Month: January 2017

Exercise 4.3

For this exercise I took a series of shots both indoors and on the street under various artificial light conditions. Here are some of my favorites:

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18.5mm (28mm equivalent). 1/100s at f5.6. ISO 1600

This is a picture of a zebra crossing light post against the cinema marquee, in central London. The shutter speed needed to be relatively fast in this case to capture the crossing light full on. What I particularly liked about this set up was the simplicity of the shapes and the color contrast between the warm glow of the lamp-post and the mainly cold light coming out of the marquee.

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27mm (42mm equivalent). 1/30s at f8. ISO 6400

In this picture of brickwork in the Barbican estate, in central London, what captured my imagination was the rim of cold light created by the street lamp-post directly above it. I tried to render it as dark as possible while still showing some shadow detail.

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27mm (42mm equivalent). 1/30s at f8. ISO 6400

This is an indoors shot of the ceiling of the Barbican centre. Light is filtered to alter its colour when reflected on the concrete shades. I like the combination of warm and cold light and this is what pulled me to this scene in the first place.

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27mm (42mm equivalent). 1/30s at f2.8. ISO 6400

Returning home on a foggy night, I started by capturing the lamp posts only, but then was dragged down by the contrast between the warm glow of the lamps and the cold, blue light coming from the cars’ headlights.

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18.5mm (28mm equivalent). 1/100s at f5.6. ISO 3200

As part of this exercise, I did a series of night shots of traffic signs. Many of these are self-illuminated and come in bright blue or red colours. In the night they stand out against the dark background. In this shot, like the in the previous one, there is a combination of warm and cold light that blends together well.

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18.5mm (42mm equivalent). 1/30s at f8. ISO 400

The above is another indoors shot inside the Barbican Centre and is the only one that combines natural and artificial light. Once again, the cold light of the ring lamp surrounding the lightwell contrasts clearly with the warm light coming from this art installation (by Omer Arbel – see here for more details) and the neutral light from the skylights above.

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The light in this pictures shows very little in common with the daylight shots I took for exercise 4.2. Other than perhaps the warm / cold contrast present in the early morning shot, which is also a feature of the artificial light shots shown above, daylight is much more diffused and results in a lower level of contrast than artificial light, which is much more contained or even directional. The lack of an even illumination also allows for the shapes of subjects to be more clearly defined under artificial light under certain circumstances, but this does not always work perfectly well. In the first shot of this series, the light coming from the top of the zebra crossing lamp-post is too weak to illuminate the entire top of the fixture, resulting in an area that the viewer is left to guess. Some subjects, particularly those which may be self illuminated, may exhibit better colour definition under artificial light, and when these are combined, like in the last two pictures in the series, they generate interesting colour combinations that cannot be easily perceived under daylight.

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Research notes – Robert Brook’s “Less Light”

Robert Brook is a British photographer. In his series “Less Light”, which can be seen in here, Mr. Brook presents a series of subjects illuminated by various artificial light sources. The series is classified by subject or theme (for example, you have “pathways” and “walls and fences”). The photographs share similar aesthetics: they are devoid of persons or animals, usually shot straight on and, contrary to what the tile of the series would have implied, well illuminated.

I found the series mostly enjoyable. Some of the photographs include a number of street lights that come together to create interesting patterns, compounded by the stars of light and the flares coming from the top of each lamppost (eg see here). I like the simplicity and the calming order of these shoots. In others, the source of the artificial light is not directly present, but its different temperature help transform the landscape by shifting its colour in a way that would not be possible during daylight, as in his picture of the entrance to the industrial area in the “en route” theme, or his riverside theme pictures, like this one.

The series, nonetheless, had a number of pictures that had, perhaps, too much light for what I would normally expect to see in a night shoot; and were either veering towards HDR (like this one) or included some additional lighting aid introduced by the photographer (like this one, where the perfectly illuminated forefront is in an area where I would not expect to see any artificial light sources). It is not possible to know, of course, how these effects were achieved, and the photographer does not seem to reveal it on its website, but it does instill in me both a sense of doubt about the veracity of what I am seeing, as well as an urge to try to see if this effect could be somehow replicated in real life without using extra illumination from the photographer.

Research Notes – Brassaï

The following notes are based on images seen from two compilation books of Brassaï’s pictures: “For the love of Paris”(1) and “No Ordinary Eyes”(2).

They contained a number of pictures from various projects of Brassai, but I primarily focused on its artificial light work, including his night shots of Paris, but also looking at his indoors work.

Brassai’s night street photography of Paris makes extensive use of light, shadow and contrast to explore form and to move the attention of the viewer through the frame. In his picture “The Canal de l’Ourcq”, c. 1932 (see here), Brassai beautifully captures the shadows created by the street lamp shining through railings and that illuminates the buildings on the other side of the canal, capturing in this way something that would not normally be seen during daylight. A new reality generated by artificial light and pleasantly captured by the photographer’s composition. He explored the effect of street light on shadows and the new forms these create in a number of other pictures, including his series of cobblestones between 1931 and 1932 (see here and here), and in his photographs of the Gardens of Luxemburg (such as this one) or street gratings (here).

In addition to his exploration of light and form at night, what I like the most about Brassai’s night street photography is how he uses the directional properties of artificial light to create high contrast and give the pictures an aura of mystery and intrigue. This can be seen clearly in his series “bad boys” (1931-32). These pictures, and particularly this one, are printed with just the subjects in mind, and the light is there just for the subjects. Anything else is irrelevant and consequently, can be rendered as pure black or in dark tones. It is this economy of form that I like the most about these pictures. This could not be achieved in broad daylight, where the surroundings of the subjects would always be illuminated to a certain extent, and is what makes artificial light work for me in these pictures. Not all his pictures are rendered this way, and some of his indoor artificial light pictures, while still placing the subject in a favourable position, are taken under softer, less contrasty light, which undermines the effect somehow (see for instance his pictures on Maison Close on Rue Monsieur le Prince, c. 1931, in here, where you can make up the surrounding areas around the main subjects, including people on-looking in the shadows). In some of his indoor pictures the light does not fall directly on the subject, or does not cover it fully, and these are a bit disappointing to look at and probably not as effective as his street photos (see for instance this picture of the Suzy brothel, but also this picture, where the light is too dispersed).

Finally, another aspect of Bressai’s night photography work that I particularly enjoy is his ability to create new forms by placing the camera at the correct spot. This is in following with my earlier comment on the shadows and railings effect, but perhaps taken to the next level, a level where it can only be seen by working the subject and moving around until the desired effect is achieved. My favourite of his pictures that has elements of this is his shot of the Morris Column, around 1931-32 (see here), where the column is blocking a street light and the light coming through the top combines with the fog to create interesting shadows, as well as highlighting the silhouette of the column. This again is something that could not be created in daylight and something in which the photographer can have a clear input, not only in the timing (eg waiting for the person to walk by the column to give scale) but also in his positioning and the overall framing, thus creating something that he could call his own.

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(1) of, D., Paris, the C. of, de Gouvion Saint-Cyr, A. and Brassai, G. (2013) Brassaï, for the love of Paris: [exhibition, Paris, Hôtel de Ville, Salle Saint-Jean, November 8, 2013-March 8, 2014]. Paris: Flammarion.

(2) Brassaï, Grenier, R. and Alexander, S. (2000) Brassaï. London: Thames & Hudson.

Exercise 4.2

For this exercise, I took several photographs of an office building near where I work. The pictures were taken over two days, both of which were sunny. Here is a set representing the best pictures from various times of the day.

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29-12-2016, 8:42:24 – 1/60s at f8. ISO 200

Early morning light, with the sun still rising and directly hitting just part of the building, with many other parts receiving limited light and being partially in shadow. Light has a warm glow, it is intense but not particularly harsh.

The low position of the sun creates an area of focus in part of the building which is quite pleasant, giving something for the eye to rest after surveying the frame. Elsewhere, the light reflected from the sky gives a subtle fill which allow the viewer to have a good idea of the shapes without these becoming overpowering.

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29-12-2016, 12:58:28. 1/125s at f8. ISO 200

Just after midday, the light reaches directly many parts of the building. Being winter, the light is still lateral rather than coming from above, but is significantly less warm than in the early morning shot.

Overall, the midday light, even during winter, lack a clear sense of direction and does not create the areas of focus we saw in the early morning shot. It is an intense, honest ilumination that makes the whole subject stand out against the background blue sky, but does so at the cost of excesive contrast, particularly in the front side of the building, and perhaps lack of pictorial interest.

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02-01-2017, 15:17:40. 1/60s at f8. ISO 200

Late afternoon shot, with warm, soft light illuminating the side of the building from a relatively low angle. The light is more subtle than in the early morning shot, both in warmth and intensity, but fills a greater portion of the frame. Contrast is lower than in the mid day shot, but still more marked than in the early morning shot.

The glow here is subtle and too disperse. The light has now entered at such an angle that is iluminating not only the main subject but also some of the adjecent structures, creating a bit of a distraction, rather than the clear, intense focus provided by the patch of warm light in the early morning shot.

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29-12-2016, 16:07:02. 1/60s at f8. ISO 3200

This shot was taken right after sun set, with the illumination mostly coming from the reflection of the sun in the sky. The light is noticeable colder than in previous cases and there is less contrast in the building.

The low intensity and relative coldness of the natural light here accentuates the contribution of the artificial light elements (which are present but less noticeable in the other shots) to the overall aestetics of the image. The light conditions also make the viewer more concious of the border features of the main subject, particularly the details of the roof which has an intresting crown-like shape that is less noticeable under the harsh midday light.

When considering the subject and how it is illuminated, out of the four shots my favourite is the early morning one. The reflected light from the sky creates enought detail in the shadows for us to have a clear idea of the main shapes, while the warm, direct sun patch of light makes the subject stand out without significantly overpowering it.
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Exercise 4.1

For this exercise, I took pictures of white, grey and black card under natural light (overcast day). The three pictures came out almost the same, even though the three cards were of clearly distinct tones:

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White card (aperture priority) – 1/200s at f2.8. ISO 200

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Black card (aperture priority) – 1/15s at f2.8. ISO 200

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Grey card (aperture priority) – 1/125s at f2.8. ISO 200

Out of the three photographs, only the grey card was correctly exposed. The white card picture was underexposed while the black one was overexposed. The camera was set in average metering and aperture priority mode with ISO set at the base level of 200. For the black card it selected a significantly lower shutter speed than for the white and grey ones. The histogram for all three pictures was almost the same: a relatively narrow curve in the middle of the tones, as depicted below

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Histogram representation – white, grey and black cards, aperture priority

Switching now to manual mode, we took again all the pictures moving the exposure dial so that the histogram (in the camera) fell in the correct exposure section: The white card was overexposed (when compared with the aperture priority shot) so that its exposure curve fell entirely on the right hand side of the histogram (highlights), whereas the black card shot was underexposed so that the exposure curve moved to the left hand side of the histogram (shadows). The grey card shot was exposed so that the curve of the histogram fell in the middle:

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White card (manual) – 1/60s at f2.8. ISO 200

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Histogram – white card (manual)

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Black card (manual) – 1/125s at f2.8. ISO 200

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Histogram – black card (manual)

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Grey card (manual) – 1/160s at f2.8. ISO 200

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Histogram – grey card (manual)

There is a full stop difference between the white card and the black card correct exposure. The grey card exposure was actually about 1/3rd of stop slower than in aperture priority mode, but not too different from the correct exposure for the black card. Shooting at this speed would have likely resulted in the white card being underexposed. The more balanced exposure would have lied somewhere between 1/60s and 1/125s, as we will see next.

To understand a bit better how the camera works when presented with multiple tones at once (like in real life), I took a picture with half of the frame filled with white card and the other one filled with black card. The resulting picture is shown below:

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White / black card (aperture priority – 1/80s at f2.8. ISO 200

On this occasion, the camera did a better job at calculating exposure, as the white section is closer to true white (but not there yet), while the black card section was closer to black (but still showing as dark grey). The histogram on this occasion had two separate peaks at the two extremes of the curve, but no values in the middle, which is consistent with the picture not showing any mid-tones. As anticipated, the exposure in this case is between the manual exposures for the white and black card, indicating that when the camera is confronted with a wide range of tones, none of which are particularly dominating, it is more likely to yield a reasonably correct exposure when used in average metering mode.

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Histogram representation – white/black card combination