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.
Someone says reflections and we think of mirrors and shiny surfaces where the scene is played back to us in reverse but in the same perspective, so what is reflected in the surface appears as far behind it as the actual object being reflected is in front of it. We see them all the time, sometimes marvel at them, sometimes curse them most often accept them as part of the environment. Ask a physicist and they might say something like a “Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated” (Wikipedia) and the rest of us nod and try to move on, but not quick enough and we, like the Wedding Guest in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” are snared. They continue: “The law of reflection says that for specular reflection the angle at which the wave is incident on the surface equals the angle at which it is reflected. Mirrors exhibit specular reflection” (ibid). For which we are grateful, we explain, but it’s our turn to shampoo the goldfish and, unfortunately, we have to move on.
All very true, well the physics bit anyway, I am sure and actually kind of fascinating, but we don’t really need to know the physics to observe and, as photographers, capture. Although lens manufacturers spend millions of pounds and tens of thousands of hours in designing glass that transmits without specular distortions, we, nonetheless, as our latest meeting proved, will insist on putting the specularities back in. Bokeh anyone?
It can be true, depending upon the situation and the desired outcome, that we spend a lot of time and energy in controlling reflections, often using reflectors, gels, scrims, flags and alike but we will come back to those in another post in more detail.
There were some very interesting images made by members using a polarising filter. Polarization is an effect on light waves that reduce its passage to a single plane, “A flat surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it would wholly lie”, rather than a direct flight to Marbella. Polarisers don’t work on metallic surfaces because of the angle of scatter metal produces (cars and so on also have layers of paint which are also “dialectric“), lacking “Brewster” angle. This is one of those things you either already know or don’t really care about because you don’t need to know. Essentially as photographers we know that polarisers reduce reflections and darken skies at the right angle, but not from metal surfaces. The plastic rulers, backlit, showed rainbows not seen in normal light, the iridescent rainbow patterns appearing like stress marks, shown using lens-mounted polarising filters were an interesting diversion from how we usually think of in these sort of filters.
And there were plenty of others using foils and glass and water and mirrors and metals all providing interesting and off beat opportunities. That, though is to miss a rather large point. Reflections are to be found all over the natural and built environments, especially the latter and can be used to enhance an image by providing balance or foreground interest or as the focal point. It can also be used to limit the dynamic range within a frame by moving the histogram to the right – basically, by removing significant areas of shadow. Of course this is a function of the lightest and darkest points in the frame which in itself is a function of what we choose to include in our frame. Not always possible, of course.
But we were working in doors and that generally means that we have greater control over the lighting. A light tent was one of the pieces of equipment brought in. Light tents act, when the light is kept outside of the tent, to soften the light on the subject which is also isolated from all background distractions apart from those you chose to include. Most often associated with product photography, though that should probably read small product photography, they are a cheap way of getting in some practice of shooting a subject under controlled conditions. You can, of course, spend as much money as you want on it, but the basics remain the same. It is particularly good at practising with light modifiers, especially with flags and reflectors, I find, not least because you are not struggling with giant soft boxes and the like, yet still are dealing with the same problems. It is a matter of scale.
Whether you need artificial or additional lighting is largely a function of preference as if there is sufficient daylight then the effect is pretty much the same, you still can employ your (mini) flags and reflectors to direct a greatly suffused light. Lack of artificial lighting just limits the time of day and you can easily make your own light tent from a card board box and some grease proof paper, if needs be. There are dozens of effects you can conjure up with a little bit of time and patience and stuff you can find around the house, the point is, though they definitely have their uses, you don’t need a vast and remote lake reflecting a glorious mountain range that it took you and your dedicated team of Sherpa’s three weeks to trek to to make use of reflections. They are pretty much everywhere, especially in the built environment, and if not, you can make them.
Five images by five club photographers on a connected theme. That’s the general outline for the Kingswood Salver. As a brief it’s pretty wide and that makes it a challenging in more ways than one. Last Thursday marked the start of the 2015 Reflex Kingswood Salver campaign with an evening organised by Roger and Eddie around the theme of collectables. Sunday there was a club shoot at the Blaise Castle estate involving Red Riding Hood, a Huntress (Kelly Wolf Rogers), a Clown, a Knight (Paul Walker), a modern girl (Snehal “Tia” Panchbhai), a Pre-Raphelite (Rachel Pratt) , a Goth (Megan Gearing), two dozen club photographers, one drone, several dogs, random small children and assorted owners of the above wandering in and out of shot as happens in any public space. A busy week and a very enjoyable one, thank you to Myk, Steve D, Eddie and Roger for their sterling efforts in organising these two events.
A busy club night saw musical instruments, dolls, insects, back-lit fruit (you had to be there, and thanks Kevin), buttons, figurines (mainly of the Dr Who variety) and “Stuff” brought along by club members and photographed. Two things struck me, not unrelated. We had a limited time on the evening, but the primary focus of the event was to get people started and thinking along the lines of the competition rules, so both space and time were at a premium (though I have to say the hall we hire is a very good space for our purposes) and my first thought was that we would not have been able to do as much had we been shooting film. We would have needed more lights – you only get one go at the ISO and that is largely pre determined – we would have had far more white balance problems, we would be up to our ears in filters (80A 80B and 80C filters to cool the light and 81A 81B 81C to warm it up for the uninitiated, where A is the lightest and B the darkest filter in the range and for the nostalgic, scientifically minded or otherwise curious link here for the joys and wonders of JIS B 7125). For all the discussions on the merits of film v digital, digital is far, far simpler (mostly a-good-thing sometimes a not-so-good-thing), more flexible and one hell of a lot cheaper. In this case it enabled more people to take more photographs in a given space and time. The club Facebook and Fun Shoots pages had more than a few contributions because of it. A good start was made.
There was a mixture of table top and backdrop photography going on. The lighting question was partially resolved by the club lights, Gerry’s increasing collection of luminous paraphernalia the odd flash gun, reflector and of, course, the built in flash. You don’t need a huge variety of lighting equipment. Those advantages of using digital I spoke of above mean that you can use a variety of light sources. DIY lighting is a viable option for the amateur (and the odd professional I suspect) and LED lighting in particular is getting cheaper and more adaptable. For table top in particular, where you can make your own light tent/box for next to nothing either as a one off or something a little more permanent (beards and cardigans are optional). The other thing you need is a little information on light modifiers and you can easily practice this at home. Using a full backdrop? Then you can make your own softbox for probably even less. This was a well chosen warm up.
Sunday was forecast rain from lunch time, turning to heavy rain till mid afternoon. Yes we got rain, but not until the end of the shoot and there was plenty for everybody. A range of models, good and varied light for the most part and an all round positive attitude from everybody made it both fun and instructive. As usual there were plenty of people on hand to help out with technical queries and the models all gave it their best which made for variety. It is also a good opportunity to try out something new. I found that I could have a use for the 10fps motor drive and experimented with a combination of RAW and the fully programmed setting on the dial. Never used P before (only had the camera for 20 months or so – it has that many settings!), not in too much of hurry to use it again, but it gave me an idea of how it works in a variety of situations and can see when it might be useful. Still haven’t used the 3D setting – maybe next time. These outings are both social and educational. The Blaise Castle Estate (which got an early celebrity endorsement from Jane Austen) has more locations than we used for the day and is a fine public space. The history of it is well worth reading. We used the woodland in the morning and the “Castle” (built as a residence rather than a folly apparently) as a backdrop in the afternoon and the caves on our way out. The terrace of the main house, and the Dairy House were among the locations we didn’t use. It is a fine resource that was very nearly lost.
Next meeting ….
Speaker – Justin Quinnell – “Aristotle’s Hole” ….. Be there or be square. Though to be fair there is no evidence that the hole was square …… Cue Bernard Cribbins, better yet see link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website See link below or checkout the events calendar on the club website or check out Justin’s website.
And the link is: RCC_notice_5 March 2015
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
ROUND 3 Reflex Open Competition Deadline is 5th March. See the above link or the rules on the website for the size and submission requirements.
Apologies for the late post this week, some technical issues with my laptop.