Playing in the Dark

Light and shadows.

According to Michael Freeman there are ten types of shadows, and numerous types of light. In his book, Light and how to photograph it, he discusses over 50 different types of light.

Freeman says that light is not only the basic commodity of photography; it’s also very often the quality that brings out excellence or even magic to a picture – being able to handle light well is a major skill for every photographer.

Freeman identifies three major groupings (1) light that you can plan for; (2) light that changes so quickly that you have to chase it; and (3) light that you can help along.

While Freeman focuses a lot on light, natural light, available light climate, and artificial lighting; he is more inspired by shadows. One of his favorite books (essay on aesthetics), In Praise of Shadows, by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki is written in a sympathetic but melancholy way about the beauty and color in darkness. In contrast with Western Modernism’s Bauhuas-bright emphasis on flooding life with light and whiteness, Tanizaki recognises how much lighting contributes to mood.

In this Shadowland, Photography Show video, Freeman says that while brights and highlights reveal; shadows conceal. Freeman is interested in visual attention and salience, and discusses how each type of shadow has it’s own purpose and needs.

Ten types of shadows include: (1) Basic rich; (2) Backdrop; (3) Receding; (4) Volumetric; (5) Reflective; (6) Open; (7) Smooth Graded; (8) Chiaroscuro; (9) Cast Shape; and (10) Silhouette.

Based on Freeman’s insights and additional research, the following pictures taken in my home and local area explore the use of light in photography with special reference to shadows and low light conditions; and cover assignment Tasks 1-3:

Task 1: Depth of field, Selective focus (Assessment Criteria (AC) 2.1, 2.2, 3.2)

Cast Shape: Canon EOS 90D, 29mm, 1/800 sec, f9, ISO 4000

The challenge with this task involved natural and available light. The weather has been a combination of low light and a mixture of dark clouds and rain interspersed with bright sunlight – emphasizing Freeman’s three major groupings: (1) light that you can plan for; (2) light that changes so quickly, you have to chase it; and (3) light that you can help along.

For this task, I was chasing the light (but also hindered myself by allocating insufficient time to complete the task, so I was lucky to get light, rather than proactively planning my shots and chasing light).

Selected photographs for this task comprise Cast Shape, with a reflective table and glass window in the first image, and a reflective table and blurred background in the other two images.

Cast shape: Canon EOS 90D, 42mm, 1/6400 sec, f4.5, ISO 5000
Cast Shape: Canon EOS 90D, 22mm, 1/3200 sec, f4, ISO 400

Task 2: Shutter speed (AC 2.1, 2.2, 3.2)

Backdrop: Canon EOS 90D, 18mm, 1/320 sec, f11, ISO 1000
Backdrop: Canon EOS 90D, 29mm, 1/2 sec, f8, ISO 500

Reflective/Silhouette: Canon EOS 90D, 18mm, 1/13 sec, f22, ISO 800

Working with shutter speed is always fun and experimental.

The first image, taken at golden hour at the junction of the Upper Richmond Road and Rocks Lane / Roehampton Lane, includes a cyclist framed by an archway. This image fits with Freeman’s definition of backdrop, and also includes several hard shadows interacting with the light.

The second image taken in a studio is also a backdrop photograph. Using a black backdrop, artificial ambient lights and reflector, motion blur was used to show the creative effect of light and shadows.

The third image, taken at Barnes Station uses motion blur to capture a moving train, along with back lighting and the silhouette of a commuter reflected in the window of a train carriage. Based on Freeman’s definitions of shadows, I think this photograph best fits with reflective.

Task 3: Final take (AC 3.1, 3.2)

Cast Shape: Canon EOS 90D, 35mm, 1/8000 sec, f4.5, ISO 8000
Basic Rich: Canon EOS 90D, 18mm, 1/400 sec, f5, ISO 1250
Chiaroscuro – studio lighting: Canon EOS 90D, 62mm, 1/100 sec, f5, ISO 100
Cast Shape: Canon EOS 90D, 35mm, 1/250 sec, f14, ISO 1600
Chiaroscuro: Canon EOS 90D, 18mm, 1/500 sec, f5.6, ISO 1000
Backdrop – cotton velvet: Canon EOS 90D, 18mm, 1/8 sec, f8, ISO 1000

The pictures chosen for this task, taken in and around Barnes Station, Barn Elms, my home and studio, include Cast Shape, Basic Rich, Chiaroscuro and Backdrop.

  • Cast Shape comprises hard edges and high contrast.
  • Basic Rich, most of the image is dark, with bright highlights.
  • Backdrop enables the subject to pop-out with no distraction at all.
  • Chiaroscuro comprises a stark use of hard shadows interacting with light – distinct geometric shapes and detail in the lit areas that give the photograph contrast and depth.

Assess the photographic project

The most challenging aspect of tasks 1-3 was getting a good shot with the backdrop image with flowers (I used numerous other objects that simply didn’t work). Using a small cotton velvet fabric backdrop, and poor quality artificial light (standard table lamp), limited viable angles. The result was imperfect with a visible crease in the fabric to the left of the image. I could have purchased a larger backdrop and studio light that’s fit for purpose, but hesitated and made do with kit that I had to hand. This compromise wasted a lot of time and cost me the opportunity to get amazing shots.

The lesson learned (along with understanding the camera, using the most correct exposure and white balance) is that preparation and the correct equipment is key for saving time and achieving good quality photography. This lesson is particularly acute when there’s limited time or light available.

Freeman advises that good planning and having a deliberate approach to photography – knowing what light is possible from all combinations, what each kind of light is good for shooting, and how to extract the most from it in timing, framing, composition, viewpoint, and sense of color.

Tasks 1-3 have informed and impacted my appreciation of light and shadows, and how I see the world. I still have a lot to learn and digest on this topic and I will continue expand my knowledge of light and how to photograph it.

Task 4: Safe working practices (AC 4.1)

Safe working practices are critical for successful photography assignments. The following covers several important safety factors that relate to my work for tasks 1-3:

  • Situational awareness – taking photographs indoors – in the studio and home; outdoors – by the roadside, at train stations and athletics tracks; and especially at night can include several hazards. It is important to pay attention to the photographic location and the flow of people and traffic. Take precautions to assess the area, keep an eye on the ground and take in a visual sweep for trip hazards, dips, holes, curbs, and street furniture. Be aware of where you position yourself and equipment, and especially when in public be especially aware of folks that might either be offended by photographers or want to help themselves to your equipment.
  • Securing equipment – ensure that the camera, tripod, lighting, other equipment and attachments are firmly secure so items do not suddenly come loose, break or fall over. In the worst case, this could result in the camera being damaged, items being lost or an assignment being interrupted by faulty equipment or an accident.
  • Trip hazards – ensure tight fittings of camera and lights on stands; and that cables are not trailing on floors. When indoors, move furniture and objects so there’s enough space to move around.
  • Protective wear – shooting outdoors in colder months can be challenging. While it is important even in the winter to protect your eyes from the sun, it’s also necessary to protect your hands and equipment from the elements. A good pair of gloves and other outdoor wear will keep your hands from freezing and equipment slipping and crashing. When indoors, it’s important to protect your eyes from flashes and artificial lights. Artificial lights, bulbs and strobes can get extremely hot, so handle with care and wear protective gloves when necessary.
  • Expect the unexpected.

Date: May 2021

Candidate declaration : I confirm that the attached portfolio is all my own work and does not include any work completed by anyone other than myself.