Sunday, 7 November 2010

Project 03: Experimenting with light

This is, potentially, a very open-ended project; there being so many variations on experimentation with light, both natural and photographic.  The brief seems to steer us towards the use of natural light, and that is, largely, the approach that I have taken.  Artificial light is present in only two of the images presented below, and only at a very minimal level in one of those.  That said, I have often used flash, both on and off camera, in the past to photograph people, still life compositions etc.
The first two portraits are taken indoors, in natural light that is coming from behind the camera, but from French windows that mean it is broadly spread.  It was a dull, cloudy day, so the light is quite ‘white’, being reflected from light clouds, and is well-diffused.  I also chose to use black velvet for the background.  The subject normally wears glasses and I initially took photographs without them, in order to simplify the framing and composition as much as possible, but she also asked me to take some with the glasses on, so I have included both examples here.

This is probably as simple a lighting situation as one could get, and the outcome is a very ‘neutral’ effect – quite a ‘flat’ image, little sense of form because there isn’t a great deal of light and shade.  Some might say that there is too much of the ‘passport’ photo about these, but of course this neutrality is actually very much in line with many contemporary portraitists e.g. Rineke Dijkstra, where there is an attempt strip away the dramatic lighting and concentrate on recording what was there.

The next two are similar, being taken indoors in natural, diffused soft light, but this time there is more direction to the light – from the left side of the frame.  The side lighting creates more contrast of light and shade, highlighting more of the texture and form in the subject e.g. in the hair and the contours of the face.  The portraits probably have more ‘interest’, a little more sense of ‘drama’ – albeit the lighting here is still relatively soft.  Introducing strong photographic lighting in a similarly directional fashion would have an even more dramatic effect.

Once again, there is an image with glasses and one without.  Interesting – the portraits without are simpler to make.  For example, the one above right originally had a distortion of the edge of the face where it appears through the spectacle lens on the left of the frame, which I have corrected in Photoshop.  Now, some people who wear spectacles all the time are probably not going to want to have their portrait taken without them because they might feel it is ‘not them’, but others may welcome their removal.  They certainly make the process more complicated.
Now to another image taken in soft diffused lighting on a dull day; this time out of doors.
There are similarities with the first two images above but, being outside, the light is brighter and coming from above (reflected light from a covering of white/grey cloud), so there is less light getting into the eyes and there is a small amount of shadow below the cheekbones.  Getting light into the eyes is certainly one of the challenges in this type of situation, and I have actually used a very small amount of (on camera) flash to help the situation, which has also caught a small amount of highlighting in the eyes.
The next image makes rather more use of ‘fill flash’.  The sun was bright late on an autumn morning, but I wanted to try a portrait against this well lit ‘golden’ background, with the subject actually in deep shade, under a tree.  The advantage of shooting in the shade is that she is not affected by the brightness of the sun, but matching exposure in the shade with this bright background would have been very difficult, so I have used a considerable amount of flash to illuminate the face, enabling a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/125th second, which retains some detail in the bright background.  The effect is perhaps unusual, but I think it works well, and it would have been impossible to achieve without the use of the artificial light.
We did have several attempts to take portraits in bright sunlight, but it was very hard for my subject to either look towards the sun so that we could get some light into the eyes, or for me to expose in such a way as to get detail into the eyes.
This is as close as we got, and the difference is that it was taken late in the afternoon, when the sun was lower and less strong.  She is still having to struggle to keep her eyes open in the bright light, but there is enough detail to make the portrait work and, combined with the wind ruffling her hair (on the beach) it does give the portrait a very natural and informal look.  It is also shot from above in order to again maximise the opportunity to get light into the eyes.
Many thanks to Jayne for her patience, especially when we were trying to work in bright light.

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