Category Archives: 5. Photographic lighting

Exercise: Shiny surfaces

Find a shiny  object and take a photograph from above.  Then make a cone out of tracing paper so that the wide end sits around the object (out of view) and then tapers upwards so that the narrow end just surrounds the lens.  Take another photograph.

The purpose of this exercise is to show how to control light bouncing off of shiny surfaces and minimise reflections.


I decided to use a piece of cutlery – a teaspoon that I had bought previously to use specifically for photography so it does not get scratched by daily use – placed on a piece of black velvet.

What happened:

Hmmm.  This exercise didn’t really go according to plan.  I needed to use a tripod for the exercise but found that I couldn’t swivel the plate on my main general-purpose tripod to allow the camera to point straight downwards.  Luckily my smaller travel tripod allows me to do this but I then had to swap cameras and use my Samsung NX5 as my Nikon D7000 was too heavy for this second tripod.  I tried at first to make a cone out of grease-proof paper but this didn’t work as the paper was too flimsy.   I then found some tracing paper, which was better and easier to use but I still had mixed success – I’ve realised that tracing paper and I don’t really get on and I found it impossible to make a cone where the smallest part was around the lens and where the widest part was out of camera shot.   I shot in RAW and processed the images in Lightroom 5.


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Light from above – no diffuser

The first shot, taken with the light above and the camera pointing straight down, produced a clear reflection in the spoon of me, my tripod and also the beams in the room.  I was anticipating this as the camera was within the family of angles so reflections were to be expected.

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Light from above – tracing paper cone as diffuser

The second shot, this time taken with the cone of tracing paper (albeit a bit hit and miss) to act as a diffuser, is a lot better than the first.  Although there are still some reflections they are much reduced and I am sure that if I had made a more successful cone, more of the incident light would have been diffused and the reflections would have been even less.

Learning points from this exercise:

  • Reflections in shiny objects can be reduced by diffusing the incident light
  • Although I did not spend much  time changing the direction of the light, this exercise has helped me to understand the family of angles (as explained in ‘Light – Science and Magic’ – Hunter et al, 2012).  Certainly this was one instance where ‘doing’ helped my understanding of the theory.


This final exercise in this section, was one too many, both for reasons of timing (I’d taken far too long ploughing through the exercises and was behind schedule for my assignment submission) and motivation (I’d lost the will to live by then).  So, knowing that I wasn’t photographing a shiny surface for my assignment images, I left it until after my assignment had been sent to my tutor and was in the process of tidying up bits and pieces for this part of the course.

I found this exercise a little frustrating, mainly due to my cack-handedness with tracing paper!  The end result was not a particular success in terms of the images as my tracing paper cone didn’t work too well.  however, the second image does demonstrate to a point what the exercise was trying to achieve and I do now understand the theory and mechanics behind avoiding reflections on a shiny surface.



Exercise: Concentrating light

Take a photograph where you have concentrated the light and made it fall onto a specific subject, or part of the subject, leaving the surroundings in shadow.

The purpose of this exercise is to show how light can be concentrated and confined to a specific area.  One way of controlling the direction and radiation of the light in this way is to use a snoot, gobo or grid.  I found a useful article on the Strobist blog which provides useful information about using each of these [1].


The trusty cherub came out again, possibly for the last time, as I wanted to keep the same subject throughout the set of exercises so that I can plainly see the various effects created by the use of different lighting techniques on the same object.  For my light for this exercise I decided to use a small 9 LED torch and tripod that my husband had bought me from a local garage – I don’t have an off-camera flash and I wasn’t too keen on wrapping card around a tungsten lamp due to the heat of the bulb.  I made a snoot by rolling a piece of black card into a small tube and fitting it around the torch.

What happened:

I set up as for the previous exercises on a small table.  I shot in RAW with the camera on a tripod and directly facing the cherub.  As in the previous exercises I used a remote release.  The light was positioned to the left of the subject and at the same level and fitted with the snoot.

Concentrating the light - set-up

Concentrating the light – set-up

I then took a series of photographs for this exercise:

Without snot

Without snoot

Without a snoot or other form of constraint, the light from the torch has lit up most of the left-hand side face of the cherub.

With snoot

With snoot

With a snoot attached to the torch, I was able to concentrate the light and direct it on to the cherub’s eye and cheek area, leaving the rest of the sculpture in shadow.  However I find the lighting here over-concentrated and too harsh and think that I could have solved this problem by moving the subject further away from the light (that Inverse-Square Law again).

With snoot - and some gentle post-processing

With snoot – and some gentle post-processing

After playing around for a few minutes in Lightroom  and lifting the shadows and softening the highlights I got an image that I much preferred.

Snoot with diffuser

With snoot and diffuser

I then fitted a piece of greaseproof paper over the end of the snoot to act as a diffuser.  However this has radiated the light too far over the face and does not achieve the required concentration of light.

Learning points from this exercise:

  • Using a snoot around the light source gives the photographer the opportunity to highlight a specific subject or part of the subject by way of a spotlight effect, leaving the background in shadow
  • The photographer can direct the beam of concentrated light so that it falls where he chooses, giving him the ability to highlight a specific area of the composition of the image through the use of selective lighting and to direct the viewer’s attention
  • The Inverse-Square Law plays a part in how harsh the concentrated light appears – the nearer the light to the subject, the harsher the light
  • Gobos and grids, terms which I had not come across before prior to this exercise, can also assist in the concentration and direction of light.


This is number thirteen of the fourteen exercises in this part of the course and to be honest I’ve lost the will to live a little now;  I just wanted to get this one done and in the bag.        Saying that it was a useful exercise leading in to the assignment and I can appreciate the benefit of learning hands-on.  Finding the Strobist blog was a bonus and I’m going to do some reading up on grids and gobos shortly as I can see that these are other key pieces in the very complex lighting jigsaw.

I’ve realised that I’m going to have to think about space when I’m shooting the assignment and make sure that I can position my light(s) far enough away from the subject if need be.

On a final note, the cherub has now had its moment of glory and will be off to the nearest charity shop shortly.

[1] Source: Hobby D, (2006)  Lighting 101: Snoots and Gobos and Grids [online].  Strobist.  Available from  [accessed 04 February 2014]

Exercise: Contrast and shadow fill

Using a simple still-life as the subject, take eleven photographs using specified types of reflector at varying distances from the subject.

The purpose of this exercise is to consider contrast and shadow fill and how to learn how they are created and manipulated by the use of different coloured reflectors and the distance that these are used from the subject.


I made my reflector using a large white card and kitchen foil. The cherub sculpture came out again for this exercise so at least she is earning her keep.  My diffuser was looking a bit sad so I strengthened the sides with some cardboard strips to keep it more rigid and manoeuvrable.  It won’t win any prizes for beauty but hey, it works.

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What happened:

The camera was positioned directly in front of the subject with the light (desk lamp with a tungsten bulb)  placed to the left hand side level with the subject and about two feet away.  I began by taking two pictures, one with a naked light and the second using the diffuser between the lamp and the subject.  I then took a series of images, using a diffused light, firstly using a large white card opposite the light as a reflector and held at 36” and 18” away from the subject.  The card was then covered with aluminium kitchen foil, dull side facing the subject (and the light) and another two shots taken at the distances above.  The foil was then reversed so that the shiny side was towards the light and finally was crumpled, flattened and the shiny side used as a reflector.

No reflector:

Naked lamp without diffuser

Naked lamp  – no diffuser

With diffuser

With diffuser

The image taken using the diffuser is less harsh than the one taken with the naked lamp – the light seems softer and has more of a wrap-around effect.

White card reflector:

White card 36" away

White card 36″ away

White card 18 away

White card 18″ away

The use of a white card as a reflector introduced light into the previously shaded side of the cherub.  The reflector held 36″ away bounced light back onto the subject and you can see how the details are starting to become more apparent.  When the distance between the cherub and the reflector was halved to 18″  the amount of light bounced back onto the shaded side increased by four times (this is due to the rule of the Inverse-Square Law).  This has given an overall softer look and lifted the shadows further to reveal more detail.

Silver foil reflector:

Dull foil - 36"

Dull foil – 36″

Foil dull side - 18"

Dull foil – 18″

Foil shiny side up - 36"

Shiny foil – 36″

Foil shiny side - 18"

Shiny foil – 18″

Crumpled - 36"

Crumpled foil (shiny side) – 36″

Crumpled foil (shiny side) – 18″

At a distance of 36″, the dull surface gave an overall fairly even lighting and soft modelling whilst the shiny surface made for much harsher effect and appearing to reflect light strongly back onto the left hand side of the cherub’s face.  The details of the face are more pronounced.  The crumpled foil with the shiny side up made for the most pleasing light – a halfway house between the dull and shiny foil – softer and not as harsh as the shiny foil and with more shadow fill but providing more modelling and detail than the dull foil.

At a distance of 18″, the same types of effects as above were seen however, due to the Inverse-Square Law, whilst the distance was halved the amount of light thrown back was four fold.  This meant that the cherub had more light reflected onto it on each occasion and the shadows produced were softer.

Black card:

Black card - 36"

Black card – 36″

Black card - 18"

Black card – 18″

I then took some shots again with a diffuser and using black card as a reflector.  Here it is noticeable that the reflected light is significantly reduced and there are heavy shadows on the right hand side of the cherub.  The Inverse-Square law appears to be reversed here as the image where the black reflector is nearer the subject is the slightly darker one.  In both cases the cherub is now heavy and lifeless with the heavy shadow resulting in loss of detail.

Learning points from this exercise:

  • The use of reflectors when lighting a subject can be used to create different visual levels of detail and modelling
  • By controlling the way light falls upon a subject, the photographer can create different moods in his images
  • Different materials used as a reflector allow different amounts of light to be bounced off the subject for example shiny surfaces cause much stronger shadowing than dull ones
  • By using the reflector at different distances from the subject I’ve learnt about, and understood, the Inverse-Square Law
  • It is possible to use items from around the house to make reflectors that produce the required effects well enough at this stage without the need for expensive equipment.


This was an interesting exercise as I had no idea what the outcomes of using the various reflectors would be and I feel that I’ve learnt a lot, much of which will be useful for the assignment.  Having not felt particularly comfortable shooting the last exercise, when I felt that I needed at least one more pair of hands, I feel that this one went a lot better with regard to the set-up aspects.  Strengthening my diffuser helped and I found everything was a lot more manageable.  This meant that I enjoyed this exercise more than I anticipated and I now feel more positive about the practicalities of the assignment.

In hindsight I wonder whether I would have been better off not using a diffuser when shooting the images as this may have made the differences between various types of reflector more apparent, however the images I took do enable me to see the different effects.  I also think this exercise could also have been really interesting if it had been shot in black and white, which I think would have really shown off the difference in tones.

[1]  O’Nolan, J. (2012)  Rules for Perfect Lighting: Understanding The Inverse-Square Law [online].  Tuts+.  Available from–photo-3483    [Accessed 09 February 2014]

Exercise: The lighting angle

Choose a subject that is no larger than the diffuser and is rounded with relief.  Take eleven photographs using the light, fitted with a diffuser, in specified positions.  

Having now learned about using a light diffuser in the previous exercise, the purpose of this exercise is to explore how different lighting angles impact upon the subject.


The course notes emphasised that the chosen subject needed to have a variety of planes to show  differences in light and shadow and suggested using a face or a piece of sculpture as a subject.  I struggled to find a suitable object around the house as I’m not into ornaments and the troupe of garden gnomes that were in residence when we moved into our house in 2012 have long since departed.  In the end I bought an extremely hideous plaster cherub ornament from a charity shop, which is where it will go back to after I’ve finished these exercises.

What happened:

I set up on a small table and used the diffuser that I had made for the previous exercise.  The camera was positioned on a tripod in front of, and on the same level as the subject and the cherub was then lit from the front, side, back and side and finally from the back with the light also level to the subject.  This sequence was then repeated with the light held above the subject and looking down at an angle of 45 degrees.  A final three images were then shot with the diffused light overhead, pointing downwards and placed firstly directly above the subject, then slightly in front and slightly behind.

I shot the images in RAW with the camera on a tripod and using a wireless remote release.  I used tungsten white balance and, apart from sharpening, I have done no post-processing as I wanted to keep the shadow and detail ‘as shot’ for this exercise.

Light level with the object:


Level light – front

The first shot, lit from the front, lit the subject fairly evenly, creating a little shadow in the detail, but overall gave quite a flat and boring result.


Level light – side

The second shot was lit from the left and threw the far side of the cherub’s face into shadow whilst still showing detail, creating a more interesting image than the previous one.

Behind and to the side

Level light -behind and to the side

The third shot, lit from the behind and to the side, caused the whole of the face to be in shadow yet the detail could still be seen.  This is my favourite image of the four in this series.


Level light – behind

The final shot was lit directly from behind.  The cherub now almost resembles a silhouette and lit the edge of the face nicely.  There is however a lot of glare in this image, even though a diffuser was used, which is something I will need to be careful with when shooting the assignment.

Light above and pointing down at 45 degrees:

High light - front

High light – front

The first shot, lit directly from the front with a higher light, shows more modelling detail than where the light was level with the camera.

High light - side

High light – side

The second shot in this series was lit directly from the side was quite similar to the low level equivalent with the shadow side quite dark and adding depth to the image.

High light - behind and side

High light – behind and to the side

The third shot, where the light is behind and to the side, is much darker than the previous two and shows off the details and relief of the cherub nicely.  Shame that the diffuser is showing at the back of the shot – will need to take care of details like this when shooting the assignment.

high light - behind

High light – behind

The final shot in the series was taken with the light behind and is nearly in silhouette, however there are some lighting details in the hair due to the light being above the object.  There is also a light highlight on the cherub’s left cheek, almost Rembrandt in style, due to the higher position of the light.

Light directly above, then just in front and just behind:

Light above - directly overhead

Overhead light – directly above

The final series of images lit the cherub from directly above and then just in front and just behind.  In the first shot, the light directly above lights the top of the head and throws shadows downwards.  The cherub’s nose and upper lip have caught the light as they protrude out further than the rest of the face.  The shadows have given the image depth and volume, otherwise known as ‘form’ and this is my favourite image of this series due to this.

Overhead - slightly in front

Overhead light – just in front

The second shot in the series was taken with the light overhead and just in front of the subject shows less shadow than in the previous image.  The face appears flatter although not as much as when the light source was level and at the front (the very first image in this exercise); there is still some contrast and modelling apparent although the highlights on the face are harsh on the brow and hair.

Light overhead - just behind

Overhead light – just behind

The final shot of this series, taken with the light overhead and just behind the cherub, shows modelling and contrast with softer highlights than the previous image.  I would have expected the image to be darker with more of a silhouette look to it.  Unfortunately the shadow of the diffuser has crept into this image.

Learning points from this exercise:

  • Different positions and direction of a single light source will show different qualities in the subject
  • The photographer can use this knowledge to position the light source to bring out the qualities he requires from his subject
  • Lighting can be used to create volume and depth (‘form’) in an image
  • When shooting images using photographic light the photographer must also consider how the light will fall on the background as well as on the object
  • For me,  a light source directly above the subject produced the most pleasing image.  It would be interesting to play subtly with the overhead light direction and the position of the subject to see how the image could be improved further.


I found this exercise quite cumbersome to do; I could have done with an extra pair of hands or a lighting stand and I found the whole process of shooting with the light held above the subject and also managing a diffuser quite awkward.  Saying that, it was useful to be hands on and physically manipulate the direction of the light to see the effect on the subject.  I did get a lot out of the exercise though as this is the first time that I have taken pictures of the same subject from so many different angles as well as angles I would not normally have chosen, such as directly from the front.  I think that there are a lot of pointers as to how to set up for the assignment images to be found here.

Of the images that I took for this exercise, my favourite was taken lit from above with the light directly overhead.  I think that it shows a good balance of highlight and contrast and there is a  good depth to the image without loss of detail from too much shadow.  Overall this image manages to combine some of the best features of the others.

Light above - directly overhead

Overhead light – directly above

I did not worry about the background in this exercise and it is noticeable that in a couple of the images the background shows shadowing.  This is something that I will need to pay attention to when shooting the assignment.

Because I found it quite difficult to shoot the images, even with using a remote release, and hold the light as well as the diffuser above the subject, I realise that I am going to have to think carefully about my lighting arrangements for the assignment and how to construct my set up.

Exercise: Softening the light

Set up a still-life arrangement and take two photographs; the first using a naked lamp and the second using a diffuser.  Make a note of the differences that you see.

The purpose of this exercise is to show how the use of a diffuser between the light source and the subject softens the light and how this affects the shadows and detail of the subject.


My first thought was to see what lighting equipment I had that I could use for this exercise.  An angle poise lamp with a tungsten bulb would provide my light source, however I do not have a diffuser.  I decided to make one so I found a rectangular cardboard fruit box/tray in my local supermarket, cut off the sides and then cut a rectangular hole in the base, leaving a cardboard frame about 2 inches wide all the way round.  I then taped kitchen greaseproof paper over the hole.

Home-made diffuser

Home-made diffuser – with wine bottle to show scale

My next consideration was to choose an object that I thought would provide interesting shadows and show a strong contrast between the two photographs. First up I tried the exercise with a large fir cone but found there was not much difference to be seen between the diffused and non-diffused images.  After struggling a little to find something that better suited the purpose of the exercise, I decided to use a copper bangle.

What happened:

I set up on a small table with the light positioned above and slightly behind the bangle as I found that this direction produced the most interesting shadows.  I shot the images in RAW with the camera on a tripod and using a wireless remote release.

I used tungsten white balance and, apart from sharpening, I have done no post-processing as I wanted to keep the shadow and detail ‘as shot’ for this exercise.

Lamp - no diffuser

Lamp – no diffuser

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Lamp – with diffuser

Learning points:

  • Using a diffuser softens the light and produces softer shadows and highlights
  • It is up to the photographer to determine the look he wants for his image and whether to use a diffuser or not to create the strength of the shadows and highlights that he’s after
  • The exposure settings differed between the two images.  Both images were taken at f/9 with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/8 second for the naked lamp and of 1/5 second when the diffuser was used
  • Moving the light into different positions created different strengths and shapes of shadows (this point is covered in detail in the next exercise).


Indoor lighting is new to me and whilst this is a basic exercise to show the effect of softening the light I found it useful to reinforce the learning points – in this respect, whilst I like reading, I sometimes find it easier to learn by ‘doing’ and seeing the produced result, which was the case here.

Of the two images I prefer the one taken without the diffuser as I like the harder lines of the shadows that the naked light produces. I think these work better with the subject that I chose than the softer shadows due to the bangle’s clean solid shape and strong curves.   The naked light also showed stronger contrast and the position of the shadows at the front base of the bangle make the bangle look darker.  Overall the diffuser gives a much softer overall look to the image, with softer colours and duller highlights.  The latter could however be fixed in post-processing.