Re-work of exercise 4.2

I wasn’t very happy with my first attempt at this (here). It did the job, in terms of showing how the light changed over a day, but it wasn’t successful aesthetically and there wasn’t enough of a narrative there for me.

So today I re-shot. I have probably gone more the other way now and sacrificed light for narrative. My washing machine broke down a few days ago. I’ve made the choice between repair and replace and now I’ll never know if repair would have been cheaper.

I decided to make a sequence of images documenting the machine in its broken state, a requiem to its nine years here. One image from every hour or two through the day. The changes in light are more or less incidental (ba dum tish) to the work rather than the subject of it. I used ISO100, F8 and a tripod/beanbag throughout; working in manual mode the required shutter speed is longer when there is less light and shorter when there is more light. Lens was my 100mm macro. I need to say that I detest these exercises where I have to talk about my settings. I’d rather let the images do the talking. I’ve taken out the sensor mark in Lightroom, cropped where needed, and applied auto levels in Photoshop. I’m still not wild about the work, but it is better than the last version. My utility room doesn’t have the broadest range of light, and the weather was mainly overcast. It does have plenty of light, plenty of shiny white surfaces and I thought it would be interesting to see if the changes in light were as minimal as I expected. I hadn’t realised that my camera clock hadn’t been changed to BST, and the half-past after sunset was just too dark to get a focussed image without faffing around in bulb mode, and I’d had enough by then. Anyway, in darker conditions the white has a purple cast to it. Even though the day was cloudy I could see the light getting brighter as time went on, the brightest light was mid afternoon.

Click to go large.

Contact of selects showing shutter speed, aperture and the hour (GMT) in which each image was taken. ISO was 100 throughout.

selects contact sheet

Exercise 4.5

I found it hard to engage with this exercise mentally until a co-student posted an image of a pair of salt and pepper shakers on the OCA board. That reminded me of a set we were given by a neighbour – a curvy, interlocking, un-gendered pair with more than a passing resemblance toWP_20170309_10_16_30_Pro 1 Mexican wrestlers; only one of them appears to have a voice. I took a photo on my phone, of them in my daughter’s dolls house, and posted it to the same thread.  That got me thinking about gender representation, which led me back to dolls houses, which is a concept that’s been languishing on my mental back-burner waiting patiently for a context to turn up. All of a sudden a creative pathway appeared.

I looked up dolls houses on Bing Image search and found a very forensic, sales-oriented sea of pinkness. We see the houses, often in cross-section, sometimes we see children (girls) in the image too. Every one is different though, different houses, different children, different dolls. There’s little in the way of detail. There’s no continuity from one house to the next, whereas in life we know a number of homes in detail. What I want to do is photograph my non-gendered wrestlers in a series of different dolls houses. Not massively staged – I don’t want involved scenarios, there’s plenty of work like that out there already. Just something that gives a sense of continuity between the houses and possibly an opportunity to question gender “norms”. And of course the oddness of a salt and pepper set in a dolls house. I might play around with some lighting too, there’s that nice idea of a theatre set from a dolls house.

screen grab


So first up is finding people who are happy for me to photograph their dolls houses. to be continued.

Continuing… the ceramic figures were too big and a bit menacing, they distracted the attention too far from their surroundings, and I need this to be about the houses, after all. After trying a couple of Lego figures I’ve settled for a Tombliboo figure and a cat from a construction set. They are not too big and don’t immediately suggest streotypes. I put a phone photo onto Instagram, converted it to black & white and instantly saw a way to mitigate the pinkness. B&W filters are widely used to suggest nostalgia, a happy past, a rose-tinted childhood, but ironically not in dolls house sales. Often colour is more creative a choice over B&W but I think the inverse might be true here. I also played around with the toy/miniature concept by photographing part of a dolls’ house with an Instax instant print, then putting the credit-card sized print onto the table that I’d just photographed, and then re-photographed it on my phone.

… b&w was nice but not the way to go. I had too broad a range of shades to get consistent b&w across the set, and the finished set was less pink than I expected so it wasn’t the problem I’d anticipated. Some images just worked much better in colour and it was a shame to sacrifice them.

Images were made in daylight, indoors, with a tripod and remote shutter release. I worked with my dslr, though I did consider making a set with different cameras (instant, dslr, phone etc).  The work highlit that a miniature tripod would be very useful and that my supposedly cleaned sensor still has a whopping great splodge in one corner. Here’s a set of some of my selects.

How does my set differ from the original image search screengrab at the top of this post?

Well, my objectives were different. Most images in the Bing search are scraped from commercial sites who need to show the entire dolls house as accurately as possible. Children are sometimes included for context or scale purposes.  My objectives however were to show the same pair of figures in a sequence of different dolls houses, and to show the houses as they are in their current lives. So a house may be gently gathering dust, it may have been tidied up after being dropped the week before, it may be full or empty. I think the main thing that struck me in the screen grab was the lask of continuity- these are different houses, photographed by different  photographers on different cameras and scraped from different websites. There’s no sense of continuity. I wanted to see if inserting my own narrative via two figures would bring a more cohesive set, more possibility for the imaginative play that a dolls house enables and provokes. I accidentally left these figures in one of the houses where I photographed, I returned moments later to collect them and my friend told me how her four year old was happily playing with the new arrivals.

I wanted to look at the houses in use. They often have bits missing, one friend glued a wooden staircase back in place with nail glue as I worked. They can be surreal, slightly creepy sometimes, joyful at others but always to me with the air of a movie set, suspended and ready for animation. I like the cross-section-ness that is a feature of dolls’ houses, and the way you can use the walls and floors to partition the frame. Somehow it makes me think of Rachel Whiteread’s House (, 2017), even though the principles are quite different. Dolls houses are all about the inside with the outside lifting or opening away, whereas House was a concrete casting with only the outside visible, with the walls and roof lifted away like a jelly mould. Whereas the sales images are necessarily perfect.

The search engine images are only together by coincidence and tag, there is no perceived or intentional desire to make a set or series. I like to think that my set works as a set – it was my idea and I made all the images. I would like to explore this further – I think that a Beecher inspired set could work, always face on, and looking at structural details. I didn’t use my figures in the same position for all images, this is also something that I could revisit.

My choice of single image is the one taken in a room that is empty bar a standard lamp. It was late afternoon when I took it and the light was quite special – I liked the shadow, and the warmth of the light of the grain of the laminate, the glow of the lampshade in the background. This was the house of a family who had recently moved and the dolls house was going through a similar process with some rooms close to empty, others waiting to be unpacked and reassembled.


I put quite a lot into this exercise and enjoyed doing it. I believe that I have considered the creativity criteria of imagination, experimentation, invention in making this work and I hope it demonstrates a nascent personal voice. (2017). Rachel Whiteread: Biography. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].



Exercise 4.2 – a sequence of shots of a single subject over one day

This exercise was a challenge for me. Logistically it was a challenge as some days can be all over the place and weekends I lie in… and the longer I procrastinated the harder it got as sunrise was getting earlier and earlier. Eventually I decided to photograph my car boot as that’s normally within easy access and I thought it might be interesting to document a day via the tidal contents of the boot. Our car boots tend to be slightly more private spaces than the cabin of the car, and they are mobile so I think it’s interesting to look at the stuff that we choose to transport with us day in day out. Then I opened the boot at 6:30 one morning and remembered just how much crap is in there… I couldn’t bear any more procrastination though so just cracked on. I have done barely anything in terms of processing, regarding this as primarily a technical learning opportunity, and fixing blown highlights or lost shadow detail in an exercise designed to make me look at light seemed counter-productive. I think you can tell that by 13:30 I was starting to lose my will to live, I only took one image and it was not a good one. Despite it not being the most interesting exercise I have put it on my ideas list as I think car boot still lifes could be worth developing.

I used my wide angle lens all day. I took the lazy option and ramped up the ISO in lower light rather than getting the tripod (hence the rather casual focus in some shots). The boot does have a small automatic courtesy light, which is why the hi-vis jacket has blown highlights in so many images. I removed the parcel-shelf after the first three hours because it was casting too much shadow. The first three shots are fairly bland in light terms – it was down to how I set the camera to get enough light for the image. Things get more interesting from 9:30 onwards, when the shadows start to appear, they gradually moved to the right through the day. I liked the depth of the shadows, as they deepened I could see the colours changing depending on whether they were in the shadows or the light. The boot was facing due south and you can see how much stronger the midday sun is, the light is fairly harsh and the shadows very strong and deep too. I like the mix of texture at 12:32, the way the light emphasises both the smooth surfaces and the textured ones. 15:24 was taken a few miles away, at my daughter’s piano lesson. I like how the mainly white bag acts as a reflector and kicks back the light. My favourite is the last image at 18:34 which somehow captures the blue light we’re getting between sunset and the actual dark. I like how the colours glow in this one, the shadows are soft and also tinged with blue and the screen wash looks almost magical.

Exercise 4.4

“Use a combination of quality, contrast, direction and colour to light an object in order to reveal its form”.

Writing up my notes from my attempt yesterday I’m not sure how successful I was. It was still very much worth doing however. My lighting is flash, and there seems to be so much that you can do with flash that I still feel as if I’m just nibbling around the edges of possibility, despite the fact that I am far more comfortable with flash than I was a couple of years back. I was very happily surprised that I could set up the stands, flashes, transceivers, little cables between the flashes and transceivers, and all the flashes fired first time. It used to take me ages just to get a flash to fire, never mind any control over how it fired. Looking at these I can see that I was distracted by the light and that this doesn’t always make the form of the pussy willow apparent. I think the macro shots did the best job of showing the form whereas the wider shots worked better as a lighting playground.

I photographed a stem of pussy willow, in a glass vase, on a piece of paper set up on my kitchen table as an infinity curve. I like the texture and form of the flower. Ambient light was from my north facing windows in the late morning. Camera was on a tripod, and I used one or two manual flashes (bare, no softboxes etc) that were mounted on light stands and controlled by transceiver switches. I also used a reflector that could be set up with different finishes (gold, silver, translucent, white, black). I used a cable release to fire the shutter and worked in manual mode.

I very much liked how the gold reflector generated more warmth to the light, and I also liked how the silver reflector boosted the light (not shown), I had to reduce the exposure slightly to compensate for the extra light. I loved being able to create a shadow, that made me very happy. It was interesting to look at the histograms for the different images, you could see the impact of the gold reflector quite clearly. It was a good lesson in flash settings too, especially zoom which I had never really understood, but this time I could see that a larger zoom number such as 105 gives more of a narrow spotlight (like a macro lens) whereas a wider setting such as 24 gives a broader coverage (like a wide angle lens). I could also see the results of the different flash power settings – too long a burst of flash and my entire image blew out.

It was interesting to see that I had to increase the camera exposure, especially with the macro lens, despite using flash. I think part of this was to stop my pale background looking grey/beigeish and part is a lack of familiarity on my part with balancing flash and ambient light. Every shot was its own learning curve. Looking at the images now I should have set a custom white balance. Every day’s a school day.

Here are my lighting sketches.

These exercises have been done out of sequence, I have not yet done ex 4.2. However, the similarities between this lighting and the daylight and ambient artificial light are that the same characteristics of quality, contrast, direction and colour still apply even though there is more control available in a studio setting. I like that I can use flash to add to ambient lighting, and that I can tweak the flash to get different effects. I was actually quite dizzy with the prospect of creative power when I managed to both create and photograph a shadow in the same fraction of a second. I think that with both daylight and ambient artificial night-time light you have to largely work with what you have, so there is less flexibility.

In the Mood for Love

This film was suggested in the course notes as an example of artificial lighting. I had mentioned in a blog post that I couldn’t find it, and Catherine said I could rent it on Amazon, so I did. It is directed by Kar Wei-Wong and was released in 2000.

I found the movie amazingly beautiful. It is subtitled and about 90 minutes long. The story is of two neighbours in Hong Kong who become friends after learning that their partners are having an affair with each other. It’s a fairly claustrophobic film with most scenes taking place within crowded rooms, narrow corridors, small offices… and most scenes are artificially lit too, even the outdoor scenes are generally at night, after dark, so they benefit from artificial lighting too. There’s the tiniest handful of daylight scenes, generally with characters other than the main two.

The lighting is almost used as a character is in its own right, often commanding a scene before characters enter or after they leave. Light fittings themselves are shown often adding structure to the composition of a scene as well as lighting it. Mirrors and reflections are widely used, as are shadows. Characters are viewed through stripes of shadow or frames (either physical frames or of light/shade). The lighting is a thing of joy, adding richness to colour, sheen and texture to textiles, expression to faces. I couldn’t imagine this film in black and white. In one of the final scenes a young boy almost acts as a light in his own right, you can see the sun glowing through the skin on his ears and off his face. I liked how the film gave the sources of the light as much prominence as the characters and scenes that the fittings were lighting.

I learned that light, colour, shadow, shade and reflection are far more closely entwined than I had previously considered. I was reassured that my telephone box concept for A4 should work – the use of a particular light within a physically constrained environment. In the last scene Mr Chow talks about remembering his life “as though looking through a dusty window pane”. This to me is one of the characteristics of a telephone box after dark, one of the characteristics that I want to show in the work. Glass and mirror are used extensively in the film. I liked that the film was so efficient, the subtitles gave a sparse and speedy plot, detail shots were often included and there was some very effective cropping. There is a lot to learn from there.

Getting up after the film, my house looked different. It was like how your vision changes when your glasses prescription changes. I would very much to buy this film, and its beautiful soundtrack.

Exercise 4.3 The beauty of artificial light

Out of sequence – my camera is at the repair shop and I am catching up where I can.

Feedback from my tutor has a couple of times now included that I need to include more of my workings out, my ideas, my working process. So let’s try it out here, while I try to banish anxiety about not doing a complete blog post all in one go.

I had an awful lot of ideas for this one, I very much like artificial light. From memory, my candidates were:

  • My local Lidl and its bright lighting indoor and out, and the way that bright lighting illuminates a glass fire-door and the shoppers and goods visible through it.
  • Light fittings display in a local homewares shop
  • Portraits of girls inspired by text in a book by Angela Robbie about the “luminosity” of young women and girls.
  • People climbing at a local climbing wall (but this one would need flash)
  • Chippenham railway station, which has a long in-used platform hosting a fully functional photo booth, which is illuminated and has a curtain that blows in the wind.

Some of these are easier to organise than others. My tutor was positive about them all and provided some very useful research suggestions (to follow in another post). I still struggled to feel engaged with any specific idea. Test shoots were a bit meh, especially those taken on a mobile phone. I like situations where you have indoor light outside, especially in small man-made structures like photobooths. I also wanted a concept that would allow me to add layers of meaning. I was curious about how best to interpret the brief. Just photographing light is hard without a subject to show how the light behaves. Yet as soon as you include a subject, or too involved a narrative or landscape, the role of the light can diminish to being just another component in the image. How to find a subject and light that reinforce each other, where the light is an intrinsic part of the subject and vice versa? I suppose neon and LCD/LED signs come into play here. It’s worth saying at this point that I was (and remain) pretty committed to developing this exercise for Assignment 4. I know that technically I should do the other two exercises and then decide, and I’m of course open to the possibility of changing my mind.

Driving through local villages, I was taken by the way that Wiltshire still has an abundance of red telephone boxes, many of which still cast their welcoming glow, even though their functions have changed. They are life landmarks for so many of us, from private calls to boyfriends to illicit drinking. They are landscape landmarks too, still marked on Ordnance Survey maps and often linked with bus stops, or more often pubs. Their light changes depending on the weather – rain and fog – or the way they misted up in accordance with whatever activity was being conducted inside and the external temperature. They have somehow remained resolutely British, as we moved into and now out of Europe. They are treasured by their communities, and many have been taken into community ownership.

So this is the current exploration. My criteria is red phone boxes with a functioning internal light, photographed after dark. They don’t have to house a functioning phone. I want to photograph inside and out, inwards and outwards, in different weathers, abstract and faithful, small details and the whole picture. I don’t want to make a set of landscapes all including a phone box. I might do a bit of playing with flash inside the box, but this will be in addition to the other shots. I’m going to commit to this post with a small set of images taken of a pair of boxes in Calne without a tripod, whilst I waited for my daughter’s class to finish. They are simply test shots and there are dozens more on my mobile, but I think they show some of my thoughts so we’ll start here.

Editing to complete the exercise with thoughts on the difference of the quality of light from the daylight shots in ex 4.2. Daylight varies through out the day, in a phone box the light is on 24/7. That doesn’t make it consistent all the time, but makes it less inconsistent. From the outside a phonebox has a gentle glow, but this is partly because the light is filtered through either dirty glass or dirty plastic. Inside, the light is very bright around the light fitting and ceiling but rather less so in the lower corners and near the floor. It’s quite a harsh light and not one you’d want to be exposed to for long. When you’re in a phone box the outside environment that you see through the glass is also filtered in the same way and that is why external artificial lighting such as signage, car lights and traffic lights can look diffused and softer. When I was photographing inside the boxes I didn’t see any shadows, whereas daylight was full of them. The temperature of the light was quite different too. I think like many I am almost attuned to artificial lights after dark and inside and find it hard to describe the differences. I wouldn’t make a colour portrait of someone in a phone box without substantially adjusting the white balance whereas that would be much less of a concern for a daylight lit portrait.



Exercise 4.1

This exercise compares photographing black, grey and white tones with the camera first in Program mode and then in Manual mode.

We can see the camera does not have enough information when photographing a single tone to correctly show that tone. This means that photographs showing solely black, white or grey will show very similar histograms. When you photograph all 3 tones together, even though still in Program mode, the camera can detect the difference between the shades and reproduce the shades more accurately.


All 3 tones together


Black tone and histogram


Grey tone and histogram


White tone and histogram


Switching to Manual mode allowed me to make the camera underexpose to get more black and overexpose to get more white. This happens in real life when trying to photograph snow or pregnancy tests, for example.



White tone, taken in manual mode and over-exposed according to the  light meter, but actually correct
Grey tone, taken in manual mode and very slightly under exposed according to the light meter
Black tone, taken in manual mode, substantially under-exposed according to the light meter and could actually take a little more.