Category Archives: 21 Photographic lighting

Exercise: Shiny surfaces

The brief:

Find an object that is so shiny that you can see your face in it. Choose an object that you can lay flat on the floor and photograph from above. Choose a simple background. Set up the object, camera and a light positioned close to the camera. Through the viewfinder, you should be able to see how unsatisfactory the effect is. Take a photo for reference.

Take some tracing paper and roll it into the shape of a long cone so that the wide end will set around the object (but out of view), and so that it tapers upwards to the small end, which should just surround the lens. Ideally, the length of this cone should be exactly the distance from the camera to your subject. Tape, and trim as necessary.

Take a second photograph. Experiment with a light in different positions and at different distances. Also try changing the angle of the object slightly.

For the life of me I could not get the exercise with the tracing paper done. I did not have enough tracing paper it would seem, although I went through about half a roll and not matter what I did, I still got an image in the surface of my object. The shiniest object that I could find in my house that gave a reflection were some cutlery pieces. I’m more a fan of brushed steel than stainless. The cutlery is not new or straight out of the box, so some wear and tear and nicks will be visible on the metal’s surface. Unfortunately my wireless triggers render the Nikon’s CLS system null and void, so my flash details don’t record on my EXIF data and I did not make a note on each photograph as to what the flash settings were. I mainly experimented with full power, 1/2 power, 1/4 power and 1/8 power, occasionally using +.03 and +.07 exposure compensation. My speedlight was used with a diffusion dome throughout.

Here is my reference image (fig 01). The spoon was placed on the floor on top of a black velour garment. The tripod was placed over the spoon and the light was off to one side. Terrible image – there I am with the tripod and half my kitchen is also reflected in the spoon.

Fig 01 reference image

Fig 01 reference image
f5.6, 1/200, 55mm, ISO 100

Fig 02 – one of the many attempts to manhandle the tracing paper into shape. Still no better than before.

Fig 02 with tracing paper

Fig 02 with tracing paper
f5.6, 1/200, 55mm, ISO 100

Fig 03 – I gave up on the tracing paper effort and put the spoon on a table on top of the black velour jacket and started to experiment finding the correct placement of the light. I found with the light on camera left I was getting a little too much of a hot spot on the metal.

Fig 03 light camera left

Fig 03 light camera left
f8, 1/200, 46mm, ISO 100

My jacket had picked up a bit too much dust to photograph well, so I switched to black card (fig 04), which unfortunately doesn’t photograph as well as the black material.

Fig 04 light camera right to side

Fig 04 light camera right to side
f8, 1/160, 46mm, ISO 100

I then switched to a white card and tried to soften the shadows and exposed to brighten the metal (fig 05).

Fig 05 light camera right to side - on white - light

Fig 05 light camera right to side – on white – light
f8, 1/160, 46mm, ISO 100

I then dialed down the flash power so that I could darken the metal (fig 06). I think this is possibly my favourite image as the deeper colour gives a bit more form to the slight octagonal shape of the cutlery’s handles.

Fig 06 light camera right to side - on white - dark

Fig 06 light camera right to side – on white – dark
f8, 1/160, 46mm, ISO 100

I would have preferred to soften the shadows of the two spoons a bit more, but I’m not quite sure how that should be done as the last three images were done with a big diffusion panel in front of the speedlight. I’m thinking I probably need one or two gobos positioned over the spoons to cut the shadows. Unfortunately all the voice activated light stands have retired for the night so I will have to make do with this result for now.

Fig 07 light camera left - light tent

Fig 07 light camera left – light tent
f8, 1/4, 55mm, ISO 100

The following day I decided to have one more go at this using my light tent (fig 07). The light was positioned 45 degrees to the cutlery on camera left and a diffuser was held in front of the light. The shadows are definitely more acceptable in this image.

I don’t think I will ever look at spoons in the same way again without thinking of how the light is striking them and what reflections are bouncing back. I have learned that one has to consider so much more than just the family of angles and positioning of the light and camera. All possible distracting elements that might possibly show up in a reflection have to be identified and removed or camouflaged wherever possible.

Reference List

Hunter, Fil et al, (2012). Light—Science & Magic An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. 4th ed. Oxford: Focal Press

Advertisements

Exercise: Concentrating light

The brief:

Sometimes, you may want the light to fall on just a part of the scene, having the surrounds in shadows. The easiest way to confine the lighting is to place something dark, like a piece of black card, between the lamp and part of the subject.  Experiment making a snoot with thick black paper and taping it to the flash.

When I first read this exercise I thought it would be a perfect exercise to try and create a film-noir effect which is very popular in the old movies.

I first tried this exercise using black foam rolled up into a snoot and attached to my speedlight with a rubber band (fig 01). I don’t think my background was right for this setup as I kept on getting rather hard shadows on most of my photos and I could not get the background to go completely black. I was shooting with a flash connector cord to my camera so I could utilize the TTL function on my flash, but the flash head kept on moving every time I changed position which changed the position of the light beam, which frustrated me no end.

Fig 01 with snoot

Fig 01 with snoot
f16, 1/125, 50mm, ISO 100

I then tried it with my flash inside a collapsed umbrella and I quite liked the effect, but it it didn’t quite work out. Unfortunately I didn’t have a human volunteer for this exercise so the trusty rooster had to stand in again. I could not get the right light fall off that I was after.

Fig 02 with collapsed umbrella

Fig 02 with collapsed umbrella
f16, 1/200, 50mm, ISO 100

I then noticed in Light, Science and Magic (p. 232)  that a gridspot could be used to achieve the effect I was after. I wasn’t planning on spending more money on this section, so I googled how to make a gridspot. David Hobby’s Strobist site popped up with a snazzy DIY plan using black straws. Not finding any black straws in the local craft store, I decided to use black pipe cleaners and quickly twisted and wove a few pipe cleaners together to form my grid spot and wrapped it around my flash head and secured it with an elastic band (fig 03).

Fig 03 Homemade grid spot

Fig 03 Homemade grid spot

The result was much better and after experimenting on the placement and height of the light I persuaded my husband to sit for me (fig 04). Flash power was on full power, the light stand was positioned in front and about 1 metre from my husband and about 30 inches above his head. I definitely prefer the grid spot image.

Fig 04 Film noir effect - concentrating the light

Fig 04 Film noir effect – concentrating the light
f16, 1/200, 50mm, ISO 100

Reference List

Hunter, Fil et al, (2012). Light—Science & Magic An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. 4th ed. Oxford: Focal Press

More Cheap and Easy Grid Spots. Strobist [online]. Available from: http://strobist.blogspot.ca/2007/06/more-cheap-and-easy-grid-spots.html. [Accessed 24 January, 2015]

Exercise: Contrast and shadow fill

The brief:

Set up a simple still-life shot. Leave room for access at the sides of the set, and make sure that neither side is close to a wall. Shoot from the same level as the subject, with camera on tripod. Fix the light about three feet to one side of the object and at its level, so that it is aimed at right angles to the camera’s view. Take the first photograph without a diffuser in front of the lamp, and the second with the diffuser.

Then take a white card and position it about one metre away from the subject on the opposite side of the light and facing it. Take a photograph. Then move the white card in about half a metre and take another photograph.

Take a piece of aluminium foil that will cover the area of the white card and place against the white card, dull side facing the object. Take a photograph. Flip the foil over and with the shiny side facing the object take another photograph. Then crumple the foil and smooth it out again. Place it against the card with the shiny side facing out and take another photo. Compare the results and arrange in order of contrast.

I again used my Nikon speedlight for this exercise, power was set to 1/2 throughout the sequence. My camera settings were f8, 1/160, 45mm, ISO 100. I was very frustrated when setting up my background for this exercise. My background cloth which had been ironed so that there were no creases was intent on showing “bubbles” when lit by the flash. Try as I did, I could not get rid of this. I tried putting extra cloth and black card under the cloth, but nothing really worked. I even taped the edges down after stretching the fabric taut. So please forgive my bubbles. To get the full learning experience from this exercise I have not done any post-processing.

Fig 01 Bare flash

Fig 01 Bare flash

The image with the bare flash has hot spots all the way down the left side of the figurine with the result that the highlights have blown out and the background is washed out (Fig 01).

Fig 02 Flash with diffuser

Fig 02 Flash with diffuser

With the diffuser fitted to the flash the result if much better. There are details in highlighted sections, the background is properly saturated even though the image is a little dark on the right (Fig 02).

Fig 03 White card 3 feet away from subject

Fig 03 White card 3 feet away from subject

With a white card held 3 feet from the subject right side of the image is a tiny bit lighter – mostly noticeable on the cheek area (Fig 03).

Fig 04 White card 1.5 feet away from subject

Fig 04 White card 1.5 feet away from subject

With the white card 1.5 feet from the subject the difference is more pronounced. The right side of the image has lightened up quite considerably and the folds on the skirt are now discernible (Fig 04).

Fig 05 Foil dull side

Fig 05 Foil dull side

It is quite difficult to see the difference between the white card at 1.5 feet and the foil dull side, but I think some subtle highlights have been added back into the cheek area, but it looks as if the skirt has picked up more contrast (Fig 05).

Fig 06 Foil shiny side

Fig 06 Foil shiny side

The foil shiny side has produced more contrast somehow, but I think I must have angled the card incorrect. I did shots with labels to identify which scenario the images were supposed to represent and then removed the label to shoot the photograph again and my labeled image and unlabeled image look a little different, so I’m thinking I must have moved the card slightly after I removed the label. Unfortunately I only discovered this after uploading the images. In Fig 06 there is more contrast down the right side of the subject.

Fig 07 Foil crumpled

Fig 07 Foil crumpled

The crumpled foil lightens the shadow in the underarm crease on the right hand side, casts more of a shadow on the right side of the face, and deepens the contrast of the skirt area.

I have arranged the images in order of contrast going from lightest to darkest in the gallery below.

Exercise: The lighting angle

The brief

Find a suitable subject with relief that can show the differences in shadows and light. Keeping the camera in a fixed position, position the light with diffuser first at the same level as the subject and camera, shooting from the front, side, directly behind and then from behind off to one side. Then raise the light to an angle of about 45 degrees, pointing down and shoot the same positions. Finally position the light directly overhead pointing down and take three pictures: directly overhead, slightly in front and from slightly behind. Study the results.

For this exercise I chose to use a Mayan mask that I had bought on a holiday trip to Mexico a few years ago. It is a wood carving and has all sorts of shapes and planes carved into the surface which I thought would photograph reasonably well. I used my Nikon speedlight for this exercise fitted with a diffuser. My camera settings for all the photographs was the same, namely f8, 1/160, 35mm, ISO 200. My flash power was set to 1/8.

Fig 01 Front level

Fig 01 Front level

Front lighting on the same level causes rather flat lighting with a harsh shadow on the background. There are a few hotspots down the centre of the mask as well.

Fig 02 Side left level

Fig 02 Side left level

The side lighting is more interesting and dramatic creating a split lighting effect which shows some detail in the steps of the pyramid depicted on the mask and interesting shadows around the mouth and eye on the lit side.

Fig 03 Back level

Fig 03 Back level

I love the eerie effect that the back lighting has on this mask. No detail on the mask is visible. The level back light causes a radial gradiant behind the backdrop and creates a silhouette fit for Halloween.

Fig 04 Side right level

Fig 04 Side right level

Side lighting from the right hand side has similar outcomes as seen in fig 02.

Fig 05 Behind to one side level

Fig 05 Behind to one side level

Lighting the subject from behind and to the side almost creates a silhouette and casts some rim lighting on the edges of the mask closest to the light.

Fig 06 Front 45 degrees up

Fig 06 Front 45 degrees up

Front lighting pointing down on the subject from about 45 degrees is a better option than the straight on frontal light. The shadows are softer and fall immediately behind the subject and are barely visible. More detail and texture can be seen with the light in this position as compared to fig 01 and the colours are more saturated.

Fig 07 Side left 45 degrees up

Fig 07 Side left 45 degrees up

Side lighting at an angle of 45 degrees up creates a little less light fall off than in fig 02 and fig 04. The colours are more saturated and there are no hotspots on the wood. There is good detail and texture visible.

Fig 08 Back 45 degrees up

Fig 08 Back 45 degrees up

With the light held behind and 45 degrees up there is less drama to the image than in fig 03. I kept on getting a hot spot on the background cloth as well. Light spills over the mask and the features of the mask are fairly visible. The subject is still a silhouette, but I much prefer the image in fig 03.

Fig 09 Behind to one side 45 degrees up

Fig 09 Behind to one side 45 degrees up

With the light 45 degrees up and behind and to one side, the rim lighting position has changed. The top right edges of the mask and the brown pyramid steps are catching the light now, whereas in fig 05 it was the right edges of the face that were illuminated.The higher position also casts more light onto the subject. While I’m a fan for dark, dramatic light, I prefer the  lighting in fig 09 for this particular subject.

Fig 10 Overhead from top

Fig 10 Overhead from top

The axial lighting in fig 10 causes little highlights to fall onto the steps of the pyramid and casts a lovely triangular shadow at the base of the mask. I expected the detail of the mask to be lost with this lighting position, but was pleasantly surprised to see that although the image is quite dark with this type of lighting, the detail of the wood engravings is still visible. I also like the slight radial gradiant the light causes against the red backdrop.

Fig 11 Overhead from front

Fig 11 Overhead from front

I think this overhead slightly in front position is perhaps the best of all the front lighting (fig 11) . There is a lot of detail visible, touches of edge lighting on the pyramid steps to give form. The shadow is small and quite soft and falls behind the base of the image and eyes and mouth are nicely illuminated showing the same red through the holes as the background, whereas fig 01 and fig 6 are much darker due to the extent and position of the shadow falling behind the image.

Fig 12 Overhead from behind to one side

Fig 12 Overhead from behind to one side

Even though there is more light spillage onto the front of the mask, I definitely like this image better than fig 08 where the light was 45 degrees behind the mask. The light creates an interesting shadow, again in a triangular shape, in front of the mask. There is also less of a hotspot in this lighting scenario.

I think side lighting at 45 degrees gives the best 3-dimensional effect, although I suspect that 45 degrees in front and to the side might be better, but this was not one of the options requested for this exercise. It is difficult to choose my favourite out of all the images. I really like figs 03, 07 and 11, but for different reasons. For fig 03 it would be the drama of the image, for fig 07 it would be the split lighting effect which is a favourite of mine and for fig 11 simply because it is the best front lighting depiction.

Exercise: Softening the light

The brief:

Set up a still-life arrangement, with any object or group of objects. The lighting direction will depend on your subject, and you might like to experiment, but, if in doubt, fix the naked lamp more or less overhead, pointing down.

Using a diffused light source to soften the shadows and highlights take two photographs, one with just the naked lamp, the other with the translucent material held between the lamp and your subject (but out of view). The two exposure settings will be different.

Look at the results, and write down exactly what you see as the differences. Look at the strengths (blackness) of the shadows, their extent, and the hardness of their edges. Look also at the highlights, and at the contrast. Finally was the diffusion an improvement? Record your answer.

 

Fig 1 - Bare flash

Fig 1 – Bare flash
f3.5, 1/80, 50mm, ISO 400

Fig 2 - Flash with diffuser

Fig 2 – Flash with diffuser
f3.5, 1/80, 50mm, ISO 400

I used my Nikon SB 700 speedlight for this exercise and a couple of Yongnuo RF-603N II wireless flash triggers that I bought recently and had not yet put to work. The still life was set up in a light tent, with a black background and a hessian sack roughly arranged on the floor of the tent on which I placed a large log and perched the wooden rooster on top of that.

In fig 1, the photo taken with the bare flash positioned at about 45 degree angle from the rooster. The flash head was pointed one click up from the straight on setting so the light skimmed over the top of the rooster’s head. There is a noticeable shadow behind the rooster’s tail. There is also a hotspot on the rooster’s neck from the flash.

I had actually forgotten to change my exposure when I made the second photograph, but I know that adding a diffuser into the mix can decrease the light by up to 2 stops, so I adjusted the exposure in post processing until the saturation and intensity of the red of the rooster’s head in fig 2 matched that of fig 1. It was only one stop difference, so had I exposed correctly, my aperture would have been f5. The diffuser got rid of the shadow and the black background is evenly lit and more saturated. The hotspot on the rooster’s neck is still there, but it is a fraction smaller and less bright. This is probably where a small gobo should be positioned between the diffuser and the subject to eliminate that hotspot. Unfortunately I did not have enough hands to do that piece. The diffuser causes the flash to cast a more even light as can be seen by the exposure on the hessian sack. It is a little brighter in fig 2 and the shadows in the folds have also lost their harsh edges. Fig 2 is definitely more pleasing to the eye.

The lighting diagram for the setup can be seen below.

Fig 3 Lighting diagram

Fig 3 Lighting diagram