Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Artificial light: the problem - and an alternative solution

When I started this course I was delighted by the opportunities it gave me to take thoughtfully composed shots, perhaps of things I wouldn't normally take pictures of, but it made me think. I loved it. I still do. But I've tried a few times with this artificial light thing and just can't bring it to life. I seem to need so much extra equipment - lights, diffusers, large bits of card, some backdrop - and somewhere to put it - that isn't creased and doesn't create its own shadows. The problems went on, meanwhile the summer was here and I wanted to be outside taking pictures, not waiting for nightfall with the iron in hand.

So I've effectively decided to dip out of this part of the course. For the first time in my life I'm going to be radical and not follow instructions so my responses to these projects are a bit few and far between, and the assignment reflects that as well. So I'm going to set myself up to fail. According to the BBC's Big Personality Test I have high levels of conscientiousness so this makes me feel very guilty. I have therefore been compensating in my own way by using environments already illuminated by artificial light. And of course I can always come back to it later when things are less pressurised.

Inside the windmill at Bursledon in Hampshire there were a few things to rest the camera on and some natural light, but most of the light came from a tungsten bulb and a slow shutter speed. I do love that effect of blurriness you get when the subject is moving and so made things particularly difficult for myself in these dim conditions, but I did enjoy the shapes of the cogs and the texture of the wood as well as the sense of craftsmanship in this beautifully restored mill.

This brightly lit shot shows the different materials and elements used in constructing the milling parts.
F5, 0.4 sec, ISO 400 handheld
Colour and form
The unaltered white balance does give a tungsten-y yellow tinge to this image but I think this brings out the warmth of the wood and rope, complemented by the red.
F4, 1/5 sec, ISO 400 handheld
Adjusting the white balance to compensate for tungsten lighting makes a big difference.
F5.6, 0.6 sec, ISO 400, white balance - tungsten adjustment
Using the flash stopped the movement of the cog and also enables the dust and nails to be seen clearly, although admittedly in a functional rather than artistic way with shadows. The straight-on direction of the flash consistent with a landscape orientation pretty much avoids any shadows...
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash
...In comparison to this version, in which the flash would have come from the left hand side, by holding the camera portrait style, creating significant shadows and thereby emphasising the shape of the individual cogs.
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash
Being very keen on bracketing my exposures I was slightly startled to see this underexposed version had made it through the final cut as I might have expected it to be too dark. Instead, I think it shows a degree of interesting texture.
F5.6 0.6 sec 0.7 underexposed ISO 400
And this flash-assisted close-up shows the detail of the cog in all its glory, complete with what looks like a bit of a wallpaper wedge.
F5.6 1/125 ISO 400 flash