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



Research into Night Low Light ‘Indoor’ Photography – Low Key Technique in an ‘Old Master’s’ Painting Style

Relates to Outcomes: 3 and 4 also informs 1 from a technical aspect

Contact sheet is in outcome 2 with technical know how


The object of this exercise is to gain experience and practice of shooting in a low light situation, which will inform my practice (techniques proposal). Compositional art such as photographing still life; (i.e. fruit) 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

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 by candlelight: 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. I have tried to control this by the use of a rest for the camera, by using an ISO of 100 and by working to the specifications of the task and deliberately chose to experiment with black and white to investigate Freeman’s claims.



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, working with a 40mm lens to gain a close up shot. 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.

Through my investigation I decided to use an LED light to compensate for a negative colouring effect from the low key setting. The colours I discovered stayed true but the lighting was difficult to get just right. I found that if I attempted to move the light too close (to gain a decent amount of lighting and therefore assist with exposure overall), the lights reflected too much onto the apple’s surface. Therefore I experimented with the positioning of the light source (i.e. a small desk lamp and a Manfrotto LED light to allow for lighting to fall onto the correct place in order to highlight the apple’s roundness and other characteristics. I also wanted to give the apple life in a classical way making it appear as if the composition belonged in a fine art gallery rather than say an advertising campaign. The composition then had to be balanced  at either side and at an angle which would allow for some shadow to fall onto the composition/and subsequent board below. Working with a one second exposure and altering it slightly to 1/1.3rd of a second allowed for different exposures depending on where the light was hitting the subject.

1365I 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. This will additionally inform my practice when it comes to photographing my subject/client brief for my proposal. The apple has been particularly highlighted to show the contrast of a reinforcing pattern in this instance and I have additionally compared low key in colour as opposed to black and white effectively.

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What were my aims and have I achieved them?

My aims were to test out the LED lighting in a low setting environment to prepare my work for my proposal learning about white balance, exposure and close up photography. I struggled with getting the lighting right working within a no daylight brief setting so I feel I did not achieve my aims wholly successfully. The experience and experimentation however has given me a new appreciation of how to light a subject and an appreciation of how the artists used composition and low key lighting to paint their subjects.

What have I done?

Following the guidelines from NPhoto (October 2014) gave an accurate exposure and aperture for the subject of studying an old masters type composition. However, the lighting was a problem and the advice given was to compensate for this by adjusting the white balance. I kept the white balance on auto as I wanted to find out how the difference in lighting (i.e. LED’s) affected the composition. I feel that it has given the subject a new, fresher look to each photo. Additionally, I didnt want to use a light meter reading, prefering in this instance to remember and work it out for myself.

What have I got from it?

This has been a useful exercise in many ways. It has informed my practice in a technical and creative capacity and I have gained more knowledge regarding lighting up a subject in a low light (key) setting. This will overall improve my photography and my proposal in techniques and processes.

What is next?

I would concur with Freeman’s (et al) opinion that high key for black and white is easier and low key more difficult. Also, the colour has the opposite effect. I will make additional attempts to prove this in my techniques and processes proposal which has been the intention of the exercise overall.


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