Exercise 31(a) Variety with a Low Sun

Most of the exercises in this part of the course are a challenge, not because of the subject matter or the exercise but because of the vagaries of the British weather and having the right conditions coinciding with the time available to undertake the exercise. It doesn’t help trying to undertake them in mid-June when dawn and dusk are so far apart and at pretty unsociable times of the day.

This exercise is designed to show the advantages of shooting when the sun is low. We are asked to collect a set of pictures that exhibit front, side, back and edge lighting.

I am dividing my results across two posts. This post focusses on back, front and side lit subjects in a single landscape, Waverley Abbey in Surrey.

The title of the exercise includes the word “variety” so I have taken a number of field trips on different evenings and experimented with different subjects. I am keeping my options open on assignment 4 and might work with natural light so I want to use this exercise to try out techniques.

Fig. 01 Pond at Waverley - HDR processed using HDR Efex Pro 2 from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 01 Pond at Waverley – HDR processed using HDR Efex Pro 2 from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 01 is a HDR image. I have been reading Michael Freeman’s helpful book, Capturing Light *(1) and have also read his blog posts on the subject of HDR. (For some reason Safari cannot find The Freeman View blog today but I found an article by Freeman on the Manfrotto site here)* (2).  I subscribe to his view that this is a technique that should not be ignored solely on the grounds that it is often seen in its most extreme forms. I am quite relaxed about using HDR when working with an image that contains a very wide tonal range but, before reading Freeman’s advice I either used HDR Efex Pro 2 which is the software I used for Fig . 01 or processed PSD files in Photoshop Merge to HDR Pro.

Fig. 02 Pond at Waverley - HDR processed using Merge to HDR pro and ACR from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Fig. 02 Pond at Waverley – HDR processed using Merge to HDR pro and ACR from 5 images. 1/160 at f/16 (-1 stop to + 1 stop)

Freeman, in Capturing light recommends a different approach which can be summarised as using TIFF files, merged using HDR Pro, converted to 32bit and then post processed in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). I have tried this approach in Fig. 02. In both images the intent is to avoid the “HDR look” which Freeman calls an “illustration” and to maintain a more photographic look.

I think Freeman’s technique gave me slightly more control over the contrast and I was able to recover more vibrant shadows. As part of understanding light I have been collecting books of impressionist paintings from our local charity shops. Within pretending be to be an art connoisseur it appears to me that the impressionists had a particular way of introducing highlights into their paintings that glister and shimmer. I was originally considering basing assignment 4 on this idea and so have some of these paintings in my mind. In fig 2 the way the light is reflecting off the pond and the water lilies reminds me of some of Pissarro’s paintings and is an effect I would like to explore more deeply.

Fig. 01 and 02 are one approach to dealing with the challenges of backlit subjects. the sun is behind the trees in the background to the right.

The next set included below are of the same subject, a tree in the same location.

Fig. 01 Front Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 03 Front Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 02  Front Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Front Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 3 and 4 are both front lit. The sun is approximately behind me. I have under exposed by 1/2 a stop to increase the saturation and made minor adjustments to the contrast with a slight “S” curve in photoshop. The light works well in both these images and fig. 4 is helped by the dark clouds that had begun to build.

Fig. 03 Side Lit - 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 05 Side Lit – 1/90 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Side Lit - 1/60 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 110

Fig. 06 Side Lit – 1/60 at f/13, -1/5 stop, ISO 110

Figs 5 and 6 are both side lit but from slightly different angles. Like 3 & 4 they are 1/2 stop underexposed and with a slight “S” curve applied in Photoshop.

The back lit images of the lone tree were failures.

I had set out to find a lone tree and recalling this one at Waverley thought it might make a good subject. However, I was working too early in the evening to get a soft evening light for the backlit versions and as the sun started to get into the right position there was too much cloud. I need to try this again on another evening.

Whilst researching something quite unrelated I came across a series of photos taken by Simon Norfolk *(3) who is better known for his work in war zones. On his website there is a small set of photos taken at Blenheim Palace of oaks in the park.

Fig. 07 Blenheim Palace by Simon Norfolk

Fig. 07 Blenheim Palace by Simon Norfolk

These appear to be taken at dawn rather than dusk as there is mist in the background; he has obviously used artificial light on the trees.

I am not sure what type of lighting he would have used but I am very taken by these images and want to attempt this technique.

The only equipment that I can use are two hot-shoe soft boxes along with 3 flash guns and it will be interesting to see whether they cast enough light. I will have to use trial and error to get the exposure right as he may have stopped down the exposure and boosted up the lights to get this effect. Joe McNally *(4) uses this technique a lot for outdoor portraits.

It is possible that I might need to try the technique with smaller trees but this would be a great technique to master and used for still life and portraits as well as landscape.

Sources

Books

(1) Freeman, Michael (2013) Capturing Light: The Heart of Photography. Lewes: Ilex.

(4) McNally, Joe. (2009) The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes. Berkeley: New Riders.

Internet

(2) Manfrotto School of Excellence. Michael Freeman article on HDR processing. http://www.manfrottoschoolofxcellence.com/2011/06/michael-freeman-night-time-hdr-and-definitely-a-tripod/#.U6MYVhbv5Gw

(3) Norfolk, Simon. Official Website http://www.simonnorfolk.com

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