Monthly Archives: May 2012

Assignment 2: Seeing like your camera

Assignment Brief

This assignment revolves around high contrast scenes. You will need to produce a set of photographs that demonstrate that you can pre-visualise how your digital camera ‘sees’ a scene. The ability to anticipate how your camera sensor will render a scene will help you produce higher quality images which will need less post-processing.

Part One

Choose a minimum of four situations from the following models, with the situations I picked in bold.

1) Street scene in the middle of the day with narrow streets and high buildings

2) Indoor space with strong natural light being the only light available

3) Photographing people in the shade while the background is in the sunshine

4) Early morning or late evening landscapes with low angle incident light

5) Any backlit scene whether in direct or indirect light

6) Scenes which include objects of different reflectivity

7) Indoor scenes illuminated by a single source of artificial light of high luminance

8) A scene with strong incident dappled light

Submit three images for each of the four situations that you choose and these must be high quality jpeg straight out of the camera with no post processing


I usually shoot in raw so using jpg was a change; I don’t usually like to do too much post processing so an exercise to get it right in camera was a good challenge. I decided to focus on areas that I could revisit if I needed to redo the image, or if the lighting wasn’t right and as usual trying to get a day when it was bright and sunny enough was more of a challenge than anything else.

Street scene in the middle of the day

Technically the hardest part of the street scenes was trying to balance the extremes of light and shadows. The narrowest streets that I had access to with high buildings to create shadow, were in the town centre. I also picked this location as I could revisit it as many times as I needed to. I took these images over the lunchtime midday period to ensure that the sun was high in the sky and deeper shadows would be created. I used aperture priority mode for these images with the ISO automatically set by the camera and due to the lighting conditions, it set it at the lowest of ISO 100.

This is especially evident in image 1 below where the sunlight is stretching across into the road and the passing pedestrian is in deep shadow.

Street Image 1

I struggled with getting an appropriate balance between the darker shadow areas as metering in evaluative mode still gave me too much of a contrast. I could have changed my composition to rectify this, however due to the road being in use through a one way system, this was not a viable option. Alternatively I could have used spot metering to see if this gave me a better effect. As you can see from the first part of the image, the shadow is caused by the building so I’d revisit this at a different time of day with more of an overcast day to even up the tones, despite the clouds this was a bright day.

Street Image 2

Image 2 above was more balanced with the shadow area much more subtle and I feel more it was accurate compared to the scene I was actually seeing, and that it was one of the images where the exposure in camera produced an image that I would not want to adjust in post processing. Despite being taken only a couple of minutes later however, the sun was at a different angle and I was able to get a more balanced and equal colour tone across the image as a result with the shadows being more even, and not as obvious as image 1. For image 3, I thought the tones in this were more in the middle ground between the darker uneven and the well exposed image of 1 and 2. There were some darker shadows from the building so I tried to meter from the left hand side of the image to ensure that the shadow areas were not too dark, the challenge here was to keep some tones in the sky and not to have the lighter areas too overexposed.

Street Image 3

Backlit scenes

I chose three different subjects for this with a mixture of lighting.

The bluebell image 4 is my favourite out of all the images I took and the one that I am most happy with straight out of the camera. I like the darker tones, the added punch of the colours and the emphasis of the darker flowers with the dew on these just catching the light. The almost purple of the flowers with the green is a real contrast and quite eye catching, and I’d feel happy just printing this straight out of the camera. In preference I’d rather have my images to be toned so that the colours have a bit more punch and I would usually have the camera on manual mode and possibly underexpose to get the image to meet my ideals.

In order to get the light coming through the flowers, I took this early on in the morning and got a low angle so that the light illuminated the flowers but the darker leaves were in shadow. I used an aperture of f3.5 so that there is a diffused light and shallow depth of field behind the flowers.

Backlit image 4

Golden Nike

The light was off to one side in this and it was shot early in the morning. The positioning of the light created a silhouette effect. While there are still colours and tones in the sky, the actual gates and statues are thrown into being dark shapes with only a hint of the gold colour of the statue being visible. If I’d used fill in flash at this angle, I think that it would have illuminated the statue but lost the blue of the sky, so if I wanted to replicate the image but with a more even colouring, I’d look to change my time of day so that the lighting was from a different angle or use a flash. I do like the shapes involved in this with the circle shape of the gate cut out acting as a frame for the sky and due to the silhouette effect where you can’t see the detail, it has almost a fantasy quality of the goddess just stood watching over the town, and it’s a different take on the usual face on view that’s taken of the golden gates.

Backlit image 5

White Memorial

Another image that was taken in the morning, the sun is to the left of the statue and I did have some glare in the image as it washed out the colours in the sky. The aperture of f3.5 also meant that the background was out of focus and while this can be used creatively, I feel in this case it works against the image and adds to the muted tones all merging together. The detail that’s engraved on the statue is also lost within the white that’s almost over exposed where the sun hits it and there are obviously a number of clipped highlights here, I tend to have the camera set with these on so I can see after I’ve taken the image if I need to adjust. In this case I left it as it was, as the point was to rectify the images in the later part of the assignment.

Backlit Image 6


I didn’t want to set up still life compositions for this as I’d done in a previous exercise with The Art of Photography, my idea was to find normal situations and subjects that had reflective qualities but not something that we’d automatically think of. I managed to get the images I wanted in one visit to Cosford RAF museum where there was a wide range of different textures, metals, subjects and lighting situations.

The first image ‘Propaganda’ is a piece of carved stone in a larger display. Just underneath it is a metal frame holding the light shining up onto it. I chose this as the matte red and white painted metal contrasts with the high shine of the stone under the light, and then we have a shadowed area at the top where the light doesn’t fall. I cropped tightly in for this as I was using a short lens of 24-60mm and I wanted to fill the frame to get the impact of the word and to maximise the reflection. I had trouble balancing the light and shadow as I didn’t want to use fill in flash as that would have created more reflection and some over exposure in the stone area.

Reflectivity Image 7

My second image is a more traditional reflective surface of a mirror contrasting with the matte of the tyres surface, it’s actually a helicopter but from this angle, it’s not obvious what you’re looking at. As it was lit by natural lighting, I was able to get a more even toned hue to the image. I think the different textures work well with the reflection of the mirror that’s very obvious, and allows a small cameo as I took it. The grey toned floor is also reflective where the natural lighting from the right hand side is hitting it, as you can see the left hand side under the shadow of the helicopter and with artificial light is more darker toned and matte, with the dark rubber tyres that will never be reflective as another contrast

Reflectivity Image 8

The final image in this series is the more reflective of all, the aluminium plane is highly reflective, especially with the overhead lighting and then we have the matte surface of the propeller and the steel cream hanger as contrasts. I chose this composition as it showed the reflection that I wanted, however if I was to revisit this to get a more even image, I‘d look to try a different angle, possibly from the other side. I filled the frame to ensure that the reflection was obvious and I also wanted the subject to be strong and dominating.

Reflectivity Image 9

Dappled light

For the first image, I was very keen to expose correctly to ensure that you could see the darker shadows of the trees on the ground, but also to ensure that the patches of light were still visible. I stood under the trees for this as I wanted to give the sense that I was looking out onto a clearing further ahead and that’s shown if you look towards the sunlit buildings.

Dappled image 10

Images 2 and 3 were taken in the same park different to image 1. I wanted an area with less coverage but one that still gave me the dappled light that I needed. I tried two different compositions for the second image, one landscape and one portrait. I chose the landscape image for the two reasons, it gave more room for the shadows to fall across the path and the grass, but I also wanted the symmetry of the path down the middle, leading the eye into the image and showing that the bench is also casting a shadow.

Dappled Image 11

For the final image I stood on the path we’d just seen, with the light early in the morning coming from behind me and casting shadows of the trees onto the lawn. Technically this gave me the most issues in exposing correctly, I exposed for the upright tree first but that overexposed the trees in the sky, exposing for the shadows was too dark, so I focused on the middle ground where the shadow of the tree roots and base meets the top of the tree shadow and this gave me a more even mix of colours.

Dappled image 12

Part Two

Select one of the four situations that you chose in Part One and think about what the lighting conditions should be in order to reduce the contrast of the scenes or even to make them low contrast scenes.

For this I decided to revisit the backlit images as I felt that it would be more of a challenge to counteract the brightness and the silhouette effect that I had in some of the images. Some of the different variables over which I have control include waiting for different weather to shoot in, changing the composition (to avoid deep shadows), fill in flash or additional lighting.

White Statue

With the first image I took of this having both backlight and glare, I had to give some consideration to how I could rectify this in camera. I revisited this during the middle of the day when the sun was higher in the sky and would create more equal shadow; it was also intermittently cloudy on that day so I waited until the sun was behind the cloud but used flash as well. I’d altered the aperture to f10 to ensure that all of the detail was sharp and this also improved the background giving it more contrast against the white of the subject. I changed the angle slightly compared to the original image as I felt that while the sun was from the right hand side, I needed to even out the darker tones on the left hand side to create a more equal light.

Backlit mod 1

Golden Nike

In order to avoid another silhouetted image, when it came to revisit this one, I had in mind a couple of changes I needed to make. While the second image was also taken early on in the morning, I changed the angle I took the image from. As opposed to having the light coming from the right as I took the image from the left, I changed my position and stood underneath the statue looking up at it. This small change altered the light falling onto the statue so I knew that there was already less to try and reduce. I used flash on this as it needed an extra boost for the shadowy areas of the gates which are black and gold. I think it worked as you can obviously see the difference between the two colours and you can see the statue is gold. Luckily as it’s a clear bright day, the sky was blue and this stood up against the flash whereas an overcast day usually has a grey or white sky which would have been lost with the flash.

Backlit mod 2


Revisiting this a week later, I actually couldn’t find the specific crop of bluebells from the original images despite being in the same area. In order to ensure that the foliage and the ground were not in shadow, I composed the image from a slightly higher viewpoint than previously, I had to increase the aperture to get wider areas of sharpness as it was quite windy and I was keen to ensure that I didn’t have a soft image. With the lighting still coming from behind the flowers towards me, I used flash from above. This helped to ‘freeze’ the movement of the flowers and ensured that the shadows were much more reduced than the original one. Despite this, I feel that the image has lost some of its appeal, the backlighting framing the flower bells in the original and the dew drops give the original image what I interpret as a magical feel and in using flash to even out the tones, its created an image that while pleasing to the eye with the contrast between purple and green, I don’t feel it has any impact as an image.

Backlit mod 3

Revisiting other images

As part of this exercise, I also decided to revisit some of my street scenes which had very strong shadows. I changed the time of day to revisit these, as opposed to midday on a bright sunny day; this was early in the morning with some sun but also a mixture of cloud. As you can see from the image, the sun hasn’t yet risen high enough to create the shadows. I walked a little further down the street from the top end so that I was in the shadow of the building. Comparing this to the original image I took of this street, I think this actually has more shadows and tones within it, and the original seems a much flatter overall image

Street revisited


I feel that I met the requirements of the exercise in learning about how my camera sees and how to maximise getting the contrast and tones right within the camera. However what I did notice is in doing this, that sometimes you need to break the rules and use strong tones and shadows in order to create a better image. As I usually have my camera set to raw and manual mode, this exercise has taught me that aperture priority mode is something that can be used to good effect and that it’s sometimes the most appropriate method to use. I also learnt that I can anticipate the effect that different lighting will have on a subject before I take the image allowing me to consider this in the composition

Exercise: Colour Cast and White Balance

aThis exercise was very similar to an exercise that I had done previously within the Art of Photography so I knew how to change the white balance and the different effects that it has.

Find the following outdoor lighting situations, each of which has a different colour temperature

– Sunlight

– Cloudy

– Open shade on a sunny day

– Auto

For each choose a scene or object to photograph and shoot four versions, using each one of the white balance options. In your browser or processing software, compare the results for each scene.

As I’d done the exercise in TAOP, I chose to just do this on one subject under sunlight. I picked the flowers as I thought that the colours would show the differing white balances well with the cream of the wall. Looking at the composition, I like the half curve of the pots turning the image into a more considered composition as I didn’t just want to take any general image.

I set the aperture to f5.0 with the ISO on auto and aperture priority mode.

Auto White Balance

Auto WB

Cloudy White Balance

Cloudy WB

Daylight White Balance

Daylight WB

Shade White Balance

Shade WB


For the second part of the exercise, I had to find and shoot a mixed lighting source. One of the most predictably mixed in indoor/outdoor scene at dusk in which the interior is lit by incandescent lighting while the exterior, especially under a clear sky is bluish. I then had to shoot three different versions with the following white balance settings:-

– sunlight

– tungsten/incandescent

– auto








If I had to choose one of the images, I’d pick the auto white balanced image as I feel that its a much more even toned one. The tungsten has given it too much of a blue colouring, and the daylight is second closest but a bit darker than the the auto.

As I shoot with raw, I followed the next step of experimenting with the white balance slider in Photoshop to find a version of white balance that I like.


Its a darker image than the auto white balance but has a much warmer tone than the daylight/sunlight white balance but I feel that it balances the warmer colours of the indoor lighting better than the other white balances.

Exercise: Scene Dynamic Range

Take five differently lit scenes, and within each, find and measure the brightest and darkest areas.

Make sure that at least one scene has a very high dynamic range and also that one scene has a low range- appears ‘flat’.

Note the results in your learning log


I took a photograph of this close up of a plane’s afterburner as I liked the high shine and reflectivity with the overheard lighting.

At its brightest area it measured 1/80, and at its darkest it was 1/40


I chose this subject due to being in front of a window with natural light but also shadows at the front where the light wasn’t falling.

At its brightest area it measured 1/100 and at the darkest area it was 1/60



This was another interesting choice as it was a lit neon sign within a dark display room.

At its brightest area it measured 1/00, yet in the darkest area it measures 1/30 obviously taking into account the lack of illumination



This was a very different lighting to the previous images being direct and bright sunlight. At its brightest where the sky has blown highlights, its 1/8000 and at its darkest areas around the edge with the trees to the left its 1/1600.


I chose this as a ‘flat’ lighting scene, its a dark overcast day with what I feel are quite flat tones with no strong lighting of any source. At its brightest its 1/500, and in the darker areas its 1/320.



Looking at the differences in lighting and situations, I prefer the image with the flatter light as it gives more even tones and without any post processing at all, its given me a more balanced result straight from the camera.

I’ve taken part in

On the 15th May, there was a project to photograph the world on a single day

I took two images which will now be preserved for the future and they are here:-


Really looking forwards to seeing everyone else’s photos too

Exercise: Your camera’s dynamic range

Find a scene with a distinctly high dynamic range such as sunlight, an area of brightly reflecting surface and an area of deep shadow with a dark surface.

Take a large piece of white card or paper and place it near the door in bright sunlight. For this exercise I chose to use the back of a house as it got the sun more than the front, I opened the back door showing the shadows inside and I placed the white card next to the open door.

I kept the ISO at the lowest of 100 and made sure that I had highlight clipping turned on so that the exposure was correct. In order to measure the brightness of the areas, I set the metering mode to spot and focused in on the area that I wanted to measure. I don’t currently have a light meter but am looking to get one and wonder what measurements that would give me compared to the camera.

On the wider image, it was ISO 100, an aperture of f4 as I was in aperture priority mode and 1/80s for the exposure.

Within the bright area of the white card, the exposure was 1/400s which is what I’d expect from a much brighter and reflective surface. In the darker areas of inside the doorway, the exposure dropped to 1/60s, which isn’t as slow as I’d expected it to be

Image as it was taken

Dynamic range1


Image showing where dark and light tones were measured

dr diagram

Exercise: Your tolerance for noise

Find a picture situation that fulfils the following criteria:-

– Daylight indoors

– A combination of sharp detail and texture less areas with some of the texture less areas in shadow

Set the camera on a tripod, take a series of identical photographs changing the ISO setting for each one working through the range on the camera.

For this I chose to use a frog statue on a wooden chest with a neutral cream background. The room was lit by natural daylight coming in from the other side of the room and casting some shadows on the wall.

My camera has ISO settings from 100 to 6400 and I’ve taken a photograph for each of these.

ISO 100


ISO 125


ISO 160


ISO 200


ISO 250


ISO 320


ISO 400


ISO 500


ISO 640


ISO 800


ISO 1000


ISO 1250


ISO 1600


ISO 2000


ISO 2500


ISO 3200


ISO 4000


ISO 5000


ISO 6400


I started to see noise increasing in the images from ISO 640, with the image viewed in a smaller size its not actually that noticeable however when increased to viewing at 100% at some of the higher ISO’s from 1600 onwards it started to affect the image.

Exercise: Sensor Linear Capture

The aim of this exercise was to take any jpg image and to open it in Photoshop Elements. Convert it to 16 bits per channel and then to use the adjustments and curves too to replicate the example in the course book.

This curve should be close to what the image looked like as it was captured and before the camera’s processor got to work on it.

For this exercise I chose an image that I’d taken in raw and converted to jpg previously of the Red Arrows. I usually use Photoshop Elements 9 but I actually didn’t have the facility to alter the channel to 16 bits. I did opt to continue as I was but I didn’t feel that I actually gain the results that I should see so as I’ve been looking at moving to Photoshop CS5 or6, I used a trial version which gave me all the functionality that I needed.

After opening the image, I used the curves function and recreated it in line with the example. I didn’t expect it to be so dark, despite the information stating that it would be.

Original Image

Sensor linear capture 1

Curves adjusted Image

Sensor linear capture 1 with curves

The next step was to open both images with the histograms and to compare the two.

Original with histogram


Edited with histogram


Looking at the histogram for the non edited image, the tones are all quite high but grouped together in the middle zone. When looking at the histogram of the linear image, the tones are all over on the left hand side compared to the course notes of on the right hand side. After reading fellow students journals, it seems that this is not just a one off result for me.

The second part was to put both images side by side and to open the Curves dialog to make a curve to make the darker linear one look as close as possible to the original. In doing this, I would be replicating what the camera’s processor does.

histogram for pt 2

When playing with the curves, I found that I moved the curve too much to the left, that it was too bright and with this came increased noise. One problem that I had was that despite trying a number of adjustments, I couldn’t match the colours to be as pale as those in the original. The difference between the darker image and this is obviously a number of stops difference.

When I zoomed in to view the image at 100% this was where I started to see the noise, it wasn’t much and was more in the type that looks like a film grain as compared to something that distracted from the image, but it was definitely more obvious in the darker shadow areas. Where the shadow areas are lightened, the noise will be exaggerated.