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Ex 4.3 – the beauty of artificial light

Capture ‘the beauty of artificial light’ in a short sequence of shots (‘beauty’ is, of course, a subjective term). The correct white balance setting will be important; this can get tricky –but interesting – if there are mixed light sources of different colour temperatures in the same shot. You can shoot indoors or outside but the light should be ambient rather than camera flash.

This sequence of photos was taken in Yelets, Russia, starting as the sun was setting and continuing until near darkness.

I used manual mode for exposure settings and manual focus, selecting specific points of focus for each image. All shots were hand-held with a wide aperture to allow for a sufficient shutter-speed to avoid camera shake. This meant a narrow depth of field and increased the importance of careful consideration of the point of focus.

I researched the photographers suggested in the OCA materials and have recorded details in separate posts. I particularly enjoyed the work of Sally Mann and purchased her book Family xxx so I could see copies of her prints on paper. The choice of her own family for subject matter has proven controversial, but in the context of this post, I just refer to Mann’s capture of atmosphere through high-contrast ambient light. The careful framing of extremes of light and shade makes for powerful images. These extremes are carried over into night images by Christopher Doyle in his classic film In The Move for Love. Brassai’s work Paris by Night greatly impressed me, and in the shots I’ve taken I’ve attempted to capture something of the contrast in his work created by the street lighting.


The first 6 images feature lighting from shops, including some neon. The content is mundane and the limited light means that the images contain dark shadow away from the lights. This was useful as an exercise in controlling highlights in manual exposure mode and also focussing in the dark. However, the images have limited visual interest.

Ambient light-1

Images 7 to 12 have greater light and so some of the shadows are opened up. This creates more visual interest and a sense of contrast, not just isolated light surrounded by shadow. Image 8 works well with the pedestrians highlighted by traffic lights as they cross the road. In image 9, a slow moving car lights its own path. Image 12 shows the entrance to a pet store and the soft light gives the garish posters a tapestry-like appearance.

Ambient light-2

In all images I manually set the white balance in camera, using the K scale and visual inspection in live view. The approach of correcting WB at the scene (time permitted this for these images) saved time in post-processing and allow me set some of my final vision for the images while on the street. For faster moving situations, I would use auto WB and make corrections later in Lightroom.

The light in these images is very different from those in the previous daylight images. The dark shadows and highlights create a sense of mystery or even menace – something is hidden in the shadows, or a feeling that we should be inside when it is dark outside. The florescent lights give a warm glow, inviting one in from the dark. Whereas the harsh neon is flat and has a certain sterility.

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