Experiments with a Colour Box and Diffused Light

To complete exercise 37 (Contrast and Shadow Fill) and exercise 38 (Concentrating Light) I built a colour box. I came across this idea when researching assignment 4 by finding the work of David C Halliday. Halliday’s portfolio includes a number of still life studies and I was very interested in his idea of photographing subjects inside a box. I built a simple wooden box, open at one end and with a large hole on one side. I then made a number of inserts to either reduce the size of the hole or to use as reflectors inside the box..

In exercise 37 I set up a simple still life of 3 peppers and lit them in different ways as per the criteria of that exercise. The best two results were :

Fig. 02 Three Diffusers, Silver Foil Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/1 Power - 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

Fig. 01 Three Diffusers, Silver Foil Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/1 Power – 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

In fig. 01 there are three different types of diffusers in front of an off camera flash gun and a home made silver foil reflector to the left of the subject. This gives a soft lift but there is enough highlight and shadow to emphasise the shape of the peppers.

Fig. 02 No Diffusers, and No Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

Fig. 02 No Diffusers, and No Reflector and Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at F16, ISO 100

In fig. 02 there are no diffusers over the flash gun and no reflector inside the box. The colours are strong and the shapes distinct.

Fig. 03 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 03 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

In fig. 03 I reduced the size of the hole in the side of the box and set the flash gun on 1.2 power. The bottom of the light hole is about level with the top of the peppers. There are three different diffusers over the flash gun, the photo diffuser on the soft box, a thin sheet of translucent plastic and a thin plastic net. This combination has created a sod but strong coloured composition with soft but noticeable shadows.

Fig. 03 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 04 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

For fig. 04 I raised the subject up on a piece of reflective acrylic. This has hardened up the image even though the set=up is basically the same. I included the light source in the composition.

Fig. 03 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 05 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

The final photo in this series is probably the most successful. The only change is to swap the reflective base for a piece of black card.

Fig. 06 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power - 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 06 Three Diffusers, Small Hole in Box, Flash Gun on 1/2 Power – 1/160 at f/16, ISO 100

Using the same set-up  it was possible in fig. 06 to obtain quite abstract effects. I like the ultra soft light in this photo and the strong contrast between the brightly lit yellow pepper at the back and the shadowy red pepper at the front.

Fig. 07 Diffused flash gun through hole at 1/64 power and a flash gun with a honeycomb grid from the front at 1/4 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 07 Diffused flash gun through hole at 1/64 power and a flash gun with a honeycomb grid from the front at 1/4 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

I moved on to experimenting with using lights from other angles. In fig. 07 I placed a flash gun with a honey comb grid near the camera. By winding down the diffused light to 1/64 power and setting the honeycomb grid at 1/4 power I was able to emphasise the colours of the subjects and throw interesting shadows on the back wall.

Fig. 01 Peppers - honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 08 Honeycomb grid directly overhead through hole in colour box – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

To concentrate the light even more I turned the box over in fig. 08 so that the hole was now in the top and placed the flashgun with the honeycomb grid on a thin plastic diffuser directly over the subject. I am satisfied with the effect here, the colour is strong and the form of the peppers is pronounced.

Fig. 09 Diffused flaw gun from directly above at 1/2 power and a flash gun with a honeycomb grid by the camera at 1/2 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 09 Diffused flaw gun from directly above at 1/2 power and a flash gun with a honeycomb grid by the camera at 1/2 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Moving on again in fig. 09 I tried a few more shots using two lights.  I was hoping to use the different colours and shapes to create an interesting study but the lack of contrast makes this image too flat and I didn’t find a lighting combination that really made much of the subject.

Fig. 04 Tomatoes - diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/16 power and flash gun with snoot to left of  camera at 1/2 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 10 Tomatoes – diffused flashgun directly overhead through hole in colour box at 1/16 power and flash gun with snoot to left of camera at 1/2 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

In fig. 10 there was some diffused light from above but the main light came from a flash gun with a snoot by the camera. the colour is not as strong as the more powerful overhead only lighting but the depth of the subject is well represented.

Fig. 05 Tomato - flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/2 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 11 Flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/2 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 11 Flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/4 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 12 Flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/4 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 11 Flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/4 power - 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Fig. 13 Flashgun with snoot by camera at 1/4 power – 1/60 at f/16, ISO 100

Figs. 11, 12 and 13 take this idea a step further by dropping out the overhead light. I like the effect of the subject disappearing into the background.

The idea of the colour box has generally worked. There are a few refinements that might be worth trying :

  • make some different coloured liners out of paste board, the green board worked especially well in assignment 4.
  • Potentially make the box narrower and deeper, I think this is the more the shape used by David Halliday. This would allow shots to be taken that include both the inner sides of the box.
  • Test the set up in natural light but using a black cloth over the camera and photographer to ensure the only light falling on the subject is coming through the hole.
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