Assignment 4: Languages of light. Preparation for assignment.

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time. 
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you´ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your “process” (the series of steps you took to make the photographs). Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you´ve developed the exercise in order to meet the description of the Creativity criteria. Write 500-1000 words.
  • Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor´s comments.


First impressions and introduction to the subject

I have chosen Exercise 4.2 (daylight) to be prepared for formal assignment. The reason for this is that after considering the three different exercises I found daylight the most revealing and complex, also the most difficult to control as it is in constant change.

After researching about photographers Sally Mann and Eugène Atget, I resolved to shoot some elements of nature (not necessarily landscape) as it is a subject that resonates with my practice. I have found inspiration on Atget´s botanical photographs to start with, as well as the atmospheric landscapes of Sally Mann. An element that came up from Exercise 4.2 was the reflection on the bottom of the frame, which I found interesting and something that could be introduced in the final images. I also wanted to connect the exercise and the assignment by choosing a similar subject.

First, I compared two images from Atget with two of a similar subject from my personal archive, and noted down the differences that I perceived make his images interesting as opposed as mine. This helped me see how the use of light in Atget´s photographs is not only enhancing the subject but also creating a layered background that contributes to a more dynamic image.


Experimenting with refraction

I recently bought a set of defective optical glass prisms and a triangular prism to experiment with distortion and light refraction. I started exploring the different effects that could be achieved in camera by holding the prisms close to the lens and the results are quite interesting. The options are limitless, which appeals to me. This technique could introduce something new to the assignment in the way daylight can be manipulated, creating surreal images. I did some research on light refraction to understand how light travels and found the connection between the theory and Tacita Dean’s “green ray”, which I find it’s fascinating. In the sample images below, the reflection of the window on my sitter’s face evokes memories or thoughts, as if the camera would be reading into his mind and exposing the information.


Another curious fact about this is that the raw file shows the colours of the refracted light differently than the final images without manipulation. On screen preview of the RAW file, the light looks pink throughout and after opening the file and saving it as JPG there are different colours of the spectrum that can be seen. This still remains a mystery to me, as I haven’t found a reason for it. Below there are two screen grabs from images Flat prism 3 (on the right) and Flat prism 5. 

I am now looking at ways to integrate the effect of the prisms with my chosen subject (nature, trees, plants etc).


Escanear 55


Experimenting with daylight

  • Test images (part 1)

Escanear 54

To take my comparision on Atget´s photographs further, I took some snaps of interesting trees/bushes at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh (which is probably my favourite place on Earth) to get my thoughts going. I was after some “portraits” of natural elements to observe what light conditions cold bring to the image in terms of the overall look of the subject within the scene. It is difficult to isolate a tree from a background of trees and I found that the direction and quality of the light is key here. The images above were shot at midday so the light was falling flat on the trees that were completely exposed to it and the resulting image was not interesting enough and the subject did not stand out. However, when shooting a shrub that was shadowed by taller trees, the filtered light coming from the top was helping in revealing its shape and also creating a layered composition.

  • Test images (part 2)

On a second visit, I explored light in a different way, drawing from what I had observed on the first time. I used a compact camera on aperture priority mode. I shot the trees and bushes by pointing with the camera slightly down, pressing the shutter half way to focus and hold the metering and then recomposing by including a part of the sky on the frame. By doing this, I wanted to trick the meter and overexpose the image to “burn” the sky and create a more atmospheric scene. I also experimented shooting against the light but trying not to get it right in camera. As a result, some images have a faded flare on them, like a blue- ish reflection, which appeared mainly when direct sun light was filtered through the top branches of the trees. This flare gives a very mystic effect that feels almost like a “presence”.

Looking at the sky on some of these images I think of Sugimoto´s “Theaters” series and the overexposed screens. I find it fascinating how I can appreciate something like an overexposed photograph in some way now. Before, I would have seen this as a mistake and discard the shot straight away, without thinking of a possible meaning or use.

I am still unsure about which direction my assignment will take, since I need to experiment further. I somehow feel the urge to include a human element in this assignment as I would like to tell a story that works as an allegory to light from both the visual and conceptual points of view. I would like to use a strong natural light in my images and due to bad weather this will be impossible for a while, so I am still developing the ideas I have gathered in this post and I am hoping to find the right moment to continue testing a bit further before I decide on how to approach the assignment.





Exercise 4.5

Make a Google Images search for “landscape”, “portrait”, or any ordinary subject such as “apple” or “sunset”. Add a screengrab of a representative page to your learning log and note down the similarities you find between the images.

Now take a number of your own photographs of the same subject, paying special attention to the “Creativity” criteria at the end of Part Four. Yo might like to make the subject appear “incidental”, for instance by sing juxtaposition, focus or framing. Or you might begin with the observation of Ernst Haas, or the “camera vision” of Bill Brandt.

Add a final image to your learning log, together with a election of preparatory shots. In your nose describe how your photograph differs from your Google Images source images of the same subject.


I looked on Google Images Search for the term “Portrait”. These are the first images that come up:

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 11.38.58 copy.jpg


There are some similarities between them even though the sitters are of different gender, age, and background. The ones that I have noted down are:

  • Framing: mainly headshots or closely framed crops.
  • Subjects: looking into the camera with neutral expressions.
  • Style: a majority of studio portraits with flash or bounced light.

There is a variety of colour/black and white shots. I found it surprising that most images are photographs, with little reference to painting/drawings.

Overall, the images from the search shot a very cliched concept of a photographic portrait. Thinking of how to add creativity to the term “portrait” I came up with the idea of creating a series of portraits of my husband through his absence, by photographing the everyday findings that evidence his existence even when he is not present.

These are the images I took:



I have selected the image of the empty bed as my final image:

His side of the bed is empty

It differs from the Google Images Search in many ways: framing, expression of the subject and style of photographs, since the sitter is not even present. However, I feel my images talk more about the person behind them than most of the portraits from the search, which do not tell much about the personality of the subjects, their habits, environment, preferences or routines. I have chosen this particular image because of the relation between bed and intimacy. The empty bed brings up the feeling of an absence, even more when the bed is not been made as it recalls there was a person sleeping there not long before. The image shows only my husband’s side of the bed rather than the whole bed, which would have had a different interpretation. It is also the place where he spends 7-8 hours in every day so it retains his essence more than any other place.

Exercise 4.4

Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and color to light an object in order to reveal its form. For this exercise we recommend that you choose a natural or organic object such an egg, stone, vegetable or plant, or the human face or body, rather than a man-made object. Man-made or cultural artefacts can be fascinating to light but they also contain another layer of meaning requiring interpretation by the photographer; this exercise is just about controlling the light to reveal form.


Add a sequence to your learning log. Draw a simple lightning diagram for each of your shots showing the position of the camera, the subject and the direction of the key light and fill. Don´t labour the diagrams; quick sketches with notes will be just as useful as perfect graphics. In your notes try to describe any similarities between the qualities of controlled lightning and the daylight and ambient artificial light shots from Exercises 4.2 and 4.3.


For this exercise I have chosen to photograph some flowers and leaves, using a black table as a background by pointing down onto the subject and lighting it with a flash head with softbox. I also used a reflector and a sheet of white paper to bounce light, as well as a curtain on the left side of the image with I opened or closed to experiment with the effect on shape and volume.

I do get a bit carried away when using studio lights and forget to record all the changes I make, which are many. It happened also in this occasion but I did take notes  of certain shoots.

These are the contact sheets:



8167 –  0″3, f/13 – With modeling light on. Due to long exposure, the camera caught both the modeling light and the flash light, affecting colour temperature and white balance metering (AW set on “flash”).

8169 –  0″3, f/13 – Flash on the right, white reflector on the bottom.

8170 –  0″3, f/13 – Flash on the right, no reflector.

8173 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, white reflector on the bottom left.

8174 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, white reflector on the bottom left + white curtain on the left.

8175 – 0″3, f/11 – Flash light from top right, no reflector.

8182 and 8183 – Flash light from the top right, silver reflector on the bottom (tilted differently).

8184 – Flash light from top right, silver reflector on the left.

8185/6 – Flash light from top right, silver reflector on the left + white sheet of paper on the bottom right.

8208 – Flash on the right, no reflector.

8209 – Flash on the right, sheet of white paper on the bottom right.

8210 – Flash on the right, with silver reflector over head.


What I observe here is that the main light source is the responsible to define the form of the object, as its orientation in reference to it changes the way its volume is perceived. Direct light does not help revealing shape but it reveals the subject clearer. Side light shapes and contours the edges of the subject, bringing up the volume. By reflecting the side light from different angles we get a better sense of volume and the shadows on the opposite side of the main light become softer.

In studio there is a bigger sense of control and changes can be done and light set ups tested without worrying about how long this may take, ask lighting conditions can be maintained as opposed as when using ambient or natural light. However, there are elements in the environment that can act as aids to use ambient and artificial light as in studio. In daylight, an overcast sky filters the light, water reflects it and other elements can interfere with light (windows, buildings…). The light painting technique I tried on Exercise 4.3 could have been replaced by studio lights, achieving similar results and different exposure times could be tested in the same way as with studio flash.

Exercise 4.3

Capture “the beauty of artificial light” in a short sequence of shots (“beauty” is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important: this can get tricky – but interesting- if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your notes try to describe the difference in quality of light from the daylight shots in Exercise 4.2.


After reviewing the artists suggested in Project 3 I did not feel keen on working with artificial light as I did not find their work engaging. Night shots are not something that I find interesting or relevant and so I told my tutor about my struggle to find “the beauty of artificial light”. He suggested me to look into the work of Laura Stevens and her use of the “light painting” technique to light a scene. This is a use of artificial light that I find more tempted to explore rather than lampposts and neon signs, as I feel that the scene you create can still be something you stage yourself and have some control over it, yet with the advantage of getting a very different result with each shot.

With the camera mounted on a tripod and using a remote shutter release, I tried different ways to lighten up my subject in a pitch black room, using only the torch of my mobile phone.

This is the result:

Hoja de contacto-001.jpg

ISO:100, 10″, f/22, 30mm.

I used a different way of lighting the subject on each shot, with the most successful images resulting from lighting three or more areas from different angles. I prefer the ones where the glass pot is lit from the left, as it gives more context (other wise the pot is lost and the succulent seems to float on the background).

These are Image 8231 and Image 8234 after white balance and exposure correction:

In Image 8231 the subject was illuminated from three different angles: left, bottom left and back, which has resulted in a combination of light and shadows that helps reveal the volume of the succulent and the glass vase. For Image 8234, instead of having light coming from the left, the light lies on the subject from the top, resulting a more plain image. However, this brings the attention onto the succulent and separates it from the glass vase which is relegated to a secondary position.

It is a technique that it can be used anywhere and applied to different photographic genres. I am looking forward to use this on portrait and even though it is unlikely I would choose this exercise for further development in Assignment 4, I am already thinking how much I could benefit from taking this further for Assignment 5.

Project 3: The beauty of artificial light

These are some notes and research on some of the artists mentioned on Project 3:

Rut Blees Luxemburg is a German photographer who uses urban landscapes as her main subject. Shooting at night, she uses a large format camera combined with long exposures to capture empty public spaces glowing with artificial light. She looks for what it is generally overlooked and photographs buildings and reflections on the pavement from unusual viewpoints.

Sato Shintaro is another artist who’s work takes place mostly at night. His work Tokyo Twilight Zone shows the magnificence of Tokyo’s urban landscape at dusk, with a rich colour palette that includes both artificial and ambient light. In the series Night Lights he focuses on landscape at street level, depicting empty scenes where neon light and commercial signs overwhelms with fluorescent colours. There is a big contrast between the level of visual stimuli and the lack of people, giving the impression that even though the intention of the signs is catching the attention of the public, the message seems undelivered.

Brassai‘s photographic work us also influenced by the night. With a background in painting, Brassai understands the importance of combining composition and the ability of capturing the essence of life subjects. His book Paris de Nuit (1933) shows a city full of reflections, lunes and glowing lights, often including people in his photographs. This series remind me to Atget’s shots of the old city of Paris in the way that there is no intention of capturing the beauty and glamour of a city, but the mysterious forms and scenes that emerge at night.


AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). Tony Ray-Jones Interviews Brassai” Pt. I (1970) | #ASX. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Bright, S. (n.d.). Art photography now. London : Thames & Hudson, 2006, pp.203-204. (2017). Rut Blees Luxemburg. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Mint Magazine. (2017). An Interview With Photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017]. (2017). Sato Shintaro Photo Gallery. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Tate. (2017). Rut Blees Luxemburg born 1967 | Tate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

The Guardian. (2017). Photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg explores the public spaces of cities. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Project 2 “Layered, complex and mysterious…”

In this part of the unit, we are asked to research on artists who use natural light in different ways. From the authors given, I feel mostly attracted to the work of Sally Mann and Eugène Atget, who I also find have a similar approach to light in their landscape series.

Sally Mann (1951)

Despite coming up on the course materials as an example of the use of light in her Southern Landscapes series, Sally Mann´s best known work relates to her children´s childhood and the daily life of her and her husband. Series like “Immediate Family” and “At Twelve” are also very controversial and rise concern about the image and privacy of children seen outside a family setting.

I personally like her approach to family photography. The complicity shown between her kids and her, the freshness how they pose and act in front of a camera that does not intimidate them and the engagement and commitment in creating beautiful images as a family. The debate and critisism on her scenes of nudity makes me reflect on how much society feels ashamed of showing naked bodies, which it is a natural thing. It seems nudes are only socially accepted when shows bodies of a certain type and age, not too young, not too aged. I see perfectly normal that children enjoy their childhood without these preconceptions of what it is right or wrong to show of themselves and without feeling ashamed of theirs and others nudity. The decision of taking these images outside the family setting is brave and many may think the rights or privacy of the kids is broken or compromised by doing it so. However, the key point in Mann´s work lays on the fact that these kids were aware of their mum´s work and participated consciously, regarding their age. Richard Billingham´s “Ray´s a laugh” series could be seen in the same way, as his subjects didn’t seem to be in their best lucid moments when the pictures where taken and still there is not so much debate as they are adults and of course, there is no nudity (well, a little and it isn’t beautiful).

On her “Southern Landscapes” series, I like how the light filters through the foliage and creates a calm and moody atmosphere. Forests and trees appear ethereal and atemporal and the quality of the light is “layered, complex and mysterious” (S. Mann, 2010). It is difficult to locate the place which gives even more importance to the effect light has on it, since the artist uses the specific characteristics of the Southern light as the key element that shapes the landscape, connecting it also with the tittle of the series.

Some of her landscapes have strong vignetting and distortion on the edges and this is an element that I really feel attracted to and I want to introduce in my photography and experiment with. This image looks as it would have been shot through a glass or similar object, creating a blurred and distorted edge around the wall, framing it and drawing all the attention on it.

Eugène Atget (1857-1927)

Another photographer that I have researched is Eugène Atget. He was a very prolific documentary photographer pioneer, who dedicated his work to mainly botanical and arquitectural images. His series on Paris depict the city before it became the majestic metropolis when know. Atget photographed the empty streets of the Old Paris, with the light wrapping the distant buildings and their reflection on the pavement. He also paid particular attention to all the sculptural and arquitectural features on buildings, doors and parks, documenting them in detail.

Another big theme in Atget´s work is parks and gardens. Here, he uses light to create a more melancholic atmosphere. Once again, the scenes are detached from human presence. Instead, he portraits statues and plants in a very neat and efficient way, often using reflection of outer buildings on ponds and creating a layered landscape by shooting into the light, so the background fades into the light darkening the elements on the front and giving a great depth to the image. Sculptural ornaments as vases and benches are also a subject of his interest on this series.

As on Sally Mann´s landscapes, there is also a characteristic vignetting on some of Atget´s images. There are many elements that I feel attracted to from his work: empty places, botanical elements and French gardens.



AMERICAN SUBURB X. (2017). INTERVIEW: Sally Mann – “The Touch of an Angel” (2010) – ASX | Photography & Culture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017]. (2017). Atget: The Art of Documentary Photography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017]. (2017). Sally Mann. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017].

The Museum of Modern Art. (2017). Eugène Atget | MoMA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Sep. 2017].



Exercise 4.2


In manual mode take a sequence of shots of a subject of your choosing at different times on a single day. It doesn’t matter if the day is overcast or clear but you need a good spread of times from early morning to dusk. You might decide to fix your viewpoint or you might prefer to “work into” your subject, but the important thing is to observe the light, not just photograph it. Add the sequence to your learning log together with a timestamp from the time/date info in the metadata. In your own words, briefly describe the quality of the light in each image.

After researching on the authors mentioned in Project 2, I decided I wanted to photograph some element from nature for this exercise. I always feel inspired by trees, gardens and forests so the closest thing I could find at home was the view from the rear garden. I love observing the way the light falls on the branches of trees and bushes, it is something that always drags my attention so I have enjoyed this exercise very much as my subject is a well known thuja hedge that separates our garden from the neighbors´. I have chosen a rainy, overcast day as I like the way the light shapes the leaves and brings up so many different shades of muted green, however, it became sunny half way through the day so the variation between the images amd colours is quite wide.

With the camera set on manual mode I chose a scene to frame and I started shooting  at 8:34, standing on the window sill and photographing it through the glass (there is some reflection on the bottom of the images that I actually like),  following with another shot at 9:30 and then every two hours till after 5pm, when I increased the frequency as the light was changing faster as the sun was going down.

These are the images:

As it shows on the first three images, the clouds are filtering the light, giving an even soft scene. Still the different between the three frames is evident: a duller light at first time feels more neutral and balanced while as the sun rises and the intensity of the light changes, the colours become brighter and more vivid. The transition to the fourth image is smooth; the sun is higher and the layer of clouds seems to be very thin now, with almost direct sun light in image 5. The sun started to descend in image 6, hiding behind the house and protecting its shadow on the hedge, which extends to the middle background on image 7. There is a more contrasted variety of colours and shades while the foreground get lit and more visible, almost catching all the attention as the tones change from gold to pink and dark blue. The only light that lights the hedge on the last three images is the residual light from the sunset as it is in shadow at this time. Still there is a variation in tones that makes it stand out from the background when compared with the first images, but there is less detail on the leaves and branches, revealing more of its overall shape.

The range of cold and warm tones shown on the last three images is impressive, specially because thy where taken within a little timeframe comparing with the length of the whole project. I find this later light more interesting and the one that could be worth experimenting with as it shows a richer quality. However, it is the light in the first image the one I personally like the most as I have a thing for filtered light and the way the clouds work here remind me of a giant soft box.

Since the brief of Assignment 4 is asking us to revisit one of the three exercises on light from this unit, I am already noting down some ideas on how I would take this exercise on day light further. I am looking at ways to reflect and manipulate natural light, which is something I feel attracted to and observing the different qualities of light throughout the day has given me an idea to use some techniques I have been wanting to explore. I will come back to this idea when approaching the assignment and after completing the exercises, since I might find other options later.

Exercise 4.1


  1. Set your camera to any of the auto or semi-auto modes. Photograph a dark tone (such as a black jacket), a mid-tone (the inside of a cereal packet traditionally makes a useful “grey card”) and a light tone (such as a sheet of white paper), making sure that the tone fills the viewfinder frame (it´s not necessary to focus). Add the shots to your learning log with quick sketches of the histograms and your observations.
  2. Set your camera to manual mode. Now you can see your light meter! The mid-tone exposure is indicated by the ‘0’ on the meter cake with darker or lighter exposures as – or + on either side. Repeat the exercise in manual mode, this time adjusting either your aperture or shutter to place the dark, mid and light tones at their correct positions on the histogram. The light and dark tones shouldn’t fall off either left or right side of the graph. Add the shots to your learning log with sketches of their histograms and your observations. 


For this exercise I have chosen to photograph a sheet of paper for the light-tone, a piece of cardboard for the mid-tone and the cover of a black photo album. I have tried other black surfaces for the dark-tone but all have proven quite shinny and i was not happy with any but I think it does not affect the aim of the exercise.

First, I set my camera on aperture priority mode, since the flash was popping up when using auto mode to shoot the dark-tone.

The histogram on three of them stays in the middle, being very similar for the mid and light-one and describing a subtle curve for the dark-tone.

Despite the white balance set in auto, it seems the colour is way off, specially on the light colour which was supposed to look white. I have changed the settings on Photoshop and set the white balance manually but no luck. As it can be seen on the third image, the dark-tone, which it was pure black originally, turns out grey as well. As an experiment and to make the histogram more simple, I desaturated the three images:

It is even harder to tell which is which here as all represent a mid-tone. By covering the whole frame with each of the surfaces, the camera reads the reflected light regardless of the real tone and makes adjustments so it gives a neutral tone. This is something I new in theory but it was quite enlightening experimenting it though this set of images.


For the second part, I set the camera in manual mode. The results are even more evident, with the three images closer to the mid-tone than with semi-auto mode.


As it can be seen below, the histograms are very similar


I guess it is quite common converting a beautiful colourful image to black and white and discover that it has lost its interest because it appears dull and grey all over. Understanding how the camera measures and exposes a scene is essential to can have absolute control when shooting in manual mode. It is also strongly linked to the way we observe light, specially when deciding where to position ourselves to create an interesting range of tones that would not give a bland image as a result, where all the tones are flat and even. Or to can achieve this effect if that is our aim.