BA Phot

EyV Part 4: The language of light


Project 1, Exposure - Exc 4.1 - Project 2, Layered, complex and mysterious... - Exc 4.2 - Project 3, The beauty of artificial light - Exc 4.3 - Project 4, Ex nihilo - Exc 4.4 - Creativity - Exc 4.5 - Asg 4 Languages of Light

Exercises - Time lapse 1 - Time lapse 2 - Close-ups - The Can

[24Dec] Part 2 dealt with lenses and apertures and used mostly aperture priority mode; Part 3 concerned the shutter; and Part 4 (pp. 76-98) is all about exposure and using manual mode.

Niépce is quoted from 1827 saying that photography (as it came to called) "consists in the automatic reproduction by the action of light" (Trachtenberg is cited). It is noted that the word photography is formed of two Greek words, phos (light) and graphie (writing). Kelsey (2015) credits John Herschel with the coining of the term although Wikipedia states that there are other claimants. Niépce referred to the process as heliography, while Daguerre and Fox Talbot referred to their specific processes (daguerreotype and calotype, respectively).

There are four projects (see above) and one of those is chosen to expand into the fourth assignment.

Project 1, Exposure

Cameras' exposure systems must, by their nature, measure light reflected from the subject rather than the light reaching the subject and they try to render everything (a coloured version of) grey.

Exc 4.1

Exercise 4.1

is shown on the next page.

Understanding auto exposure.

[29Dec18] The course material continues on p. 79 with an exploration of exposure reciprocity. Close the aperture by one stop and the exposure meter will show '-1'; now double the exposure time and it is back to zero. There is a three-way interplay between the lens aperture, the shutter speed and the ISO sensitivity.

Incidentally, Exercise 4.1 was shot almost entirely in manual mode and proved to be great fun (if not a triumph aesthetically).

Project 2, Layered, complex and mysterious...

[2Jan19, p.80] We now turn to the quality of light. It is noted that the early and late hours of daylight have a special photographic quality.

Sally Mann is quoted on the difference in light between northern ("crisp and clear") and southern ("layered, complex and mysterious") states (fig. 1) of the US.

There is a quote from a novel by Brian Catling which states, quite poetically, that light varies during the day.

Berlin photographer Michael Schmidt is quoted, expressing a preference for "neutral diffused" to minimise shadows (fig. 2). The course material states that this means "midday light". There are links to Schmidt's winning portfolio for the 2015 Prix Pictet and to an article, Thoughts about my way of working, which opens with the statement, "Photography was invented to enable us to portray reality with complete precision to the last detail".

Note to self: I stated early on that I would like to extend my work to architectural photography. Asg. 4 calls for one of the Part 4 exercises to be extended and (my words) channel one of the photographers cited in the course material. I might evoke Schmidt on some Brutalist architecture. Set the controls for the heart of the Barbican. The article linked above is a great base template for architectural photos, but not for much else.

[5Jan p.82] Eugéne Atget is considered next, citing the Washington National Gallery of Art's (broken link) observation that he tended to use midday "objective light" in his early work (fig. 2), but later (fig. 4), early-morning "subjective light … [using] 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".

Sally Mann Michael Schmidt Atget Atget
Box A
1. Mann, 2. Battlefields, Antietam (Black Sun), 2001 (collodion)
2.Schmidt, Untitled from 89-90
3. Atget, Environs, Amiens c. 1898
4. Atget, Parc de Sceaux, c. 1925

It might be worth citing both Schmidt and Atget and exploring times of day at the Barbican for Asg. 4.

KangHee Kim
KangHee Kim
from Golden Hour

The final reference in this section, with the banner, "There’s much more to daylight for photographers than just the golden hour (or the blue hour, or even the green ray!)" is to a film by Tacita Dean. The green ray is reported to happen when the sun sets over a sea horizon under certain climatic / atmospheric conditions.

Perhaps the most creative enthusiast of the golden hour is KangHee Kim whose recently published Golden Hour  (2018) features subtle and dexterous insertions of golden sunlight into incongruous scenes.

Exc 4.2

Exercise 4.2

is shown on another page.

In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.82

Project 3, The beauty of artificial light

[7Jan19, p.83] While daylight changes continuously (sometimes, perhaps some months, more significantly than others in my view), the advantage of artificial light is its relative stability. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle is quoted as recommending watching Wong Kar-Wai's film In the Mood for Love for its deft use of artificial lighting. There's a trailer here.

Turning to stills photography, Rut Blees Luxemburg (who photographs London at night using a large-format (5x4) camera) is cited, specifically a series Liebeslied (My Suicides). In an interview with Museum Crush, Luxemburg states,

Photography is a powerful tool to question received notions of representation. It has the potential to give visual pleasure, as it appeals to the eye.
It is an expansive and ubiquitous medium that can be a forceful instrument to question the dominant narratives of our age and therefore give presence to that which could emerge.
Photography is too often narrowly conceived as a medium that captures the past. But it also has the capacity to critically deconstruct the here and now. Can photography be an active image generator of another future?

Stella Achisma was inspired by Luxemburg's photographs and method and shot at night with a tripod. Although is is not stated, I believe Achisma was on OCA student: no online presence has been found, other than posts in other students' EyV blogs (Crispy Whittle and David Conner), so the only image available is from the course material (EyV p. 84, fig. 3). It is a very well-crafted image and the exposure for the varying artificial light is technically accomplished. It sits well alongside Luxemburg's work and, indeed, the white balance is better, although, of course, that was not what Luxemburg was aiming for.

Rut Blees Luxemburg Rut Blees LuxemburgStella Achisma
Box B
1. Towering Inferno, 1995, from London: A Modern Project © Rut Blees Luxemburg
2. Corporate Leisure, 1997, from Liebeslied: My Suicides © Rut Blees Luxemburg
3. Untitled, © Stella Achisma

Picasso is quoted on the quality of light at night, the quote is in a book by Brassai, said to be Picasso's favourite photographer, and who already features on these pages. Brassaï's 1933 (or is it 1936) book Paris by Night is mentioned, with a link here.

Even the blessèd Kraftwerk are cited - here's the song Neon Lights on YouTube but no video (not one of their best, it must be said, try The Robots instead). And back to photography with Sato Shintaro (web site) who uses the blue hour at dusk. Many of the photographs on the linked web page are very similar (as fig. 1), though that is perhaps the point Sato is making that the night attractions are homogeneous and vapid. A couple of the images on that page are more interesting and reminiscent of Luxemburg's work (figs. 2 and 3). There are much better examples of his work on Lens Culture, with some quite breathtaking images in the Tokyo Twilight Zone (fig. 4) and Risen in the East (fig. 5) series.

Sato Shintaro Sato Shintaro Sato Shintaro Sato Shintaro Sato Shintaro
Box C
1-3. Night Lights 22, 38, 43, 1997-99
4. Tokyo Twilight Zone
5. Risen in the East
© Sato Shintaro

And now the fun,

Use these examples or research of your own as inspiration for the next exercise. Make sure that you evidence all your research, carefully referenced, in your learning log. EyV p.85

Exc 4.3

Exercise 4.3

is shown on another page.

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.85

Project 4, Ex nihilo

Artificial lighting

[31Jan19 p.86]

And so to artificial lighting, created (it is said) out of nothing, hence the pretentious and rather misleading title ex nihilo.


Studio lighting can be understood in terms of quality, contrast, direction and colour. In the studio each of these characteristics is under the control of the photographer. EyV p.87


The essential distinction here is between hard lighting which gives well defined shadows and soft, diffused lighting which does not. Where artificial lighting is used, hard light would be direct and a relatively soft light would be achieved by bouncing the light off a reflector or introducing some form of diffusion between the light source and the subject. An exemplar of soft light is Jean-Baptiste Huynh (web site).


This is defined as the ratio between highlights and shadows and can me measured with a camera's spot metering mode. The ratio is altered by adjusting the secondary "fill", which could be a physical additional light, or a reflector to bounce back the main light.

If the shadow reading is f/5.6 and the highlight f/8 then the ratio is 1:2.

A 1:2 ratio is good for portraits.
A 1:4 ratio (e.g. f/4 shadow, f/8 highlight) is termed high-contrast or "low key". (I find that rather counter-intuitive.)
A camera's fill-in flash tends to provide "high key" 1:1 lighting which is not good for revealing texture in the subject.


The key (main) light determines the direction in which shadows fall and gives "form, shape and texture" (EyV p.89) to the shot. The course material states that lighting a portrait from below can look "spooky" (as in torch under chin) and frontal lighting can be flat and unrevealing. Irving Penn is cited for his portraits lit with a skylight. Although not mentioned, positioning the key artificial light above, to the side and in front of the subject, as sunlight might provide, is a common starting point for portrait lighting (not that I have ever done such a thing, but that is the impression I get from skimming frequent articles on the matter.)


The course material refers to gels placed over studio lights and gives the impression of primary colour filters which, it goes on to say, should be used sparingly. I expected this section to deal with the varying "colour temperatures" of particular light sources. It also mentions using a gold reflector to add "warmth" to portraits.

Exc 4.4

Exercise 4.4

is shown on another page.

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form. OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.90

Assessment criteria: Creativity


[2Mar19] Resuming after Asg.3. p.91

The course text speaks of developing a personal voice through "imagination, invention, experimentation" (EyV p. 91), though it notes that that a voice is not expected to emerge or maybe to be identified or defined until Level 3. Nevertheless, "we are looking for a personal response and a willingness to experiment and venture out of your comfort zone" (ibid.).

The example is given of a Google image search on landscape or portrait which would show similar, standard, conventional shots. Taking this a stage further, an image search for Mount Fiji is likely to return many similar snaps, deriving ultimately from Hokusai's painting with cherry blossoms (Box D, fig. 1) and displaying little originality. This is contrasted with John Davies's image with Fuji seen behind what looks like a chemical plant (Box D, fig. 2) and Chris Steele-Perkins (external link) with a series of images in which Mount Fuji is present but incidental (Box D, figs. 3 & 4).

Mount Fuji seen through Cherry Blossom c. 1831, Katsushika HokusaiFuji City, 2008, John Davieschool Children Practice Baseball Between Gotemba and Fujinomiya, Chris Steele-PerkinsFilling Station near Shiraito Falls, Chris Steele-Perkins
Box D
1. Mount Fuji seen through Cherry Blossom c. 1831, Katsushika Hokusai, woodblock print
2. Fuji City, 2008, John Davies
3. School Children Practice Baseball Between Gotemba and Fujinomiya, Chris Steele-Perkins
4. Filling Station near Shiraito Falls, Chris Steele-Perkins
fig. 2 © John Davies figs. 3 & 4 © Chris Steele-Perkins:

Students should seek to bring their own flair to a subject or style or genre.

Quotes follow from:

Full references are given on EyV p. 95. This section closes with the rather patronising reassurance that students should not be concerned about the alternative viewpoints.

xc 4.5
Exercise 4.5
mostly monochrome

Exercise 4.5

is shown on another page.

Make a Google Images search for ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, or any ordinary subject such as ‘apple’ or ‘sunset’. …
Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject OCA, Photography 1: Expressing your Vision, p.96

[1] text

The full OCA EyV references are specified at the end of the course material pp. 115-6 and are repeated here for ease of access.

Page created 24-Dec-2018 | Page updated 19-Dec-2019