The Art of Photography

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Assignment Four - Applying lighting Techniques

Finally I have the work to hand in for this assignment.  It has taken me forever. Mainly as I decided to make the work I am currently doing with photographing strangers on the street smoking, fit the project. This has not been easy. It has meant I am not totally in control of every situation. I obviously don't have a studio set up.  I thought a lot about how I would show each of the four categories: shape, form, texture and colour.  A few weeks ago I convinced someone on the bus to be a model in an abandoned car park for an idea I had in my head.  To work with I had a flash on a stand, some gel and a reflector. Also ambient light.  Shape I decided to do in the most obvious way, a silhouette against the night sky. Texture and form I wanted to make use of the brick walls and broken fence in the car park.  Colour I had in my head this idea of making the smoke blue and the smoker dark and moody. To do this I had a sheet of blue gel and an off camera flash.  This took forever to get to work. I was on the brink of abandoning it. Why did I set myself something so difficult.  However going back to my books. Trying to understand the angle of the light how to ensure it would be exactly where I wanted it when it fired. (No wonder hot lights are used in a studio, you know what they are going to do before they shot!) I talked to other photographers, I researched on the web. How do I get the light to just hit where I want. In addition the slightest bit of wind and the smoke would go in a different direction.  My first attempts had eerie blue eyes burnt out forehead or spooky blue hands. Finally I worked out I need less gel, just a small sample gel taped across the flash. I had tried making a snoot to direct the light but that didn't colour all the smoke.  What I did was change the zoom of the flash. Something else I have learnt. You can alter the width of the light with the zoom setting.
Ideally a second light with a very soft amount of light on the dark side of the portrait would improve the shot.  However I don't have another light, also I am concerned about how many cigarettes he has already smoked for me in this experiment.  What I was trying to achieve was to just light the smoke. This I have now done. This was the hardest part of this assignment.  I am happy that adding additional lighting to the image would not be difficult and that I understand what it would achieve.

As the majority of the portraits for this subject are opportunist on the street I have added a second group of photos, each taken in a different place but taken to fit each of the categories, shape, form, texture and colour.

The work:

Group One - These are the planned shots

Shape - I have used ambient light at dusk. That time when the sun has gone down and the sky goes a rich blue. I laid down on the ground, metered for the sky but underexposed so it would be a very rich blue and the smoker would be a dark silhouette, just showing the outline with slight detail around the edges.

Form - I have used a hard light from the flash (not diffused) place at the side of the model to create hard shadows. The rest of the lighting comes from ambient light as the sun is going down. It is an overcast day (lucky I am in London and we have plenty of those) this gives me diffused light for the rest of the image. It is the hard light that creates the shadows that gives the depth to the image making it appear multi dimensional rather than flat.  The aim to show depth. The framing of the fence, the wires and then the model are clearly multi dimensional. I also incorporated my learning from module 2 (elements of design) in the use of lines and triangles in the composition of this shot.

Texture - I have chosen a space with loads of natural texture then set the flash up to the side and slightly higher so the light shines down on the side of the model but also creates dark shadows in the broken bricks.  I have reflected some of the light back with a gold reflector to ensure that the texture of the bricks is emphasised.  The mixture of lights in uneven amounts ensures the textures of skin and hair are visible, as are the zips of his clothing. The broken bricks frame the smoker with a lovely complimentary curve.

Colour - The hardest of this assignment. My light set up here:  Looks simple now but took me ages to get here.  The orange of the bricks and the blue smoke also form Goethe's complementary colours even though in the opposite relationship that he says creates harmony. I think that there is a form of harmony.  My comments for this image and the problems I encountered are in my opening statements.  Mainly it took forever to get it right.

Group Two -  these images are taken in various places at various times.

Shape - This image was one I had taken awhile ago, the man was smoking a replacement plastic cigarette to help him give up smoking. I took the picture with his permission. I wanted to have his shape looking out across the lake to show he was thinking, possibly about anything but the cigarette he wanted.  I used the ambient light with the smoker as a silhouette with some but not a lot of detail in the shadow area.  The use of shape in this image I feel evokes emotion. If I had fully lit the man then the picture would just be a portrait.  By having him as a silhouette, the fake cigarette is more obvious and I feel it makes you think more about what he is thinking.

Form - I had been doing a lot of work on this assignment, thinking about each of the elements. It was a very dull overcast day except for a beam of sunshine that fell on this man.  I didn't have time to get permission I saw the light and that he would only be in it for a short time. I could see it fitted form perfectly so just started shooting, trying to get myself into a position that would give a 3D effect. I needed. The light is shining directly on the man's face creating shadows behind his ear and the back of his neck. The light in the background is diffused by clouds.The background almost disappears, the colour of the light on his face and the shadows created makes gives depth and form and distance from the background.

Texture - I saw the butt of the cigar on the ground. Evening light, the sun was disappearing and street lights were coming on. I had to lie on the ground to get this image. I wanted the texture of the cigar and the rough street to stand out and be a feature of the picture.  I therefore chose a very shallow depth of field.  The warm ambient light and street and car lights in the distance both frame the dropped butt and imply a story.  Vertical and horizontal lines also form a strong part of this image including the implied line of the man and the cigar butt.

Colour - This image is just about colour. Very strong, bold colours. Although purple and yellow and orange and blue are regarded as complimentary colours, this combination with a large amount of blue and all colours very vibrant makes the relationship contrasting. When I took this picture it was night time and I had the person sit under a street light then used a flash with a lightsphere, to diffuse and spread the light directly front on to the smoker. I wanted to ensure that I didn't clip any of the highlights, so the image veers to underexposure. I have lightened and brightened in photoshop. I felt this approach would give more depth and vibrancy to the colours.

The second group of images is also about being able to use whatever resources you have available to you where ever you are. For my project on photographing strangers smoking I am generally not carrying a lot of equipment with me so have to look around me and think about how I can manage what ever light I have on hand and to manipulate it in any way I can. Using a wall or street light. I have even used car headlights.

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