The Art of Photography:Mike Mudd's Learning Log

The Art of Photography:Mike Mudd's Learning Log

TaoP Submission: Assignment 4: Light

AssignmentsPosted by Mike Mon, March 25, 2013 12:57:42

OCA: TaoP Assignment 4: Light

8 Images on the theme of applying lighting techniques

Shape: Defining an object/ subject by its outline/ edges.

Form: Describing the volume and 3 dimensional nature of a subject

Texture: Quality of the surface detail

Colour: The defining colour(s) of a subject.


1. Freeman, M. (2012) Michael Freeman’s Photo School: Light & Lighting. Lewes: The Ilex Press.

2. Hunter, F. et al (2007) Light: Science and Magic: an Introduction to Photographic Lighting (3rd Edition). Burlington, MA. Focal Press.

3. Montizambert D. (2003) Creative Lighting Techniques for studio photographers, (2nd Edition). London, Amherst Media.

Online references:

1. photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (,

2. photographer Bill Brandt (

Image storage Locations for viewing:




Assignment Aim:

To draw together the different lighting techniques and apply them to one subject.

Personal objective:

To fulfil the assignment requirement, I opted to photograph a portrait set in a controlled studio environment. My choice of subject – a physically fit and lean, yet middle aged male model who has some prior experience of posing for life study students. My choice of submission content was intended to provide a personally more stimulating and challenging set to plan, shoot and submit – when compared to a still life arrangement. The models physique would also provide an appropriate subject to depict the themes of the assignment as a study set.

My objective was also to photograph the full set of images for each part of the assignment brief in one sitting, in a similar manner as a professional portrait photographer; my idea being that to shoot the whole set over a two hour period, the model would stay compliant and interested in the project – as oppose to several shoots on each part of the assignment over several sittings.

From a photographic portrait consideration, I wanted these images to present a meaningful presentation of the subject, focused not just on the physicality of the subject, but also the personality, and with this subject I feel that the transmission of personality over rode much of the personality input from me as the photographer, the images as portrait therefore are hopefully very much about the subject – Dave’. Dave is of strong character and culture, with a strong sense of identity which harbours not just strength but also a notable sense of individualism mixed with a purposeful bold eccentricity. I particularly wanted physical strength to come through in the images recorded for the theme of form - strength of both physical presence and personal attitude; But the sense of ‘being different’ was also my intention, hopefully the remainder of the images for the set reflect the fact that Dave is unique and not afraid to present a degree of discomfort in the interpretation of him by others.

Knowledge based on my acquaintance with the subject provided the basis of this ‘strong in personality and opinion’ theme, with an edge of the eccentric and cultured. Dave as a subject is not always accepted for his opinions and beliefs which can on occasion be transmitted too strongly, an action which may not suit the company at the time, often this strong opinion is derived from notable personal experiences which are outside the realms of his current peer group.


Images for submission


Shape 1:


This first theme was intended to depict the shape of a subject by defining the subjects edges from the surroundings/ background. My plan for this pairing of images was to photograph the subject in silhouette form against a contrasting background, drawing inspiration from fashion photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (, and the nude study work of Bill Brandt.

Both images presented for this theme are not absolute silhouette forms, and my intention was to allow some of the light projected onto the white contrasting background to spill onto the edges of the subjects form therefore adding a sculptural relief to the shape and providing very limited three- dimensionality and interest to the images.

The fist image is a closely framed study of the subject , not presenting the entire figure but rather a cropped study of the upper body, and to emphasise the form of the subject not just by contrast via lighting but by contrast against the frame edges too (by cropping the subject pose which extended beyond the frame). This first image for the set was also intentionally photographed to present an almost ‘cut out image’, with a stark contrast against the over exposed clean white background, although this background overexposure on the image is uneven so as to ensure the viewer that the figure is not actually cut out in photoshop.

Method – Shape 1

Technically the result was achieved by utilising a white paper background roll mounted on a studio frame of 3m width (the same apparatus was employed for the entire set, with the addition of a third key light for later images), accompanied by two flash strobe lights with diffusing softboxes; for these two images the two light sources were placed proximal to the white background. The subject was positioned centrally in the frame/ field of view of the camera with the background white material exceeded the dimensions of the frame.

The subject was not lit by any light source from camera position. A shutter speed of 1/160th of a second was used - synchronised with the two strobe lights via a wired connection to the left most light, the right light operating as a slave unit to the light with wired connection to the camera.

A camera aperture of F10 was used (throughout) to provide a reasonable level of detail and depth of field of the subject. A flash meter was employed to test the two background lights and ensure that the power output of the lights would require a much smaller aperture, of F16 or more, from the camera to correctly expose them. This employed camera setting of F10 ensured that the background would appear overexposed and more brilliantly white compared to the much underlit subject – creating the desired contrast between subject and background.

The subject was placed 1 metre or so in front of the background – this limited the light spill/reflection from the illuminated white background onto the subject – providing the limited sculputural detail to the subject’s muscularity.

Shape 2:

Method - Shape 2

This second offering for the shape theme employed the same techniques as previously described, however a 3/4 view of the subject is depicted – this change in framing achieved by reducing the focal length of the lens to 35mm from 75mm. The subject is still depicted as a silhouette with slight light bounce onto the figure to offer a small degree of three dimensions. The image has also revealed the uneven lighting from the two soft box diffusers, with the lower part of the background falling into shadow; I have left this element in the image to ensure a less cut out image presentation than the previous. However, this background area has been edited in Photoshop using a Gaussian blur to reduce some of the background detailing – so as not to adversely affect the viewer’s attention to the main subject figure. The crop is a subjective selection at the time of photographing.


Form 1:


The principal of these two images was to present the same subject in a more three dimensional, tangible subject, lighting mode, employing both shadow and lighting to provide sculpture to the subject. Again the work of Bill Brandt is relevant here, where he employed both subject pose and the effects of shadow and light to achieve a sense of subject depth and form.

Previous efforts to produce a sense of three dimensions to a subject via lighting technique have influenced my use of lighting in this pairing (seen here in my flickr stream), reference lighting set ups from both Hunter F.etal (2007) and Montizambert D. (2003) were employed also.

Method - Form1:

The same white background studio environment was used to create both of these images, however, the two soft box flash lights were reduced in power setting and the light heads were pointed 45 degrees away from the background and subject, thus reducing the amount of light being transmitted to the background and thus reflected towards the camera; This reduced the amount of light bounce from the background and presented a less contrasted background environment.

The subject was positioned right shoulder forward to the camera with arms crossed, with the intention of providing more detail from the lighting angles employed as the subject’s body would provide a barrier to light movement. The soft box strobe light to the left of the subject was positioned in a position with the soft box head angled more favourable towards the subject, throwing more light on the chest and arms and left part of the face, only one eye was intentionally placed in this area of illumination. The soft box strobe light to the subject’s right was positioned pointing away from the subjects rear right, illuminating the background but throwing less light onto the subject, putting this side of the subjects body into darkness and contrast from the subjects left side.

A third strobe light, positioned alongside and right of the camera, facing the subject, and fitted with a diffusing umbrella was employed, this strobe was set to its lowest power setting, and was used to project a minimal amount of diffused light and therefore to reduce the shadow contrast.

The sense of strength and masculinity of the image was considered in both the models pose and in the camera viewpoint, lowering the tripod position in relation to the subject enhanced the subject’s dominant position in frame and aided the desired narrative of the image.

Form 2:

Method – Form 2

For this second image of form, this same subject was engaged conversantly between poses, the concept being to provide a less contrived sense of depiction. In terms of lighting the principle change to set up was to move the strobe light illuminating the subject from camera point of view. This time the light was positioned to camera left, at an angle of 35-45 degrees from camera angle, the power of the light was also increased, creating a stronger illumination of the subjects right flank and throwing the subjects chest and left side into deeper shadow, however the light bounce from the background illumination maintains some detail in this shadow area.


Texture 1:

Texture 2:


My choice of subject is important with regards to the theme of texture. The subject is a racing cyclist in his mid forties, this by nature means that the subject has spent numerous hours of each year in the natural elements, both rain and shine. This means his skin is aged. I wanted to strongly depict this element as part of the subject’s masculinity.


The first image, taken as the first record of the photo session, was intentionally taken as the subject had just arrived at the studio from a day’s work, the subject was tired and not yet ready to be photographed, this candid pose presents a heavily textured version of the subject, which is aided by the pose.

In this image, the background lighting is at the same setting created for the shape images, the background is therefore rendered over exposed, the lighting of the subject employs light bounce from the two background illuminating soft boxes, and from a strobe light with soft box umbrella positioned behind camera and to camera right, projecting a lesser amount of light on the subject this light was initially set in one position with light emittance set to F10 – corresponding to a correct exposure of the subject, the light was then moved backwards by 50cm approx to reduce the amount of light projected onto the subject and then bounced to the camera sensor.

The angled lighting of the subject from the strobe to rear camera right has helped to exaggerate detail in the subjects skin, combined with the overlap of light from the higher powered background lighting this has helped to vignette the subject in more light at the edges, this has aided the appearance and contrast of the textured areas more central to the subjects body – i.e. more shadow contrast.

The second image in this theme was a more staged presentation, focusing on the most textured part of the subject – his face.

The lighting effect was achieved by, evenly lighting the background with the two diffused strobes on their lowest setting, and by bringing the subject nearer to camera and further away from the background paper. The key light for the subject was place camera left, and quite proximal to the subjects face and at 45 degrees to camera, the power setting of the key light was the same as the background lights, and the resultant background lighting effect was achieved by light fall off (Hunter F.etal (2007)) of these rear lights and lack of fall off of the very proximal key light. The lighting angle picked up the surface skin details and the light source (a diffusing umbrella) was larger than the subject and therefore helped to reduce shadow contrast on the subjects left side.


Colour 1:


Arguably the most difficult theme to address with this particular subject, a pale skinned individual, with no great variations in skin tone; It would have been easy to present the subject in an unnatural light, to present an artificially coloured version. However the two images together are intended to present a meaningful presentation of the subjects’ skin hues.


This first photograph, was intended to provide the lighter background variation of the pairing of images, the background light positioned to camera left was angled to face the background paper and centre of image frame, throwing some light onto the subjects right hand side, the second background diffused strobe was weakened in power but positioned similarly.

The Key light was placed behind the camera, and at same height as camera, and the power output was set to the lowest possible.

The intention was to not create any over exposure of the subject, either via direct lighting of the key light or via enveloping the subject with light bounce from the background; the subjects pale complexion would be too easy to over expose and therefore remove any colour detail

Colour 2:


A slightly more complicated lighting arrangement was employed in this second variation, here the background lighting was set to lowest power, and the strobe right of camera was set lower than the version to camera left, this light was also angled more directly onto the background paper- creating a slight variation in background lighting. The key light with umbrella diffuser was located parallel to camera and to the upper right of the subject, providing the greater highlight to the side of face and shoulder nearest to camera. The suggestion of colour here was intended via a degree of colour contrast of the subject from the background, which was weakly illuminated and provided a cooler colour environment when compared to the subjects visually warmer tones. The directional lighting of the key light was intended to create a sense of colour variation of the subject via light and shadow variation across the models body.


Notes on post production:

All of the images included in this submission were initially photographed as raw files, and then post processed in Photoshop CS5. Post production was intended primarily as an avenue to review each image and then to correct any artefacts or blemishes and on certain images clean up any distractions contained in the background paper. Some images were slightly adjusted in colour, clarity and or sharpness. Per submission theme my editing acknowledgements are listed below,

Of the two images submitted for the theme of shape, the second image was edited in order to reduce some of the detail in the lower background; here a Gaussian blur was used in a layer copy.

For the theme of form, the first image was edited the most, here the background illumination was uneven, with a distracting highlight evident to camera right of subject (seen here in my flickr draft set for the submission)and again the background was selected in a layer copy and a Gradient map was applied as a filter to normalise the lighting effect across the entire background in the image.

The first image provided for the brief of texture was sharpened and the clarity slider and contrast sliders were also employed in CS camera raw to exaggerate the detail of the overall image.

Both images provided for the colour theme were adjusted by reducing contrast and slightly warming the colour settings to help amplify the overall colour nature of a subject with little tonal variation and pallid colouration.


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