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Understanding light, what it can and can’t do for your images.

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  • Understanding light, what it can and can’t do for your images.

    Discussion point - Light
    Light is a wonderful thing; it gives us life, that’s pretty useful!
    It enhances our lives with beautiful sunsets (or sun rises if you are that way inclined) but it also allows us to see and do things. You may wish to paint and I don’t mean the living room walls but more the recording of an image from the mind of an artist or in my case as a photographer.
    I see light in a slightly different way to most of you, to me it’s a tool and to make good use of that tool I have to be able to understand it. Light is energy but at a particular group of frequencies that our eyes convert into electrical impulses, which then flow down the optic nerve into our central processing unit, the bit we call the brain.
    This series of notes is all about the way light works on an object, be it reflected or adsorbed. All objects adsorb light: mirrors adsorb very little light but they still do adsorb some light, there isn’t a material that we know off that doesn’t. On the other hand some things make light but that isn’t a path I am going to follow here. My interest is what is happening to the light when it hits your bit of jewellery, figurine, fabric, ceramic well almost anything other than a black hole, which is something that light can’t escape from but that is a bit heavy (sorry, it’s a sort of pun).

    Now I don’t know how you view light and I would be interested to know, as it is fundamental to my thinking as I write this. I would like to know what you expect from your version of light, what do you think is happening when you take a photograph.

    Are there any of you who want to take me up on this?

    I..[email protected]/?saved=1

  • #2
    I'm thinking I am just going to spend £30 on a light tent!


    • #3
      I love light especially sunny daylight, it keeps me happy!

      I've found that bright daylight is the best to photo my jewellery, I have a couple of images in the crafts gallery if you wish to have a look.

      When I take my pictures I have to be carefull not to get the light straight on the piece as it just glows and you then can not see the depth of the piece.

      Tell me what you think of my photographic efforts any advice is helpful.



      • #4

        The meaning of the word photography is "drawing with light". A good photograph should have tonal quality or it would lack definition, it doesn't need to be completely sharp but if it doesn't have some kind of definable pattern the brain can't interpret what it is looking at without some effort.
        The impressionists were masters of interpreting light, its transient quality and vibrancy. Packshot photographs perhaps need a different approach in that you are aiming for a correct representation of whatever you are photographing but at the same time trying to make the item appealing. Have you any suggestions on how to give the subject appeal?
        Chris W.
        Gemstone Jewellery and Gifts


        • #5
          I find shaded sunlight gives me the best photographs. Bright sunlight blows everything out. I hate taking photos in artificial light as you just get too many oranges - even when you've faffed about with the white balance. I also find if you take a photograph in front of a window or with daylight bulbs they can look very blue (again even after adjusting the white balance)

          Because I don't have time to spend too long on my photos I cut everything out in a photoshop type package so that it is just product and no background. I'm hoping this detracts the eye from any false colours (!!) although I'm sure you'll think otherwise

          I am lucky in as much as I don't photograph jewellery any more (more's the pity, I haven't played with my beads since September - no smut thank you Peter!) but I know it used to drive me insane trying to get the balances right. I did find that I perferred photographing on a plain white background rather than black, but I put that down to personal taste (I mean, pink's my favourite colour for heaven's sake!)
          Blog Website Flickr


          • #6
            Willing to Learn

            JB, I get everything you've said. It was nice and plain and not overly scientific.

            As someone who's just about to start taking 1001 photos for their new website (preferably in daylight, on white) but who lives in a house with huge windows, but bog all natural light because the builder built the house facing the wrong way, I need all the help I can get.

            I am more than willing to soak up everything Ian or anyone else is saying, or going to say, as long as I can understand it. Don't get me wrong, I love science, but I don't need the jargon - the technicalities can be very confusing. I hope that doesn't sound rude, it's not meant to be.

            Ian, hun, could you break down your posts into paragraphs? The little font is hard to read, and in bulk it's quite daunting.

            Practical tips please!

            Apple Tree Crafts


            • #7
              Hi everyone,,

              spending time getting photos right is always worthwhile. I totally agree about getting too much 'blue light' on very bright days and too much 'orange light' in artificially lit photos.
              I find that a good bright but not too sunny day is just right.

              I do prefer to use some background to my photos, which I do on my websites. I choose items to have in the photo that compliment the items I want to photograph. To my eye the result is a bit different to the standard cut out image on a white background that lots of people use. Just personal preference. But also I do feel it helps create a mood, or feeling, setting the scene, dressing the photo. Kind of the same theory that they use to dress a room on these DIY house selling programmes. The commercial version of this I guess is 'branding' and it's always a good idea to have some kind of brand for your site. The images you ahve all contribute to this brand in a big way.

              As for practical tips for taking the actual photos the best and number one tip I can recommend is this:


              I know this might sound obvious and I'm sorry if I am teaching granny to suck eggs (as they say!) but I see lots of dark and shady photos on websites and ebay etc... some are practically sillouettes because the light source is right behind the item!

              I was talking to my wife Clare and her friend the other day. They have asked me to take some photos for them for a project. I said I would be happy to do it but it really isn't that difficult. I said, just get the light source behind you and the subject in front of you and away you go. They both said isn't it better to have the subject by the window where it's lightest?

              But no it's not!

              So find the light source get it behind you and set your items up in front of you. I usually wait for a nice bright day, not too sunny, and then spend time taking a load of images on that day. Set the whole day aside if needs be. That way I get the best images and they are pretty consistent throughout, they all have similar lighting.

              After taking the images I always take them into photoshop and they usually need a little extra brightness and contrast, just a little to give the images a bit extra. Sometimes I add a little extra colour saturation too, which is a setting that is on most photo editors.

              The last thing I do which again is personal preference, is I put all my images within a graphic border. I think this makes the images sit in place on my site better and again gives good consistency of style throughout.

              I hope some of those tips help. I'm not an expert by a long way and can always improve, but following these tips my photos tend to come out clear, bright and consistent.

              Oh and one final tip I would say is. Get a tripod. They are very cheap and a must for good images. You can then set your camera up in the exact position you need and quickly swap out the items you have to photograph one at a time. You'd be surprised just how quickly you can take loads of photos if you set the tripod up and just race through your items. Plus again you get consistency of the camera angle right across your images which looks great.

              Handmade woodcrafts - relaunching soon.
              Best range of wooden craft shapes and cutouts.[SIZE=2]


              • #8
                Hi Ian I think its a great idea and look forward to the postings. I have a basic understanding of light (lightwave & 3D studio max) so hopefully should be able to follow what you are saying.
                Handmade Jewellery | handmade cards


                • #9
                  Understanding light, what it can and can’t do for your images-2

                  When you take a photograph what you are doing is recording the light that has been reflected off a surface. Now in the previous section I mentioned that all materials adsorb light and they do but what you are actually recording is the remaining light that has been reflected and changed by the surface finish or pigmentation of that surface.

                  If everything that you photographed were made from materials of different shades then the camera would record a monochrome image. Colour photography is only the same thing but the light being reflected back to the camera by that particular pigmented area is changed, the frequency of the light has been changed to a frequency that represents only that particular pigmentation.

                  The camera lens gathers all this information and concentrates this onto the cameras image sensor which then changes this into an electrical signal, which is digitised and stored in the cameras memory for further use.

                  Now our main light source is the Sun and if you were out there in space then the light from the sun would be of a very consistent quality and would not change over periods of millions of years. We on the other hand live on a planet which has quite a dense water saturated atmosphere and as the Suns light hits the molecules of gas and water particles that make up our atmosphere then the light is changed and reflected in different directions by the collisions with the atmospheres constituent components.

                  This is why at different times the light changes, as our atmosphere changes so does the light travelling through it. This is an explanation of why it is difficult to photograph consistently using the Sun as a light source. Not only does the intensity change, the light is shining through a cloud may be, but also the frequency changes which when the light is reflected off the item you want to photograph the colour is never consistent and there is no way that you can make it so buy using natural light.

                  Photographers who work with flash equipment will argue that they need the consistency of the light that is produced to accurately represent the pigmentation of the item they are shooting. This is quite true to a point but the light they are using is already at a false frequency as it has been manufactured and the only thing that they gain is the consistency. An artist would rather eat worms than have to paint his pictures using a manufactured light source such as flash as it does not represent reality.

                  The big thing about flash light is its ability to be controlled and if you are going to take photography seriously this is something that needs to be understood. It is possible to control the Suns light to a degree by using reflectors of a specific colour to change the frequency of the light hitting the thing you want to photograph. You can make the frequency more consistent but you can’t change it completely as it has already been changed by the atmosphere and is in fact changing continuously.

                  The next thing I want to cover is the use of reflectors to change the frequency of the Suns light as I want to demonstrate that it can be made more user friendly and that it can be concentrated effectively.

        [email protected]/?saved=1


                  • #10

                    I think it would be helpful if you could illustrate some of your points with photographs so that we could see how flashlight photography compares with sunlight. I have to use flashlight for my own site but would it be the case that sunlight would work either just as well or better in some instances?
                    Chris W.
                    Gemstone Jewellery and Gifts


                    • #11
                      Let's see, this is pretty much all i can remember from high school science:

                      Light travels in straight lines and the angle of incidence is always equal to the angle of reflection. Where the light is absorbed into a material it is sometimes distorted and creates a altered angle of refraction.

                      Colour is the dispersion of light and every colour of the rainbow reflects a different angle of refraction. No idea what monochromes are - is that something to do with the degree of absorption?

                      (This bit is really reaching far back so it's probably all wrong) In the dark we can actually not perceive colours as well because only the cone receptors in our eyes work, which can only process monochrome whereas in light the cylindrical receptors are also active and these are what we use to perceive colour.

                      What else? Shiny surfaces reflect light better than matt, and lighter colours reflect more light than dark. So I always wrap my potato with the shiny side of the foil inwards based on this theory but I'm sure either way the thing gets pretty hot.

                      How did I do, Ian???
                      Last edited by mymiyel; 26-03-2008, 09:46 PM.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mymiyel View Post
                        So I always wrap my potato with the shiny side of the foil inwards based on this theory but I'm sure either way the thing gets pretty hot.
                        Hang on, that's heat.

                        My website:
                        My blog:


                        • #13

                          Hi Mymiyel,
                          Yep, that’s pretty much as it is and the only difference with heat is the frequency range. Monochrome is just shades of grey, more than useful to understand if you are a photographer as all the original calculations for exposure were based on one value 18% grey. If you are interested read up on Ansel Adams and the grey scale it will improve your photography 100%. Ansel Adams memory still lingers on as all camera exposure is based on his and Edward Weston’s work from the 1930’s.

                [email protected]/?saved=1


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Ian Beckerton View Post
                            If you are interested read up on Ansel Adams and the grey scale it will improve your photography 100%. Ansel Adams memory still lingers on as all camera exposure is based on his and Edward Weston’s work from the 1930’s.
                            Will look into it. Thanks Ian. I've always wanted to get into photography. I did a short course when I was in 6th form where we were given an SLR, some black and white film and told to go crazy. We played about with exposure, shutter speed, aperture to compare how the photos turned out. Then a few hours later we came back and did everything from getting the film out onto a lightsafe canister then developing and playing about with the images on the enlarger. Twas great fun.

                            I've still got my own Minolta SLR (35mm) and an old enlarger that I acquired off a friend. My grandad also gave me a really old fashioned camera from his younger years. Before digital became big my excuse was always that I didn't have the space or money for a darkroom. Now it's I don't have money for a digital SLR. I always see things and think "wow, that'd make a beautiful photo" and regret not getting into it.

                            Never too late eh.

                            My website:
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                            • #15

                              Hi Mymiyel,
                              I am pleased that I may be rekindling a lost art form that was in you. I still have my Minoltas and they served me well but unfortunately old age or is it just decrepit eyesight forced me into the digital age. Even though I use my Nikons almost exclusively in manual mode I do use the auto focus and I have to admit it is brilliant.

                              Do you when you go out have that sixth sense that tells you that you have just stumbled on a photograph but then you have to look round for it? That still gets me, I know that there is one their and I have to stop and look for it.

                              To be honest you are not missing that much with most digital cameras, they are a means to an end and very convenient and they pay for themselves but for quality film is still best by quite a long way. Digital cameras will get there eventually but there are still quite a few bugs that need sorting out first. For Black and White stick to film, digital just doesn’t cut the mustard!

                              And as you say ‘It’s never to late’.


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