Category Archives: ASSIGNMENT 4

Assignment 4 – The Language of Light

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or studio light from Part Four (4.2, 4.3 or 4.4) and prepare it for formal assignment submission:

  • Create a set of between six and ten finished images. For the images to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, for instance a subject, or a particular period of time.
  • Include annotated contact sheets of all of the photographs that you’ve shot for the exercise (see notes on the contact sheet in Part Three).
  • Assignment notes are an important part of every assignment. Begin your notes with an introduction outlining why you selected this particular exercise for the assignment, followed by a description of your ‘process’ (the series of steps you took to make the photographs).
  • Reference at least one of the photographers mentioned in Part Four in your assignment notes, showing how their approach to light might link in to your own work. Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.


I struggled with a focus for this assignment.  Following a discussion with my tutor, I approached the assignment with the thought that I would focus on Old Masters Paintings, trying to replicate the type of light (Exercise 4.4 .)found in these paintings using artificial light.  I researched and looked carefully at other photographers that had attempted a similar project.

Many of the photographers I explored seemed to try to replicate the painting as closely as possible at least in style and colour if not in content.  I felt that didn’t meet the “Creativity” guidance in the assignment brief.  Initially, I considered taking just one element of one of the paintings and deconstruct the shots of say a lemon or skull but in the end I decided to construct a “traditional” style shoot followed by a more “modern” approach using the same or similar compositions but the juxtaposition of ancient and modern.

By making this decision I was moving way out of my comfort zone, preferring to shoot in daylight or natural light.   Following my attempts at Exercise 4.4 and Ex Nihilo, I decided that proceeding with the assignment using controlled artificial light would be an ideal opportunity to improve my understanding of using lighting in photography.

The use of light in Old Masters paintings has always fascinated me as to how they achieved the romantic and idealistic results they did.  However, unlike photography where the camera reproduces what it sees, an artist can interpret the environment, change colours and shapes to suit the composition and the lighting in it if it improved the painting.

I am not attempting to reproduce the old masters in either traditional or modern setup, more an attempt to study the compositions they used and how to make the best of light to produce a pleasing photograph that also shows the difference in lifestyle from the subjects used in original still life to that of modern day living.  I also wanted the modern shots to be starker as juxtaposition to the romanticism of the old paintings.

I took over 200 shots and several re-shoots to reach my final panel.


I made several mind maps and lists (Appendix 1) to help me think through the subject and approach.

I roughly sketched the layout (Appendix 2) for each of my four chosen compositions using the juxtaposition of traditional and modern arrangements.

I have a simple studio set up with two constant lights and no soft boxes. I also have a range of reflectors and used the gold reflector on some shots.  I chose a black velvet background for the traditional shots and a hessian background for the modern shots.

I used a dark background for the traditional shots as was usual[i] in Old Masters paintings and deliberately chose a light background for the modern shots to carry on the juxtaposition of the project.

The hessian did not work on some shots and it was difficult to keep a consistency of focal length because of lack of space (I set up my “studio” in a bedroom).

For most shots I lit from the side using one or two lights applying the family of angles to achieve the best outcome. Occasionally, I tried lighting from the front but this cast dark shadows on the hessian fabric.  However, it worked better on some of the traditional shots against the black background.  I attempted the shots using a 50mm lens but I needed to get in close and in the cramped conditions the lights were often in the way.

I tried a number of lighting combinations paying attention to the “family of angles”[ii]

I shot all of the traditional shots in one shooting, setting the WB to daylight and ISO to 100.  I then experimented with several exposure and shutter speed settings checking the results as I shot each set.

I then shot the modern set, adjusting the settings for the lighter background.  With the hessian background I found that it worked well and the flatness of the fabric meant that the light was less likely to reflect on it, however it did pick up shadows of both the subject and the anomalies in the fabric itself.  Additionally, it creased easily when I was trying to adjust it.  This is where I needed to do the most reshoots.

The lighting was very harsh and I tried tying white polyester fabric over the lights to give a softer effect but it was still very harsh.  I also felt that all shots were pretty flat and boring, so in my second attempt I experimented with a shorter depth of field and moving the lights around.

Having further reviewed my research, I made the decision that by comparison my images did not meet the criteria of a still life image, which focuses on the subject with little background interest.  All my images contained too much background.  I tried a closer crop from the camera but because of the restrictions and barriers in my “studio” I could not move far enough back to get the whole of the subject in and I had already tried with a 50mm lens.  I therefore, made the decision to crop the images in the post editing process.  The outcome was more like my visualisation of what I was trying to achieve. I had of those that were not working so well.

tradtea (1 of 1)

Image 1 -Teatime

In this shot I used two studio lights outside the angle of families to evenly light the scene.

ModTea (1 of 1)

Image 2 – Teatime Modern

For the juxtaposition of the traditional tea shot I used modern props, changing the milk jug for the plastic bottle and adding  the iPad to highlight how different things are.

0.4s @ f10 ISO100

Image 3 – Relaxing

Another traditional type shot with one light focused on the fruit and the other on the claret jug.

Latern (1 of 1)

Image 4 – Relaxing Modern

This time the lights were again at each side but not angled at all.

Globe (1 of 1)

Image 5 – Travel

Retaining the black background, I used one side light to throw the back of the globe into shadow.

modtravel (1 of 1)

Image 6 – Travel Modern

The modern travellers planning tools using two angled lights nearer to the camera and showing how things have changed with the globe on the computer screen.

tradflowers (1 of 1)

Image 7 – Flowers

Traditional cut glass vase of flowers using two lights angled either side to pick up the detail of the flowers.

modflowers (1 of 1)

Image 8 –  Flowers Modern

Here is the modern interpretation using less ornate vases and flowers. For this shot I used one light angled down onto the tall vase of flowers and one shining on the flower at the front on the smaller vase.


I did a Google search of photographers who had used this approach and analysed their styles.  I used the photographers referenced in the course notes to learn how they used light creatively.  I was drawn to Ernst Haas and his eclectic portfolio. Particularly, how he used the light (usually daylight) to bounce off elements of his subject to enhance the detail. (accessed 14/07/2016).

I found an image on flickr by a photographer called Tiko, that inspired how I approached this assignment.

Tiko,  Still Life Photography (accessed 28/7/16).

Jean-Baptiste Huynh in his still life images takes a very simple composition and makes them come to life with the way he lights them.  For example a simple image of a kitchen knife in black and white, seems to offer no interest as still life subject.   However, when photographed by Huynh it becomes rather beautiful.

Jean-Baptiste Huynh Couteau, 2003

CAMERA WORK (accessed 26/7/16)[iii]

Although this is not the type of image I was trying to achieve in my visualisation, it did give me the idea of the contrast I wanted to achieve in the portrayal of traditional vs modern.

Contact Sheets

img20160727_16385145   img20160727_16480838  img20160727_16441429


img20160727_20142238       img20160727_20165165  

img20160727_19101380    img20160727_19181568

img20160727_16310050  img20160727_19244288   img20160727_20020621

img20160727_20073351  img20160727_20095633  img20160727_20115690


Have I met the descriptors of “creativity” as described in the course notes?

Imagination – Using the juxtaposition of traditional and modern was, I think imaginative.  So too was my use of the lights.  The compositions of my shots are less imaginative, however.

Invention – I think that my approach using traditional and modern was novel.

Experimentation – I experimented with backgrounds, lighting, settings and subjects before settling on my final set.

Personal voice – I do not think I have found my personal voice and once again have played it fairly safe in my final choice.  I do like the idea of the contrast between traditional and modern and tried to produce unromantic modern shots. Towards the end of my practical work I began to wonder now if my original thought of deconstructing a painting and using one or two elements might have produced better results.  I really like the simplicity of Huynh’s still life, and maybe I should have looked for more inspiration there. I find it hard to make a decision when offered so much choice and freedom. Controlling artificial light was always going to be a challenge for me and I have learned a lot in the process.


[i] Peterson D, Shoot Still-Life Images Like a Dutch Master , digitalphotosecrets (accessed 14/07/16)

[ii] Hunter  Light: Science & Magic, An Introduction to Photographic Lighting (5th ed.) Focal Press,  New York & London

[iii] Jean-Batiste Huynh, 2003, Couteau (Accessed 14/07/2016)



Sally Mann

Research Point

Sally Mann is an American photographer, famous for her black and white large frame photographs where she explores things close to her, including her own children and landscapes depicting death and decay.

Her collection of images of young girls “At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women”  record the emotional confusions and development of her subjects at that age.  All images are  shots of the young women.  This book published in 1988 attracted critics who claimed they were pornographic.  However, this was mild criticism compared to the controversy that subsequent publications “Immediate Family” (1992) and “Still Time” (1994)  attracted, which included shots of her own children and the beginning of her exploration into death, injury, sexuality and decay.

Mann claims that she tried to portray childhood innocence through the eyes of a mother and in an interview with SuburbX she states that her images cannot be described as sentimental but are “very, very romantic and very tough”.  There is little doubt that her style of photography can be disturbing.

In the SuburbX interview Jiang Rong (interviewer), asks if there is a link between  photography and poetry, which Mann studied at university. Her reply is interesting when she says that some photographs are linked, as they condense information while others are like “Ezra Pound”.  In fact there are several parallels between photography and poetry in the interview, with references to Emily Dickinson and Yeats as well as Pound.

I am assuming that by her reply Mann means Pound’s development and use of Imagism, which is described as the use of clear, precise, and sharp language producing an economy of language in his poems.  Is that what Mann is trying to achieve in her photography?  There seems to be evidence of this type of Imagism in the Body Farm collection.  Where there is no need to explain the image further than what is presented as perhaps a “succession or creative moments”, words sometimes used to describe Imagism



Sally Mann, 2000-2001 (accessed 20.06.16)

All of Mann’s photography has a sense of the mysterious and although in the interview, she states that she is “peeling back the layers to reveal the truth” she also says of her Immediate Family images that they “tell truths, but truths ‘told slant’, an Emily Dickinson parallel (Accessed 12th January 2017).   Mann also claims not to seek the crisp and clear image that most photographers are doing but is more interested in creating the mysterious and whimsical quality to her images.

Mann’s range of subjects is diverse ranging from the children and family shots, some documenting her husband’s muscular dystrophy decline, battlefields and killing fields, through to the mystical capture of the land in Southern Landscapes.  Whatever the subject, the use of light is paramount in her images.  It is obvious that the aim of all of this photography is not to capture crisp and sharp images but to create strange and unpredictable images.

I find some of Mann’s photographs deeply disturbing and thought provoking. The parallel between Imagism and photography may account for why I have struggled with the message that Mann is trying to get over.