It was lovely after all this time in lockdown to venture out to my first London Photographic workshop for well over a year. Alex and Jane were leading, and the subject was natural light. As Jane said, there is no such thing as bad light. Every form of light has its uses. I had not previously understood quite how the diffuse, soft lighting created by a cloudy sky could enhance certain types of photographs.
My aim was to develop some macro photography skills while attempting to insert some more abstract element into the final project in keeping with the concept of dreams and reality. A macro photography workshop with London Photographic meet-up group was a literal eye-opener and made me aware of this area of photography as one requiring a huge new set of skills, but also with tremendously exciting (and expensive equipment-wise) potential.
The miniature photographic ‘sets’ created by the organisers allowed exploration of abstract and macro concepts and technical skills. Bruce Nauman’s work here was an influence, though in the end more his work with neon than his holograms series, in terms of image and construction. Also it offered a small opportunity to work while thinking in the context of Lorenzo Vitturi’s still lifes.
One notable aspect of this was in technical challenges of focus, especially when taking the toy duck reflected in the droplet of water. It took a long, long time to get a usable photograph, without camera shake, and illustrated a long-term need to invest in the frame equipment.
Electricity and glass can be terrifying and dangerous phenomena. Studio photography is not possible without either. So it is important to know how to use them safely, for legal and personal reasons. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 covers most of the essentials for professional photographers in the workplace. In photography, questions of adult and child safeguarding must also be born in mind, along with European legislation on privacy. In addition, copyright and plagiarism are other areas of legal expertise with which any aspiring lens person must equip themselves with.
Top of the list are the fire safety arragnements that must cover every indoor place of work and activity. I have done a fire warden course for my employer so have the latest certification. With studio work, it is important to have the special fire extinguishers to hand that apply. Of the 4 standards available, the dry powder and CO2 extinguishers are the ones that must be available in studios. Water must never be used on electrical fires while power is still live.
In the studio itself, there are many potential hazards from tables, chairs, electric cables, unstable tripods and lights, large light filters, overhead beams and rails and so on. Stepladders must be held by a second person whenever someone is on them. All equipment must be understood – how it works, whether it is assembled correctly. Care must be taken in navigating around them and using them. eg No cords must be capable of bringing down a large backdrop on anyone’s head when pulled. For these reasons, it is best not to have spectators or extra people in a studio setting.
In the shoot illustrated here, of flowers, I had to use scissors to cut the stems, and arrange backdrops and lights on slightly shaky. The kinds of tables that collapse if someone sits on them. The scissors were blunt. It is easy to cut oneself when over enthusiastically using blunt scissors. Flowers sometimes have thorns, that can be a hazard also especially if using a model whose skin might suffer from a cut. In addition, one of my models suffered a mild allergic reaction to the pollen in some of the flowers. It is important to consider all such eventualities, and have antihistamine tablets and cream on hand should this occur.
Storage is a must. Equipment must be properly stored and curated, and put away properly after use.
Rubber cables should be used. Plugs must be compatible with equipment. Electrical burning smells, common when spots are in use for a long time, must be investigated and dealt with.
Bulbs must never be touched. Incandescent lights of the kind common in spots get very hot. They can be made unstable by the touch of human flesh and explode. They will also cause burns if touched when hot. Some bulbs contain mercury which is a poison. Great care must be taken to avoid exploding such bulbs.
Explosions can also be caused by plugs being too close to live equipment. A spark can arc over and ignite equipment with catastrophic results.
Sparks can be caused if someone trips over a cable and pulls out a plug by accident, or knocks over equipment, with the same result. Some people recommend rubber gloves and electricity-proof gaffer tape when working in the studio and any long loose cables should be secured safely. Best to avoid extensions at all if possible.
For obvious reasons, then, food and drink should never be in a photo studio.
Be familiar with fuse box and fuse requirements of different plugs and lights.
And also it is advisable to have done a first aid course and have a first aid kit to hand at all times.
Term two we analysed use of studio lighting in relation to product photography. We made a presentation on a particular photographer.
My presentation was on Robert Mapplethorpe, and found his studio work with flowers, both on their own and when photographed with people, incredibly inspiring.
Using dark backgrounds and split lighting techniques in the studio with a diffuser/softbox it was possible to create dramatic light and shade contrasts that highlighted the relationship of the flowers to the human subjects while presenting both flowers and people in their beauty and vulnerability.
For the flower on its own, the trick was to use a reflector also to make the light bounce back onto the stem, otherwise the stem would have been in complete darkness. Using also a low F-stop some sharpening of the stem was necessary in post-production.
Also studio assistance was needed to use a shield to ensure absolutely none of the light fell onto the background, to maintain the dramatic effect caused by total darkness.
I did two night shoots in London over January, in central and at the Winter Lights display in Canary Wharf. Practised using different lenses and zoom blast with tripod. One of the interesting aspects was editing using photoshop and the magnetic lassoo tool to brighten some areas of a picture while darkening others.
I posted this last photo, of the Windmill strip club in Soho, on Unsplash, and it was featured as one of their images of the day.
Spent a morning on the north bank of the Thames, practising ND filters and long exposure from last term. Also went beyond camera raw and used Photoshop properly for the first time to lighten the foreground only by masking, and also to enhance the natural drama of the sky.
In studio portrait photography, there are four main patterns: butterfly, split, loop and Rembrandt. The latter three are demonstrated here. (Butterfly, which I’ll show next week, is straight on, with a butterfly shadow thrown just below the nose.) These portraits were shot using ‘hard’ light, in order to demonstrate more vividly the shadow effects. Soft light is more usual in portraits however. The featured image was shot from a lower vantage point, in order to give the subject a more commanding presence. Shooting straight on, or even from a higher point, makes a subject seem more approachable.
- Loop: The shadow from the nose loops slightly to one side or the other, with the light source above the subject and to one side.
- Split: The light is split down the centre of the face between light and dark, by lighting from the side.
- Rembrandt: Named after the artist because this is how he liked to light his portraits, the shadows of the nose and the cheek join to create a triangle of light below the left eye. Ideally, the eye above the triangle of light should have a ‘catch’ light in it. (I managed to achieve the catch in the second ‘split’ portrait, but not in the Rembrandt lighting. Often, the ability to do this is determined by the subject’s physiognomy and a failure can be corrected in processing.)
Having been given a Nikon D500 at Christmas by dh, I spent some time mainly familiarising myself with the new controls in Kew Gardens and on Richmond Riverside, when a gentle sunset at an exceptionally high tide obliged nicely. The controls turned out to be surprisingly intuitive. Focusing is so much easier and the colours and sharpness of the final results are a huge improvement on the D5200.
Task 1 Depth of Field, Selective focus AC (2.1,2.2
For the end of term task for Unit 1 in the RHACC Level 2 Photography Course, the task was to choose a place near our home to explore urban or landscape photography using a variety of approaches. I chose Kew Gardens, and decided to focus in on Christmas at Kew, the annual light display.
Task 1: Depth of field, Selective focus (LO 1,2,3)
(to address Assessment Criteria (AC) 2.1, 2.2, 3.2)
These are my 3 images in response to the title using depth of field and/or selective focus.
- Working with aperture to create required depth of field.
- Working with manual focus in order to create required focusing point.
For the first photograph, of lights in the lake at Kew Gardens, I used a zoom lens 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 with a tripod, shutter speed of 0.4 seconds and 100 ISO for less grain/higher quality. I had lens on an aperture to create sufficient depth of field with as much of the picture as possible in focus. I loved the reflections created in the lake. From my position on the bank, it looked magical but through the camera lens, even more so. Manual focus here was easy – simply preset to infinity – but of course with the camera on M.
The second photo, of a winter bud, I switched to a 105mm f/2.8 micro lens and also moved from night time to mid-afternoon for better quality of light. Set at aperture f/4.8 so the soft-focus effects would not be too great at the edges of the bud, nevertheless I was able to achieve sufficiently shallow depth of field at 100 ISO to allow for fine detail of the softly unfolding bud to emerge in the photo. It was only in processing the pic with Camera Raw and then Photoshop that I realised a synthetic blue thread of nylon, blown no doubt in the wind, was on the bud. So I used healing brush editing tool to remove it.
The third pic shows an opened autumnal bud, with the fluffy cotton and seeds ready to blow away in the wind, from the Japanese Garden in Kew Gardens. The near-abstract nature of this image in micro appealed to me. With f/4.2 and shutter speed of 1/250, and in a soft breeze, it was hard with this one to get the right part of the image in focus. The only solution in the end was to fire off several pix until one emerged that looked “right”.
Focusing was the crucial element to making these latter two pictures work, and the most difficult. The only possible way was manual focus, then to move the camera gently backwards and forwards within a small margin of a cm or two, while visually checking the focus through the viewfinder to find the ideal time to press the shutter.
Task 2 Shutter speed AC (2.1, 2.2) (LO 1,2,3)
These are my three images in response to the title using slow or fast shutter speed techniques with:
- Multiple exposures
- Painting with light
For the first photo I used lens 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 on a tripod with exposure of 3s. This was a mirror ball snowman at Kew Gardens with the trees behind lit with eerie blue light. The ghost effect in the foreground was achieved by asking another visitor at Christmas at Kew to walk slowly in front of the camera past the snowman while the shutter was open.
The second image was taken with the same wide angle lens f5.6 with exposure 1/4. I asked a family if their daughter would hold her rotating light sparkler in front of her, to give the colourful effect of moving light with the twinkling ‘light cathedral’ in the background.
The third image, painting with light, was of the light “doorways” we passed through at the start of the Christmas at Kew winter light display. With the same wide angle lens, allowing me to get quite close to the gates of light, at f5.6 with an exposure of 2s I was able to move the camera gently literally to paint the camera sensor with fine lines of light from the separate bulbs in the display. It took several goes to get this right, with the lines appearing in focus and not blurred. The clue to getting it right was to have the camera on manual (as with all the above) so as to allow for consistency of focus during the longer exposure this type of photography demands.
Task 3 Final take AC (3.1, 3.2) (LO 1,2,3)
Here I present a series of present a series of five images in response to the title using photographic techniques I have become familiar with during the course of the preceding exercises. My aim was to explore light and landscape in the context of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
For the first photograph, I used the wide angle lens and a long exposure of 6s with the camera on manual focus on a tripod lowered as close to the ground as possible (LO 1, 2 & 3). It was a matter of taking repeated photographs to get the combination of light, dark and colour as dramatic as possible as the lights passed through a wide variety of different colours. Processed in camera raw to increase contrast and sharpen slightly.
The second photo, of the moon behind the trees, was taken using almost all natural light of the moon at a rare part of Kew Gardens lit up by just a few artificial lights from the front (LO 1, 2) It was quite exciting as it was as if the whole of Kew Gardens had been placed in a studio with artificial light! With an exposure of 3s, on a tripod, and zoom lens of 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 the aim was to capture the colour of the autumn leaves as lit from the front by artificial light, with the natural light of the nearly-full moon coming through from behind. I processed in camera raw but only slightly, to increase exposure.
The third image was of moving flash lasers which when photographed give an impressions of fixed arches of pure light. Taken with wide angle lens and exposure of 6 seconds on tripod, this needed quite a lot of work in camera raw and photoshop to enhance clarity and sharpness and bring out the colours and increasing exposure.
The fourth image showed a pentagram of natural light – created by lit gas “candles” – which leads the viewers eye towards the artificially-lit trees in the night. (LO 1,2,3). It is dramatic because of the variety and the contrasts of the colours, with the orange of the real fire dramatically outgunning the artificial light in the distance. A wide angle lens with an exposure time of 3s created a sense of movement in the flames which was a vivid contrast to the static lights on the trees. Enhancing vibrance, saturation and exposure in raw added the final touches to the image.
The final, fifth image is my favourite of the whole exercise. (LO 1,2,3) A lone tree is lit green by artificial light. With a wide angle lens and exposure time of 3s, the main challenge here was getting the composition right to create the balanced effect I sought. In the end the simple rule of 3 worked well, but I took many photos with the tree that bit more to the centre or the right of the picture. One problem was a red light in the distance which intruded when the tree was in the “right” place in the composition. However I was in the end able to edit that out seamlessly in Photoshop after enhancing vibrance and exposure – but not too much – in Camera Raw in Bridge.
4. Safe Working Practices (LO4)
Here I discuss safe working practices I identified and used during this project, and the occasions when I needed to request permission to take photographs.
Although there is no law in the UK against taking photographs of any individual, including children, in a public space, this is not as straightforward as it seems. Many places that fall under apparent definition of public space are not actually covered by this law, especially when taking photographs for commercial purposes. Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square for example need special permission for commercial photos. Likewise, special permission is needed to take photographs for commercial purposes in the royal parks – including Richmond Park. (Someone should tell those poor deer!) The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is not a public space, it is a registered charity with paid entrance. I was fine taking photographs for this project, which is non-commercial, but had I wished to sell these photographs, I would have needed to obtain permission. Likewise, one of the photographs included a child. I did ask permission of her parents, and said I would email them the photograph. That email included a request for permission to use it on this blog. As they never replied to my email, the photograph I used of the child was one where identifying features were obscured by the light.
Regarding safe working practices, the relevant statutes are the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
Obviously this project is not a professional work project, but for the purposes of this exercise needs to be approached as if it were. So it was important that the photography was carried out without causing risk to any members of the public – or myself.
This included safe practices such as staying within safety barriers put round lakes and other water on a dark and damp night where grass was slippery under foot. Also not getting excessively close to electric light displays in any way that could pose a hazard to anyone. A further aspect that became apparent when walking around with a tripod among large crowds was how necessary it is to control the metal legs of the tripod so they do not bang into people’s arms and legs. Simply managing the weight and dimensions of photographic equipment can be a challenge among large crowds on a dark, damp and breezy night. For example, how to change lenses when there are dozens of people crowding past, in the dark, all wanting to gaze at the same view and snap it on their phones. In the end the only option was to find a slightly less crowded space to kneel on the ground and hope no-one walked over me! One particular lesson learned in this case for the future – buy some cycling gear like luminous arm bands or head band so when I am kneeling down to change lenses etc, I am not simply a dark blob on the ground to be run over (possibly even tripped over, thereby inadvertently causing injury to some child or adult besides myself).