Category Archives: 2 Layered, complex and mysterious

Exercise 4.2

18/09/17

Brief: Take a sequence of shots over a day, getting a good range of times. Examine the quality of light. Add shots to learning log with an explanation and thoughts.

I decided to take the images in my back garden. This was to allow me to take a range of shots over the day from the same viewpoint, and also to look for any areas that were lit up well at any specific time of day. I choose last Saturday when I was in most of the day and initially the day seemed promising, with a good weather forecast and an interesting light. Unfortunately as it developed it clouded over and the majority of the day was heavily overcast, with some rain showers and only a brief, startling, glimpse of sunlight. I decided to take the images at 2 hourly intervals from sunrise to sunset. I had to be out at the midpoint, however, have substituted in images taken today when the weather conditions are very similar. I chose to take images of:

  • a group of plants in the northeast corner of the garden
  • the sky looking towards the east
  • plants or other areas that showed well in the available light.

Plan of Images with direction of shot marked.

Scan_20170918 (4)

 

All images were taken with the camera set to manual, with settings based on the internal lightmeter and histogram. I took brief notes throughout the day. In this instance I am posting the images with metadata to show how much the light intensity varied throughout the day. I have not changed the white balance at all in processing.

0700  (Sunrise was at 0647 so I was slightly late):

The sun was only just coming up. The light was very pale and still quite grey. My eyes interpreted it as  a reasonable degree of light, I was seeing in colour, and walking outside easily so I was surprised at the amount I had to open up the camera settings to take the images. If I had been guessing I would have completely underexposed the images. The image of the flower bed is still quite blue in spite of the early hour (no hint of gold yet).

0900:

It was now completely clouded over with no shadows at all. The light was very flat, but on looking at the images definitely showing a much warmer tinge than the earlier images. I thought this would give some interesting details images, as not confused by excess shadow. I feel this worked well with the plant (Eryngium). The (slightly gory) dead frog could probably have benefitted from shadow to give a more 3-dimensional effect.

1100:

The light is now fairly constant, very similar to 2 hours previously according to the camera, although my eyes had thought it was lighter, but grayer. It remains neutral and the flower head close-ups are successful and clear. The two flower images are at an identical exposure even though they were taken at opposite sides of the garden. The light is coming from nearly overhead and is very diffuse because of the dense cloud cover.

1300 (Meridian at 1307, taken 2 days later to fill in the sequence, weather very similar):

The sun is now at the meridian, that is, as close to overhead as you get in Scotland in September. It is still very cloudy with a diffuse light. The slightly warm tinge of the earlier images has completely gone. The images look very flat but maintain a good level of detail which is brought out in the monochrome conversion. The bright green leaves (Leicestra) show well, but the red flowers are less sucessful.

1500:

Still very cloudy and a diffuse light but the flowers from the corner are needing considerably more exposure than the Dahlia in the centre of the garden where there is no restriction to the light. There was no obvious change to my eye!

1700:

And it has suddenly done very sunny (only lasted about 30 minutes). A complete change of light. The light is now quite harsh and very directional. I deliberately left in the shadow of me taking the garden image to show how sharp edged and dense the shadows were.  The light is starting to turn more golden again. It has moved around to the west so the Eryngium (spiky flower) is in full sun and difficult to pick out against the background leaves.  All the detail of the plants has been blended together by the brightness. This is not a good use of this beautiful light.

1900:

The sun has gone into the clouds again, but is definitely going down. there is a definite redness in the sky. The light is very diffuse, and not as golden on the plants as I would have expected, but gives an interesting effect looking though the leaves of the Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’. There is good detail back in the Eryngium as it is no longer in harsh sunlight.

1930, (sunset at 1928, final set of images of the day):

The daylight has virtually gone and the settings are very similar to the first ones of the day. The light quality is still diffuse, the golden tinge of earlier has almost gone, Oddly enough the sunset in the west mirrors the sunrise in the east.

Notes as taken on day:

Learning points:

  • do not rely on the eye, it is a very poor lightmeter.
  • the diffuse light under the dense cloud cover actually made for some very interesting close-up images as there was no distracting shadow.
  • the very sunny and harsh light in the afternoon needed a more considered approach. My shadow interfered with the fairly close image, so a more distant one would have been better.
  • the day followed a clear pattern about the colour of the light, pastel, golden, neutral, golden, pastel.
  • think about the light and how it will impact on your planned images. Different times of day may suit some types of images better than others.

Light in All its Glory

18/09/17

Light is probably the most important thing when taking an image. You obviously need an image taking device of some sort, but this can be as simple as a piece of photosensitive paper or a pinhole camera, but light is essential. Complete darkness, although almost never present, makes it impossible to see or obtain an image. My father was a professional photographer, taking colour film images for sale for books and magazines long before the days of stock photography. He always used to say that the light you needed depended on what the photo was for. He would often avoid midday sun – too harsh, but might also avoid the evening light as the golden colour cast, while very attractive, was not what he was looking for. This was well before the days of being able to remove a colour cast by digital manipulation.

Sally Mann in an interview with Chinese Photography Magazine said ‘the light in the South is so different from the North, where you have this crisp and clear light. There is no mystery in that light. Everything is revealed in the Northern light. You have to live in the South to understand the difference. In summer, the quality of the air and light are so layered, complex, and mysterious, especially in the late afternoon. I was able to catch the quality of that light in a lot of the photos…….and also the refulgence or the reflection when light and water interact. There is no coating on the lens of my old camera, which permits a much softer and more luminous light. I am less interested in the facts of a picture than in the feelings. The facts don’t have to be absolutely sharp. I can get information across by appealing to viewer’s emotions’ (American Suburb X, 2013). Her images in the Southern Landscape series reflect this philosophy. They are not clear, sharp and flat but you feel you are looking into the images rather than at them. Sometimes only part of the image is visible, the remainder clouded in mist. The focus is variable – leaving you peering though the murk, wondering and imagining what might be there. I find myself blinking in a hope to see more clearly, to try and see what Mann saw on that day, at that particular time, at that moment. My favourite, much desired image, (simply identified by the year 1998) is very simple. A patch of light, surrounded by trees over grass, or possibly water. I keep changing my mind.

A completely different use of light is shown in the images of Schmidt. He said ‘I prefer black and white photography because it guarantees the viewer a maximum amount of neutrality within the limits of the medium. It reduces and neutralizes the coloured world to a finely nuanced range of greys, thus precluding an individual way of seeing (personal colour tastes) by the viewer. This means that the viewer is able to form an objective opinion about the image from a neutral standpoint independent of his subjective colour perception. He is thus not emotionally distracted. In order to achieve a maximum of objectivity and thus create a photograph which possesses credibility and authenticity as a document (factual information), I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows. The viewer must allow the objects portrayed in the photograph to take their effect upon him without being distracted by shadows or other mood effects. In this context, it is essential that the viewer should be able to recognize the depicted objects clearly and in relation to each other.’ (American Suburb X, 2010). Schmidt’s images are very different from those of Mann. They are clear, without obvious emotional content, explicitly showing the subject. As he said – you can recognise the subject easily and therefore make your own judgements on the content, rather than trying to interpret Schmidt’s thoughts and feelings. The images are relatively emotion free, (I do not think that any image can ever be completely devoid of emotional reading) and therefore what you see can become very personal. In his obituary for the Guardian, Delahaye said’ His language is a language of precision and his tool is the most simple one: a small, 35mm camera, and a few rolls of films. His pictures look simple at first glance, and their anti-sentimentality, their refusal of all the tricks of the usual seduction, their concision and their clarity, give them great efficiency. They show what they show but they manage to retain an opacity, a mystery, and they become a support for our imagination’ (O’Hagan, 2014).

Atget, much earlier on in the development of photography, was very aware of the effects of light and varied his technique over time, initially using the relatively neutral light at midday to produce images that give information about the ‘facts’ while images from later in his career are very different ‘Atget’s late photographs, however, are frequently marked by subjective light and deep shadows. Often made early in the morning, these pictures—such as Parc de Sceaux—use light and shadow to create a mood rather than to describe a place; they mark the apex of Atget’s formal and expressive investigations of the medium.’ (Nga.gov,2017).

All these examples are of photographers who usually took monochrome images where it is often easier to see changes in light intensity, together with the effect of the direction of the light. A further layer of complexity is added in when using colour as the temperature of the light varies as well as it’s apparent quality. Light in the morning and evening is warmer, and may be very red at sunrise and sunset, while it is a more neutral colour at midday. The following table from Cambridge in Colour (Cambridgeincolour.com,2017) helpfully summarises the effects of light throughout the day.

Time of Day   Contrast Colors Direction of Sun
1. Midday Highest Neutral White Near Vertical
2. Evening & Morning High Slightly Warm Mid to Low
3. Golden Hour & Sunrise/Sunset Medium Warm to Fiery Near Horizontal
4. Twilight, Dawn & Dusk Low Cool Pastel Below Horizon

References

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2010). MICHAEL SCHMIDT: “Thoughts About My Way of Working” (1979) | #ASX. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2010/10/michael-schmidt-thoughts-about-my-way-of-working-1979.html [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2013). INTERVIEW: Sally Mann – “The Touch of an Angel” (2010) – ASX | Photography & Culture. [online] Available at: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/01/interview-sally-mann-the-touch-of-an-angel-2010.html [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

Cambridgeincolour.com. (2017). Making the Most of Natural Light in Photography. [online] Available at: http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/natural-light-photography.htm [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].

Nga.gov. (2017). Atget: The Art of Documentary Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.nga.gov/feature/atget/work.shtm [Accessed 15 Sep. 2017].

O’Hagan, S. (2014). Michael Schmidt obituary. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/may/28/michael-schmidt [Accessed 17 Sep. 2017].