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7: Narrative & Illustration

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In this final section we will learn about telling a story in both a series of images (Narrative) and in a single image (Illustration).

Photography is not just about having the skills needed to produce good images but also about the content, the subject. A “Newsworthy” images need not necessarily be technically perfect, composition & colour come secondary to whether or not the (single) image tells us effectively about what went on.
The images here are two contrasting examples of “Subject” & “Treatment”.

The first is an abstract colour image from Dee Adams' Flickr page. Dee makes lovely studies in colour. It is an abstract image working with light & shade, perhaps of water or lights, but this is all left very out of focus, leaving us with an image containing just colour, shade and form.

The second is Pim Ras' image of the attack on the Dutch Royal family last year. This image won the “Silver camera”award for best news image in 2009. It is an opportunist shot, not posed, set-up, there is no composition, it just contains all the elements required to tell the story in one shot. A case of right place right time for the photographer and snap that shot.

These two examples are at opposite ends of the scale between the subject & its treatment. This is an age-old struggle and to what extent the photographer leans to one or other end of that scale is a constant balancing act.
Up to now on this course I've been learning a set of skills for making images. Now I'll be using photography to tell a story, to put these skills to specific use.

Photographic subjects are often chosen for their graphic attractiveness. In this section I'll start with the subject, then consider what's important and interesting about it, and let this determine the treatment photographically.

A narrative is a way of telling a story through a series of pictures. This is simpler to do than the “Illustration” which is covered later.
A narrative treatment is best suited to subjects that are made up of several parts, or events that have a sequence. Examples of this would be Horse-Trials or other sporting events, or even a family day-out, a pick-nick.
Working out a narrative for an event requires research. There are various sources for this information, the organisers of the event, the internet, publications from a previous event (last year's).

Project 62 is about planning and preparing for such an event.
31st Jan 2010, 13:57   comments (1)

6. Artificial Light - Project 61, Making the most of built-in flash

Whilst I'm using a DSLR and removable Speed-light which are completely controllable via IR-remote, there are occasions where I may have to resort to my trusty pocket Kodak and its built-in flash or the pop-up flash on the Nikon.
It is important therefore to familiarise myself with its capabilities and restrictions.

Using full-flash will only be correct for a certain distance from the lens subjects closer will appear over exposed and the background will quickly become dark (inverse Square Law). The TTL function on the built-in flash does quite a good job of balancing out the light levels.
Shiny surfaces will look awful with the light source undiffused and directly from the front.
Shadow edges will be hard, contrast harsh.
No modelling in the lighting, very flat light.
Increased chance of Red-Eye.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the images resulting from using only the pop-up flash of the D90, this has a lot to do with the very clever software involved in the TTL mode, even in the little built-in flash unit. The position of the light source however, directly above and adjacent to the lens, is less desirable. These images are all taken with the 50mm f1,8 lens. Anything “wider” throws a shadow of the lens-hood onto the subject.
17th Jan 2010, 11:38   comments (0)

6. Artificial Light - Project 60, Shiny surfaces

Shiny surfaces(chrome, silver) pose a particular problem but there are ways of dealing with this.

Using my tent-cube, which is made from a special material that diffuses light well, I photographed this particularly challenging subject.

First though, a reference image of the object simply placed on a table with the light source on-camera. This is clearly unsatisfactory.

Placing the object inside the light-tent set-up neutralises most of the reflections, only the white of the tent material is being reflected off the surface, and the slit where the lens is poking through.

I then experimented with various positions for the light source, directly above, at right-angles to one side, at a 45 degree angle front/side and also with two opposing light sources.

The final image, two opposing light sources from 45 degrees L+R front is, in my opinion, the best option. I'd like to be further away from the subject, with a bit of a tele-lens going on there to reduce the reflection of the camera's lens in the subject, or at least make it smaller.

The images are;

1.The set-up
2.Test-shot, without diffusion
3.Back-lit from above in the light-tent
4.Lit from 45 degrees, front-left
5.Lit from 45 degrees, front, centre, above
6.Lit directly from the left side
7.From above, slightly in front
8.Right side, 45 degrees, 1m distance (further than the others)
9.Two SB600's, front 45 degrees L+R
17th Jan 2010, 11:04   comments (1)

6. Artificial Light - Project 59, Concentrating light.

(viewed 864 times)
The opposite to diffusing light would be to concentrate it.

This is useful when it is desirable to isolate a subject from its surroundings. A spotlight, as it were.

Commercial snoots are available and I have one or two in my collection of gadgets but a rolled-up cone of black card taped to the flash head would do just as well.
16th Jan 2010, 09:54   comments (2)

6. Artificial Light - Project 58, Contrast & Shadow Fill

As we have seen, some lighting directions can produce dark shadows that hide detail.
All photographs contain contrast, the difference between light & shade. Images can be high or low in contrast, even silhouetted.

Controlling contrast outdoors, on a large scale, is difficult, it's hard to compete with the sun. Indoors however, using photographic lighting, everything is possible. This project is about controlling the contrast.

The same set-up as in the last project, subject & camera on the same plane. Light source (SB600 Speedlight) to the right of the subject, at right angles to the camera and also on the same level.

First & second shots are without and then with a diffuser fitted to the flash head. No fill-in card.

Third fourth are with the use of a white card (60cm x 80cm) placed directly opposite the light source and at 1m and 1/2m distances.

Five & Six are with silver foil over the card, also at 1m and 1/2m distances.

Seven and Eight are using the gold corrugated card at 1m & 1/2m distances.

A fill-in card needs to be placed directly opposite the light source.

To increase contrast, rather than decrease it, you could use a piece of black card on the shadow side. Also, moving the (undiffused) light source further away from the subject will produce more contrast between dark & light areas. A second light could be employed to soften the shadows even more.

Though the differences in these eight images is only very subtle it dose make a great deal of difference in the atmosphere you are trying to create; Harsh-dramatic, Soft-even, Warm-enveloping light.
16th Jan 2010, 09:46   comments (0)

6. Artificial Light - Project 57, The Lighting Angle

This project plays with diffused light from various angles.

I have a studio set up at home with the necessary stands, flash-units (SB600's), backgrounds, diffusers etc.

Here the subject has been lit from the front, side and rear, with the camera – subject – light source all at the same level in relation to each other.

Next I raised the angle of the light source to have it pointing down at the subject at a 45 degree angle and took the same three pictures, front, side and rear.

Then three images were taken with the (diffused) flash directly overhead, slightly in front of the subject (from above) and slightly behind.

So, to recap;

Diffused flash lighting (Nikon SB600) TTL mode.

Same level as subject;
Front light
Side light
Rear light

Light at a 45 degree angle;
Front light
Side light
Rear light

Light source directly overhead;
Directly above
Slightly in front
Slightly behind
3rd Jan 2010, 14:29   comments (4)

6. Artificial Light - Project 56, Softening light

(viewed 5995 times)
A naked lamp is just a raw source of light waiting to be modified.
An unmodified flash-head will cast a harsh light, with bright highlights & dark shadows. This is because it is a small, concentrated light source. There is of course nothing wrong with this kind of light, with the right subject, but an easy way to modify this light would be to use some kind of diffuser between light source and subject. This has the effect of softening the light by enlarging the surface of the light source. We can do this in several ways; acetate sheet would do. I have various gadgets in the studio that do a good job of diffusing light from flash-heads.
In the studio my subject was lit from directly above (see pic. 1) without using any kind of diffusion material.

ISO 100
Flash mode TTL
(both images)

Then the diffuser was fitted to the Speedlight head and the same picture taken again, same settings. (pic 3) The flash/camera communication took care of any change required in the flash intensity via the TTL setting.

The difference is clear between the two.
Although the TTL system has done a good job of evening-out the contrasting background (pic 2) has dark areas under the head, there's a hard shadow-line on the shoulders and tummy area and soles of the feet are very dark.
(pic 4) has a more even light, the shadow areas are less pronounced, the light is “softer”.

(pic 4) has a more even light, the shadow areas are less pronounced, the light is “softer”.

(with apologies for the bad lighting in the two “setup” images (1 & 3), taken with my cam-phone which had considerably more trouble with the contrast in the background)
3rd Jan 2010, 13:51   comments (1)

6. Artificial light – Project 55, Light Intensity

(viewed 11216 times)
The object here was to make a graph, similar to P38 – which measured the intensity of daylight throughout the day – now using flash.

The inverse square law states that light falls off, inversely, with the square of the distance.

If you were to measure the intensity of a flash at perhaps 2 meters distance, then at say 4, 6, 8, 10 & 12 meters you would draw a graph similar to the one shown here.

As the distance (to the camera) doubles, so the intensity of the light from the flash unit halves, requiring the appropriate increase in aperture size, by a constant exposure setting. Basically the intensity of the light from the flash unit will fall off dramatically as the distance increases.

The reason why the power of the light diminishes so rapidly is not because it 'runs out of energy' but because it spreads and so a smaller and smaller proportion of the light hits the object. As you can see from the second diagram the beam of light fans out quite quickly and the object furthest from the light receives only a small proportion of the light, most of the beam misses the target.

A good analogy I read was to imagine the flash as a spatter gun (third image). The gun contains a small amount of paint, and shoots it at the scene. The further away the subject is from the flash, the less paint will get to the subject. If you double the distance from subject to flash, the amount of paint reaching the subject is just one quarter. This is because the paint is spread out over an area, which is related to the square of the distance.
29th Dec 2009, 14:57   comments (4)