Assignment Four: Applying Lighting Techniques

Phew, I’ve finally completed Assignment Four, it was probably one of the quicker assignments. It took maybe a week with intense photography and a lot of research before hand. There was also tones of frustration especially with the form aspect, I was ready to knock the ‘improvised studio’ across the room! Luckily it did that all by itself before falling down around me just as I took the photo.

The Art of Photography: Assignment Four

The assignment criteria was to capture eight photos each showing how the different variations of light could create and enhance the following features.






However I didn’t want to just capture a photo of these elements, I wanted to create aesthetically pleasing images with a strong theme and story, while presenting something that showed the beauty and magic of the object. Every element has it’s own beauty, it may not always be conventional but it is always there.


Creating photos with a theme in mind is something I have been experimenting with throughout the duration of this course and my tutor encouraged me to further explore this. My first assignment had no theme, I simply followed the criteria, and looking back I would have liked to create at least a similar relationship between the subjects It was when I started assignment two that I developed a theme, taking all the photos based on Christmas. While this may have increased the difficulty it was also incredibly motivating, inspiring, I could really work hard on researching specific area and when I completed it I had a collage of our Christmas. Assignment Three went with the theme but improving on it I added a story, this really complicated things as I wasn’t just looking for colour but emotion, colour psycology and each photo had to show the story while being able to stand alone. Though at the same time this let my creativity shine through. I also encorporated film into this, presenting it as a slide show with music and text on Vimeo. I was told to look futher into this and so I arrive at Assignment Four.

Initially I was going to photograph my amethyst gemstone, it has great shape and texture and was portable and easy to move around. It was also quite big as I was intending to use my macro lens to enhance detail and provide an up close personal experience. We were in Scotland watching the sunset and Mum held one of our smaller gemstones up to the sun looking at the beautiful patterns. Instantly I knew this was the perfect object for the assignment. The sun had such an effect, illuminating colour, showing form, shape and when positioned correctly, texture too. My assignment was literally flickering before my eyes. I knew I had to move fast before the sun was gone and set up my 18-135mm lens but it wasn’t giving me the intense close up I wanted. Instead I swapped to my 50mm macro lens and instantly the gemstone came alive. With such a close up I was able to focus on the tiniest aspects of the gemstone exploring all manners of shape, form, colour and texture. The drawback of macro lenses is the limited depth of field so I needed to ensure that when needed I used smaller aperture to include more focus. Of course I only captured one of the photos there, it would have been crazy to attempt the entire assignment without proper research and narrative. The best thing about the gemstone was that it was portrable and the texture was stunning. The colour was a paleish green but I had no doubt I could enhance this by using light.


Once I got home I followed my tutors instruction and created a storyboard of how I wanted the story to be told. I know I had written in my learning log how I wanted to create a story that didn’t need words to convey the emotion. But I felt while the gemstone was beautiful on it’s own, it really needed the words to go with it. I decided to do this in the video with my own voice, even composing a song with my sister and playing on the guitar at parts.

Next I improvised placing the gemstone under a baking tray held up by two small sugar tins. I set my iPhone to peer under the tin. Then I used the torch on my Mum’s iPhone and slowly moved it around the tin using round about 60 frames. I watched it back and loved the effect. It was almost like watching an indoor Northern Lights. But more importantly it showed me exactly how I was going to do this assignment.


Before I write about the photos though it’s important to mention the story and how everything all ties in together.

Aria was the girl in the last story portrayed by my sister, this time it was her sister Ilona who’s story was told. I chose the name Ilona because of the meaning, it’s Hungarian for light, the bright one, a girl who responds positively to beautiful things. Perhaps that’s not important to mention but I like everything to tie together with hidden meanings scattered through everything, showing that it has all been thought out carefully and deliberately.

Ilona has been ill with m.e an invisible illness that casts her world in black and white of pain and misery. Then one day her sister brings her a strange, beautiful gemstone  she has found in their garden. It seems normal by day but when night comes it brings her world to life with a stunning light display. But it’s not just light, it shines magic into her life and by the time the night is over the stone it’s soul and power has brought Ilona’s world to life and in colour.

I chose to shoot the first photos in black and white to go with Ilonas story, a world of black and white, no colour therefore when the colour is introduced it is even more powerful and symbolic. By the end the surroundings are once again full of colour for Ilona. You can see the video here 





  1. First I experimented with my hand holding onto the gemstone backlit against the sun but I soon saw that though it showed shape it also distracted from the shape I was intending to show. I needed an indoor studio kit so I improvised by using a nice black box which when the lid was on the camera fitted perfectly therefore plunging all inside the box into complete darkness, perfect for the night time appearance I wanted to give the appearance of. I used my remote release to trigger the camera while slipping my iPhone torch in and using the slow shutter to emblazon the gemstone with light. The result was a block of pure white light perfectly showing the shape. Perhaps this isn’t the photo most people try and achieve but it came out exactly as I’d wished. I wanted to keep a small amount of detail too.




  1. The second shape was actually the initial one taken in Scotland. I balanced the gemstone on the blinds propped up by a blob of blue tack and a bit of masking tape. By angling the camera just so, the sun poured through the gemstone illuminating all the brilliant texture. And as the stop motion video showed the light shining through it enhances the texture further making it look almost like a galaxy in space.

For some reason the sun appeared with straight edges and I’m positive it was the sun as most of the time I was trying to shoot blind because of it. I was curious to find out why this was and when I peered into the macro lens I saw that when the lens is open it forms a hexagaonal shape. Perhaps this is similar to the effect of creating your own shape of bokeh? Either way I lightened it slightly to soften the edges a bit more.





  1. The gemstone was a paleish green with essences of purple but I really needed to enhance the lighting to show this to good effect. I took a series of photos experimenting with the torch on my iPhone. Shining the light through it suddenly brought it to life, almost like glow in the dark rocks especially contrasted against the black background. Staring at it on the live view screen it just looked magical compared to how it looked without the direct light.

Earlier I had been experimenting with stop motion video with my personal art project. I’d had to individually and manually copy all 90 images into an animation app which had taken a long time. I bought a proper app and decided to investigate the effects that lighting as and to merge photography with video like I had been researching in the earlier assignment. I placed the baking tray against the wall so the gemstone fitted inside it and shot with the camera on the floor and the torch shining through the gemstone behind it. Because it is transparent it wasn’t back lit in the sense of everything being dark apart from the edge.


Of course I had to take two photos for each theme which was really interesting and challenging trying to find a different way.



  1. I had purchased Michael Freemans Guide To Light which is invaluable and noticed a photo where several sunglasses were placed against glass. Coloured lights were bleeding through them bringing the photo to life. I thought and experimented and found a transparent pink ruler. I placed my torch behind the ruler (acting as a diffuser) and the transformation was incredible. A natural colour filter brought whole new properties to the stone. When I shot it on the tungsten setting the colour changed to purple. Interesting as I would have expected it to turn a blueish colour. But with the coloured filter ruler producing pink mixed with blue the result is purple. It would be fun to see the effects other colours have on the tungsten setting.
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image_5 photo 3

  1. Returning to the box again I used my remote release to trigger the camera while slipping my iPhone torch in and shining from one side then as the shutter was still open quickly moved it from the box and illuminated the other side of the gem. I’d read that a small scattering of shadows is the most effective way for creating texture. The right hand side is quite dark but this draws the eye to the lighter area and you can almost feel the roughness of the texture. It’s amazing how light can bring to light features not even seen by the naked eye.


  1. Following on from the colour, I used the same effect (backlit) to enhance the texture. This time I dripped water from a paint brush onto the gemstone. The water enhances the texture and form but also adds different textures to the stone.



  1. photo 5
  2. I’m not sure why I found form the most challenging, perhaps because a photo is a 2D representation of a 3D element. I knew that I shouldn’t use the light behind or in front of the gemstone because this would make the image flat, it would be different from the side but I wanted to try something different. I remembered the exercise shining the torch down a roll of black card and decided to try that. I didn’t have any black card so rolled up the black jacket on one of my encyclopedias. I spent hours trying to capture the gemstone on a mirror with a black box lid, tied to the radiator, creating night while the tube balanced on a pile of books. No matter what setting I put it on the result was blurred, my tripod for the Canon hasn’t arrived yet. I deliberately missed out the bottom of the gemstone to enhance the reflection.


  1. I decided to take a different form and returned to my loyal baking tray which had helped with the stop motion video and also the colour part of the assignment. I filled it with water just to cover the base and placed the gemstone in it. The water bulged around it creating a 3D effect. I had the form. The colour was enhanced to an almost aqua marine. I could edit out the band of white light on the surface but looking at other photos of form I saw when shadows crossed it this added to it. Perhaps something to be considered or changed. Otherwise I could have used the knowledge learned from the previous exercise and isolated the object through a cone around the camera. I wasn’t too keen on risking my Canon SLR over the water though.


Lighting techniques I used.


Backlit, though I used this three times I believe it’s justified as the first was using natural light, the sun. The second was of a man made lighting, the torch and the third was used with a colour filter (the rular) Therefore I explored how the same effect with different lighting can create a variety of effects.


Slow shutter speed. Allowing extra light to fall on the sensor and giving me chance to experiment with two different lighting angles at once.


The torch shining through a black tube to allow the light to fall on one spot.


Ideas I had that didn’t work with the assignment.


The assignment and whole course is all about experimentation and that of course will also mean failure. These were ideas I had that didn’t quite go to plan.


Gobos. I read in David Freemans book about Gobos, graphic stencils that create beautiful shadows and effects on the subject. I created my own out of tin foil and though the effect worked for this assignment it didn’t bring anything extra, the shadows were too large for the small gemstone and were distracting. The same went for shooting through a colander with the light aimed through it. Although the effect was beautiful it was just distracting for this subject.

Shooting on a gravel wall, the effect was pretty but the stone seemed flat, though the softbox sky gave a nice effect. Plus it didn’t fit in with the night effect required for the story.

One of the things this assignment has taught me is that the moment this is sent off I’m going to buy myself a proper indoor studio.


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