It’s exercises like this that push the arty side of my photography to come out, and give me a bit of a headache on the way, trying to figure out how to put the words on the page from the course handbook into imagery that meets the criteria!
For this one I needed to look not only at the lighting, but also at the contrast that can be created by different areas of texture and colour, either from their placement within the scene, or from how they are lit, colour, angle etc… of the light.
It asked me to think specifically about the sense of depth within the image, and try to produce three images that each represented one of the following atmospheres:
I could use either video or stills, and I opted to just capture stills, and planned a few ideas. I also decided that I would go back through my archive and find images that I already have that will work too, so the images below are a mix of old and new.
Click on the individual images to see my thoughts.
Refined/Mature – I thought I would go and have a look at this crescent of Edwardian houses in town, and thought that they might fit the bill of refined. Although it’s a nice image, the light is pretty flat, so I can’t decide if this fits the brief or not. I guess if the light had been harsher it wouldn’t have a refined feel to it at all.
Adventurous – A shot during a portrait session a few months ago, I like the low winter sun through the trees, falling on both of the boys, with the shadows of trees creating the separation between the levels. Whether the lighting and depth of the shot says “adventurous” or not is another matter.
Oppressive – Although I planned on using this shot for oppressive, I’m not so sure that it does meet the brief. It being in black and white does add to the drama of the shot, but I don’t think it’s particularly oppressive.
Exciting/Adventurous – This image, taken on Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles was taken early evening, so the sun is low which I think adds to the depth of the shot as there is some fall off of the light towards the back., but there’s still enough there to reveal the rest of the funfair, whilst still concentrating the brighter beams of light on the kids enjoying the ride at the front/
Oppressive/dull – Shot for this exercise in our garage, which is still in winter mode, having not been tidied up yet in the spring clean. It’s a dark room when the sun isn’t shining through the window. this image came out pretty much as planned, I wanted quite subtle light on this and the mix ox colours work well too. Even though the objects are mostly on the same plane of focus from the camera, there is still depth to the image from the colours and lighting.
Exciting/Adventurous – The sunlight back lighting this stunt biker adds to the excitement of the image, giving it a dynamism that flat lighting wouldn’t have done.
Refined/Reasonable – This shot was lit by a window to the right of the shot, with a speedlight to the left of the shot, reduced to make it a little less than the window light. Had I just lit it from one side it would have made it less refined and more dramatic, or, with a dark background, opressive.
The best way to get depth into an image is definitely a combination of lighting and composition such as use of reduced depth of field to separate out layers. The visual depth of a shot can make a real difference to a shot – the whole point of the “grammar of film-making” is to ensue that the viewer doesn’t think about the mechanics of the film, they should just be so involved in watching it that they don’t notice how it has been made. We as humans view real life in 3D, we see layers and depth in the world around us, and if that can be recreated on the screen (without 3D technology) then what is on the screen will be more believable.
Lighting plays a big part in creating depth, whether it’s through the use of minimal pools of lighting to highlight certain objects or subjects on screen, or whether it’s through lighting the whole scene to show even distant objects.
One film that really uses light to create mood and depth to a scene is the Film Noir thriller The Third Man (1949), and I also like the use of light in Schindlers List, which also had a Film Noir feel to some of the scenes, and The Colour Purple is stunning too.
The even lighting in this from Skyfall serves to light the background as much as the main subject, but still gives depth to the scene by showing the size of the room. If the light had been restricted to just Bond it would have compressed the size of the room.
The silhouette dissapearing off down the tunnel wouldn’t have had quite the same effect if the tunnel had been fully lit from front to back. Lighting it from the bottom end elongates the tunnel and gives some perspective into how far he is running.
In this screengrab Orson Welles is lit at the front of the shot, but there is also light to the back of the tunnel, to show where he is, and to add to the drama of the scene, showing the tunnel/sewer he is in.
The use of the natural daylight framed through the window in this scene from Schindlers List serves 2 purposes. It lights the subjects without overlighting the scene, and the shadow of the window frame also places a virtual barrier between the two characters, which to my mind highlights the differences between them, separating Oskar from the evil Goeth
The lighting in this scene from The Colour Purple is not only gorgeous, but the stream of sunlight singles out Shug, whilst the rest of the light falls on thos watching her, without distracting from the main character in the scene.
For the practical part I had to play around with lighting a scene in a small dark space. I’d have liked to used live subjects, but I have a rather camera shy husband, so I had to make do with what I could find in the living room. The lighting I used was a rather odd setup. The constant light I used was a little domestic spotlight with a daylight balanced bulb in it that I use for my sewing room, and I also used the light on my phone, which is a slightly warmer light, so there is a little bit of mixed lighting going on, but not too bad.
single spotlight on rear subject, mobile phone light on foreground subject, held directly above the subject. Depth of field is too shallow I think, there’s not enough detail in the subject at the back.
Mobile phone light directly above subject, highlighting the subject
single spotlight on rear subject, mobile phone light on foreground subject. Depth of field is too shallow I think, there’s not enough detail in the subject at the front
Even though the depth of field is too narrow to really show the rear subject clearly I particularly like the first and second shots, the top down lighting gives it a bit more drama, but I like the separation of the two different colour temperatures too.
Although I’m happy with lighting these closer in subjects and separating them with the light, I intend to have a play around more with larger scenes and spaces, when I find a suitable spot and some willing subjects!
With the TV or cinema screen being flat and naturally 2 dimensional (unless you go to a 3D movie with the special gigs on!) making the image in screen seem more “real” can be achieved by creating depth in the scene. there are a number of different ways of doing this, positioning subjects or key objects at different distances away from the camera and adding perspective into the shot.
Stanley Kubrick used perspective very effectively in many of his films, to give a feeling of space and distance, such as in Full Metal Jacket.
In the first of these shots he shows the size of the room, and the number of beds, giving the viewer a feel for how many guys are involved, whilst still concentrating the viewers eye on one main character at the front of the shot, giving them more importance in the scene, Had this been shot from a different, wide angle, by moving the camera 90 degrees to the right, head on to the beds, with all of the beds on the same plane of focus from the camera
This shot is similar in that Kubrick again uses single point perspective (the lines of perspective disappearing off to a single point in the centre of the shot) to show the numbers involved, but giving prominence to the most important character on screen. The lines of soldiers also serve to frame the drill sergeant, again giving him the prominence on-screen, showing that he’s the one in power.
Another way of showing depth in a scene is by using selective focus and depth of field to separate subjects and/or backgrounds or other subjects. It’s a technique I’ve used a lot in my stills photography, achieved by using a large aperture, say around f.2.8 and the lens on a longer zoom, which will also compress the distance between subjects. This blog post and this post on my Art of Photography Blog talks about the use of apertures and the effect on the depth of field, and the beauty of DSLR video filming means that it’s much easier to achieve the more filmic shallow depth of field images that can be achieved with film cameras.