Assignment 4: Languages of Light

6th August 2021

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or controlled light from Part Four (Ex 4.1, Ex 4.2 or Ex 4.3) and develop it into a formal assignment submission. The submission requirement for this assignment is a set of between six and ten high-quality photographic prints. 

OCA EYV (2014:97)

The Artificial Lights of Lowestoft

Practitioners Research

I had already researched the photographer George Wilson and his work in amusement arcades, which can be found on the blog post: ‘Artificial Light: Photographers Research – George Wilson’, here. His work is predominantly black and white which has shown people caught in a specific era within an amusement arcade. However the lights of the arcade machines within his images are not bright or coloured, therefore, apart from composition, I couldn’t gain any knowledge on shooting the coloured lights of the arcade machines.

The second photographer who influenced my composition choice is Sato Shintaro. Shintaro’s urban ‘Night Lights’ series shows no human presence other than inanimate objects such as bicycles. In the interview with Japan Exposures (2009), Shintaro explains that he did not want people in his shots because the viewers to his work see the people and are distracted from the rhythms of the focus elements in his images.

For me personally, I did not want the viewer looking for associations between the people with each other or their surroundings. I also did not want the addition of people as they would distract from the main theme of artificial lights and the viewer would be drawn towards them at some point of their looking at the image.

Planning

Due to the fact that there are many artificial light sources found in the environment outside of our homes, I decided to record the types of lights that would be found on the first half of one of my frequent routes heading towards the main pier in Kirkley Village.

I mapped out my route and then highlighted the areas which I knew would contain an artificial light source. These sources were:

  • Street lights
  • Traffic lights
  • Business signs
  • Business’s with their lights on – from the outside
  • Homes with their lights on – from the outside

Shoot 1: Technical

Having read up on night photography in streets, I decided to use my fixed 20mm pancake lens because it had a 1.7 aperture which would help with letting the light in so that I didn’t have to rely on long shutter speeds. With the ISO I experimented with different values, especially as my camera was jumping from being overexposed to underexposed and my viewfinder was over exposing my scene and causing me problems. I found it very difficult to feel at one with my camera and I knew at the time that I was not getting the hang of the night shooting technique.

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH5 – handheld
  • Lens: 20mm Fixed Pancake Lense (40mm 35mm equivalent)
  • ISO: Miscellaneous

Shoot 1

Shoot 1 did not run smoothly at all. I couldn’t find anyone who would walk with me at night beyond 9pm when it begins to get dark. Therefore I had to begin my journey at 8pm which meant that outside lights would not be as dominant as they would have been in darkness. It also meant I didn’t wander into one of the more notoriously unsafe areas so I couldn’t take all of the photographs that I wanted.

The end results were quite interesting, disappointing and incomplete, due to the fact I didn’t take photographs of everything that was planned for. Due to this I decided a second shoot was needed which, if left for a later date, would mean the photographs could be made in the dark, I could re-think my settings, watch more videos on the technicalities of night time shooting and actually complete the whole of the journey that I had planned for.

Technical difficulties

Technically I had problems with my camera, I had to manually alter the exposure for the viewfinder to actually resemble the light and darkness as my eyes were seeing them. For unknown reasons the digital viewfinders automatically brighten what is seen through them therefore giving an incorrect start to the exposure triangle one is trying to successfully achieve. I have researched how to modify this and after lots of research I have now managed a way that I can work with my camera with, what I feel, is an in camera design fault.

I will be revisiting the walk again for a second shoot and researching more on night photography and lights and focus on the shots that I was unable to get on the first shoot. I will also use a different lens. Although the f1.7 is a good aperture to work with in low light the limiting depth of field meant that my images were out of focus somewhere within the compositions.

Below are some of the more successful shots from shoot 1.

Showing where improvements are needed

Shoot: 2

The Route

For the second shoot I decided to include the photography club that I run as part of my project, Legacy Project Lowestoft. This meant that I could shoot later at night in the dark and I would be safer in a large group.

I began at the same point in my journey as my last shoot. Having reviewed the images from shoot 1 I knew where I wanted to focus this time around. Due to the fact that I had other photographers with me, I was able to stay longer at each point in my journey.

Following the route from the beginning to the end worked out well. This enabled the images that I took to run, more or less, in order that the route took.

Technical

I decided to change lens from the 20mm prime lens (40mm in 35mm equivalent), to my faithful 14-42mm (28-84mm in 35mm equivalent). This lens can be used as a wide angle or medium zoom lens. The only draw back is the aperture range which is f3.5 (wide) to 5.6 (telephoto) so I will have to compensate by using a high ISO as I will hand hold my camera rather than use a tripod.

Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH5

Lens: G-Vario 14mm-42mm

File Type: RAW

ISO: 3600

WB: Auto

Analysis of Contact Sheets

On the second shoot I took more photographs in both number and type. Focusing this time on reflections in bus stops, the disused glass Pavilion and puddles. I feel that these reflections could be another extension of this assignment where I look for lights that are reflected in multiple ways in the environment.

The contact sheets from the shoot can be found on the post ‘Language of Light – Contact Sheets’, which can be found here. I found it very intriguing that this time round, because of the bright colours of the amusement arcades lights, which changed regularly, I found it difficult to reduce the amount of images that could be chosen for the final selection. I am really attracted to the bright clean colours in the dark.

Below is an example of an annotated contact sheet.

Final image selection

The final selection was an easy task. I decided that although I was attracted to the bright and dynamic colours of the images of the amusement arcade, I needed to focus on another element that would strengthen the series visually and make them work together as a series.

Although I had the theme of artificial lights on a journey as subject matter that obviously made these images a series, I also decided to have my images running in landscape direction and to show each light source within a setting. Due to this I did nor choose any tight close ups or details of lights in their setting but images that showed a wider angle of lights in situ.

While putting together the contact sheet , we can be seen below, of my chosen images I noticed that one composition was very weak due to not considering a lamp posts positioning in front of my light source, which in this case was the amusement arcade. I therefore went out on a further shoot just to capture the arcades lights positioned properly within their surrounding environment without any visually ‘odd’ visual distractions.

The contact sheet with the poorly composed shot and the final contact sheet with the replacement photograph can be seen below.

It wasn’t until I uploaded the above contact sheet onto this post that I realised the image of the Iconic restaurant was in a different orientation to the rest of the series. I actually remember now that orientation had been one of my criteria for the series but I had somehow made a mistake here.

Unfortunately to replace the iconic image would mean an extra shoot, in fact shoot 4, however with only ten days to go until my course time is up, and research for my fifth assignment and the shoot itself, I definitely do not have time for a third shoot.

Therefore I looked for additional images taken on the shoots which could be included within the series. The chosen images are seen below.

Final selection

The Final Selection

Conclusion

Presentation

Whether the images work well as a series is quite dependent not only on their context, content and composition but how they are to be presented. The main question I asked is, ’Does it really matter if some images are landscape and others are portrait in orientation?’

Studying the images further I decided there are three different ways of presenting this series of images. However with each different way, I would present the map with images on them so that the information would be able to be seen by the viewers.

The map can be seen below.

The journey map with images

Firstly the images can be viewed in book format. Viewing one image on a two spread page means that the orientation of each image does not matter at all. This is because each image will be viewed in isolation and will be the sole focus of the viewer at that particular given time. The content will be the focus and not distracted by visual differences such as orientation and height differences.

Secondly if the images are presented for exhibition depending on the type of space available, they can be shown in different ways. These include, running in journey order from left to right in a strip format, shown as individual photographs but kept on one wall as a series, or presented on a map which shows the journey.

I have resized the portrait images to fit equally in height with the landscapes, therefore the height adjustment means that if the images are placed next to each other in an exhibition in journey order, they flow visually. This arrangement can be seen below.

Artificial lighting in Lowestoft shown in strip format
Exhibition wall

Thirdly, as a slideshow.

Reviewing completed series

How do I feel about the completed series? Does it satisfy the assignments objectives? Is there anything that can be improved on? These are the three important questions for my conclusion.

I am happy to write, that after many re-shoots and contemplation on individual images suitability for the series criteria, that I am positive that the series works well.

Each image shows artificial lighting on the planned route and it has the added information which I had not thought about. This information shows how the journey begins with brighter and colourful lights and as it progresses these lights become more unified and less colourful. Indeed it also shows how the lights become beacons in the dark the nearer they are to the sea.

An important question to think about is, how can I improve the series. I believe that rather than improving the series as an end product, it is still my technical and pre-thoughts that need to be improved.

A few of the images do not look sharp to me when viewed at a very large scale. Whether this is due to the fact they have been shot hand held in the dark and my settings are wrong, I have no idea. This shoot was one of a very few that I have ever completed in the dark. I therefore have much to learn and to physically practice in this area of photography.

Another area that I need to improve on is re-reading my notes so that I can stick to that which is planned. I can always add to the shoot while out there completing it and then review images and objectives and if needed change them.

In this instance, I only took shots of the red lights of the iconic building in portrait orientation and close up. These criteria could not fit in with the remaining images and I had to fix the mistake by adding further images to the series. However, if truth be known, the addition of the extra images makes the series stronger as they provide further and interesting additions to the various types of lighting and where they can be found.

All in all this assignment has been a huge learning curve for me, not a pleasant one either. But you cannot move forward in knowledge and practice without attempting new themes and trying new technical settings.


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