Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form.
For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such as an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body,
rather than a man-made object.
Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form.
You don’t need a studio light for this exercise; a desk lamp or even window light will be fine, although a camera flash that you can use remotely is a useful tool.
The only proviso is that you can control the way the light falls on the subject.
Take some time to set up the shot.
The background for your subject will be crucial.
For a smallish object, you can tape a large sheet of paper or card to the wall as an ‘infinity curve’ which you can mask off from the main light source by pieces of card.
You don’t need to use a curve if you can manage the ‘horizon line’ effectively – the line where the surface meets background.
Taking a high viewpoint will make the surface the background, in which case the surface you choose will be important to the shot.
Exposure times will be much longer than you’re used to (unless you’re using flash) and metering and focusing will be challenging.
The key to success is to keep it simple.
The important thing is to aim for four or five unique shots – either change
the viewpoint, the subject or the lighting for each shot.
Add the sequence to your learning log.
Draw a simple lighting diagram for each of your shots showing the position of the camera, the subject and the direction of the key light and fill.
Don’t labour the diagrams; quick sketches with notes will be just
as useful as perfect graphics.
In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lighting and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots
from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.
For this exercise I attached a large roll of blue art paper to my wardrobe and draped it over my coffee table, this gave me a decent back drop.
Next I set up my camera on my tripod varying the distance to subject and I used different lenses.
I set up my SB 5000 flash on an old tripod and an old cheap TTL flash on camera, I used the SB 5000 in radio AWL mode and TTL.
By varying the distance and direction of the flash, using flash modifiers and also using various different lenses I came up with the following shots.
Diagram notes: rather than do separate drawings for each shot please refer to each of the settings listed under each photograph and refer to the master drawing above.
The angle of the flashes are measured from the subject and assume that 0 degrees is the direction the lens is pointing at.
800 mm. f 64 @ 1/200th second .
Distance to background 1 m, Subject distance 2 m.
Hand held off camera flash only with head zoomed to 200 mm. and a height of 1.5 m. 225 degrees off set.
150 mm. f 8 @ 1/200th second.
Distance to background 1 m, subject distance 0.38 m .
Hand held off camera flash only with head zoomed to 14 mm. and a height of 1 meter using the wide-angle panel and diffuser dome.
150 mm. f 8 @ 200th second.
Distance to background 1.5 m, subject distance 0.38 m.
Hand held off camera flash with head zoomed to 200 mm. and a height of 0.5 m, 150 degrees off set.
150 mm. f 8 @ 200th second.
hand-held off camera flash with head zoomed to 24 mm. using the wide-angle panel at a height of 1.5 meters and a 270 degree off set.
400 mm. f 25 @ 200th second.
Distance to background 10 cm, distance to subject 2 meters.
On camera flash was fired over my shoulder at the ceiling using its wide panel.
The off camera flash was at a height of 1.5 meters at an angle off of 225 degrees using its wide panel.
The first thing I had to research was how to get my flash to talk to my camera, using the manual and the excellent Nikon videos I managed it.
The next order of business was to look at what others had done in the way of still life pictures, I concentrated mainly on the painting masters such as Monet in order to see what I preferred.
Then I watched plenty of YouTube videos on flash photography in order to get a sense of the mechanics of it.
Although I used a constant picture angle, changing the direction, height and angle of the flash guns gave very different effects.
The more shadows and the darker the background gave a mood as well as a sense of three-dimensional form.
The softer and more direct the light and the mood lightens but your left with a more two-dimensional shape, brighter but flatter colours that are rather unsatisfying.
Getting the two to balance takes patience and skill.
The main differences I noticed in the qualities of light between these exercises was that flash photography is like the Ambient artificial exercise but without the colour/white balance problems and obviously I can control the amount and direction of it.
This was a very interesting exercise that challenged me to think of every aspect of the finished product.
Getting a decent background took several days visiting art shops before I found the right size and colour of paper I needed.
Finding a subject was easier but the local super market thought I was strange holding fruit up to the light.
The flash guns can’t talk to each other, If I had two of the marvelous Nikon SB 5000’s I could have set ratios of light between the two.
As it was the Simple and cheap TTL flash would only work mounted on the camera and couldn’t be set as a master flash.
This posed some exposure problems until I found that both set to TTL worked well.
Overall I enjoyed this exercise.