Gentle introduction to studio lighting.

The last couple of days I have been perusing the diagrams and written explanations in Light, Science and Magic.  It will take a few more days for it all to be digested. All that information will, I am sure, become invaluable as I progress. I have decided though that this book needs to be read alongside various online tutorials.  The number of tutorials are vast but trying to work out which tutorial is going to be the most useful is a time consuming business.

I have also decided to start from absolute basics. As I am new to the subject of studio style of lighting this is really the only option. In the last module on colour I could barely name primary colours when I started, so I applied the same principal and worked up from school child colour theory up to Johannes Itten over the weeks.  It worked. So my ‘school girl’ introduction to studio lighting comes in the form of this: Last accessed 29/01/2014

Here, in two tutorials, McCordall covers what can be achieved with equipment found in the garden shed and what can be achieved from it.  With simple desk lamps and cardboard he demonstrates that professional results can be achieved with some time and effort.  I find this highly reassuring for my bank balance and the upcoming assignment.

I also watched another of his tutorials on several options for studio lighting and the pro’s and cons of each. I do possess some continuos lighting and strobes and found that now I can start to make choices through the strengths of each.  In the short term, until I understand lighting issues I have come to the conclusion that using continuous lighting would be the most simple way forward.  One issue though is that my continuos lighting lamp is EXTREMELY hot and a fire hazard, so diffusing the light needs to be thought about carefully.

At some point I need to just get on with it and play. Hopefully on a day when I can have everybody out at work/ school and the phone off the hook.  I am disproportionately concerned about lighting and have avoided the subject in favour for more intuitive photography but now being forced to I am hoping the reality of outcomes is better then I am currently fearing.

I will add tutorials watch below as and when I watch them so I can easily find them again.


Time for some reflection.

After the colour module that I thoroughly enjoyed, I enter this part of AoP with some trepidation. The first part of this unit I am already reasonably well versed with albeit I never take it for granted that the exercises won’t reveal a weakness in my knowledge.  However, the second part I do anticipate struggling with as I have, to date, avoided anything resembling still life and studio lighting. I am slightly phobic of buttons, gadgets, numbers and science.

In a way I wish this unit was split so that I could spend more time on learning studio work as one module. I would have liked to have seen more exercises based on studio work to help me along my way.  It’s my intention not to spend any more time on the outdoor ambient exercises then I need to, albeit I am held to ransom by January weather. A couple of the more time consuming exercises require sunlight which is not now forecast for over a week. 

In fact, I am wondering if it might be better to concentrate on the studio lighting exercises first ….which would make sense while I am trying to recover from prolonged bronchitis.  

Part of my anxiety is that I love working with ambient light and the challenges it brings.  In this image below I could have used strobes but actually it’s dangerous to have lights ‘popping’ in this environment. I benefit from the D700 sensor which is still a very beautiful handler of all things low light.  But I also know that rising to this lighting challenge now may open up other options  and new areas of photography for me. A little pain now will benefit long term.

So, I open the pages of Light, Science and Magic with a grimace and wondering how this is all going to play out for me.



Assignment 3: Tutor Feedback and Response.

 This post contains the general feedback and response.   Individual image feedback and my response is placed under the relevant image.

Overall Comments

This is an excellent submission, well structured and easy to find all the necessary information from research through to the larger res jpegs.  Your labelling system is much easier to follow this time, and the use of thumbnails embedded into the pdf doc with the text is most helpful.

Your independent research is thorough and focused, and you include a separate document full of detail and links to appropriate practitioners and their work. You also look beyond photography to colour theory both current and historical and this provides evidence of high engagement and interest and can only benefit your theoretical understanding and practical work.

Feedback on assignment Demonstration of technical and Visual Skills, Quality of Outcome, Demonstration of Creativity


You chose landscape and Snowdonia as the subject for this assignment and immediately recognized the potential limitations in some of the elements. But I don’t this really hindered you at all in any way and you have produced a really good set of images.  Many of the examples offer quite subtle interpretations of the colour relationships and that’s a good thing, looking at the real world.

You also relate your work here with that of other practitioners, and this reveals both the level and depth of your research and your visual literacy.

Overall images:
So a very good set, with some really well produced and composed images of landscapes. The variation in subject and approach must be applauded, and it’s clear that you spent a great deal of time and effort thinking about what you wanted to achieve.

Learning Log
Your Blog is in great shape, with all exercises complete, well documented and fully illustrated. This also reveals the amount of wok that you’re putting into the course, and a clear indication that you’re not just going through the numbers but engaging at a high and proactive level.

My response:

I am relieved. Long may feedback like this continue. I honestly didn’t know if my interpretation of the assignment was what the tutor was looking for but it seems my instinct was correct. I learnt an awful lots and for the first time was able to step back from technical exercises and more obvious graphic design and explore a subject that rarely discussed in forums I have been through.

Exercise 2 – Higher/ Lower sensitivity.

For this exercise we were asked to find difficult lighting conditions.  I am still recovering from a bout of flu so I am confined a little at the moment. I wanted to push on though as I am familiar with much of the first 8 exercises in this module and I want to spend more time working on the last four exercises that I am not so familiar with.

I am not scared of low light ambient photography or the ‘noise’ that comes along with it.  Noise can be used creatively to create atmosphere.

Anyway. It was pouring with rain (not even the birds came out to play) and very overcast.  So  this is a pixel peeping exercise with no creative extras.  At ISO 160, all I could muster up was f8 at 1/6 of a second ( image 1 below). At this speed I could hardly get a sharp image because of camera shake even though it was mounted on a tripod.

Image 2 is a 100% crop to demonstrate the lack of ‘noise’ but instead we have low shutter speed motion blur.

Image 1.  Control image at ISO 160, 1/6 second.


Image 2.  100% crop of above image.


For the rest of the images below we can see that as the ISO increases, the motion blur decrease but the ISO noise increases.  The optimum balance for ISO and sharpness is…

Image 3. ISO 250, 1/10.  We can see motion blur but not any ISO ‘noise’


Image 4. ISO 640, 1/25. Plenty of motion blur still but no noise.


Image 5. ISO 1000, 1/40.  Less motion blur is visible because the ISO is allowing more shutter speed. It isn’t enough though. A little noise is creeping in but this would be rectifiable in edit.


Image 6. ISO 1600 1/60. This is much sharper and although more ‘noise’ is creeping in.


Image 7.  ISO 2000, 1/80.  The noise in this image and all ISO levels above take away from the clarity of the image at this 100% crop.


To conclude:

ISO 1600 at 1/60 (image 6) was the optimum in this set. However it failed to provide an ideal shutter speed to render the bird table sharp, let alone any birds. Personally I don’t think grain matters very much depending on genre and the effect required.

Exercise 1b

In this second part of the metering exercise we are asked to take a ‘normal’ camera metering of any subject and then under and over expose the image to consider the differences and if any of the images with +/-  compensation proves to be more successful.

Subject 1.


1a) Metered exposure.

<img class=”size-full wp-image” id=”i-2142″ style=”font-style:normal;” alt=”Image” src=”; /Image – 1b) – 0.7 under metered exposure.                                   1c)  – 1.3 under metered exposure


1d)  +0.7 over metered exposure.                         1e)  +1.3 over metered exposure.

In the first image (1a) we can see the camera metering has left the subject underexposed. In this case, +0.7 (1d),  the exposure compensation balances detail of the subject and the backdrop.

Subject 2.


2a) Metered exposure.

Image           Image

2b) -0.7 under metered exposure             2c) -1.3 under metered exposure.

Image          Image

2d) +0.7 above metered exposure            2e) +1.3 above metered exposure.

In this case again the camera metering (2a) renders the vase underexposed.  Somewhere in-between 2c) and 2d) is the ideal where the colour is rich and the whites aren’t too hot.

Subject 3.


3a) Metered exposure.

Image      Image

3b) -0.7 under metered exposure.                             3c)  -1.3 under metered exposure.Image      Image

3d)  +0.7 above metered exposure                           3e) +1.3 above metered exposure.

Again, my findings here are that over exposing the metering gives the best result.

Subject 4.


4a)Metered exposure.

Image       Image

4b) -0.7 under metered exposure.                             4c) -1.3 under metered exposure

Image        Image

4d) +0.7 above metered exposure                               4e)+1.3 above metered exposure

This image could be a low key or high key image.  The metered image gives the best of both Worlds to adjust in edit.  There are no technical difficulties in the 4e) that render the whites too hot.   4c) is of an underexposure that commits you to a low key image as bringing the blacks up would cause loss of image quality.

Subject 5.


5 a) metered exposure.

Image       Image

5b) -0.7 under metered exposure.                              5c) -1.3 under metered exposure.

Image        Image

5d) +0.7 above metered exposure.                              5e)  +1.3 above metered exposure.

I picked this combination to test against extreme dynamic range in this composition.  In this case the camera provides the best exposure.  Under exposing renders the posey grey (seen in 5b. and 5c.) with loss of detail and highlights are clipped in the overexposed posey ( seen in 5d. and 5e. )


As always you can’t be too prescriptive about how to expose for a variety of images as careful consideration needs to be given to every exposure to ensure the highest grade of colour and image quality.  Using exposure compensation is not something I have done before as I  normally dial up and down the shutter speed or aperture. Exposure compensation is essentially the same thing but a marginally easier short cut.

I am really quite familiar with exposure control so I am not sure too much was learnt from this but it’s always interesting to see how easily and quickly things can go wrong.

What is white balance?

Mixing light temperatures. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin.
As mentioned in my last module under ‘Newton’, white light is made up from a mix of red, green and blue light. White balance is all about the variations in the behaviour of each of these colours within white light.  These variations give us different ‘colours’ of white light, otherwise known as  ‘light temperature’.  
Our eyes struggle to tell the difference in temperature of white light in all but the extremes of lighting situations, i.e. at sunset and on overcast days.  When different light sources are placed side by side it is easier to identify the differences (Hunter,2012:18). A camera sensor is much more sensitive to the temperature of white light and we need to use various automatic and manual white balance settings to ensure we capture the correct light temperature.  If we fail to remember to change the white balance settings we will open the images in post production and find nasty blue or yellow colour casts in our images. I know this from my own mistakes and experience.
Photographers talk of light temperature measurement in terms of Kelvin scale .   This link is a superb chart that demonstrates Kelvin scale and the best camera settings.
Oddly, at the upper end of the Kelvin scale is the ‘hotter’ light is made up of predominantly ‘cool’ blue light and the ‘cooler’ light is made up of the ‘warm’ red light (Hunter,2012:18).
Meyer, J. (2012). What Is Colour Temperature. Available: Last accessed 24/01/2014.
Hunter,F, et al. (2012). Light: The Raw Material of Photography. In: Unknown, Light, Sience and Magic. 4th ed. Kidlington: Focal Press. 18 – 19 .

Exercise 1a – measuring exposure (test post.)

For the first part of this first exercise we were asked to take 6 images that were  deliberately lighter or darker and explain why they were.  This exercise was far from ideal as it is a dreary January day and I live in a very dark house. So I was starting off with all the lights on and ISO 1000 to get a shutter speed that was workable.



This first image I took on a matrix setting as the  control image.  We can see that the camera looks under exposed but was in fact .5 stop over.  I can already see that the matrix setting might not have been the best choice. Simply lifting the exposure would make the image brighter but the background would have been too bright.  Here a centre weighted or spot metering might have been better.



For this image I wanted a low key image so took the exposure compensation down 2 stops but still on a matrix setting as I was worried the whites would blow.  The image is too dull and flat.



This image was taken ** stops under for a low key effect but to also bring out the highlights.  Some additional editing would be needed to enhance this image.



As with the first image of the camera, these two darker objects (in images 4&5) are placed on a lighter backdrop.  In this case I used centre weighted metering to expose so that the detail in the dark objects weren’t lost and lifted the exposure by 2 stops to ensure detail wasn’t lost.






In this image I aimed for a high key image and used a **** metering with **** stops exposure compensation.  This actually rendered the image highly over exposed and I had to bring the shadows down a little in edit.

Research link: