Learning log (Part four) – Light

I read this module several times in an attempt to get to grips with the technical aspects of this subject – not my strong point! And then there is all the equipment involved…….however, I am certain that as per usual, once I get started I will find the subject matter of great value and importance.

Bearing in mind that light underpins all photography, I am working through the majority of the exercises from this module. I need to gain an understanding of the mechanics of lighting as well how to photograph natural light.

Michael Freeman suggests “Many people simply have less interest in this kind of photography..….some of you would rather move on to other things”. Let’s see……

Project: The intensity of light

Exercise: Measuring brightness

In these two photos I used the “spot” setting to take meter readings. The first shot was exposed for the onion allowing it to show more of the detail and true colour, demonstrating good contrast when held up to the sky. The second shot was exposed for the sky. I see the detail of the onion is lost and it appears much darker. The sky and clouds however take on a more defined role.

137    136

Left: I set the meter to spot and took the exposure reading from the hand then recomposed the scene. This produced a sharp contrast in that the green leaves now appear black and silhouetted against the sky.  Right: I focused on the blue patch of sky to take the reading then recomposed the scene I wanted in the viewfinder. This created a silhouette.

133      138


Exercise: Measuring exposure

I am asked to produce photos which are deliberately lighter or darker than average and give the reason why.

As this was the first time I had used the exposure compensation setting on my camera, I did a quick trial.

126     125      124

The above shots show +0.3, 0.0, -0.3 respectively. It would be obvious to select the centre photo. I then went on to take some shots showing where either under exposure or overexposure were my preferred choice.

f4.5 60th iso800      f4.5 60th iso400

Left: I overexposed this shot by +1.7. The original shot (right) shows how the corridor appeared to my eye, in camera it produced a gloomy low-key shot. The compensated shot highlights the features of the studded doors and adds a clean brightness to the overall photo. I also like the way the doorway at the end is lit and draws the eye along the corridor.

f20 3rd         f25 3rd -2

Left: This is a good example of when the position of the sun (front lit) has flattened the features of Neptune’s face. As I could not move the subject, I underexposed by -2.  Although the image is now darker it does add depth and contrast, therefore making the features more pronounced.

Exercise: Bracketing



By setting the camera to “bracket” I was able to get three shots – one either side of the average meter reading. In this case I prefer the underexposed shot (-0.7), it has good saturated colours and contrast and the little flowers are individually defined.




– 0.7


Exercise: Higher and lower sensitivity

The task was to shoot a scene at normal sensitivity (ISO 125 on my camera), then change to a higher sensitivity. I chose to shoot at ISO 800.

I was to find a scene where the light level and subject movement is only just possible. I chose this busy sweet stall on Cambridge market. It was an overcast day.

This shot was the sharpest, although a little dark and the detail of the sweet stall does not stand out.

iso 125

ISO 125

Below: My immediate thoughts are that this image has sufficient light and colour, the detail of the stall is clearer, but, it does lack crispness. The image is fuzzy and the outlines are not sharp. I also noticed how much noise (graininess) there was when I enlarged the shot on the PC.

ISO 800

ISO 800

Project: The colour of light

Exercise: Judging colour temperature (1)

These photos were taken with the white balance set to daylight.


Top: In full sun, mid afternoon. The colours are saturated and the sun’s position has introduced some warmth and shadows to the face defining the features – slightly more so than I saw with the naked eye.

Bottom left: In shade, mid afternoon. A flatter, colourless, cool image, no shadows. My eyes had adapted to the shade, so I still saw the same features as in the above shot.

Bottom right: One hour before sunset. A cold bluish light making the image dull but with colour. The shadows are back again too.

043    098


Exercise: Judging colour temperature (2)

Similar to the last exercise, but this time I have varied the white balance settings for each situation, using the auto, daylight and shade settings.

Midday sun – Left to right: auto, daylight, shade.

mid auto mid day mid shade

From this selection I would choose the “auto” shot (left), but retake it and re-position myself so as to avoid the shadow on the cat’s face. The daylight setting has over exposed the image and the shade setting really does put the subject in the shade.

Midday but in the shade – Left to right: auto, daylight, shade.

mid shade auto mid shade day mid shade shade

Here my preference would be the shade setting. This is the most natural looking and closest match to the actual stone colour of the cat. Interestingly, the “blue” shot with is the one taken on auto. This demonstrates how the white balance setting is affected by the natural effects of outdoor shade.

Low sun – Left to right: auto, daylight, shade

low auto low day low shade2

I am drawn towards the image taken on the auto setting purely from an aesthetic point of view. It has a lot of warm light and the pebbles appear natural in colour. However, the daylight image has the sunlight highlighting the cat’s back, therefore the form of the cat has more emphasis.

Project: The time of day

Exercise: Light through the day

The following images show a detailed look at what happens to a view as the sun moves throughout the day.

I was fortunate in that I was able to take these shots through an open upstairs window at home. The view is looking down the valley on a sunny day with some light cloud. Prior to setting up I considered what time of day may produce the ideal photo. The shots were taken in late August, so bearing in mind the early sunrise, I decided the shots taken early evening would be my preferred ones. Wrong! I had not considered the position of the sun in relation to the scene.


6.18 am


6.39 am

My overall favourite has to be this second shot taken at 6.39 am. Although the fell side is mostly in shadow, there is a hint of sunlight peeping over the top, diffused in the subtle clouds overhanging the fell. The sky has a lovely blue violet hue as an introduction to the forthcoming warm and sunny day. The foreground is fresh and bright green in contrast. The bird on the wing is a nice bonus!

8.00 am

8.00 am

9.06 am

9.06 am

By 8.00 am the sun has risen and casts a bright white light across the fell with just the slightest hint of early morning colour in the sky. At 9.06  the sunlight has created a bright haziness as it pushes it’s way through the light cloud. The overall effect is still one of a cool blue.

10.02 am

10.02 am


12.57 pm

As the day progresses, the sky becomes more blue and there is generally more light through the valley. Shadows take on a blue tone. Clouds drift across the sky creating shadows and contrast adding form and depth to the fell side. By around midday the colourless (white) sunlight makes for fairly uninteresting flat images and this continues as the sun is “front lighting” the fell.





Stronger shadows appear as the sunlight is diffused by clouds.





Then the sun slowly slides away behind the opposite fell it no longer lights the scene.



Here we have a lovely warm glow, the colours are of orange and purple hues, fading as the sun sets.



Now there is a new light, a faint, golden glow from a neighbouring property.


Exercise: Variety with a low sun

To demonstrate the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. I took the following photos around an hour before sunset.

Frontal lighting


In this photo the water glistens and the swans appear as though they are in spotlight. The low sun touches the leaves of the bull-rushes. One hour earlier the position of the sun would have made the image too bright and lacking in contrast.

Silverdale light 050      Silverdale light 044

Left: For this photo I stood well back and to the side. This time the effect is that of the sun reflecting off the gable ends. It would have been better if the street lamp had been lit too!

Right: In this image the low sun has cast its light on the front of the pub. In the foreground there are highlights and shadows and some objects in the shade. This could be a stage setting with the figures acting out their parts!

Side lighting

Silverdale light 042

For this shot I metered for the sky to avoid overexposure (the camera would have read for the shaded areas). The low sun was to the left and lit up the viaduct to give a golden glow.

Light low sun 031      Light low sun 006

Left: I stood at a 45 degree angle to the sun to take this shot of the castle walls. Angling the camera upwards, the shadow and lit areas are quite distinctive giving an unusual perspective. Right: The sun was setting to the right of the building and slightly behind me. I like this image because the sun lights the glass windows of “Skypark” and compliments the strip lights in the multi-story car park. There is a streak of sunlight reflected in the interesting architecture of the building to the front left.

Silverdale light 055

This image was taken just as the sun was setting and I stood slightly to the side to avoid the glare. The effect is one of almost silhouette. The contrast of light and shade produces some eye-catching shapes.

Back lighting

Light low sun 025

With the sun low in the sky I shot this kissing gate from a low position and was able to produce a silhouetted image showing form and shape.

Silverdale light 058

Here I positioned myself so that the sun was hidden behind the subject. Although not a full silhouette I am pleased with the image, in particular the colours. The setting sun casts a yellowy – gold hue across the horizon and this hue can also be picked out on the stone beneath the fountain tap. The shape and form are also emphasised, I like the way the eye is drawn up to the dark point of the fountain and back down to take in the glow and light. Although dark, there is texture implied too – a contrast of smooth iron railings and rough stonework.

Light low sun 019

The opposite in this shot. Here the moisture droplets on the seed grass are back-lit and highlighted to give a delicate glistening effect. I realised that I didn’t have my lens hood and there is some reflected light in the image. However, in this case I think it adds rather than detracts from the overall effect of the shot. To improve on this shot I could have tried bracketing, but it was a windy day and the tree branches were swaying around blocking out the sun, so I had to act quickly.

Silverdale light 027

The sun is now just below the horizon. Not strictly edge/rim lighting, but this shot implies the light skimming across the sand and sea. I have included it for the texture and light effects. It is a pale, cool image with a hint of pink in the sky.

Edge lighting

Silverdale light 046

I wish I could have got closer to the scene for this shot (or had my 70-300 lens with me). However as the sun was about to vanish below the horizon, I knew the moment would be brief. I zoomed in to capture the halo effect around the heads of the couple on the bench. The outline of the receding sea is also “edge lit”. The bench to the left of the image is in spotlight.


Sundown and moon rise:  This shot of Aisgill Viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle railway line was taken shortly after the sun had gone down. The sky was clear and the rising moon provided a natural light source. The result was a silhouette of the viaduct.

P1060472 - Copy

One of those Wow! Moments. This was taken at the end of a series of shots of the sun going down over North Island, New Zealand. The sun is just below the horizon, yet manages to cast it’s light on a cloud-free streak in the sky. The filters in the cloud formations add drama and further interest to the shot.


sunrise Galloway

Rigg Bay, Galloway: I captured this stunning scene just after 5am on a very warm July morning. I used a telephoto lens at 105mm so the intervening air has muted the colours. This is a good example of how “blue” the early morning light is as the sun burns it’s way through the haze. I thought the reflection of the sun in the sea was an unusual one, almost square.

Exercise: Cloudy weather

Asked to look through my library of photos to find a couple of shots taken on a cloudy/hazy day. Firstly, I chose this image to demonstrate the impact of cloud cover on a bright sunny day.


To the left of the photo the cloud acts as a filter, giving the sea a cool grey appearance. There is enough light filtering through to lift the texture of the sea water. Whereas to the right of the photo the blue sky reflects onto the sea, and because the sun is high in the sky the direct light makes the sea appear more flat.

P1070065 - Copy

The Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco: This was a hot sunny day and it is the sea mist acting as a filter, not cloud. The effect is one of diffused light, most strongly represented by the white sun. The shot provides an eerie softness to the hard steel construction of the bridge tower and the cables. The image misleads the viewer, imagining this as a cold, misty, early morning.

P1060451 - Copy

I chose this photo showing the hazy effect of low cloud over a bay on South Island, New Zealand. The shadow edges are soft and vague and the background is shady and neutral. The light catches the blue of the sea and the tiny bubbles forming a horizontal line in the forefront of the image. The contrast of the sand layers give definition and a 3D effect to an otherwise flat picture.

Exercise: Rain

Taken through the window of a high level hotel room. This view is of a multi-storey car park on a rainy night. The reflection of light from the room highlights the rain droplets on the window. Some of the droplets take on a golden glow as they appear to be lit by the street lights. The brightly lit stairwell of the car park adds colour and the white light of the floor levels adds some perspective.


A Glasgow street at night following a heavy rain shower: The pavement glistens under the lights reflected from the shop windows. An overhead neon light is mirrored as an elongated strip of electric blue and leads the eye to the shadowy figures hurrying along through the damp night.


These two shots were taken into the sun and through the garden sprinkler! The shot to the left was taken with a shutter speed of 125th ISO 250 implying movement.

f4.4 125 iso250

For the shot below I used 320th and ISO 400, freezing and highlighting the water droplets to give the illusion of pencils of light.

f4.6 320 iso400





Project Available light

Exercise: Fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent lights appear white to the eye, but do not emit a full colour spectrum. I took three shots each with the white balance set differently to study the effect.

Left: Set on auto. The shot appears as the closest match to how I see it, but has a greenish hue.

Centre: Now with the white balance set to daylight. The colour quality in this image is too bright and very “blue-white”.

Right: Set to fluorescent. The light in this shot gives a pink hue and is very unnatural.

flour wb auto         day          fluor

Exercise: Outdoors at night

This San Francisco department store looks inviting thanks to the mix of colour temperatures in the lighting. The colours vary from soft warm orange through to ultra violet to cooler whites. The colours are all muted due to the diffused scattered light particles.


Below: The head and tail lights caught on camera. I used a 30 second exposure at f25 with a compensation exposure of -0.5 (to compensate for the street lights).

Light low sun 009

Project Photographic lighting

Exercise: The lighting angle

Here I am to show the effects the lighting angle has when using a diffused light.

I used a desk lamp and a homemade diffuser (wooden frame with photographic diffuser nylon stapled to the frame). The backdrop used was black crushed velvet.

The subject is a wine glass containing tap water.

Un-diffused: Firstly, I took a photo without the diffuser. Here I can quite clearly see the outline of the glass and the fabric of the backdrop. The shape, colour, texture and form are all sharp, but a little harsh. I can also see light and shadow reflected in the water and glass.



Front lit: For comparison, here is the un-diffused subject (left) alongside the image taken with the diffuser (right). Immediately I see the difference in that the diffused image is softer, rounder and shows the detail, e.g. fine bubbles in the water. The backdrop is smoothed out and even. Because a front lit shot produces a flatter subject, it shows shape rather than form. Whereas the shot without the diffuser shows more form due to the shadows produced.

undiffused            front

Lit from the left: Left: Fairly obvious in that I can see the light shining on the left of the glass! There is more definition to the shape – the left side is sharper. The light is still harsh. My next shot was lit from the left and slightly behind: A more subtle, softer light, highlighting the curves in the bowl of the glass and the stem. The lighting effect is more uniform.

left b            left

Back lit: The first shot was not a success. I realised that the door had been opened and produced an unwanted front light! The second shot is better. I like this shot the best because it shows an almost silhouette of the glass in a lovely mellow sepia tone. There is a reflected light showing on the left of the glass, I think this adds to the overall image – showing shadow, light, shape and form.

behind 2             behind


Exercise: Contrast and shadow fill

For this exercise I set up a still life shot indoors. Making use of photographic lighting – a diffuser and a sheet of white card, I experiment with contrast and shadow fill.

Firstly I took a photograph without a diffuser in front of the lamp and no white card to reflect the light. Here I can see the harsh white light and dense shadow to the left of the subject.

1no reflector

With the light and the camera position unchanged, I have now introduced the white card opposite the light source, positioned about 1 metre from the vase. The lamp (now with diffuser) is on the right – where most of the light is coming from. A softer quality of light is now evident.







For this photo I placed the white card twice as close to the vase, therefore it receives four times more light (Inverse Square Law). The closer the card is to the subject, the more indirect light is reflected on to the subject. More light has leaked around the vase creating a more uniform image. The shadow has now been filled. I am aware that the light source to the right is still too obvious in the shot.


Next I used some discarded welding wire to show shadow fill. This time I used black card opposite the light source (instead of a reflector). Left: Here the detail is pronounced – highlighted wire and greatest contrast between that and the background.

Right: By moving the light further away from the subject, the wire becomes more obvious and therefore makes for a more interesting picture. However the impact is lost because the contrast is less defined and there are no shadows.

shadow fill 1      shadow fill 2

Below: The light is closer, therefore stronger and more widely dispersed. I think the shadows here are important and add interest to the shot. It looks as though someone has scribbled in pencil in an attempt to copy the form of the wire.

shadow fill 3

Stark contrast:

Finally, a shot a taken from inside the Galloway cottage.

The light source is strong sunlight concentrated through the small window space. This has produced a spotlight effect. The subject is highlighted and has the added bonus of a colour wash projected against the whitewashed wall of the alcove.

concentrated light