Assignment 4 -Languages of light: Revisiting Exercise 4.3

As a distance learning student at OCA you’re not an ‘autodidact’; you have the benefit of tutor reports and a formal assessment at the end of each course. One of the ways to make the most of tutor reports is to rework assignments after receiving feedback.

In fact it’s a good idea to approach the whole course – exercises, contextual research
and assignments – as an ongoing body of work, until you decide you’re ready to enter for assessment. With this in mind, Assignment Four asks you to return to one of the exercises from Part Four and develop it into a formal assignment submission.

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time.
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you’ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your ‘process’ (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link in to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.

Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor’s

Revisiting Exercise 4.3

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term).

The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot.

You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash.

‘Beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term’

Bloomfield 2014

Images-Experiments with artificial light, colour and reflection

Ass 4 relection street lamp-4618

Ass 4 relection Market Pavillion 2-4504

Ass 4 relection find out more-4536

assig4 UCS 4-4631

Ass4 tiff v5-4693

Ass 4 relection Bus Stop-4561

Ass 4 relectionstar-4574

Ass 4 Drain-4522

Introduction and background to assignment 4

An ongoing positive challenge for me in my OCA studies is trying new things, indeed this is a driver for my participation in the programme of study. This assignment tested me further in new endeavours. In my photographic work prior to joining the OCA I had never really looked at the use of artificial light, or in the case of my choice for this assignment, undertaken night time image making. This section of the course really got my interest and in particular image making outside at night with the illumination being the artificial light that often surrounds us.

There is something unnatural about artificial light, but also as the course materials suggest, it can be quite beautiful too. The city at night offers much in terms of opportunities in image making and it was this that I thought I would try to record. In truth the weather also played a significant role too in this work and rather than being put off by the interminable rain over several weeks, I decided to use it as an opportunity.

As my blog entry: ‘Brassard-Paris de Suit’ ( ) notes, Brassai’s nocturnal scenes of Paris capture something of the topography of the built environment of the city and some of his work falls into the urban landscape genre. It was this notion of the urban landscape illuminated by artificial light, that I set out to record in this assignment

In completing section 4 of the course I was very taken with the work of Rut Blees Luxemburg and her large format colour images of the city at night. Her work was a particular inspiration for this assignment and although I tried hard not to be too derivative, I think the influence might be noticeable. I was particularly drawn to the image below in which there is an interplay between the elements of light, colour, surface and reflection.


Copyright Rut Blees Luxemburg

The image above contains so much about the city without being particularly pictorial. It asks questions, but also is in my view quite beautiful in an abstract way. Luxemburg’s use of of ‘fragments’ caught in reflections set me thinking about how we only need to see a fragment of a thing for our brains to then make a whole. That said the ‘whole ‘ we make may be different to the thing whose fragment we observed? The idea of ‘fragments’ also influenced what I subsequently made images of.

A further influence was my recent OCA study visit to the East London Photo Festival and the work in the ‘Drift’ exhibition. The ‘Terra Firma’ work of Beatrice Tura (2015) attracted my attention in particular. Her work sets out to say some thing about the continual change in the urban landscape. Her images all look at the surfaces we walk upon but often do not look at as pass over them. The image below is typical of her work and has a simple yet intriguing beauty.


Copyright Beatrice Tura

The image above contains so much about the city without being particularly pictorial. It asks questions, but also is in my view quite beautiful in an abstract way. Luxemburg’s use of of ‘fragments’ caught in reflections set me thinking about how we only need to see a fragment of a thing for our brains to then make a whole. That said the ‘whole ‘ we make may be different to the thing whose fragment we observed? The idea of ‘fragments’ also influenced what I subsequently made images of.

A further influence was my recent OCA study visit to the East London Photo Festival and the work in the ‘Drift’ exhibition. The ‘Terra Firma’ work of Beatrice Tura (2015) attracted my attention in particular. Her work sets out to say some thing about the continual change in the urban landscape. Her images all look at the surfaces we walk upon but often do not look at as pass over them. The image below is typical of her work and has a simple yet intriguing beauty.

Tura’s work intrigued me because surfaces of all kinds, not just those we walk on are in a state of continual change. They can take on a very different appearance under different light and under different weather conditions. These thoughts helped me form the ideas for the images I wanted to make in response to this assignment. A detailed write up of ‘Drift ‘ can be found on my blog at:

I also considered some other perspectives on the city in my preparations for this assignment. Brandt and Shintaro were considered in particular. Both of these photographers work say something about the city and the city at night with or without artificial light. In the case of Shintaro I really liked the vivid high contrast look of his images of Japanese cities once the sun has gone down. I decided however to take a somewhat different, more micro view at the effects of artificial light on the fabric and surfaces of the city at night. Similarly Brandt’s work photographing London between the wars and during the blackouts during the blitz proved to be of real interest but in the end did not directly influence the approach I took.

My Blog entry about Shintaro can be found at:

My blog entry about Brandt can also be found at:

Process and Execution

Shooting at night brings a range of challenges, not least getting the colour balance right when the scene is lit by the widely varying frequency and colour temperature of Mercury, Tungsten, Halogen, Neon and LED light sources. During the process I was reminded of long past A’ level Physics experiments measuring the relative frequency of artificial light in Angstroms, that unit of measurement dates how long ago this was!

My camera has quite sophisticated white balance control, but the wide variations in light source meant the real correction needed to be made in Lightroom when I was back at the computer and the warmth of home. It was for this reason that I made the images in RAW and later converted them to TIFFs and JPEGs.

In the initial phase of the work I did some experiments and made images in low light. These were of a variety if subjects. To a large extent these initial images where as much about testing me, my equipment and the practice of image making at night.The images below, although not exhaustive, show some of the experiments I made to consider artificial light and its effects on different surfaces.

St Lazare desk-4637

55mm f2.8 ¼ second ISO 200


55mm f2.8 4 seconds ISO 200

St Lazare desk-4666

27mm f4 12 seconds ISO 200

St Lazare deskfgh-4641

35mm f4 1 second ISO 200


They included light trails of vehicles, buildings illuminated in different colours and light falling on a variety of surfaces. I also used different settings on the camera’s white balance controls to see what the images recorded. The dominance of sodium wavelengths in many of the final images firmed up my plans. An interesting discovery in these experiments was that at a wavelength of 588nm (5880 Angstroms in old money!) a sodium cast dominates the image even when mercury vapour light (at around 365nm) is the brighter light source in the scene. As someone still on a steep learning curve using digital recording techniques (my preference is still to use film and wet darkroom processes) I did spend quite some time in Lightroom adjusting the colour temperature and white balance in the final image selection.

From a practical execution perspective I made the images in a number of locations all through the night on five separate occasions. I was struck by just how busy the city can remain even in the early hours of the morning. I needed to use a tripod and this presented some unexpected issues. It made me a magnet for late night revellers who gravitated to me wherever I set up to shoot! I needed to deploy some high levels of diplomacy with passers by, many of whom were much the worse for ware from alcohol in order to be left alone to make the work. All part of the life of an OCA student!

Although the camera I used produces acceptable files at high ISO settings, I chose to use a tripod to allow for lower ISO settings which of course necessitated much longer exposures. I was keen to produce files with limited noise given the white balance challenges described above. This choice also meant that with the slower shutter speeds I used meant that passers by in some of the images were not recorded. Indeed I discovered that at an ISO setting of 200 on my camera and exposures of more than half a second people simply disappear. This proved helpful in several images. Managing highlights was also a challenge in some images. The contrast ratio in some images was exceptionally high. This proved particularly difficult in the first image of the set, LED sign lights are very bright indeed.

As I looked at the early experimental images I made I was able to capture the effect of artificial lighting on a variety of surfaces. I was motivated and intrigued by how the nature of surfaces fundamentally change in appearance when it is sodium, mercury, halogen and tungsten light falling upon them. The mundane can take on a whole new look when bathed in artificial light. I was also very mindful of composition and in several of the final selection use lines in the scene to draw the viewer into the image. In fact some of these images draw particularly on the exercises 1.2 Point and 1.3 (1) and (2) Line in the first part of the course.

In all I took several hundred images and began to narrow the selection down to the final 9 images. The images of reflections in puddles proved to be the most challenging because even on the stillest of nights the water in puddles moves during long exposures making it difficult to capture a sharp reflection. Over the course of this assignment I learned that what is needed are very shallow pools of rainwater as this moves less than deeper puddles.The fluid dynamics of puddles was some unexpected learning from the assignment! I think of all the assignments so far this one tested me the most in terms of the technical but also in terms of creativity.

Personal Reflection and Self Review

In truth I’m not happy with the final images and I feel that they again did not measure up to the ambition of my intentions. This is what had happened with the previous assignment and this seems to be a recurring theme in my OCA work. In the end after asking for a two week extension from my tutor I finalise, I had to just make a selection and commit to saying this is it and submitting them. I think my vision for my work is really moving foreword, my realisation still has a long way to go yet. I am however sanguine about this and expect that over time my execution will catch up with my ambition. There is I think a balance between artistic expectation and the pragmatics of a time limited course. I am certain I learned much in this assignment and this is a key part of the learning. I would also feel much more equipped to undertake a similar assignment again.

Did I meet the assignment criteria?

In the sense that I captured images using artificial light, I feel I did. I have shown some technical skill in making images at night under artificial light and managing some complex white balance issues. I think there is some coherence between the images although some I am less happy with than others. I have been more thoughtful about composition in these images, being mindful of feedback from previous assignments. I have tried to create a sense of flow through this set, in particular the use of ‘line’ to draw the viewers eye within the images. I recognise though that this approach is stronger in some images more than others. In terms of quality of outcome I think there is technical competence in the images but creativity remains more illusive and something I need to work on.

Considering the creativity criteria specifically, I have engaged in a range of experimentation, I think the contact sheets show the development of a of several areas of experimentation and a degree of imagination. Through the focus on artificial light and its effects when reflected on a variety of surfaces such as water, wet tarmac, brickwork, wood, plastic and aluminium, I am demonstrating a willingness to explore the visual and an attempt to resolve a challenge and respond to the question as set out in the assignment brief. It is an unfurnished journey though and my own voice as an artists remains illusive. The immersion in new and different thinking about image making, new practice and experiences and the review of the work of other artists, all serve to develop me and my work further.

Thinking about context I have been clear about influences and where this work is located both in terms of contemporary image makers as well as more historic photographers. As with previous assignments I have really enjoyed the research as well as the practical aspects of the assignment and more extended writing about this can be found in my blog entries.

In summary, I think I have gone part way to capture the beauty of artificial light, which is of course subjective and I have drawn influence from a range of sources as set out in this written summary. But I feel there is a lot of room to improve my work and develop this idea further.

Contact Sheets for the assignment are set out below:

EYV Assign 4 Contact Sheets Document V2



Bloomfield, R. (2014) Photography 1, Expressing Your Vision, Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Luxemburg, R.B. (2011) Artists Tumblr found at: (Accessed December 2015)

Shintaro, S. (2014) – Night Lights, Seigensha, Tokyo

Brassai, (1932) Paris by Night- (Reprint by Bullfinch, London, 1993)

Jay, W. (1999) Brandt-The Photography of Bill Brandt, Thames and Hudson, London

Frost, L. (1999) The Complete guide to Night and Low Light Photography, David and Charles,London

Tura, B. (2015) Drift -found at (Accessed December 2015)

Tutor Feedback

The feedback from this Assignment was what I expected and reflected my own self evaluation of the work. My tutor was positive and constructively critical about the promise of the work and the direction of travel of my development.  Again though my images did not quite live up to the ambition of the work.

The strengths of the work were identified as:

“Cohesive and atmospheric feel”

“Clearly making strides”

“Research is excellent and self evaluation is honest and realistic”

The limitations of the work we summarised as:

“None of the photos are strikingly original”

“Personal vision has not been nailed”

I remain optimistic and the critical elements of the feedback will help me move forward.  As with the previous assignment I will reshoot this work before submission to see if I can close the gap between the ambition of my work and its final execution

I remain positive although there is a recurring theme that my ideas are are good, possibly even string, but the final execution is not living up to the aims of the work. 

A PDF of the original submission to my tutor is attached below:

EYV Assignment 4 Final Submission V1

Response to tutor- Assignment 4 feedback

Dear Robert,

Many thanks for your feedback on assignment 4. It is as ever really helpful and has given me much food for thought.

I am pleased that I managed to create a degree of coherence to the set and completely agree with your analysis about the work feeling more like a research piece than a finished response to the brief. In some respects I feel I am really only laying down foundations at the moment.

I am pleased at your comments about the builder’s temporary hoarding image. Ironically I hesitated at including it in the set. As I made the image of the hoarding (and the others you will have seen in the contacts sheets) I was struck by the entirely different character it took on under artificial light, in fact I think it becomes a different object. I didn’t achieve the same outcomes with image 6 of the railings but it is the transformation of the familiar into something different that I was seeking to achieve. Your advice about going wider to create a greater sense of the environment is really helpful too.

Based on your feedback I am going to reshoot the assignment and as you suggest ‘go deeper’ around the specific theme of the sculptural nature of some objects and the effects of artificial light upon them. I have had a quick look at the work Geert Gioris and will explore this in more detail. I am immediately struck by his studies of buildings, structures and constructed space.

I am very conscious of your assessment potential statement which understandably puts a caveat on my potential to make the grade at formal assessment:

“In order to meet the assessment criteria, there are certain areas you will need to focus on, which I outline in my feedback”

I want to ensure that when I re make this work I address these limitations in my work. With this in mind I just want to check with you I have correctly understood the specifics of this. From your feedback I am taking the following:

My work is not yet meeting the ‘demonstration of creativity’ criteria in that it simply isn’t striking or original enough (I am reminded of Tony Ray Jones’s manifesto statement ‘don’t take boring pictures’!)

Similarly, the quality of outcome criteria isn’t being met because of the above. I also recognise I need to focus in a on a narrower topic within the chosen subject.

In terms of technical and visual skills there are some issues with correcting the curvature created by wide angle lenses, but perhaps more importantly the visual elements of the work are not yet strong enough.

Really pining this down is important to me because I am keen to address this and successfully meet the assessment criteria

Based on this I am going to:

-Reshoot the assignment

Focus on the theme that emerged in Image 4,

-Explore the work of Geert Goiris

-Think about the use of wider viewpoints that place a object in a greater context

-Think more about visual impact and originality

-Travel further a field to widen the range of locations,

Please let me know if this sounds right. In the meantime I will also press on with section 5. Again many thanks for your feedback, advice and support, it is really making me think and will help me get to grips with being a better photographer. Reflecting on where I am in the programme as I move into the final phase of this first course I do remind myself that it is the equivalent of reaching the end of the first term of a 3 year course in a bricks and mortar institution. I take some solace in this given I have a way to go yet!

Best wishes







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