What am I doing during this time of lockdown as the world deals with the Coronavirus?
As a professional photographer whose business is currently in hibernation, part of what I am doing is taking the time to practice and learn. To experiment with new techniques and seek inspiration. As a result I am tuning in to some photography channels on YouTube which normally I only have the time to look at occasionally. One of my favourites is Ted Forbes’ channel, The Art of Photography. I discovered there, that he’s started a series of assignments which are very much for this time of lockdown. I just watched his video setting the Available Light Photo Assignment and it certainly inspired me.
The initial assignment is to choose a window and observe it (ideally photograph it) hourly throughout the day to see how the light changes. The idea is that this will allow you to plan when to use the light in different ways. Ted introduced a few photographers as examples including the Czech photographer, Josef Sudek, whose work is a good example of using available light. This image called Glass with Flower is one such example.
My wife and I have been living in a new house for almost three years now and as we plan out the garden we have both been very conscious of how the sun tracks across it. We have a cabin in the garden with a wooden table and there are net curtains on the windows. Today is very overcast so there’s no directional light to speak of and I thought therefore that the cabin might offer an opportunity to experiment with available light. I realised this would be something of a challenge with such diffused light but also thought that the net curtains would add to the diffusion and it would be interesting to see what I could come up with.
It would have to be a still life and whilst I wanted to try to get the feel of Sudek’s style I didn’t want to do a rip-off, so a glass with flower was out of the question. In my business life I do product photography among other things and normally that’s under studio conditions with very controlled lighting, so I thought it might be good to try something out with available light. But what to shoot?
Then in a moment of inspiration, while washing my hands (as we are advised to do regularly) I thought I would photograph the soap. I thought it might be boring just as it stands so I grabbed some glass beads which I thought might add to the compositon and potentially do something interesting with the light.
With props and camera in hand I hot-footed it to the cabin and here’s what I came up with:
It’s no award winner, but that’s not the point. It was fascinating to do this and it forced me to think differently about using light compositionally. When you examine Dudek’s still lifes, it’s almost light itself that is the subject. I wanted to achieve as much of the desired effect as possible in camera, but I have to confess this has had post-production in Lightroom and Photoshop. Here are the details:
It was shot hand-held at 1/125 sec at f4 with an ISO of 320 and a focal length of 24mm. This was underexposing from the TTL metering by about 2 stops. It was cropped in Lightroom to a square format (which I intended from the outset) and I also made slight adjustments to contrast and highlights as well as converting to black & white. In Photoshop I added a gentle sepia filter.
Originally I shot the bottle on it’s own then added the glass beads by just scattering them randomly. I really liked the way they picked up the light and behaved a little differently depending on whether they had fallen on the flat side or rounded side.
Having been inspired by the way the beads worked with the light, I decided to make them the subject resulting in this shot:
Again, this was hand held and taken on the follwoing settings:
1/160sec at f5.6 on ISO 320 and a focal length of 55mm. This was only cropped in Lightroom with adjustments to contrast and highlights and a black and white conversion.
The I wondered about leaving the beads in colour and having everything else in black and white. Here’s the result of that:
To get this, I went back to the colour shot and desaturated all the colour channels apart from green and aqua.
I’ve really enjoyed doing this and being forced to think and see a little differently.
Which of the glass beads shots do you prefer? The pure black and white or the green? Let me know in the comments – I’d really appreciate it.
Ted Forbes, I will be back on your channel for more assignments!