Category Archives: e – Photographic lighting (artificial light)

Shiny surfaces

The exercise is designed to give an insight into one way of dealing with objects with reflective surfaces.

For the subject I used a stainless steel coffee container and while this does not have the reflective qualities of say, a mirror, it nevertheless does reflect as can be seen in this shot:-


Coffee container shot from above – the photographer is clearly visible.  1/125 sec at F5 ISO 100

The background was black card (velvet not being available)  and I have to admit to having some difficulty in getting a useable tube out of an A1 size piece of tracing paper (which is I suppose a very basic form of light tent).  However after much stapling and trimming I managed to get it to fit round both the container and the camera lens and took this shot:-



With the tracing paper cone surrounding the container. 1/40 sec at F2.8 ISO100

As can be seen the tracing paper has diffused the light and removed the reflection.


Container with tracing paper around light source is lower than the previous shot and slightly to the right so shadows being created. 1/60 sec at F2.8 ISO 100.

I also laid the container on its side to see how the curve would affect the reflection:-


Container photographed without the tracing paper surrounding it. 1/80sec at F3.5 ISO 100


Container photographed with the tracing paper surrounding it. 1/80sec at F3.5 ISO 100

I have read (and need to re-read as I’ve forgotten a lot of it) Light Science and Magic by Hunter, Biver and Fuqua which gives a lot of useful insights into lighting techniques.  The problem is with this aspect of photography is that unless you are using lighting regularly some techniques get forgotten.




Concentrating Light

I thought for this exercise I would reuse the set up in the previous one.

I used the Bowens mono light again in order to pick out the lighter in the middle of the set which, in the previous exercise was consistently in shadow.  The adjustable and focusable spotlight style of the monolight means a relatively small are can be highlighted:-

DSC04090 DSC04094-3

The reason I reused this setup was to see if by combining the modelling light/flash to the left and Bowens on the middle whether a better overall shot could be obtained, than any of those in the previous exercise. and I think it could:-


Could do with a bit of tweaking but I think this does indicate what can be done with more than one light source.  I would also get a better background!

Contrast and shadow fill

The exercise is designed to show the effect of using a reflector.

The set up was as follows:-



Light source was a Bowens moonlight (see previous post) with curtains closed reflector (when used at right angles, and to the right of the subject.



Plain light








With diffuser

As it turned out I didn’t think the series of shots with this arrangement worked to well so I altered it slightly to improve the shadow content so to speak.   I also used a black reflector for the first two shots in this series as the white walls were reflecting too much:-


Plain light


With diffuser. Note how the ridges in the cigarette case on the right are better defined.


White card/reflector three foot to the left from subject. Some detail on the tobacco tin on the left becoming apparent.


White card about eighteen inches to the right from subject. A bit more detail now discernible.


Matt silver reflector three foot to the left of subject. Better lighting, though not perfect, on the tobacco tin.


Matt silver reflector eighteen inches to the left of subject. Again an improvement in the lighting, though still not perfect its a bit clearer as to the detail on the tin.


Crumpled silver paper three foot to the left of subjects giving a more even spread of light.


Crumpled silver paper eighteen inches to the left of subjects Compared to the previous shot there is not so much of a difference in the lighting due to nearness. I can only hypothesize but as the crumpling scatters the reflected light at all angles moving loser does not mean the light is necessarily more concentrated on the subject.


I also tried a gold reflector (to stand in for the bright silver paper) – this is at three foot from the subject.


Gold reflector at eighteen inches from subject gives a nice warm fill in effect on the tobacco tin.

The exercise then asks for the shots to be placed in order of strength of contrast and I would list them (strongest first) as shown below:-


plain light


Diffuser no reflector


White card reflector three foot away


White card reflector eighteen inches away


Gold reflector three feet away.


Matt silver reflector three feet away


Crumpled silver reflector three feet away


Crumpled silver reflector eighteen inches away


Matt silver reflector eighteen inches away


Gold reflector eighteen inches away

Interesting exercise in that it shows the reflective power (or lack thereof) of different colour surfaces/materials.  What was fascinating is how crumpling up the silver foil dramatically reduces its reflective power.




The lighting angle

The exercise asks you to keep the camera in a fixed position (on a tripod) and aimed horizontally at the subject. I decided initially to use this patinated tankard and place it on a some shoeboxes on a table to get the right level, covered by a towel. I used a plain wool blanket hung over the window to create a bright plan back ground.


Light at front of subject


Light at left hand side of frame










Light at rear and left










After doing the required number of shots I thought the tankard wasn’t showing the effects of moving the lighting well enough as it was too smooth.  So I repeated the exercise with a wooden snuff box, placed at a slight angle to the camera:-


Light in line with camera


Light at left of subject at ninety degrees







Light at rear left of subject
Light directly behind subject









light to rear and right of subject


Light to right of subject.








Front Light at 45 degrees


Light at left at 45 degrees








Light at rear left at 45 degrees


Light behind subject at 45 degrees








Light at right of subject at 45 degrees.


Light at left of camera at 45 degrees






Lit from above

Of all the shots above I think the second (shot from the left and level) is the most effective.  It brings out the detail but provides sufficient shadows to show the depth of the carving on the box and thus give a 3d effect to the image.





Softening the light

This exercise requires you to set up a still-life arrangement, with any object or group of objects and in this case I chose a chest formerly owned by my grandfather.  This contains a variety of objects some of which are from auctions my Grandfather used to regularly attend, and some would appear to be family heirlooms including my grandfather’s world war one medals and my fathers swimming and boxing medals.  It therefore has quite a powerful resonance about it.

The lighting was provided by a Bowens Monospot (see below) and the diffuser was a simple cotton flannel placed over it.  The light was to the left and above the camera.


The Bowens Monospot



Bare Bulb F22 @ two seconds ISO 200


With diffuser F22 @ 10 sec ISO200

On both these and the two photos below I have made the following common adjustments in Lightroom:-  Highlights -25; Shadows +25 and Clarity +25.  Even with these adjustments, which in any event were not too significant, its easy to see the harshness of the shadows with the bare bulb.  Note how behind the pocket watch in the bare bub shot the shadow obscures the detail of the box.  Likewise the shadow of the tankard conceals the fine detail of the beads on the purse whereas in the diffused shot these can easily be made out.  It is arguable that the harsher shadows give a more three dimensional effect as our view registers that the shadows are there because of the gap between the objects.  The diffused shot while containing more detail looks somehow flatter.  As far as highlights are concerned the difference is, I think, most noticeable in the silver cigarette box at the back of the main box.  In the bare bulb shot there are areas of blown highlights whereas in the diffused shot, although some remain there is a lot more detail visible.  Colour rendition is more accurate on the diffused shot as, I think, the light is not reflected as much.

Of the two shots I think I prefer the bare bub as the harsher light does give a more three dimensional  effect but as a pure “record ” shot the diffused version gives more information about the subject.