Category Archives: Notes

Good books that I used to research and plan for the subject illustration and Narrative and Assignment V

When I was studying for section five of my Art of Photography course, illustration and narrative, I purchased and read two very good books by AVA publications,  basics Creative Photography series, Context and Narrative by Marie Short and making Photographs by Mike Simmons.

Basics_Creative_Photography_Making_Photographs Basics_Creative_Photography_Context_and_Narrative

Making Photographs by Mike Simmons is a good book to use to help find ideas and then create a working plan for your photography project.  This book helped me develop the ideas for creating images for my exercises and helped my find the idea for using the M.R. James story for my assignment and story board it with sketched ideas for images.

Context and Narrative helped me with ideas of subject matter and a better understanding and use of juxtaposing images.

Both these books have case studies and exercises at the end of each chapter.  Both are good books and I will revisit then for my new course which is ‘Context and Narrative’.

Formal elements in art and composition

From the world of art and the compositional analysis of paintings, the formal elements are: line, shape, tone and form, texture, space and colour.  (Basics Photography 01, Composition, David Prakel, AVA.)

line DSC_6326-Edit-resized

shape  Wedding-5825

tone & form Low_Res-7603

texture  Patterns-8-resized

space  DSC_5785-Edit-resized

colour  DSC_6325-Edit-resized



Using the tungsten colour gel on a speedlight for effect.

A technique that I learned whilst on a training course with Nikon.

Colour cast flash-4 (1 of 1) Colour cast flash-2 (1 of 1) Colour cast flash-3 (1 of 1) Colour cast flash-1 (1 of 1)

The speedlight was set up on a tripod with an amber tungsten compensation gel fitted and the camera’s white balance was set to tungsten.  The result is to create an evening feel with the blue light behind the subject as a result of the tungsten setting making the sunlight colder but the face of the subject retains natural colour.  The darker images suggest the evening  glow of a bright sunset.

Books and websites that I have used for narrative and illustration

The books read for this subject (illustration and narrative) are:

Context and Narrative, Maria Short, Basics Creative Photography 02, AVA.

Making Photographs, Mike Simmons, Basics Creative Photography, AVA.

The Fundamentals of Creating Photography, David Prakel, AVA.

Train Your Gaze second edition, Roswell Angier, Bloomsbury.

The Photograph, Graham Clarke, Oxford University Press.

Photography a Critical Intruduction fourth edition, Liz Wells, Routledge.

The photograph as Contemorary Art, Charlotte Cotton, Thames & Hudson world of art.

Websites browsed:


In simple terms reciprocity is the relationship between aperture and shutter-speed.

Film or electronic light sensors are designed to be very sensitive to light and therefore the light must be controlled in order to avoid over-exposure.

A camera controls the amount of light from reaching the sensitive film or sensor by the aperture in the lens and the shutter-speed in the camera body. The aperture controls the light intensity and the shutter-speed controls duration.

The wider the aperture; so allowing greater more light intensity to expose the film or sensor the shorter time the film or sensor can be exposed to the light, before we have a problem with over-exposure.

A simple analogy for reciprocity is making toast: Toast can be made on a high heat for a short time to get a perfect brown finish or toasted at a lower heat for a longer period of time to obtain the same result.
Substitute the idea of toast for film or sensor and consider the light acting just like the heat. The brighter / more intense the light the shorter the exposure time required and the dimmer the light the longer the exposure time will be required to obtain the same results.

A practice example in photography, the camera set to ISO 100 a shutter-speed (sec = seconds) of 1/30sec, f/5.6 (10 EV) will produce the same exposure as 1/60sec, f/4, (10 EV) the same as 1/125sec, f/2.8 (10 EV) the same as 1/250sec, f/2 (10 EV)
As the aperture opens wider; so the shutter time must shorten to compensate. These combinations can be charted on a table and allocated a single number to described all the same exposure values. All the above combinations are known as 10 EV on an exposure-value (EV) table (based on an ISO 100).

To sum up, reciprocity can offer the photographer a number of combined aperture and shutter setting to achieve the same exposure. The choice however, may be based upon a required depth of field or a need for speed to capture a specific moment. There is an inevitable trade off, one for the other, a smaller depth of field will require a larger aperture and thus a faster shutter-speed. A smaller aperture for a greater depth of field requires a slower shutter speed. These combinations can be referred to as an exposure value (EV) number. This is the basic rule of reciprocity.

Basics Photography 07, Exposure. By David Prakel. Published by AVA Publishing

Using my camera’s histogram

Studio shot (1 of 1)
In this exercise, I practised using my speedlight off camera for a still life. I set the speedlight in a soft-box fitted to a lighting boom and stand and complimented with a white reflector to bounce light back to fill the shadows.
metered exposure (1 of 1)For metered image (1 of 1)
My first image illustrated the result from the camera’s recommended metered exposure. As you can see the lace table cloth is grey rather than white. Immediate right is an image of the Histogram display as recorded by my camera for this shot. Note that the highlights are towards the left and closer to the centre. This is because light meters use grey as their mid-point to work-out an average exposure. Therefore a white subject or large area of white will typically be underexposed looking grey rather than white.
Improoved exposure (1 of 1)For improoved image (1 of 1)
For this next image I have adjusting the aperture from by one stop from f/22 to f/16 which has brightened the picture and changed the grey table cloth to a much brighter white. As you can see from the accompanying image of my camera’s Histogram the graph has shifted over to the right, but is still within an expectable tolerance.
Flowers for Sarahs Angels-1 (1 of 1)Final image (1 of 1)
In the final image I recomposed to eliminate the dark area top right of my last picture which was the edge of my backdrop. As you can see I made no other changes and the histogram is the same as my last picture.

This emphasises the importance of the histogram as an aid to making good exposures and to make reviewing this information as a matter of habit as part of best practice. This will inevitably improve my photos, help to obtain consistent results and cut down the work time in Lightroom / Photoshop.

Good books for lighting

Light Science & Magic, Fourth Edition, by: Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul Fuqua. Published by Focal Press, Taylor & Francis Group.

Basics Photography 07, Exposure. By David Prakal. Published by AVA academia.

Basics Photography 02, Light. By David Prakel. Published by AVA academia.

Digital Portrait Photography and Lighting. By Catherine Jamieson, Sean McCormick. Published by Wiley Publishing Inc. ISBN: 0-471-78128-2.

Direction & Quality of Light. By Neil Van Niekerk. Published by Amhurst Media. ISBN: 13: 978-1608955701

Subject-contrast, Subject-brightness-range and Lighting-ratio

Film and digital sensors are limited in the subject brightness range that they can handle and so it is important to understand these limitations, especially for studio work and when fine detail must be recorded that are found in both dark and bright areas of the same image.

Subject-contrast can present a challenge when photographing something with very dark shadows and bright highlights or is a mixture of very dark and very bright tones that both require exposing without loosing detail.

Subject-contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest tones in an evenly lit subject.
An evenly lit grey object would have no contrasting tones where as a black and white object would have extreme contrasting tones.

Subject-contrast can be described as a ratio against an exposure stop.
Therefore a subject contrast requiring a 1 stop adjustment of exposure compensation is described as a ratio of 2:1.
For every 1 stop increase the ratio doubles, therefore:
2 stops – 4:1
3 stops – 8:1
4 stops – 16:1
5 stops – 32:1
6 stops – 64:1
7 stops – 128:1
For half stops, the equivalent ratio sits in between for example 1.5 stops – 3:1. 2.5 stops – 6:1, etc.

Images that are considered high contrast are those that have a contrast ratio of 32:1 or above between the darkest and brightest parts of the image.

Low contrast images are when the difference between the darkest and brightest part are below 2:1 in difference.

Subject-brightness-range is the combination of subject contrast and lighting contrast. The subject contrast ratio is multiplied by the lighting contrast ratio to obtain an overall contrast ratio the camera sees.
For example a subject with a contrast of 4:1 is lit by lights in a ratio of 8:1 will produce an overall subject brightness range of 32:1 (4×8=32) This represents 5 stops adjustment on the camera from the suggested exposure setting given by the in camera reflective reading light meter.

By understanding this problem studio lights for an example can be set to different output settings to compensate for where additional light is needed but less light is requires else where.
An example would be a model wearing black trousers and a white shirt may require less light against the shirt and more light against the black trousers to record both highlight and shadow detail.

Basics Photography 02 – Lighting, by David Prakel, published by AVA

White on white

I gave myself a little challenge to take a challenging image of a white subject against a white background.
Following the steps outlined in Light Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Faqua, published by Focal Press.

White on white-resized

I used a Nikon SB910 speedlight inside a soft-box fitted to a tripod that straddled the set. The speedlight was controlled by a Pocket Wizard for off camera remote control. A black card was placed to the left of the subject to help with modelling, a black gobo was suspended above the subject to create a shadow on the top of the head and prevent a highlight from forming and obscuring the top detail. A reflector was also employed as a fill light to soften shadows on and below the face. I used a handheld light meter to take an incident reading and stopped down from f/22 as recommended by the light meter to f/19 to obtain a nice white background instead of an 18% grey background.

I have only sharpened and converted to black and white in lightroom without any adjustments to contrast, tones, or exposure, etc.

Set (1 of 1)

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

When spending a long weekend in Liverpool for the Aintree, Grand National, I visited the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
Amongst the many paintings, sculptures and photographs, I was particularly drawn to three paintings that used colour or light to great effect.

“Amity” by Bernard Fleetwood-Walker. 1933.
Girl in pastel blue dress with pastel green cardigan and red shoes holding a Dandelion, boy in white shirt, grey trousers and navy hat in hand. The two teenagers are on a hill, pick-nicking; there is a suggestion of sexual tension as the boy regards the flower and maybe also her chest, whilst the girl is looking away with one foot half way out of the shoe.

I liked this picture for the subtle use of complementary colours, the cleaver pose of the two models and the contrasting red shoes providing a possible narrative to the image presented to the viewer.

“Orpheus and Eurydice” by George Frederick Watts.
In Greek Mythology, Orpheus is said to have invented music and was a favourite of the Gods. He met and fell in love with Eurydice the most beautiful women in the world, who tragically dies and descends to the house of Hyades the underworld for the dead. However, the Gods take pity on Orpheus and allows him to enter Hyades to bring his wife back from the dead, on the condition that he does not look upon her beautiful face until they return to the world of the living. This painting illustrates the moment just after Orpheus has succumbed to temptation and looked upon his wife’s face before reaching the surface and she has fallen back into his arms dead.

I liked the use of light and shade in this composition. Eurydice’s face is hidden in shadow; so illustrating Orpheus’ lose of both her soul and beauty. A hard light source is used to illuminate Orpheus and cast a hard shadow across Eurydice’s face to represent death. Very little use of colour, this image relies on light and shade only.

Whilst admiring some 20th centaury painters, I noted that James Hamilton was influenced by Whistler’s thoughts that colour was like music tones and can make harmony.