Week two, tutorial night with members Richard Clayton and Steve Dyer doing their bit with one light and three light portraiture set ups either side of the break and yours truly trying not to cause too much confusion in a Camera 101 short session for new members and anyone else who was passing that corner of the hall.
So the blog this season will take on a slightly different format, at least between now and Christmas. There will, most weeks, be a second, smaller, thread, dedicated to short observations and exercises aimed at the less experienced members of the club and casual readers/subscribers who want to develop their photography from a fresher perspective.
Both of these threads and all of these blog entries are based on one philosophical observation by Mr Ansel Adams. “You don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph”. To tease that out a bit, there is a difference between taking and making a photograph. Taking here means recording the fall of light on a subject and that is what we see using the three things a camera lets you control. It is what a camera does. Now what we see maybe a possibility within the natural fall of things, indeed will be, but that is more than just a record. We frame and manipulate and the relationships between foreground and background and the objects within that field to make an image which we then take a record of with our camera. More simply cameras take photographs, photographers make photographs.
And in that process light, not the brand or model of camera we bring to the event, nor the accessories bolted to it, no matter how expensive, is everything. Visualising the shot as a product of our imagination and the possibilities of light and shape is where the art lies. The one thing that cannot be taught is the minds ability to see a shot. No amount of knowledge of the arts of composition will overcome brain-wiring. “There is nothing worse than a sharp shot of a fuzzy idea”. Ansel Adams again.
Visualising and pre-visualising a shot (working out what we are going to shoot before we shoot gets more reliable shots than a spray and pray of something vaguely interesting regime) is all work that pays off when it comes to capturing what we see. This is in part because, if we conscientiously practice it, we are attuned to what light is telling us. Light for a photographer works like a plot for an author. It is the key component in telling a story. Typing random words might enable the basis of a plot to take shape, but the author works her/his thoughts and feelings into something someone else might be interested in by applying details and structure. Words by themselves don’t make a novel.
So, light first and last. In between is composition, itself a huge topic the subject of much academic and cultural importance. To a photographer it is the arrangement of the objects in the frame and how they are lit to tell the story. Photographs, by and large, really can only tell one story without becoming confused. Where the brightest light in the frame falls will be where the eye gravitates first. How we arrange the objects in the frame in relation to light and dark determines where the eye goes next. Volumes have been written on the subject and we will revisit it but, at this stage of the club year, I think that the best thing that can be said of them is that they are tools not rules, but they make a difference. One good exercise is to take one and make it an exercise in what I am going to shoot today. It can be fun too.
Light being the starting point end point and everything in between, it is something that we can practice with a minimal amount of equipment and pretty much anywhere. This Mark Wallace video is a good starting point and can be replicated at home regardless of the weather. Try it, the light sources don’t have to be photographic lights or strobes/flash guns/speedlights, it can be desk lamps, torches, LED’s etc. and the effects are even more striking in black and white. Camera doesn’t matter either, your phone will do just as well as a full frame all singing all dancing camera.
The WCPF travelling critique was our last evening, and as ever there is something to be got out of sitting down and critically discussing the works of other photographers, especially if we then extend that to our own work. Some photographers get too caught up in the notions of developing a style or shooting a particular way thinking that their body of work will evolve through consistency alone.
That is like braking going uphill, sometimes it is necessary, but it involves a great deal of wasted energy. It is understandable though when the idea that photographic style is a filter we apply to an image. No this is not an anti-Instagram rant, and if that sounds like something we use to combat the symptoms of hay fever then now is an opportunity to catch up by clicking here.
But Instagram is a good place to start. Kevin Systrom, who was a co-founder of Instagram and who did very nicely, thank you, when it was sold to Facebook, had the idea seeded for the app when a Professor in Italy introduced him to the Holga camera, a cheap everything-you-pay-thousands-for-your-glass-not-to-do sort of camera that produces very retro looking pictures on 120 roll film. But that quirkiness actually forms the basis of the Holga’s modern-day appeal and yes, you can get filters to modify your everything-you-pay-thousands-for-your-glass-not-to-do to do Holga-esque images, just make sure you are well braced when you do because the weight of the irony of that is going to hit your wallet pretty hard.
The fact is film had/has its own look. Each brand would have their own unique ways of capturing and processing the light. Just in slide film: Kodachrome went through several “looks” over its life; Fuji was noted for its blue tones; Agfa was something else again; ditto Scotch, the list goes on.
Then there are/were the options/limitations in printing. Papers, inks, chemicals, sizes, frames, viewing options and conditions all have an impact. What they cannot do, however, is cover for lousy composition. Poor lighting. Wrong exposure. Unengaged subject. Surely filters / looks / processes / post-production can lend atmosphere to an image but unless the style is “Never mind the quality feel the width” they are not going to do much for our artistic integrity.
What we are looking for is a quality of the imagination, showing our individuality by drawing with light (Greek: photo – light graphy from graphe making lines or as we would call it, drawing). Style in the literary sense is about how the tools of language, clauses, spelling, grammar, punctuation and the like are put together to make an impression on the reader. We use light and shadow, directionality, the tools of composition and a photosensitive surface capable of recording the fall of light and dark on a subject in the same way. We fashion a statement on a subject.
What other people are doing is a start, but it is only a start. Copying what others have done, making a re-interpretation of something that has gone before, making our own statement, is a great way to learn but it is a means to an end. However, it is not the reason we pick up the camera (at least before we disappear up our own dirt pipes like the voice over on any given perfume advert). Understanding the technicalities by replicating the image is a learning tool, not an end in itself.
That said there is a notion that we can move between taking snapshots to making photographs. In so doing we develop, through habit, a photographic style. Whether it is a conscious statement or not. Perhaps we keep making the same mistakes, is that a style? Broadly yes but it is the elimination of the incidental and replacing it with the deliberate that makes a difference. It is that interpretation that is the seedbed of the individual’s style. That is when we start bothering less about what everyone else is doing.
Defining our style is one thing. Refining it is something else. Technical skills matter, you have to be able to apply the rules before you can start breaking them successfully. Purpose is the key. And lots of lots of practice. Lots and lots and lots.
Longtime sufferers of this blog will know that the world is divided into two. The Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-istas and Ye-Accolytes-Of-Photoshop. I err towards the former, but that is a personal thing. The fact is we need skills in both, but that we are probably better at one than the other.
That said there is a lot of time effort and money to be spared in getting the thing you have in your head onto your computer file (that is what we are creating until the image is printed) in as close to finished form as we can in the place where most of the important elements and all the results of those irreparable decisions are made. The camera. Just don’t let it get in the way.
Having the camera and lighting skills gives us the option to manipulate what we see in the fashion we want it seen. Post-production then tidies up and polishes. That sequence is the one that lets our style evolve and show through. Is it the only way? I doubt it. Having the confidence in using the materials we have to hand to make our statement makes for a stronger more assured one. When the “rules” are broken it is to a deliberate effect. Style thus evolves through confidence.
Apologies for missing a post, IT problems. Our guest speaker was the always welcome Peter Weaver, who will be returning in a couple of weeks to judge Round 3 of the Open Competition. This was followed by a video tutorial and a table top session. Peter showed us many instances of his own photographic journey and this set me to thinking about one particular aspect which we have talked around but not directly addressed in a while, that of taking pictures of people.
There are many forms this can take from the happy snap via passport style documentary through street to high art. For all of these we are going to use the same basic formula with appropriate, or lack of appropriate, vigour, starting with the background, putting our subject in it, lighting it then recording it. We are speaking generally.
So, background. Avoiding the classic lamp post/tree branch growing out of the subject’s head takes a bit of practice. Border patrol needs to become a habit when our attention is mainly on the subject, but that is easier said than done, especially when we are starting out. Choosing the background against which we will contrast our subject helps in getting this right. Not fool proof, but it works more often than it doesn’t and that little equation can be affected positively by establishing a routine and sticking to it.
Two easy to stick to rules for backgrounds are fill the frame with your subject (goes for all single subject photographs) and blur the rest. In the first of these we can either zoom with the lens or zoom with our feet. Perspective doesn’t change the same way when we zoom with the lens as when we zoom with our feet, as different focal lengths will handle background compression in a different way (sort of, it’s the subject to distance that changes in order to keep the subject the same size in the lens).
Putting the subject into a pre-selected background minimises the chances of there being unintended distractions in frame. Basically, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to convey, get rid, either by moving to another location, cropping tighter or changing the angle between lens and subject.
In the studio we might generally light the scene at this stage and refine with the model in it, which is fine where control is total, but we don’t always have this option. In more public and more chaotic situations, “Running and Gunning”, we might need to see what we are lighting first but this is really a personal preference and down to the workflow we adopt – not all workflows are automatically the most efficient but we are after the most effective and that means thinking critically about them from time to time.
Where ambient light is variable it is preferable to put the model in the scene, then light. Variation is part of every point on this process as each time something changes we have a different image and opportunity. Being prepared for the opportunity is a vital step in capturing it.
Posing our model is relative to the formality of the shoot. The corporate head shot is probably the most convention bound of these as portraits of friends informal. Inflation of ego aside, it always amazes me that the item by which their audience is going to judge them most, the corporate mug shot on the annual report, on advertising, on the web, commands such little time in the executive’s “busy” day. Herd instinct aside, the corporate headshot is a very conservative market. Everything can be pre-lit because so very little changes.
Admittedly there are poses to generally avoid because body language is very specific in what it conveys. Posing is also gender specific, at least by convention, so we have the idea of male poses and female poses, which, in actuality, are merely what society expects.
Then the lighting. Lighting is as straight forward or as difficult as you want to make it. Essentially it is the interplay of light and shadow and it is something over which we have varying control over depending on the environment we are shooting in.
A home photo-studio doesn’t have to be expensive to build, and if we start out with flash, as many of us do, then we have a very versatile and portable light source that has many uses, the light from which can be usefully and quite cheaply modified for hard light (grids, snoots, beauty dishes and reflectors) or soft (soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusers and flags). What we get in the studio is control.
Light is by far the biggest factor in any photograph. It’s in the name, as we have discussed before. Its qualities are exactly what we trade in. That balance of light and dark we control has four elements: quality, position, intensity and colour and the modifiers are how we go about it when using artificial lighting or a mix. The portability of modifiers (well the smaller ones, a seven foot octobox may not weigh a lot but the slightest of breezes will turn it into a sail) doesn’t preclude them being used outside (and here).
As, more often than not, we are using a mixture of ambient and boosted light, the options for control are broad. For non-artificial lighting we have the exposure triangle, white balance and filters to affect the look of the light. We have exposure compensation, full manual too.
It is all dependent on the way things are arranged in the frame of course. Composition is no small matter. It is as important as the light, indeed it is at least half of what we do to capture our vision, that thing that grabbed our attention. It’s about making a statement, or taking that statement and making it our own, but remember : “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
— Paul Caponigro
Last meeting was our annual thumbing of the collective nose to Cartier-Bresson’s fear of the contrived, the Creative Round. In that all of photography, from one point of view, is contrived, we can take comfort in a Sontagian view that Photography is a “Promiscuous way of seeing” and here are we. It is also another way to open the arguments between the Get-it-right-in-the-camera-ista’s and Ye-accolytes-of-photoshop, but we won’t.
Congratulations to the winners, (Check out the Facebook page or the website) this in some ways is the hardest round of all to to enter, not least because the definition of what we mean by creative is quite fluid. It stems from an original thought or vision. This gives us less chance to take the image we want by accident, the surrealist streak in photography if you will, as it tends to involve a lot of planning and preparation. The flip side of this is that the deliberation it involves is good for us in all the other forms of photography, because it is a productive habit.
“A skilful photographer can photograph anything well” according to John Szarkowski. So that doesn’t mean just slapping on a filter over an existing photograph and calling it creative, though there is nothing to say that you cannot. Passing a superficial inspection is one thing but the photographs that hold the attention are rarely going to be constructed that way. Skill in photography is as much about practice and deliberation and attitude as it is in any other form. The trick for the hobbyist is not to make it a burden, but to enjoy and enjoy learning.
It’s why having a theme works for our development. Yes it is fun (for us, the rest of the family can feel a little left out) to take a camera everywhere and photograph what takes our fancy or arrests our attention, but when we narrow ourselves down we concentrate on looking, and looking for associations with this idea, which we are using to organise our output. A photograph.
It brings us back to that deliberate frame of mind again. This is also something that helps when we feel that we have plateaued in our development. It can be frustrating to not quite get what we visualised, but also it can be the brain’s way of telling us time to try something different. To create a random element in that, basically to set the challenge, use the theme link above and use this preset random number generator to pick a topic from those 328 themes; get a camera; your least used lens or least used camera even, and get right on it.
There is something to be said in rekindling the simple pleasure of just taking a photograph in a spare five minutes. It can be as simple as arranging things to hand on a desk or a table and practising the basics of composition, because nowhere is boring when you have a camera in your hand.
To give a couple of examples:
Whilst waiting for the potatos to boil I took about four frames of a satsuma and a couple of apples, altered saturation and played a bit with curves and made them presentable if not earth shattering images. Of course, if I wanted to become rich I should have taken photographs of the spuds.
Waiting for a relative to get ready I was struck by the incidental arrangement of my Works ID badge and glasses on a side table. Nudged things around very slightly, took it, cropped it square, painted a bit of blur on it. Quite like it. Doubt I will see it hanging in the Royal Society of Arts any time soon, but hey, I got a small sense of achievement out of it.
Same occasion at the other end of the trip, I was waiting in a coffee shop and set myself the challenge of getting the branded coffee cup and the illuminated sign in the window. A bit of cup shuffling, bit of Dutching (avidly watching all those 60’s Batman shows as a kid finally paying off), applied a saturated, bluish, filter to tone down the harsh lighting, job done. No need to buy a new dickie bow for any award ceremony on its account, but that’s fine. I had observed, visualised, framed, captured and post processed in under two minutes, made a photograph that gave me a small sense of having done something, enjoyed doing it and the result. All this by taking a camera to (some) things that make you go Hmmm.
All these were shot and processed and uploaded to Flickr via my decidedly mid-range mobile phone, which has three times as many pixels as my first digital camera had, two very capable editing apps and a link to the internet, all in something that fits in the palm of my hand. The fact is, for a very high percentage of the day I have access to a camera. Yes I prefer to shoot with my camera body and detachable lenses, yes I can potentially do more with it, but the equipment isn’t the point, making the image is. And no one knows what camera was used and very few actually care.
Restriction is as much an opportunity as a wealth of opportunity. This can be shooting with a different lens or one you don’t use very often, a different camera (including your phone camera if you don’t use it very often) close ups (not necessarily macro), wide angles (making sure to include something in the foreground) there are plenty of variations. A simple one is to deliberately frame a portrait and a landscape version of the same image, being careful to compose the best image in each.
As we gave him the first word we will give him the last, in the interests of symmetry, a noble subject for an image. Henri Cartier-Bresson said of taking a photograph that the thinking should be done before and after the taking of a photograph. Make that gap your Zen Moment. Take that time just to enjoy being a photographer.
We did Programme as a camera setting back last November, when an alarming number of members were convinced that Elephants were a European phenomena (you had to be there), possibly confusing them (the pachiderms) with Mammoths, possibly from remembering seeing them at the zoo. This meeting it was the turn of the rest of the dial and no such confusion reigned thanks to the scholarly efforts of Chris Harvey, Gerry Painter, Steve Hallam, Eddie House and Simon Caplan. Between them they had manipulation of the exposure triangle well and truly nailed.
And if we nail the exposure triangle we have the control of light within our grasp. The other thing we need to have control of is what is acceptably sharp in the picture, a function of lens aperture and shutter speed moderated by the selected ISO setting. With these two things nailed in under ten minutes we are a photographer! Our position in the Point and Shoot Pantheon is but a matter of time!
Ah but …. these are the mechanical issues of image capture. Often photographers are as interested in the settings a frame was taken at as the content and whereas they are the key mechanical elements in capturing the image we are viewing they are actually a long, long way down the list of priorities in making a good, bad or outstanding one.
Unless our job is making, marketing and or selling cameras for a living.
The reasons are thus: to plagiarise that image you have to be in the same place, at the same angle, in the same light, focused in the same manner, with the same connection to the same elements within the frame, and using the same size sensor. Even then all you have done is copy. The only thing worth copying is the look and that can be as much about post processing as image capture these days. The valid reason for copying a look is to learn about photography by applying it to other opportunities. The camera settings represent one choice from a multiplicity of options to arrive at the same amount of light captured.
Let’s put it this way: ISO 100, F8, at 1/125th second gathers as much light as ISO 400, F11, at 1/250th of a second, gathers as much light as ISO 1600, F4, at 1/8000th of a second gathers as much light as ISO 200, F32 at 1/15th second. What alters is the depth of field and the relative degree of that in these examples would depend on sensor/film size. This other variable is why we refer to crop factors compared to the old film size “full frame” 35mm standard (so that those of us set in our ways can get a handle on the perspective generated by a given focal length) and perspective is relative, he wrote with entirely deliberate ambiguity.
As we have been plugging the last few weeks rather heavily – and in every blog published for the club, regardless of author – the issue of absolute prime importance is composition. Yes we have to get the mechanicals “right” for the image we have visualised but that will not arrest the attention of our viewer nearly as much as the arrangement of the elements in the frame. The legendary crime/street photographer Weegee, coined the phrase “F8 and be there” when asked what was the secret to success in his photography. Weege used a Speed Graphic 4 x 5 inch camera and a flash bulb for illumination. The point is, know our equipment and how it gets us the results we visualised. To be fare some people ascribe the quote to Robert Kappa but the point remains the same. Being there means we get the chance to get the picture the f stop is only of relevance If you have the camera with you.
Now, we can argue what being there actually implies. and the list would probably be quite lengthy. Most photography to do lists seem to end up that way. Some people even write books about it. Reading photography books is a very good idea, but putting the ideas we draw from them to use is even more productive. Knowing what camera settings other people use can be informative, knowing the performance limitations of our own camera gives us the confidence to experiment. In fact, it could be argued, there are two sorts of photographers who are happy about using Auto/Programme settings. Those who are just starting out and those who are confident enough in their use of the camera to know what it is going to do and when and under what conditions we might have to over ride or compensate. And that leaves us to concentrate on visualisation and composition, which is where the art is coming from.
Most photographers, however, set their cameras to aperture priority and leave them there to control the depth of field. Which is fine. So is shutter priority to control blur. So is manual to control everything, though as a permanent setting does rather slow things down – which can be the point. Auto/Programme is fine. Find one that works for you and use the others to play to their strengths.
Chair’s night and who should we have as Guest speaker? None other than David Bailey, Yeah, you read me right. David Bailey. The David Bailey, you know, the one that used to work at Asda? One of those 164 David Bailey’s who were used by Samsung to promote the NX1000 back in 2012? Being David Bailey and a photographer has been of the occasional advantage, as David outlined, though any namesake can expect to spend a certain part of their waking day in disambiguation. Especially if, at least part of your day, involves doing the same thing.
David’s theme was on the role of serendipity, the happy accident, which we have looked at as a result of the planned and the purposeful pursuit of the photograph. To be sure there were some very specific happen-stances along the way. Like the NX1000 campaign, where he got to meet the most famous of the David Bailey’s and the over the shoulder query on a London bound train, among others. In between there were long periods of learning. Each and every frame is a learning opportunity, if you have the mindset to turn it into one. Each and every frame is a unique fragment of time and geometry. Whether it is the one we were looking for …..
Bailey, as the 60’s trend for one named photographers labelled him, was, and is, by David’s account, a prodigious producer of frames, sometimes only he can see the difference in. There is a difference to be made here between the practised artist looking for what s/he knows is there and the amateur blindly firing off frames in the hope of hitting on something worth keeping. The camera becomes the instrument of discernment when it is in the hands of someone who can use it as a tool to pursue a clear idea relentlessly. The effect of a planned serendipity, the happy accident that comes from being the right person in the right place at the right time, often lies in the fact that the photographer kept on photographing those small differences until the story gelled with the one they had in mind. In this way photography is as much a process of revealing as constructing.
We have previously referred to four kinds of happy accident:
Firstly: that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”.
Secondly: chance from purposely acting towards a defined end running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action, where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly: chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly: the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”. (James Austin: Chase Chance and Creativity).
In Austin’s words David was talking about “Chance interacting with creativity”, here through four evolutionary stages from spray and pray to an ingrained, experience and evidence based work flow. This is not exclusively about style. Style will evolve with practice and a critical eye and determine the way that the forces in the happy accident come together. It will also alter subtly over time. It is about persistence an open mind and the habit of looking, really looking, persistence and anticipation. And persistence. It has long been the case that as a brand you hire Bailey because he is Bailey. You get the Bailey style, the Bailey view. More likely you don’t as he doesn’t do commissions these days, but the point is this has taken decades to evolve and it didn’t happen by itself. And it is still happening.
In the second half David moved to wedding photography as an example of a shoot closer to what the rest of us have a concept of, either as the photographer or the subject, major and/or minor, in illustrating chance interacting with creativity.
There is a long list of “Must have” shots in the expectations of clients. These have grown over the years, farmed by fashion magazines, celebrity weddings, the “Wedding industry” as the costs, technicalities and expectations of the exceptional have grown. It is a journey through a very special day and it has a number of moments in it, actually built in it. Yes these will become the prompts for reminiscences, as will the things that went right and wrong, to other events that came before and after. As time passes photographs move from being a record to being a prompt for triggering those memories.
So stiffed backed and formal are the traditional wedding shots that some of them look like they came off a production line and this in part, I suggest, became a driver for what, in some instances, have become full blown, multi-day, intercontinental celebrations. Yet, even if the day runs on the rails that the timetable of essential images suggests, there will be moments of interaction that make each part unique. Those angles, those interactions as things come together or go their separate ways, children/animals going off script, laughter, the unexpected glint of light from the bride’s father’s shotgun.
Now, note, we can get those through any of the four stages above described. The more developed we are, however, in terms of spotting, forming, framing and taking the opportunities presented, the more of them there will be and the more these things will contribute to our style. In short it is our journey from looking to seeing.ai
Happy New Year and we celebrated our return with a well attended evening of table top photography – next week we show the results. This is a good entry point to the year, it’s practical so we get to see and do with others and exchange ideas, but also it is something that we can exercise (more or less) total control over. Yes it might not be our “thing”, yes in the hall we are at the mercy of the overhead lighting and others waiting their turn (on occasion) but the opportunity is the thing.
The fact is we can, with very little resource, replicate these moments and use them to our advantage. Find an object – betting the house is full of them. It doesn’t matter what particularly, but, to start with, one that isn’t too shiny, so as we avoid bright spots (specularity) where light sources are reflected in the objects surfaces and not too big – it’s called table top for a reason. This can be controlled but we will come back to that presently.
For lights we have torches, they don’t have to be big and powerful (actually something of a disadvantage at close quarters). Some wire twists and something that will be stable when we attach the torch(es) to it as a light stand (or co-opt a friend or relative). Some plain paper to use as a diffuser and Christmas having just passed some coloured sweet wrappers for gels. If we want we can construct yourself a makeshift light box out of an old cardboard box and some grease proof paper, though there are even more minimalist options we can take. We can use tin foil and black card for reflectors and flags. Ladies and gentlemen I give you your complete photographic studio in miniature!
So it’s an entertaining way to pass an evening, useful if we are selling small things on line and we can learn quite a bit about product shots in the process. But it also has other, practical, training uses. It doesn’t make a difference how experienced we are there is always a value to practicing, especially if it is on a subject we don’t usually do. Photography, as David Bailey once pointed out, involves dealing with what is there, photographers don’t enjoy the luxury fine artists have in that anything inconvenient in the scene just doesn’t make it onto the canvas.
We have to deal with what is in front of us. The studio is the closest we will ever get to that situation, in miniature or otherwise, being places we put things in rather than take things out. Being a photographer is about having an idea of an image and working with tools we have or can find to work towards what we visualised. Yes I know, that doesn’t really apply to street (actually is does but that is for another time) or at least some forms of street photography. Oh, OK, spray and pray, but like I said, that is for another time.
Perhaps the greatest part of this is that we can go through the whole process from visualisation to capturing an image effectively and quickly. And then we can go through the variations of the set up in order to experiment and learn. Starting with a blank canvas, the light tent is exactly that, we can populate, arrange and light our little stories from scratch. It is a great way to practice basic lighting skills, pretty much for free. In fact thinking of the exercise of placing shapes in relation to each other in a way that gets the attention and lighting it is pretty much the basic definition of photography. Everything we do in these little vignettes can be scaled up. They are good fun and good practise.
There is more good practice to be had in controlling light angles too. We mentioned specularity above, basically unwanted reflections. The solutions are straight forward enough and apply to other photographic situations too. Basic rule of reflections is that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. What that means for us is that to avoid glare from a shiny object we don’t need the light source and the camera to be facing the same way. Frame with the camera and then move the light around till the glare disappears. Start at 45 degrees to the camera, you should be plumb in what is known as the family of angles.
Constant lights are more convenient here but if we use flash and have triggers so we can use them off camera and using test frames and, of course, knowing the rule of reflection, we know where not to place the lighting in relation to the camera, so that is a start. You don’t necessarily have to have triggers though. The rest of the solution isn’t complicated and if we use a “big” light source, say from a large soft box then the problem goes away. Don’t have a soft box? A light tent is one answer (basically a multidirectional diffuser). No? A piece of white card to use as a reflector, shoot with the camera facing the card, that will effectively diffuse the light.
Finally shadows are just as interesting, if not more so on occasion, and balancing out light and shadow is the root of generating mood in a shot. This is done with what are known as flags. They are used a lot in cinematography and videography. They are also used in product photography. Using them in a table top situation means that DIY options are easily available.
So, on these cold and dark evenings there is something to try out.