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.OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.90
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.
The chosen subjects for this exercise are a fossil and a stone picked up a while a go and called the Yorkshire Pudding. The setup is shown in fig. Ex4.4A, right. Two small LED lights, the main one on the left of the subject and a fill on the right.
All the shots were taken using manual mode and manual focus. The fossil was taken first at 1600 ISO and then 200 ISO; the pudding only at the latter.
I will be seen from the first, ambient shot fig. Ex4.4B that the natural light (coming from the right) is tinged with red, the colour of the translucent curtains, which were open, but still coloured the light.
4th February was not a bright day and the little light available at 16:04 was diffused. The regular house domestic lights were turned off. The ambient shot (fig. Ex4.4B) is quite evenly lit and it would have been useful to try this with a reflector to bounce some light back onto the subject as that (apart from the red hue) might have been the best lit shot of the day. As it was, this was taken as a reference shot.
There differing sensitivity settings, 1600 ISO (figs. Ex4.4C-D) and 200 ISO (figs. Ex4.4E-F) have little effect on the outcome, I had intended to reduce the ISO value from the initial shot but forgot to do so at first.
The exercise was rerun and extended with additional subjects and reflected artificial light. I do not agree with the exercise instructions that man-made objects are inappropriate for this exercise so I ignored it. In my view the angularity of these objects make the effect of the lighting effects more discernible and that is a benefit. They were objects that happened to be to hand and do not “contain another layer of meaning” for me; they are just interesting to light.
For each of the three objects, Yorkshire Pudding, toy Rietveld chair and toy Shuttle, the same varieties of lighting were applied:
1. ambient light
2. key light from the right
3. plus fill light from the left
4. reflected key light from the right
5. plus reflected fill light from the left
For the reflected light, an approximated miniature version of Irving Penn’s corner set was used, as shown in fig. Ex4.4J.
The camera setup for the lit shots throughout was manual exposure, f/8, ISO 200, shutter speed adjusted using the histogram, auto white balance. (For the unlit shots the ISO was raised as there was insufficient light.) The camera was a Panasonic G80 M4/3 with an Olympus 60mm (120mm) macro lens.
It is subjectively apparent that, in general, two lights are better than one and that reflected light is more subtle. A single light is relatively harsh and causes some detail to be lost in shadow (this is particularly noticeable with the rounded, deeper shadows of the stone). The softer effect of reflected light is generally advantageous in revealing surface detail, though it might be argued on aesthetic grounds that the harsh light and extended shadows in fig. Ex4.4L serve to emphasise the angular form of the chair.