Assignment Four – Applying lighting techniques

For this assignment my tutor suggested couple things, firstly that my subject should be three dimensional, should have an area of colour, need to have an area of texture which isn’t shiny like chrome surfaces. Although he suggested that I don’t need to be creative for this, I decided to go with portraits of an actual person in different light situations rather than a boring still life composition.

Planning and research

Yes, I wrote it down properly this time and actually followed the plan, which was to create 8 photographs depicting shape, form, texture and colour.


I planned to photograph my subject against a dark background while she’s illuminated from the back, just like Philip-Lorca diCorcia [1] did with one of the images of the Heads series when he placed a flash above people and as they were walking pass on the street, he pressed the shutter. For daylight situation I was thinking I could create the inverse version of this, very light background with underexposed subject creating a black silhouette.


Another way of showing the shape of the subject is using light and shadows to create three dimensional effect. I had two locations in mind; one is a coffee shop or restaurant with large windows, shooting the subject from outside including some foreground element, the subject is in focus lit by soft light coming from above, and show some detail in the background, creating a layered composition, similar to William Eggleston’s [2] Untitled image from 1970 of a kid bicycle; and an open field an hour before sunset using the golden hour light as a backdrop for a backlit portrait, filling some shadows with a reflector.


The quality of the surface detail, such as skin. To be able to show most of the skin detail, I was planning to shoot in harsh light conditions beware of overexposing the image. As diCorcia’s [3] other image from the Heads series, the idea is to shoot in daylight (or in his case it was a flash from above) against a dark background and the sun is only hitting one side of the face from above resulting harsh shadow on the other side of the face or the light is directly above the head creating very unflattering shadows under the eyes and nose. A different way to show texture is to shoot the subject under harsh light but there is something else between the light source and the subject causing interesting shadows, patterns and textures, I was inspired by this photograph  Light and shadow by Arseniy Semyonov.


To show true colour quality, the subject should be evenly lit, my idea is to shoot in the golden hour again but this time the subject is facing into the light, since it is coming from the side, there are no shadows just even golden light on the face. A good example I found is Thomas Ruff’s passport like Portrait [4] even though it wasn’t taken outside, he created a nice, almost completely even and warm light. Another idea is to shoot on an overcast day when the sky is a giant soft box, distributing light evenly, also using cloudy white balance setting is ideal as the skin would look blueish otherwise. Joel Sternfeld [5] and Jitka Hanzlova [6] photographs of strangers were probably taken on a cloudy day too as there are only tiny shadows around the subjects’ faces.

In terms of unusual and attractive lighting, I was thinking to add a flash or a battery operated LED light to add interest to the images, hopefully I will have the time to play with them.

Final images



I managed to create only the inverse version of what I originally planned, however it didn’t quite turned out the way I wanted, It was a very cloudy day so there wasn’t any harsh light coming in so I processed into a black and white image to strengthen contrast.


I was close to put this image into the previous section but I think the model isn’t isolated enough from the dark background, but she is lit from the side, the composition has the foreground element, the background out of focus, there is also a reflection of a man where the model is gazing adding more depth and interest to the photograph.


Golden hour portrait as planned, the sun is illuminating the model’s hair, I used a gold reflector on the right side to fill some shadows and creating highlights, giving dimensions to the face.


Similar set up but this time the sun is on the left side highlighting the hair, shadows on the right slightly filled with a gold reflector.




It was a cloudy day so there was no chance for harsh sunlight, but bringing the model closer to the window and shooting from above is a recipe for highlighting skin imperfections.



This time the model is facing to the sun, I didn’t use reflector so I’m not sure why the face and the neck is warmer the shoulder and hand, could be make up or tan, I didn’t notice it at the time of the shoot, could it be the fact that this kind of flat light is showing the true colour of the skin? I hope that’s the case.


The last image was taken in a shaded area, I exposed for the model’s face using shade white balance setting. It was fairly good straight out of camera, I only made small adjustments to achieve the closest match to her skin colour.


Sadly we didn’t have time to play with different lights, I really wanted to try to shoot through some lace materials to create patterns on the face or create something similar to Arseniy Semyonov’s photograph, but there was no direct sun, we were lucky to get about 15 minutes of it before sunset. All in all I enjoyed preparing for this assignment the best so far, it really does make a difference when there is a clearly written plan to follow. I feel I gained better understanding of the light behavior, I particularly enjoyed shooting through a large window creating interesting reflections and incorporating these into my compositions.

[1] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 20.

[2] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 11.

[3] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 46.

[4] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 106.

[5] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 108.

[6] Charlotte Cotton – The photograph as contemporary art, page 109.


Feedback and Reflection

Please find my tutor’s report here.

I didn’t choose the best subject for this assignment but I wanted to continue working with people as this is the area i’m aiming for, my tutor appreciated the fact that I didn’t have much gear to work with either, I could have taken an easier route but I wanted to follow my interest and progress in portrait photography. The research is improving every time, I still need to add a Research and Reflection page which I will do once I wrote articles to publish about the books I have read so far. I love to read and I’m really enjoying the books, sadly I had to start them many times as over time I have forgotten even though I took notes, just too much time passed as still struggling because of my work commitments.



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