headlights on the tarmac (auto WB here).
Just some fun shots while out and about a little after sunset (edited and cropped in LR).
Learning how to observe the light around us is undoubtedly a prerequisite for successful photography, just as learning how to use our camera’s settings is equally important to the final effect of a picture. I’m not a fan of sitting in front of the monitor for too long (however much I do actually do that!), so getting the WB settings and ISO right in situ is a must for me – and hopefully something that I feel I am beginning to understand as well as getting used to doing: one of those ‘good’ habits to get into.
There are so many variables to get right when taking a picture (in manual mode) and all of them have their importance (I’m thinking: reciprocity); but after having done this exercise and experimented with night shots and the camera’s settings, I think that getting the “correct” white balance setting could be the key to making or breaking a decent photograph.
With the previous exercise (Ex 4.2) the focus was observing the nuances of daylight (something I’d always taken for granted) and there is still plenty to learn about The Golden Hour; Kelvins, and that blue light as well as using shadows throughout the day and the way they change often incredibly rapidly. However, with night-light, things are very different: light behaves in a different way; it casts shadows where none seem to be and reflects and refracts with amazing beauty; it almost seems to reinvent colours and apply them to places and things in a way that only through the camera’s eye can they be revealed. Dealing with one, two or three main sources of light can lead to dramatic moods and long eerie shadows reminiscent of early morning or late afternoon sunlight, but without the incident light bouncing all over the place.
Simply fascinating stuff.
Ernst, B. (1976). The magic mirror of M.C. Escher. New York: Random House. (p17)
An interview via an ’email conversation’ over the summer of 2016.
KB: Your work with structures is wonderfully brutal; encapsulating the urban monster and the dichotomy between nature and human development which I don’t find as terrifying as many people say it is. Your work reminds me of work done by Fay Godwin some years ago. What attracts you to this vast theme? And where are you hoping to take it?
DM: I grew up in Canberra during the seventies surrounded by socialist architecture (the Cameron Offices, the Belconnon Bus Interchange and the National Art Gallery to name a few). I am attracted to Brutalism through its stark beauty and science fictional aesthetic. Remember the opening sequence to Bladerunner? I guess these structures allowed my imagination to soar in what really was a boring city to grow up in. Modernism and its close cousin Brutalism link in with so many artistic aesthetics from Joy Division to J.G Ballard, the Bechers, Paul Virilio, George Orwell, Bowie and so on. I see Brutalist architecture as a counterpoint to classicism, which was more about power, and subjugation. Brutalism was architecture for the people. Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation was a building to that operated as a machine for living where all were housed in a similar fashion without the need to leave their homes as amenities were all provided. Of course this was a utopian aspiration, which soon degenerated as all human endeavors do and was something Ballard explored in the novel High Rise. I am attracted to this theme because it is so vast.
KB: So being so vast there is scope for experimentation and development within it and for yourself I suppose?
DM: Yes the work seems limitless and something I will keep going with. Ambivalent Structures the series has been published by Emblem Books and the work has been shown at a number of galleries as well as being published in the forthcoming Deep Ends the J.G Ballard Anthology 2016
KB: Is photography an instinct, a feeling, as Cartier-Bresson said? Or can we learn to take photos?
DM:If it is an instinct then we should unlearn how to take a photograph as I feel this instinct is being corrupted through the speed and acceleration of image saturation in our society. Commercial image spectatorship demands particular visual recipes that fall in line with commercial expectations. Over time these tropes become more refined and ingrained to the point of fabulous banality. I think it’s partly the artist’s role to disrupt and subvert these tropes. As for Cartier-Bresson of whom I am a great fan but the idea of the photographer capturing a decisive moment I feel is a bit of a myth. Like any photographer Bresson manipulated and staged his work to varying degrees. Photography is all about manipulation, it’s a smoke and mirrors game.
KB: I must use that line: “…the point of fabulous banality” – brilliant! I agree, artist need to disrupt these tropes, and rock the boat, challenge the so-called norm. Yeah, the idolization of the decisive moment bothers me too – like it’s the only way to do photography for crying out loud!! (I wrote about this here).
I’m sure that Bresson staged a bit, but he was famous for his “lucky” captures more than anything and that graphic eye. Did he manipulate? How do you mean? Certainly not in the dark room – he never went in there!
DM: Lucky captures are arguable as you need to be shooting to achieve them. I do think however that good editing is the key to great work. I think Cartier Bresson and others are great editors also which is where the manipulation comes in. They choose what we don’t see as well as what we do see…like all photographers.
KB: Totally agree: he wasn’t just in the right place at the right time – more like he had the right vision at the right time; some sort of predictive, prescient camera vision!
I see what you’re saying here: editing and selecting shots has always been important – something I am learning to do with my own shots – as well as being patient and trying not to delete anything: you never know when a shot may take on an important pertinent significance, so it’s a good idea to save shots to some sort of archive for future reference I suppose. (What a great line: “They choose what we don’t see as well as what we see…” Brilliant.)
David, I’m a fan of ambiguity, but there are times when it’s inappropriate, wouldn’t you say? Should a photograph always clearly communicate something (how can it not?) to the viewer?
DM: The viewer will always read the photograph through his or her own unique life experiences something an artist will never control. I believe the spectator is the author of the work. So I guess ambiguity is in the eyes of the spectator rather than in the work itself. KB: Yeah, I agree, we all bring our cultural baggage with us. Interesting though – the spectator as author… Surely if the spectator sees ambiguity then the photo may be seen as unsuccessfully communicating, or successfully communicating depending on the photographer’s aim? Or, does it mean that the spectator doesn’t understand the language of the photograph, that they are photographically illiterate?
DM: I guess for me ambiguity opens up the space for a variety of interpretations which I find exciting as an artist.
KB: Ok. But how much is the viewer’s interpretation of a photo important and vital? And when is it not?
DM: If it’s a genuine exchange then it is really the only thing that matters in the end. If we all interpreted things in the same way then it would be a pretty boring place and art would cease to exist.
What do you think about the idea that the photographer should always leave a suggestion of intended meaning through a title (or lack of one) or a short statement about it. Do you think that is a necessary thing to do?
DM: It depends, but I do feel that the artist should not explain how a spectator should approach their viewing of the work through its title. I guess this is where some ambiguity may help to loosen the interaction up so the viewer can approach the work through the prism of their own lived experience.
KB: That’s really nice, will certainly be quoting that (if you don’t mind)!
So, David, where does photography stand in contemporary art today? Is it stuck in the delightfully wacky world of advertising? What’s new?
DM: Hiroshi Sugimoto, James Casebere, Thomas Demand, Rosemary Laing, Lynne Roberts Goodwin, Prudence Murphy, Gabriele Orozco, Izabela Pluta, Allora and Calzadilla, Debra Phillips, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Bill Sullivan, Phillip Lorca Dicorcia, Kohei Yoshiyuki, Tom Bowditch, Michael Wolf, The Bechers, Andreas Gursky, Sarah Moska. These are twenty contemporary artists off the top of my head that may offer a different perspective on image making.
KB: Oh that’s great, I will certainly check them out (only know 6 of them!) thanks! What about social networks, do you think they are diluting the art of photography, or are they actually creating more artists?
DM:I believe that social networks have always existed in various forms. The new technology is just that….new technology. As for the art of photography I feel that image saturation and its pervasive nature (I think this may be what you are touching on) makes art even more precious especially photography. A good book to read that explores these concerns is Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before by Michael Fried.
KB: Ah, I think I may have seen that quoted around. Ok, thanks again, I will order that straight away! To carry on from the previous question, are social networks the death of photography, or a kind of rebirth? Or have they simply created a new branch of photography, or better, a new kind of photographer (or photography user)?
DM: I guess they have further democratized the photographer. Everyone with a mobile can make an image and I guess it’s a similar renaissance as the Box Brownie was or the Polaroid.
Born and lives in Sydney, Australia. David Manley studied at the College of Fine Arts (COFA) UNSW, majoring in Photo-media and graduating in 2012 with 1st Class Honours and the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence. Manley was a finalist in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 Bowness Photography Prize and the 2014 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award. In 2012 he was a winner of the coveted Head On Photographic Portrait Prize. Solo and group exhibitions include Black Eye Contemporary Photography Space, Darlinghurst, The Australian Centre for Photography, Paddington, Griffith University Art Gallery, Brisbane, Customs House, Sydney, QUAD Gallery Derby, United Kingdom, Ulsan Cultural Arts Centre, Ulsan, South Korea, FORM Gallery at Midland Atelier Fremantle, Western Australia, Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, Perth, Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne, Blender Gallery, Paddington and Perspektiva at COFA Space/UNSW, Paddington. Manley was also one of sixteen Australian artists selected for the publication Hijacked III Contemporary Photography from Australia and the UK which was published in 2012. In June 2014 Manley attended the Ulsan International Photography Festival in Ulsan, South Korea as an Australian representative artist. David Manley has recently completed a Masters of Fine Arts achieving 1st Class Honours and is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of New South Wales Art and Design.
When I read this brief, I immediately thought of Edward Weston’s wonderful abstract project of photographing vegetables which he started in 1929 – especially No. 30 taken in 1930. Looking at that pepper again, it is such a fascinating study in light and form, and immensely beautiful. Looking even closer at the shot we can see how the pepper doesn’t quite sit on the surface, almost as if it is laying down. Looking at the equally beautiful pepper No 35, we can see that it is laying on its side on a tin funnel (which I thought at first was some sort of metal plate – see below). What a great idea: the object could be wedged into the funnel, genius!
Reading through A History of Photography (Johnson et al., 2005, p494) they talk about pepper No. 30 and how it, “…wrestles against itself inside a tin funnel that Weston used as a backdrop; the tension captured in the natural form has been isolated and enhanced by Weston’s careful framing.” And I would add: by the lighting too.
Diprose and Robins talk about how important it is to: “…get the lighting for the still life absolutely right, and be aware that if you are using more than four lights from different directions, you will probably produce poor results with confusing shadows.”(Johnson et al., 2005, pp265-286)
It’s difficult to see if he (Weston) used more than one or two lights and/or reflectors, but I think we can see the subtle over head lighting he used and there seems to be some reflected/deflected light on the right of the pepper. With pepper No. 35 which is a much higher contrast image than No.30 there also seems to be similar light even if a little harsher (Heiting, Pitts and Adams, 2013, p109), and we can assume that he used a similar set up over the four-day shoot.
So, I wanted to pay homage to his work by also shooting some vegetables or fruit in a similar way.
two adjustable torches
two lamps (and extension cable) – tall floor lamp and table lamp
white/black books used as reflectors/deflectors (not too effective!)
mirror (didn’t use, but you never know)
yellow plastic photo album as filter for torches (a lucky find)
frying pan (base for subject)
a peach, courgette, red plum, a potato (as subjects – not as munchies)
Not knowing yet about the tin funnel he used when I took my shots, I used the bottom of a frying pan to create the metal base – I was hoping it would give me plenty of texture but not distract from the subject too much.
I (unsurprisingly for me) forgot to get some peppers, so I had to use what was available (creative improvisation/desperation – delete as appropriate). Not mentioned in the list above was the overhead ceiling light too, a really cold light that came in handy mostly for setting up and the very close macro shots.
The following shots were all taken at night (when the chores of daily life were done and the kids were in bed!).
Shot 1 – 1,6 sec, ISO 200, 50mm at F/1,8
I used a torch to light the background sheet and I like the purple hue on the frying pan. The issue here was trying not to get too much of that white torch-light on the right hand side of the peach (which I just about managed to do).
As can be seen from this high quality visual
showing the set up for this shot, we can see the position of the torch-light – or rather the direction, as well as the light from the ceiling light to the left.
Shot 2 – 1,0 sec, ISO 200, 50mm at F/2,0
With shot 2 I was trying to capture some detail on the potato’s surface. I had just washed it and though the wet skin would give me more texture and work better with the light.
Here we can see the two main sources of light – the overhead ceiling light to the left and the floor lamp to the right. I think there is a nice reflected light coming off the frying pan to light up the underneath of the potato.
With the camera in the same position, I then – as mention above – used the torch-light to slightly brighten the bottom of the potato by directing unto the frying pan under the potato but mindful to not get that light shining into or across the lens. I used the warmer floor lamp too to also try and emphasize the gnarled nature of that end of the potato.
Shot 3 – 3,2 sec at F/5,6, ISO 200, 42mm (14-42mm zoom)
Shot 4 – 1/3 sec ISO 200, 25mm at F/2 c.
I wanted to get a bit closer to the surface, so I turned the subject around and zoomed in for shot 3; Shot 4 seems to be too sexy for a potato. Can a potato even be sexy? Well, it is now.
I didn’t use the torch here for shot 3; just the ceiling light to the right of the image. This side lighting choice was made to hopefully bring out detail across the skin of the potato and give us a nice dark side too.
For shot 4 I just used the lamp shining from the right and the torch behind the yellow plastic photo album to put some light onto the bottom left hand part of the image which is beautifully represented in the painstakingly laborious sketch here.
Shot 5 – 1/3 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
Shot 6 – 1/8 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
Shot 7 – 1/3 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
I wasn’t too happy with the courgette shots: I just couldn’t get a nice shot of its texture/surface (as can be seen in the contact sheets below). So with these three shots I mounted the 35mm CCTV lens with a couple of extension rings to get a bit closer.
A bit too abstract for this exercise one could argue – although I won’t: I’m just fine with it.
For all of these courgette shots I used the cold overhead ceiling light (I have two in this room – one warm one cold) to flood the scene; I usually shoot macros with the flash but I wanted to try something different with these shots. Added to the overhead lighting I used the torch with the homemade yellow filter to fill in the darker parts and bring out the rich green.
Shot 8 – 1,0 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
Shot 9 – 15 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/10 and macro extension ring.
As with the courgette shots above I stuck with the same set up of overhead lighting and torch work (as well as sticking with the 35mm); shot 8 was wide open (F/1,4) and the strong yellow light at the top of the image is thanks to the torch-light again (as well as the overhead ceiling light); for shot 9 I stopped down with the aperture to around F/8-F/10 to keep the details crisp (as the Fujian wide open tends to do crazy things); I used the torch quite flush to the peach to try to lengthen the shadows a touch and not blow out all the details as there was more than enough light here, I think.
Shot 10, Plum Universe– 0,6 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
This is probably my favourite shot from the sequence; love the details and the vibrant colours. For once the 35mm wide open has managed to keep part of the plum crisp while warping the rest to elsewhere and places unknown (which is one of the reasons I like these CCTV lenses – you never really know what’s going to happen).
The lighting was challenging but fun; I used the warm ceiling light to the left and the smaller table lamp to the right (the cold ceiling light was off for this shot as was the tall floor lamp); I also used the torch-light here (the colder blue light at the centre of the plum) by bouncing it off of the frying pan – as it was too strong when directed straight at the subject.
My children reckon that this looks like a picture of the universe – which I never even noticed until they pointed it out!
Shot 11 – 1/6 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F1,8
With shot 11 I used the torch with the makeshift filter as well as the table lamp to the right; I’d ditched the frying pan and scrunched up the backdrop sheet to add a little sunstance to the background. The warm yellow light to the bottom left is the effect I wanted – to try and remove the dark side of the peach… The Dark Side of The Peach! This shot clearly has a more abstract feel to it, and that was my intention (while still capturing the form).
These are some other shots that I think should go in here as they are a small study in different directions of light on the subject.
Shot 12 – 1/6 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F/4
Shot 13 – 1/6 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F/4
Shot 14 – 1/6 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F/4
Shot 15 – 2/5 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F/4
Shot 11 – 2/5 sec, ISO 200, Olympus 50mm at F/4
I think that side lighting definitely gives a more dramatic effect (shots 11-12) compared to the overhead light (shot 15) which appears ‘safer’ and ‘friendlier’ even. Can a peach seem friendly – just as a potato may appear sexy?
I was curious to see how some selected shots would look conveted to black and white.
Shot 10 – 0,6 sec, ISO 200, Fujian 35mm at F/1,4 and macro extension ring.
Shot 16, The Giant Peach – 1,6 sec, ISO 200, 50mm at F/4,0
Shot 2 – 1,0 sec, ISO 200, 50mm at F/2,0
Shot 3 – 3,2 sec at F/5,6, ISO 200, 42mm (14-42mm zoom)
Shot 16, The Giant Peach – 1,6 sec, ISO 200, 50mm at F/4,0
Me and The Giant Peach! I love this seemingly oversized peach and I experimented here with the lighting (as can be seen from the contact sheets below) but really liked this one; the thin slither of torch-light to the left works for me. This last shot was heavily edited and possibly slightly too aggressively cropped, but that was because I wanted to create the illusion of a bulging, oversized peach trying to burst out of the confines of the frame.
Summary and conclusion
I had a lot of fun setting up a mini studio (if we can call it that) and it felt nice to almost know what I was doing for once – thanks to the research done for this part of the course on light – and I feel there are some decent results.
Looking back to Ex. 4.2 and Ex. 4.3 where I had to observe light and its gorgeous variables during the day and at night respectively, I feel that this exercise was a very different use of light; being in control of or at least being able to intervene with the light within a frame adds a wonderfully personal and involving feeling to creating a photograph. The use of deflectors, filters, torches and lenses all adds to a very creative relationship with the subject (no, that potato is not that sexy!).
I have found this relationship extremely satisfying and rewarding in terms of the learning process and acquiring new skills as much as the final pleasant and enjoyable results (also, nice to point out that this simple project was set up with very cheap gear too, not that I had a choice really).
One thing’s for sure: I’ll never look at light (or fruit ‘n’ veg) in quite the same way again.
PS We ate all these things (seperately) the next day – I’m sure Mr Weston would have agreed!
Diprose, G. and Robins, J. (2012). Photography : the new basics. London: Thames & Hudson.
Johnson, W., Rice, M., Williams, C., Mulligan, T. and Wooters, D. (2005). A history of photography. Köln: Taschen.
Heiting, M., Pitts, T. and Adams, A. (2013). Edward Weston, 1886-1958. Koln: Taschen.
“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day.” – V. Van Gogh
“It is the street-lamp that works the transformation. Under the first ray of this nocturnal sun, the nightscape dons its panoply of shadows and a malefic alchemy transmutes the texture of the visible world.”
– Paul Morand
“If only you knew the things I have seen in the darkness of night…”
– M. C. Escher
There’s something so incredibly attractive about night photography – and, I suppose – the night itself; that evocative, enticing mood; the darkness and the way it emphasizes the subject or subjects of an image and, as can so often happen, the way the absence of light can actually become the image.
What is it that we find so alluring and seductive about darkness? Does it stem from fear? Seems logical to be wary of a lack of vision – an obvious evolutionary advantage: fair to say that we probably wouldn’t even be around today as a species if we hadn’t been scared of darkness along the way.
So does that very sensible and seemingly rational fear translate into an aesthetic quality that we can then taste (and empathize with) through an image of the night or darkness be it photographic or otherwise? Or is it the simple fact of making the once hidden world of nocturnal monsters and magic disappear to reveal itself as something else, something more sinister, something much more beautiful than just fear and caution?
Background reading: pioneers and old masters
While reading up for this part of the course and looking carefully at Brassaï‘s ridiculously good night shots (Brassaï. and Morand, 2001) and Paul Martin’s Leicester Square shot from 1869 (Ang, 2014, pp100-101), I remember thinking that they reminded me of the light (and darkness!) in Caravaggio’s paintings.
It was about 20 years ago, the first time I ever saw a Caravaggio painting in real life (after having been forced to study pictures from books or poor facsimiles of his majestic opere), and remember just being simply blown away by it: its size, the quality of the expressions, and, of course, that unbelievable use of (often) a single source of light (cross lighting): so dramatic, so so moody, eerie, foreboding even – and just simply mind-bogglingly gorgeous. Looking back on his work now being primarily Cena in Emmaus, 1606, (Francalanci, 1989, p384), I am struck by the contrast his light creates: it’s as if mostly everyone else painting in the Baroque art period was using HDR whereas Caravaggio was almost underexposing and then seemingly breaking the contrast level in post production! It seems he really was scandaloso – and I am not just thinking of the admittedly scandalous content but more his scandalous and divine use of light…
Here, in just 7 years from the beautiful 1599 shot (National Gallery, London) look how moodier the 1606 painting is, and the use of the light allowing the darkness to become part of the structure of the image (apart from the arguably better placement of the figures in the frame). An astounding image. I’d sincerely love to try a tableaux or something of this scene, but the thought terrifies me as much as it excites me: how could you possibly get close to creating something so beautiful?
But that wouldn’t be the point. It would be about being influenced by the work and not about trying to emulate it or anything silly like that.
This also makes me think of Joel Meyerowitz’s 1996 photograph New York City Interior inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1926 Eleven a.m.painting (not that Meyerowitz is the only one to have been inspired by paintings of course, and Hopper has inspired some awesome work elsewhere too!).
Come to think of it, there are so many of Hopper’s paintings that are worth looking at it terms of his work with light (and colour) to create moods, as well as his skillful compositions. I had a pleasant time nosing through a book of his that I have (Kranzfelder and Hopper, 1996) but I was looking particularly for his nighttime paintings of which there are some real beauties. From the well-known Nighthawks painting to the (for me) ever-so-foreboding yet beautiful work Night Windows, 1928; the equally disturbing (at least for me again!) Rooms for Tourists, 1945 and the less threatening (once again, just for me) Drug Store from 1927. Although my favourite of his evening/night paintings is the 1939 New York Movie:
Those warm orange lights (3000K?), the pensive gesture, even the carpet all work for me.
Another thing one notices about Hopper’s work is the preparation that he put into his paintings; extensive notes and some thoughtful observations about how light works (or would work) in his paintings (Kranzfelder and Hopper, 1996, p138/p53) as can be seen with his sketch and notes for Morning Sun:
Edward Hopper, Study for Morning Sun, 1952 (Kranzfelder and Hopper, 1996, p53)
Something to think about for my photography, although, in fairness, I have been making notes pre-tasks and really enjoy the habit of thinking through things as opposed to the older me’s more instinctive, raw approach (not forgotten or neglected, I might add!) especially (or maybe even exclusively) when doing these exercises and assignments.
Brassaï‘s famous book, Paris du Nuit (1933), really is an astounding collection of photos. What really struck me was not just his eye for composition or content matter, but the way he gets the light right; the use of the available ambient light is really masterful (an admirable quality considering that he was one of the first to attempt such bold unknown photography with arguably ‘limited’ technology).
One of his most famous images is the gutter shot with the pavement “snaking” across the frame in a fascinatingly striking dance, and I found this shot to be a great inspiration. The damp (wet?) road just adds a wonderful graphic quality to the image as well as bringing out the cobblestones and the pavement texture(s). This is probably the shot that gave me the most ideas for this exercises perhaps as it is the easiest one to try to recreate? I mean, it’s highly unlikely that I’m ever gonna get to a port or canal with the lighting that Brassaï captured; times have changed: everything is (rightly so) flooded with lighting nowadays which creates its own challenges.
Looking at other past masters, I was blown away by some of the beautiful night shots. A few stuck out for me, namely: Stieglitz’s Reflections of Night, NY from 1898; Paul Martin’s Leicester Square from 1896 an amazing 15m exposure (as well as Martin being a strong influence on Stieglitz); Kértész’s delicious Paris Square at Night taken in 1927 with its spotty lights and divergent shadows is a true masterpiece (as is most of his work, I’d say!); Edward Steichen’s The Flatiron from 1904 and its subtle, barely discernible details inspired by the night paintings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler (one brilliantly entitled “Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket“, c. 1875” amazing!); Willy Ronis’ magical Rue Muller, Paris (1934) with those receding street-lamps and, like Brassaï, those damp cobblestones reflecting all that glory and accentuating all that texture.
Too much to take in really!
Bill Brandt (one of my faves) also made some lovely night shots during the “fantastically beautiful” blackouts in the 40s where he made use of the darkness and the moonlight stating how it, “[the moonlight] was so soft, it was like a stage, like stage lighting.”
Something that we can see with an atmospheric shot he took in the 40s Blackout in London, Moon Over Suburbs (Brandt and Jeffrey, 2007, plate 2) – a London that will unlikely ever be seen again.
Brandt’s mini series “The Magic Lantern of a Car’s Headlights” (1945) also shows some interesting work with a car’s headlights and the secrets they reveal.
I found Ogle Winston Link’s Hotshot, Eastbound photograph from 1956 an impressive and ambitiously set up night shot: the couple posed in the foreground (he paid them $10!); the connected flash lights at different points in the frame; the fact that he had organised things with the train driver (Ang, 2014, p228) to help out; the addition of the airplane to the screen in post production as the flash(es) had “washed out” the projected film (McCann, 2016).
Such a massively well-thought out project that lasted for years and also had some really nice colour shots too, also taken at night, where you can really see the quality of the 4×5 view camera he used.
Background reading:present day masters
From the pioneers of early night photography to the more modern take on it, we can see some quite different (and quite lovely) effects.
Whilst collecting names of photographers to read up on, I came across a few contemporary photographers that I had never heard of before (WebUrbanist, 2008) and one that really caught my eye was Bill Schwab. Some ridiculously beautiful night images here, all in a wonderful B/W – I am hoping to contact him for my interview section, see if we can garner some insights!
Staying with Flickr, there are hundreds of users that contribute to a wonderful group made exclusively of night photos called appropriately Noctilucence (other ‘night’ groups on Flickr are undoubtedly available, but in my humble opinion, not quite as good as this one).
There are just too many to go into here, but suffice to say that some of the most gorgeous night shots that I have ever seen are there, and are well worth a look. And then another look.
I was familiar with Sugimoto’s amazing Theatre series and have already researched his work before, although it was great to look through his work again and to marvel at his control of light as can also be seen with his museum waxworks (Cotton, 2009, p107).
Dan Holdsworth’s night work is extraordinary (and so is the rest as far as I am concerned), and I got sucked in to his set from 2008 entitled A Light in the Mountain, as well as California (2004) and especially A Machine for Living,1999-2000 which I’d already seen from Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art (Cotton, 2009, p95).
Cotton, when referring to Holdsorth’s car park photographs, observes how he, “…uses night-time both as the temporal equivalent of, and the best conditions with which to describe, the auspicious spaces he depicts. By setting up his camera for a long exposure, the lights of the car park and the traffic are depicted as radiating luminescence. The image has a distinctly non-human atmosphere, as if showing us an essence that could not be seen by the naked eye.”
And it is true, the light seems so otherworldly, nothing like a car park at all especially with image 01 from A Machine for Living, 1999, like some sort of Martian settlement:
The above image reminds of some work I have done (attempted to do) with long exposures in the past. They seem to bring out hidden colours (as well as realms!), invisible tones and unseen textures, things that were imperceptible to the naked eye. Here’s an example, with a decidedly more human feel, taken in 2013:
View from Our Place, 60 sec at F/8.0, ISO 80, 4.8mm (eq. 27mm); Panasonic DMC-FZ38, (yeah, you read that right: a bridge camera from 2009 which I still use), 19/09/13. Compared to a large format image this image is obviously pretty poor in terms of detail, however, the long exposure does reveal colours and textures that were not visible to the naked eye: the orange glow on the top left hand corner of the white building to the right as well as the tips of the buildings to the left not to mention the weird purple sky! The lights are obviously blown out, and with exercise 4.3 I’d like to try some cross lighting to avoid that.
Sato Shintaro, as suggested by our course notes for this exercise, has produced some great work such as Night Lights: a large set of images taken from 1997 to 1999 in Tokyo and Osaka. They are fine shots, although most of them they feel too cramped and cluttered for me, but, as he states on the website, by focusing on the neons and removing the people: “...the purpose of the lighting is lost and only the glow remains – providing a glimpse of the streets we know well from a less familiar perspective.” Michael Freeman in Capturing Light points out something interesting about neon displays: “…you can photograph them at a wide range of exposure settings – up to several f-stops – and they still look good. Or they look different.”
Something which I tried recently for a personal project doing some double exposures at night. Didn’t work out too well, but I gave it a go.
Shintaro mentions this “less familiar perspective” again when talking about the superb set of images Tokyo Twilight Zone. According to his statement about the set, he shoots these city nightscapes from around the 10th floor because it is “...more like looking out horizontally to confront the city, rather than looking down on it. And it’s interesting that at this height signs of daily life, like laundry hung out to dry, appear in the photographs.”
Interesting, instead of the normal urge to race to the top floor to get the highest view possible, Shintaro’s way seems (and looks) more immersive: we are among the buildings, not above them. These images are carefully framed and the use of the twilight mood gives the sky some character, and as Freeman also mentions, there is: “…much to recommend Blue Evening Light as a prime time for shooting, so that the sky stays alive and doesn’t just disappear into blackness.” (Freeman, 2013, p120) which we can see with Shintaro’s sky (as well as his evident use of filters or some adjustment brush tool on the sky – or is that just me again?)
Sata Shintaro, Tokyo Twilight Zone, 2004. Pretty heavy grad filter, or adjustment brush work on the sky here? Not that that is against the law at all, just curious as to the techniques used to create this image.
So as Freeman notes the sky (light) plays a part in the frame and the images balance without too much focus on the city, just enough. As Shintaro puts it: “... when manmade and natural light commingle.”
He summarises with this: “ I am moved by this unconscious power－the raw power that issues from a city built by human hands. And in the twilight hours before night falls, this power becomes a subtle transition of light, revealing its shape even more clearly.”
Barnbaum also mentions this and how to avoid the “spotty lighting”:
“…But what about nighttime colour photography? In urban areas, contrast created by the inverse square law [what’s that?] where street-lights and other point sources produce extremely spotty, contrasty situations is difficult to overcome. One clever way to overcome this is to shoot well after sunset (or before sunrise) but with enough dusk or dawn light to even out the spotty lighting.” (Freeman, 2013, p95) Something that I dabbled with in the previous exercise (Ex 4.2)
Still, Tokyo Twilight Zone, is truly a wonderful project, although, it may just be me (or my monitor), but the images tend to be a little too magentary [sic]? Of course, something we have to bear in mind is the different photographic aesthetic for the East (however Western these cityscapes could also seem). We must be careful not to rely too heavily on our own cultural preconditioning, and as Lucy Soutter points out: “Photographic aesthetics read differently depending on their cultural context.“, and how, “In Japan, Iran, India or any number of other specific cultural contexts, photographic aesthetics have a life of their own.” (Soutter, 2013)
So, I may just be totally ignorant to Japanese photographic aesthetics. Still, like anything in life, we need to keep an open mind and be tolerant to diversity, welcome it even.
Comparable to Holdsworth eerie and suggestive use of light is undoutedly Rut Blees Luxemburg’s golden night photography, or as Cotton describes it: “…magnificent amber imagery of urban architecture.” (Cotton., 2009, p76).
Luxemburg’s “golden” images are made with a 5×4 camera (yet another photographer who swears by large format) and as Higgins notes: “Her long exposures – up to twenty minutes long – made with the available light from street lamps, cast her images in rich gold hues, disclosing an unknown world of colour.” (Higgins., 2013, p67)
And Luxemburg also mentions how the large format camera allows: “…a transformation, something other than what you see in your mundane, everyday experience… Something which is there but perhaps can be sensed better than it can be seen.“, and, as Higgins goes on to say, she admits: “…a fascination with the possibilities of the large-format camera and the long exposure which allows me to let chance enter the work. The long exposure leaves space for the unexpected things to happen while the shutter is open.“. Quite a different approach to Holdsworth, or Shintaro’s work and more in line with Sugimoto’s “I let the camera capture whatever it captures…” approach. (Higgins., 2013, p153)
I’d seen Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s Heads series from 2000 before and thought it would be appropriate for research here as his flash brings out pedestrians’ heads from the darkness… Until I discovered that he doesn’t use a flash but a hidden strobe.
And that the shots were not taken at night at all, but during the day!
What an amazing project, and, tenuously we can give a nod to his work here as it is a use of light.
The final photographer/artist* for this research is Paolo Roversi. I bought a book of his about three years ago, and flipped through it a couple of times but have never really looked at it until now. His work with torchlight is very nice and gave me a few ideas to try out for this exercise; the main difference being I didn’t quite manage to get hold of any waif like female models in flamboyant clothes for my shoot!
We live in hope.
Er, no actually we don’t.
*Delete as appropriate
Prep work and summary
After having almost overdosed on the absurd amount of material to study/read and look through on the topic of night photography (and realizing that what I have seen is just a fragment of the tip of the iceberg regarding this topic!), I must now put some ideas of my own together.
My first idea was to try and reveal the hidden colours of the night as all these masters (above) seem to do, but the truth is, without a view camera or some sort of modern camera that costs well over £2,000 pounds (not including lens), there really is no chance of coming close to the dynamic range, colours, and especially detail that large format can produce.
Ah well, just have to make do with what we’ve got and enjoy it without worrying about bigger and better cameras or dreaming about Fujifilm XT2s, Sony a7Riis, new X1D-50c mirrorless Hasselblads, Leicas, or full-frame flagships and the like from CaNikon, or Pentax, thank you very much.
(Takes a long, deep breath and continues)
My previous photos of night-time scenes and experiments with long exposures taught me some basics:
underexposing isn’t always a bad thing
get as much right in-camera as you possibly can (instead of messing around for years on post production software later)
use a tripod
use a shutter release cable
don’t need to use filters
experiment with WB settings on the camera
experiment with several apertures
prepare yourself for getting it all wrong
prepare yourself to mess it up again
try out new things such as movement, double exposures, bracketing
use low ISO (but don’t be afraid to push it and see the results)
make sure lighting is even and constant
avoid direct light into the lens to avoid those stars and blown highlights (unless that is your objective)
use manual mode
be prepared to get wet (use the rain like the masters did!)
use a torch for focusing in total darkness (and for seeing what you are doing i.e. changing lens, where the tripod legs are – ahem).
Let’s keep positive and get out there and start shooting, see what happens!
“Light is so important that it is necessary to become an expert in every aspect of light, from its bold qualities to its subtle nuances.”
– Barnbaum, 2010, The Art of Photography, p68
“Photographers choose a light source for the quality and character it brings to their work.”
– Ingledew, 2005, Photography, p214
“Light – the photographer’s constant inspiration – can do strange things.”
– Hill, 1982, Approaching Photography, p143
“Most photographers equate good light with an abundance of light.
– Barnbaum, 2010, The Art of Photography, p69
Yet another stimulating and challenging exercise!
The brief points out that we should “observe” the light and not just photograph it. One could argue that we always do observe the light- albeit apparently unconsciously – or we wouldn’t even be able to SEE the intended photograph to begin with, would we?
However, as I am sure this task expects, it really is an eye-opening thing to actually observe the sometimes subtle, sometimes brusk changes in the light that falls on and around us throughout the day; as Hill mentions (Hill, 1982): “…the discipline of stilling yourself for a length of time to look closely at an object almost certainly has a beneficial effect.”, (even if he was talking about drawing!), so I started observing.
I am lucky to live in one of the sunniest places in Italy (we very rarely never see blue sky), so, let’s say there is plenty to work with here. I decided to take a landscape shot from the top of my masionette (well, it’s not my masionette, I have a flat there!). I’d been meaning to get up there to do a few shots for years so it was good to actually get around to it. The view is of a block of flats (which I have been photographing for years) and I thought it would be perfect for this exercise due to its shape, foreground textures as well as background view and sky hopefully giving me a full range of tones to work with (and observe) throughout the day.
After making some notes (see Reading and research below) from what I’d been reading and doing a little simple research on-line regarding local sunrise and sunset times, I prepped my gear (including a new tripod, and shutter release cable – new toys!) for an early morning start.
Photo sequence and notes
I’ve always loved that mother-of-pearl hue that is just amazing when it hits the sea, and I can see the same colour here in the sky: a very warm (maybe 2000-3000 K? Still haven’t quite got my head around these numbers yet). We can also see the orange tints thanks to the street lights (including a huge one just out of sight to the left) and they are even leaving a shadow on the flats (closest balconies on the left of the building). I’m quite impressed with the ‘tiny’ m4/3 sensor which holds on to detail quite well when I pulled detail out of the shadows in post production using the shadows and highlights levels (not this shot, these shots are all straight out of the camera JPEGs).
I thought I would add this shot just to demonstrate the (almost amazing) difference that 10 mins can make! It’s almost as if I had underexposed shot 1 and then this one has been ‘corrected’. The light is not so different in terms of quality, but rather intensity – there’s just more of it (as far as I can see). We can see this with the detail in the flats starting to become clearer; there is also a nice warm uniformity to the light, it seems to be evenly distributed over the image (even if the histogram shows clipping in the highlights? Again, not in this actual photo, but later in Lightroom, I lowered the highlights and the histogram settled towards the middle indicating correct exposure, just to play around a bit).
An hour and a half later and the light is very different. The sky has taken on a light blue (cyan even?) feel and the direct sunlight casts its (awesome) shadows, and brings out the Pine trees to the right (they seem to pop out compared to the previous two images!). There is still a feeling of a warmer light on the buildings in sunlight whereas the shadows seem to be taking on a bluer tone. The background hills also become lighter and are starting to fade as the direct sunlight fills the air between us and them (and they have almost lost their early morning blueness).
Finally (I think) I can see what Ingledew was talking about with regards to the quality of light and the bluer Kelvin (above 5000K – if I’m not mistaken). There is no mistaking that almost everything (except those central beige flats?) are blanketed with a blue layer – it’s almost as if I had put a light blue filter on the camera!
I used Auto WB for these shots. I have the habit of using one of the programmable wheels on my camera to toggle between WB settings. I find by keeping both eyes open while looking through the EVF (which I religiously use) I can see when they match or when the camera looks like it is ‘seeing’ what I am seeing in terms of colour temperature. Does that make sense?
I’d read something about the different directions of light in Barnbaum (2010, p75) and with this shot I can see the so-called axis-lighting and how it hits the cloud creating a stronger contrast than with shot 4. Or am I just imagining this? There is definitely a colder feel to this with the clouds than with shot 4. Diprose and Robins (2012, p131) talk about this: “You will also notice that daylight is not a fixed colour either; as the sun rises higher in the sky it turns bluer, and this also happens when the weather becomes more overcast. This helps to explain why sunset pictures can look more orange than they appear in real life: although you may be using a daylight WB setting (5500K), the sunset is much warmer, at 3200K, which is the same colour as a tungsten light.”
This final shot in the sequence is (surprisingly for me), or seems tobe quite blue still. I just assumed that the dawn dusk light were the same in temperature, but that is not the case as we can see here. The histogram for this shot (the only one in this sequence) also showed clipping towards the blue tint. I can see some faint, soft yellows/oranges here too, but very different from the early morning shots. Should I gone with the clichéd orangey/red sunset? Should probably have taken a couple more with direct sunlight still visible.
Reading and research
As always with these exercises, a good deal of reading is required (in my opinion) if you really want to get closer to appreciating these tasks (as well as building up a certain amount of confidence and background knowledge with regards to basic photographic principles).
Once again Ingledew’s great book: Photography, and Diprose and Robins’ solid: Photography: The New Basics, have shed some light (sorry!) on the tricky beauty of light.
Both books point out the way in which sunlight changes [temperature] throughout the day, starting with Diprose and Robins on page 271: “Daylight is continuously changing in colour temperature and quality, so care must be taken in its use.”, and with slightly more detail with Ingledew on page 214: “Pictures taken in available light can appear more natural in mood and more atmospheric than those illuminated by flash or tungsten. The angle and colour of sunlight changes a lot throughout each day as the sun travels through the sky, giving you many choices of how to photograph a location.”
Just to add to that last quote, I would say that the fact that it changes so much during the day could also restrict the amount of choices you have – especially if you “miss” that particular moment/light/shadow/mood that you were looking for. Am I being negative here? Or just careful, or thoughtful?
Ingledew’s clear presentation of what “colour temperatures” are using the measurement Kelvin is also very insightful – as can be seen below (picture 1 – and then my notes: picture 3). Now I know what all that number madness is on my camera’s WB settings!
Freeman (2007, pp134-5) highlights the importance of taking a good look around to see the best view for a shot and how: “Making a reconnaissance for a landscape shot to check possible viewpoints and the way the light falls, then returning when weather and lighting conditions seem favourable…”
I couldn’t agree more, even if I just love those spontaneous, fortuitous moments that can occur, a certain amount of planning for this type of photography is simply essential.
I found some really very nice points on light in The Art of Photography (Barnbaum, 2010, pp67-79) and would highly recommend it, and not just for this exercise. There are so many good observations, as well as tips, too many to quote here, but I really liked this one: “You’re first drawn to any scene because of the objects, but once you grab the camera, you must stop thinking in terms of objects. and concentrate on light.”
Er, and this one: “You must also understand the type of light (also known as the “quality of light”) available to you, and see if it is the type of light you want for the mood you’re attempting to convey.”
And, finally, this little beauty: “Always consider the creative possibilities that the “wrong” lighting may produce.” Pertinently, here are a few shots that didn’t work (at least on this occasion and with this exercise) due to me fiddling about and trying out different WB settings:
Tungsten? Really don’t know why I tried that.
Messing around with underexposing…
An insipid, pale vampire of a shot. Nasty stuff.
I also found some interesting bits about light/lighting in an old book I have had on my shelves for years (and haven’t looked at for more than 20-odd years or so!) called Creative Techniques in Landscape Photography(Woods and Williams, 1980, pp99-107).
They, as Barnbaum above, also stress the importance of not just focusing on the subject (object) of the shot but more the light itself and its relationship with all the different elements within the frame: “Every landscape photographer whether good bad or indifferent, exists by virtue of the scale of gradations of light that can be registered by the medium. We are often more attentive to the representation of an image than we are to the influence of light.”
Thanks to this exercise, I have come to appreciate the way light spreads across an image a little more, and to try to take it in better when framing instead of just snapping away on a gut reaction. I’m not saying that having a gut reaction is wrong, FAR from it, it’s just another aspect of capturing an image that we need to be more conscious of, as well as adding another string to my bow, whatever that actually means…
Hill, P. (1982). Approaching photography. London: Focal Press.
Ingledew, J. (2013) Photography. 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd.
Freeman, M, The Photographer’s Eye – Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos, Focal Press, 2007.
Barnbaum, B. (2010). The art of photography. Santa Barbara, CA: Rocky Nook. (pp67-75)
Diprose, G. and Robins, J. (2012). Photography : the new basics. London: Thames & Hudson.
Woods, G. and Williams, J. (1980). Creative techniques in landscape photography. New York: Harper & Row.
The following contact sheet was not included in the sequence, although I did really appreciate the way the light took on different qualities when reflected off of the wall (as well as the colour of the shadow too). Interesting stuff indeed…
(Poor quality – couldn’t get my Lightroom to add just the time to the image so used a screenshot):
I enjoyed this more technical task and find the whole Reciprocity Law very interesting if a little difficult (my brain doesn’t work too well with numbers unfortunately!). There are lots of websites (this and thiswere quite nice), as well as books to look at on the subject (although, in fairness, you need quite a serious technical book to really go into it – beginner books (rightly so) tend to just cover exposure and each parameter quite generally – at least that’s how it seems to me).
In part one of the brief here, it talks about using (observing) the camera’s light meter while shooting, having used manual mode for a couple of years I am familiar with its importance and always use it to create the exposure (mood) that I want (I tend to underexpose – I prefer not to “blow out/wash out” my highlights as a general rule!).
Still, I’ve been using it with a purely intuitive approach, and what with my love of old manual lenses and that glorious click/clunk of the aperture ring I have become quite accustomed to having control of the aperture (and the shutter speed through the use of one of the programmable wheels/dails on my Olympus).
Come to think of it, it has always been part of my photography as I have used it with my film cameras over the years
In part two , the brief speaks about reciprocity (or rather, disactivating it!); the course folder has some really good notes on it (above) which I found interesting. I was aware of the semi-automatic modes and how, by adjusting one parameter, the camera would counterbalance the other factors to keep correct exposure, but I had never heard of the so-called Exposure Equation, or F-Stop Formula which I came across while trying to read up more on the subject of reciprocity. In the excellent chapter 2 of Photography: The New Basics(Diprose and Robins, 2012, pp47-68) they start off by pointing out that:“…you need to master your camer’s Manual mode so that all the settings become instinctive.”, and how: “Just like a brilliant jazz pianist who never looks at the keyboard, you need to reach a point where the technical aspects of the camera have become second nature…”. They then go on to say that: “With practice, once you understand f-stop numbers, you are halfway to being able to use your camera’s manual settings to make exciting and creative pictures.” Having read through the chapter and also some pages from Inglewood’s Photography (Ingledew and Gullachsen, 2013, pp196-200), I still feel a little insecure regarding the equations/numbers – I just really don’t have a mathematical mind!
I’m also thinking, thanks to what I’ve read up on for this exercise (Diprose and Robins, 2012, pp126-7, and from the course notes above as well), about investing in an ‘incident light meter’. Enlightening to learn how that type of handheld meter picks up the incident light falling onto the subject(s) as opposed to the camera’s in-built meter which picks up the refracted (reflected?) light coming off of the subject(s) – fascinating!
I think this kind of meter would be useful for my general photography but also for homemade studio projects etc to help with the varying lights sources where the incident light meter (with some kind of diffuser called a invercone), according to Diprose and Robins, “…is useful for balancing different lights illuminating your subject.” (Diprose and Robins, 2012, p127).
Again, very useful to know! Probably need to invest in a good one eventually!
Anyway, the brief asked us to take some shots and to observe the histogram (and also to sketch it) while playing around in semi-auto modes so here we are: