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 artifacts 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.
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
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
This was an interesting and in many respects very challenging activity. Unlike all the other aspects of the course exercises so far I had never undertaken any studio type shooting with lights. And whilst I have lots to learn in daylight and night time image making, I was an absolute novice at using lights to illuminate a subject.
I even put off doing the activity several times, in part due to my trepidation!
However I re-read the exercise details and the preceding sections of the course materials that described the four elements of studio lighting, quality, contrast, direction and colour.
I pondered for some time on light sources and eventually decide to use two identical halogen bulb desk lamps. These were the only directable artificial light sources I owned and although not ideal I built my mini studio around these light sources.
Using a desk set against a wall I mounted a thick white sheet to a high self and let it fall down in a curve to the top of the desk. To create a bit of a curve to the back drop I used gaffer tape.
I also pondered for some time on the choice of object/subject for the exercise. I was mindful of the course notes expectations that an organic rather than man made object was best use for this activity. With perfect timing a Sainsbury’s delivery offered me my subject in the form of a very fresh and colourful Brassica Oleracea, or to use its more common name a green cabbage!
I feel that I did really embraced the ‘Ex Nihilo’ concept and create my studio shoot and the attendant lighting effects out of nothing, or at least out of the things around me!
To make the images I used a camera with a 53mm (35mm on a 1.5 crop sensor) lens, placed on a tripod with a cable release. I tried a variety of camera and subject positions and settled for a shooting positions with the camera higher than the subject, with the camera at close proximity and the subject filling the camera frame.I also shot with the camera tethered to my computer to allow quick review of the images. This must be a boon for studio photographers?
I immediately picked up why studios don’t as far as I could see use halogen light sources. There was a strong purple cast from the lighting that all the White Balance Modes on my camera struggled with and in the end I removed the cast in post processing.
I did use a variety of positions as well as experimenting with diffusing the light sources with tracing paper and filters. In reality the filtered images simply didn’t work so my final selection are images where I used some different light quality, a variety of directions including below , level and above the subject. I also managed the contrast using the camera settings and light directions combinations
Set out below are some of the images I took with an associated lighting diagrams.
Ex Nihilo- Brassica Oleracea