Assignment 4 – Languages of Light

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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.
Include a link (or scanned pages) to Exercise 4.5 in your learning log for your tutor’s comments.

This set of images in an extension of Exercise 4.4, ‘Ex Nihilo’; and is displayed as a slideshow because it is influenced by the cinematography of Christopher Doyle and Film Noir.  See the full size images here.

For the original exercise;  4.4 – Ex nihilo,  I photographed a Buddha head and a tulip.  Both items were transformed by different lighting positions, colours and strengths.  Being primarily a people photographer, I wanted to explore how different lighting effected mood and impact on the human form.  However, I was also very taken with the lighting in Christopher Doyle’s work and how he used colour and contrast to create his style of cinematography, particularly that used in  the movies “in the mood for love” and “happy together” and the “the white girl”.

screenshot of Pinterest search for ‘Christopher Doyle Cinematography’

In researching Doyle’s work I cam across the genre of ‘Film Noir’ which had a lot of correlation with his work.  Below is a screen shot of a google search for ‘film noir’

screen shot of google images search for ‘film noir’

I decided to create a set of images that echoed this genre, but instead of black and white as would be usual for Film Noir, I wanted to try and emulate some of the colouring and techniques of Christoper Doyle.

“During the minutes or seconds that this fleeting  image is on the screen, you have to enable the viewer to see and especially to experience that there is a very rapid emotional shock. So the lighting has to be designed in such a way that its form can pierce through the screen and travel like an arrow into the viewer’s mind.” — Henri Alekan

This quote from Henri Alekan, made me think that in still photography we have the luxury of the viewer being able to stop and look at an image for as long as they like, but I still wanted to try and capture the experience he talks of.


In preparation for taking these images, I found a number of images, like the one below by Julia Ivanova and tried to work out how they had been lit.

image by Julia Ivanova, converted to black and white with contrasts pushed to their limits, in order work out where the light is coming from.

I also spoke with Paul Knott who is chief lighting technician in the Dorfman Theatre at The National Theatre, and discovered that many directors now only use a few lights in different combinations to light the actors and sets. He advised that I should only need one or two lights to get this effect.  

Technical Approach and Evaluation

Each image was set up separately based on classic film noir images.  Therefore, each image is annotated below:

Image 1

Image 1 – two lights: one dish with honeycomb and white light and one speed light behind the man with a red gel.    Added dutch tilt to accentuate the blind.

room set up for image 1

Image 2

Image 2 – composite image: image one was taken with slow shutter speed on a tripod in order to capture the ambient lighting in and behind the car.  image two flash light with small dish on outside of the car, to light man’s face.  It started raining just as we set up and I think this added to the overall ambiance of the image.

Image 3

Image 3 – one white speedlight, head height on a stand with small dish, gave a nice shadow on the wall behind the man.

Image 4

Image 4 – two speedlights, no gels, placed either side of the man to light up, his face under the hat.  Used a black reflector behind his head, but eventually cut him out and added black background. smoke added in post processing.

Image 5

Image 5 – two lights, one in the room at top of the stairs to blow out the details in the room and a speedlight with an orange gel and snoot, pointed through the bannister at the man’s head to suggest an open door.  Chose this image because you get a glimpse of man’s face and the hard shadow on the wall.

Image 6

Image 6 – one speedlight with dish and honeycomb.  Lamp was angled down on man’s face.  Use higher ISO to capture light from the table lamp as well.

Contact sheets for all of the images can be seen here

The images are deliberately high contrast and the blue/yellow ratio was adjust to give a ‘filmic’ feel to the images.

Reflection and Evaluation

The final set of images are the original idea I had and I am really pleased that I went back and finished it.

I also shot a separate set, using natural light around my home, which can be seen below:

I’m not sure if this was crisis of confidence or a real attempt to capture light in a different way?  I put this set on the student forum for critique and although most people found them ok and my tutor commented that they met the brief, one response was that “they were a bit safe”.  This made me think that I shouldn’t settle for these and I went back to my original idea.  I’m so glad I did.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of ‘creating’ the images and am lucky that my husband is accommodating when it comes to modelling for me!.  I feel that in order to get the most out of this course, I need to stick to my guns and challenge myself, rather than play it safe with a set of images I don’t really connect with.  

I think the final set of images are more personal and representative of my photography and I think they evidence that I can meet the descriptors of the ‘Creativity’ assessment criteria as outlined below

Assessment criteria: Creativity
Many new students give the wish to be more ‘creative’ as one of their main reasons for enrolling on the programme, but at the same time ‘Creativity’ is the assessment criterion that seems to create a sense of bafflement, if not
downright confusion, in many Level 1 students. As you can see from the taxonomy, the descriptors include imagination, invention, experimentation and development of a personal voice. At Level 1 you’re not expected to have found your ‘personal voice’ (expressing your personal voice will be one of the main aims of your Level 3 portfolio),
but we are looking for a personal response and a willingness to experiment and venture out of your comfort zone.

Exercise 4.5 which also demonstrates creativity can be seen here