RESEARCH: THE LANGUAGE OF LIGHT

BOOK REVIEW

Freeman, M. (2013) Capturing the light – the heart of photography. Sussex.  The Ilex press Itd.

I first read this book when preparing for assignment 2 and have revisited as it is especially relevant to assignment 4 The Language of light. It explains in some detail various qualities of light in photographic terms, but in a non-technical way, showing different ways to work with natural light. The book is divided into 3 parts, waiting, chasing and helping the light.

1) Waiting for light He describes the lighting conditions for which you need to understand, plan intelligently and have reasonable expectations for (especially a feel for contrast and shadows). These kinds of light (22 are explored) range from grey light, raking light, snow light and includes the magic hour. I found it useful that he gives the key points of a light, for instance wet grey light: sheen local contrast and atmosphere; then describes subjects and environments that are suited to the light and the effects that it gives, for wet grey light: glistening reflections and higher local contrast.

For this assignment I became particularly interested in hard light (used by Eugene Atget in his early works and Michael Schmidt). He describes this light as mostly unloved, as it casts dense shadows with hard edges and high contrast. Whilst this may not be flattering if trying to photograph people, it can pick out details and textures and add abstraction which may be desirable for angular objects. He suggests that hard light is particularly suited to producing strong images in black and white photography, concentrating on tonality and shape, suggesting tones can be pushed to extremes more acceptably in black and white. He also proposes that as lighting helps to “evoke the physical sensation of a time and place” (hard light) it is conducive to creating stark city-scapes. High raking light (from the side) reveals texture and adds the shapes of the shadows to show more of what the subject is about. I wondered could I use this to advantage in my exercises and assignment. I will also be interested in observing the difference in the hard light at high altitudes when I am trekking in North Vietnam shortly (he calls this high altitude blue). Apparently the contrast is particularly high and the open shade is noticeably blue at high altitudes due to the very high UV content of the light. Freeman suggests using a polariser (which work the strongest at high altitudes) to exaggerate the deep blue sky, I intend to try this.

The golden hour was also of particular interest to me, (following research into Aget’s later photographs). I knew it was warm sympathetic sending out long bands of light and shade, but what else could I learn to exploit it better? I probably knew that this light gives a 3 point shooting choice (sun behind, at the side or in front of the camera) but had not realised how elements such as clear air would accentuate the blur of shadow edges or the proximity of an object affects the sharpness of a shadow edge and will watch out for this.

I reread with particular interest the chapter on reflection light once I decided to shoot images of reflective buildings and reflections of buildings for assignment 4. He refers to reflection as capturing reflections of light, rather than using reflected light to bounce up onto a subject. I learnt that the lower the camera to the surface the sharper the angle and the stronger and brighter the reflections, and that the refection would probably be darker (about 1 stop) than the actual, would I see this in my images? This will be affected by other elements; haze which softens the contrast, focal length where a shorter length is more likely to keep the reflected light evenly bright across the frame, silhouette and elevation (the higher the sunlight in the sky the higher the camera needs to be?).

I was also keen to learn more about skylight blue shade. Apparently on a cloudless day 85% of the light comes from the sun but some from the rest of the sky reflecting only in blue wavelengths. I had thought that many of the buildings that I’d shot reflections in were blue, but were they really blue or accentuated by “diffuse sky radiation” (where blue wavelengths, which are normal atmospheric particles predominate, as they are shorter than the wavelengths of sunlight). This means that anywhere shaded from the sun is lit by blue light, some which bounces up from the ground or walls – can I now see that in my images?

For the exercise on artificial light I re read the chapters on city light-street lights and display lights. I learnt that street lighting may be long-spectrum orange (old fashioned tungsten – now rare, with a rounded appearance), narrow spectrum yellow-orange (from sodium, sharp cut narrow and monochromatic), blue-green from fluorescent, blue white from mercury vapour and similar blue-tinted light from metal halide. Can I distinguish these different types of artificial lights in my images? Apparently if a photo contains at least a couple of these different sources then the neutral setting will show these colour difference. As far as display lights go neon is becoming rarer but do tolerate a wide variation in exposure.

2) Chasing light Freeman distinguishes these lighting conditions as when you have to be opportunistic, as they are unpredictable and a photographer has to work quickly to catch the light at its best. This also includes the golden hour and other lighting such as light shafts, foggy light, and reflected light. It was Chiaroscuro light that particularly caught my interest as I have read of several photographers who use it. It is sunlight that bounces off different ground surfaces rather than direct light, often out of frame; it’s not intense, though is still the main source of lighting. It usually gives light from the side and a subtle range of mid to dark shadows making them a warm brown.

3) Helping light   This he calls mastering professionals techniques for manipulating light. Here he covers lighting from filled light, to filtered light, to processed light, amongst others. This I will return to when most relevant to me.

The learning that I will take away:

  • It has encouraged me to find the positive aspects of photographing in less popular daylight conditions such as flat grey skies, he explains that “most kinds of light are good for something, if only you think and work hard enough” (introduction).
  •  It has also caused me to stop and really notice then reflect on the best use of any given lighting situation (outdoors for now).
  • I will certainly use the book as reference when shooting in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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