Exercise 4.4

Exercise 4.4

For this exercise, I decided to take various pictures of a red onion. My initial ideas were to create a series of shots over a white background, emphasising the shape of the onion but also playing with the effects of direct light when creating shadows, to give a more of an abstract, unnatural feel to it.

My first idea was to use a flash ring to shoot and illuminate the onion from above. The onion itself was going to be suspended on a small stand, about 5cm tall, to create separation from the white surface below (a sheet of white A3 printing paper).  I was expecting the onion to show right in the middle of the shot, with its hard, dark shadow symmetrically surrounding it on the white paper below. A diagram of my initial set-up and what I expected would be the results are shown below:

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Initial idea for harsh light picture of an onion

After initial testings, I concluded that the ring flash created a far too big and diffused light source for it to cast a hard shadow and that I would not be able to get the results that I wanted from it. I then decided to modify my set-up slightly by using the flash from my mobile phone (single LED light) as the light source (in continuous mode). The modified set-up was as follows:

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Modified set-up for harsh light picture of an onion

With this set up, because the flash was not exactly aligned to the camera lens, I could not replicate the idea of a symmetrical shadow, so instead I tried to explore the movement of the shadows as I moved the light source around the onion:


Red onion 1 (3s at f8, ISO 100) – This was taken with the LED light right above the onion


Red Onion 2 (0.3s at f8, ISO 100) – for this shot, I moved the LED light downwards and towards the front of the onion.

In this first session, I used a 100mm macro lens (full frame) set at an aperture of f8 to ensure adequate depth of field. ISO was set at base level of 100.

The first image was shot straight from the top. The single LED light (a very small light source) creates a very well-defined shadow, which size was increased by the separation between the onion and the surface below. Although this is different from my original idea of the symmetric shadow, I was quite pleased with the result and particularly liked the soft rim of white light surrounding the onion, which helps delineate its contour against the dark shadow below.

The second shot plays a bit more with the angle of the light to create something more abstract. This was achieved by lowering the light source while maintaining the camera above the onion. The final result still shows a very harsh light, but the contours are not as defined as in the first shot and the onion’s shape is slightly less obvious. Because the light was lateral rather than from the top, the background is slightly muddled rather than white.

I completed a further session on this subject to explore subject isolation against a dark background (rather than the white surface used in the first session). For this, I used two different types of light: a small LED reflector, of the type used to shot videos, and a light box (with a permanent lamp inside). The first shots were done using the led light modified with a paper cone (like a snoot), which reduced the size of the light surface by a factor of 10 approximately. The onion was set on a table on top of a dark tea towel. A diagram of the set up is shown below:

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Set up for harsh light picture of an onion against a dark background

On this occasion I used a camera with a 43mm lens (full frame). With this set-up, I took photographs from two different angles: from the top of the onion and from the front looking upwards. Some of the resulting pictures are shown below:


Red Onion 3 (1/5s at f4, ISO 3200) – Taken from the top, the light was hitting the onion from the top and sideways, creating the long shadow and reflection seen at the bottom.


Red Onion 4 (1/15s at f4, ISO 6400) – Taken from the front of the onion, looking slightly up

The first shot was taken from the above and with the aid of a tripod. The ISO was set at a relatively high level to show some of the background, particularly the light reflecting on the tea cloth. This shot was partly inspired by the earlier lateral shadow photograph, and I particularly liked the effect of the long shadow eating into the illuminated strip, rendering the effect a bit like the tail of a comet, the whole thing taking a bit of an abstract turn. As the light source is small, the shadow is strong and well-defined while the light is highly directional.

The second shot was taken from the front. Here the idea was to shot the onion as close as possible, with the small light from the snoot hitting it just on the top and the camera looking slightly up. This shot reminded me of the photographs of planets from deep space when the sun is just partially illuminating them.

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Following from the shots above, I proceeded to remove the cone from the front of the LED light source in order to increase its size. As the light was now more powerful, it was spilling towards the back of the room and illuminating the background slightly. In order to minimize this, I feathered the light by moving it against the onion and placed a piece of black foam board in front of it to stop the light from bouncing against the walls. The set up is as shown below:

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Set up for onion illuminated by full led panel

The resulting photograph is shown below


Red Onion 5 (1/50s at f4. ISO 800)

Even after removing the paper cone, the LED light source (about a 10 x 10 cm box) is relatively small and consequently the shadows remain well-defined and the highlights are focused on a small area of the surface of the onion. The slightly larger light source, however, allows for a better definition of the contours of the onion and a better separation of this from the background of the photo, though it also results in a harsh, clinical look.

Next, I decided to increase the size of the light source considerably. I used a soft box with a square opal white front of approximately 70 x 70 cm. The light in this case proved to be quite strong and was illuminating a fair amount of the room’s background. Since I had no way of regulating the intensity of the light source (a plain lamp), I decided to cover about 2/3 rds of the box surface with the black foam board, as shown diagrammatically below:

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Set up for onion illuminated by soft box

The resulting photograph is shown below


Red Onion 6 (1/60s at f4. ISO 800)

The longer, more diffused light in this case has produced a more organic result, with a less defined contour and softer shadow. The highlights also cover a larger portion of the face of the onion. The whole picture has a more “painterly” feeling, as opposed the more abstract results of the first session.

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The photographs I have taken for this exercise are generally distinct from the shots taken in exercises 4.2 and 4.3. In all the shots, I used only one light source, thus avoiding the mixture of colour temperature lights that prevail in the shots taken for 4.3. By using a single source and setting the shutter speed relatively high for some of the shots, I also managed to obscure the background in some of the studio shots, which would not have been possible in the daylight shots of 4.2. Above all, the light in this excercise was highly directional and in most cases quite harsh, which contrasts with most of the light in the shots I took for 4.3, which was more colourful but reasonably self-contained; although in both cases the light was capable of generating strong contrast, high dynamic range shots. Similarly, most of the shoots I took for 4.2 have a light which is less directional, more diffused and has less contrast than the shots done for 4.4. Having said that, I believe it would be possible to achieve similar results to the ones obtained with controlled light sources in this exercise by using both artificial and natural light in an uncontrolled scenario (eg by making use of harsh mid-day light flowing through a window or a sky-light, for instance), and in return, it should also be possible to imitate a natural light source or to complement an artificial one by making use of flash or other controlled light sources while achieving a natural result. This is what I intend to explore in assignment number 4.