ADVANCED TECHNIQUES and PROCESSES 2A Research into Night Low Light ‘Indoor’ Photography – Test 3


Research into Night Low Light ‘Indoor’ Photography – Low Light Technique following an Old Masters Composition


The object of this exercise is to gain experience and practice of shooting in a low light situation. Compositional art such as this; dates back to the Renaissance period when artists would base their paintings on shadowed subjects emerging from darkened backgrounds (N Photo: October 2014). This technique is known as ‘chiaroscuro.’

‘’The Italian expression literally means ‘light to dark’ and refers to the dramatic modelling of subjects in painting or photography where shafts of light illuminate dark scenes’’.

Freeman: 2007, 110-111

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In photography we can use the same lighting effect to create a highly atmospheric image. The trick is to use subdued tones to create interesting shadows which can be possible by looking closely at the light falling on your subject. As I am interested in fine art photography in my project proposal (shooting in a no daylight situation: following the portrait of Mary – see original proposal), I believe that this kind of project and test shoot will inform my practice for it.


Through investigation into the subject, I have discovered that ‘Chiaroscuro’ in its limited sense occupies the higher contrast of the scale. The second axis of overall brightness, defines much of the ‘mood’ of an image. When the general expression is dark, favouring shadowed tones, the image is low key. On the opposite end of the scale is high key (with all the tonal modulation taking place in light). Measuring one source of light with another forms a wedge shaped pattern of possibilities, as maximum contrast in an image demands roughly equal proportions of black and white.

Using contrast and key, the choice of style regarding an image depends on three things:

  • The characteristics of a dark scene
  • The lighting of the scene
  • The photographers interpretation

One interesting feature of key is its different appearance between black, white and colour, as it is specifically more difficult to make high key work in colour. High key black and white images seen luminous and graphic (according to Freeman et al), whereas colour images are more often interpreted in negative terms, either as being washed out or wrongly exposed.



In this exercise I will be shooting a still life with fruit against a plain background using a manual setting with an aperture of f/11 and an ISO of 100, adjusting the shutter speed as necessary, starting with a 1 second exposure rate. The white balance will be adjusted also to compensate for the light source cast and experimented with by using a tungsten lighting setting compared with flash or a cloudy setting.

I will be testing my capacity as a photographer by experimenting with the notions of ambiguity, caustics, reinforcing pattern and low key in colour and in black and white.

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Working with an aperture of f/11 (see NPhoto:October 2014 for guidelines: research folder Outcome ), and an ISO of 100 for stability, I recorded an exposure setting of 1 second to 1/1.3rd of a second, using RAW and a table setting with camera support. The recommendations were to change the white balance to tungsten, but as I was experimenting with the Manfrotto LED, I kept the white balance on auto. Freeman’s theory is sketchy I believe as it appears to be more difficult from my research to achieve a good colour in a low contrast setting, perhaps this was due to the fact that I was working with LED’s. The small desk lamp additionally gave a white light rather than an ‘orange’ glow. Light therefore does affect your compensation dramatically. If you get the lighting right on your subject then you will have an excellent composition. I took a lot of time to find where the light was falling onto the subject to get the exposure right (you can see if you look closely the reflection of the LED), this can be worked out with patience and trial and error and will be better with practice. This mini project overall has helped me to become more aware of the correct positioning of lighting when working in a low key setting. I discovered that by experimenting with an old masters type painting – the study of fruit was interesting as it looks at the notion of reinforcing pattern (see apples in particular as examples in the black and white and contrasts of green and red). I believe that without much alteration, the colours remained true to the subject. I will be investigating these notions further which will additionally inform my techniques and processes proposal.


What were my aims and have I achieved them?

My aims were to create a series of images looking at low key lighting and composition gaining inspiration from the old masters compositioning of fruit. I achieved my aims as the subject is well lit from a no daylight perspective and I am additionally pleased with the contrast of colour on the apple and the background.

What have I gained from it?

Confidence regarding shooting subjects in this style of a traditional painting and knowledge of how to light a subject which will inform my project.

What is next?

To allow the success of this shoot to inform my project and to roll with the idea that I can take these kind of still life old master style photographs and perhaps consider taking more in the way of still life photography.

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