Author Topic: Weekly Assignment, "Soft Light," 7-13 July 2008  (Read 989 times)

keithsnell

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Weekly Assignment, "Soft Light," 7-13 July 2008
« on: July 04, 2008, 10:37:57 AM »
First, thank you to everyone that participated in the "Balance" assignment for last week.  It was one of our more more conceptually challenging assignments, and I appreciate all your efforts trying to understand the concept and create images with "balance."  We will be exploring other related aspects of composition in future assignments. 

This week's assignment is a great follow on because it emphasizes another key element of photography, one that should be obvious, yet we often overlook this element.  That element is Light, namely the quality and characteristics of the light in a scene. 

If I were asked to name the one skill that separates a great photographer from a mediocre one, it would be the ability to "read" and effectively use the "light" in a scene to enhance their subject.  A prerequisite for being able to "read" the light is the recognition that when we take a photograph, we're not really recording an image of an object (or objects), but are recording the Light reflecting from or emanating from the objects in the scene.  The quality and characteristics of the light will have more impact on the resulting image than any other compositional element. 

"Light" varies in strength, direction, color and quality.  The common terminology used to describe these characteristics is listed below:

"Intense" light:  Very bright light. 
"Directional" light:  Light that originates from a single point or direction.
"Hard" light:  Sharply defined transitions between shadows and light portions of the image.
"Contrasty" light:  Extreme range of light values between dark shadows and highlight portions of the image.  (Exceeds the recording range of film or digital sensors.)

Intense," "Directional," "Hard" and "Contrasty" are often used together to describe the quality of light under a midday sun.
 
The characteristics above have opposites such as:
"Low" light:  Exposure value, or light intensity (measured in lumens) is significantly lower than the intensity of light under midday sun. 
"Diffused" light:  Light that originates over a large area, such as sunlight through light clouds or heavy haze, or light that has been spread out over a large area through the use of a diffuser.
"Flat" light:  Light where the source (such as sun behind medium or heavy cloud cover) is so diffused that there is NO shadow definition, and therefore no depth or dimensional cues from the shadows.  (Alpine skiers don't like skiing in "flat" light, since they don't have any visual cues from the shadows that indicate bumps or dips in the terrain.)  Please note that directional light can sometimes be described as "flat" if it illuminates the subject from the direction of the photographer in a way that no shadows can be seen from that viewpoint.  Direct on-camera flash is one example of "flat" directional lighting.
"Low-contrast" light:  Relatively small range of light values between shadows and highlight portions of the scene.  (Within range of film or sensor latitude.) 

"Soft" light:  Soft light is somewhere between "Hard" and "Flat" light.  Soft light emanates from a semi-diffused, semi-directional light source (such as sun behind thin high clouds) that results in soft, gradual transitions between shadows and light portions of the image.

"Soft," "diffused" and "low-contrast" are often used together to describe the quality of light under light clouds or heavy haze, or indirect light from a window.  Soft, diffused light is often described as "round" light, or light that "wraps" around an object.  This effect is due to the diffused light source and the resulting soft gradual transitions between shadows and highlights in the scene, which enhances our perception of dimension.

Most scenes photographed in hard or flat light will be perceived as 2-dimensional, while objects photographed in soft, diffused light will be perceived as 3-dimensional.

As we talked about in the "color" assignment, soft, low-contrast scenes generally impart a peaceful and serene feeling to the viewer, whereas hard, high contrast scenes impart a bold or harsh feeling. 

Light is also often described as "warm" or "cool."  "Warm" light can be the golden light of a sunrise or sunset, or light under incandescent or tungsten bulbs.  We generally perceive warm light as "comfortable" or inviting, and describe objects viewed in this light as possessing a warm glow.  Since the blue sky is the primary source of light in open shade, this bluish light is described as "cool."  Pre-dawn or twilight light is also "cool" light, and our mood is effected by the association of this "cool" light with cooler, less comfortable or less inviting circumstances.  Portraits taken under cool lighting are often perceived as more aloof and less inviting than those taken under warmer light.

All of these characteristics need to be considered and used to your advantage to emphasize selected elements of your subject (i.e., 3-dimensionality), and to convey a mood or emotion with your image. 

The assignment for the week of 7-13 July 2008 is "Soft Light."  You should use soft light with gradual shadow transitions to enhance the perception of dimension and set the tone or mood for your chosen subject (so chose your subject accordingly).  Subsequent assignments will explore other types of light. 

Have fun.  Please upload your images for this assignment to the "Soft Light" album in the "Weekly Assignment" category of the gallery prior to midnight, Mountain Standard Time (GMT -07:00) on Sunday, 13 July. 

P.S.
Thank you to everyone that participated in the "balance" weekly assignment.  Don't forget to vote for your favorite "balance" image in the appropriate forum post.  Voting for "balance" will close at midnight (GMT-07:00) on Sunday, 13 July.

« Last Edit: July 08, 2008, 09:11:49 PM by keithsnell »

keithsnell

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"Soft Light" album is available for posting
« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2008, 09:17:56 PM »
Oops, sorry about not getting the "Soft Light" album up earlier.  Thank you Erik for pointing out that the album wasn't available for posting the "Soft Light" weekly assignment images.  It's online now in the Gallery.

Keith