Category Archives: Project 3 – Beauty of Artificial Light

Exercise 4.3–The Beauty of Artificial Light

 The brief:

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. Add the sequence to your learning log. In your
notes try to describe the difference in the quality of light from the daylight shots in
Exercise 4.2.

I’ve done a few indoor exercises so decided to look at exterior ambient lighting for this.  Following on from my research I wanted to approach the work from a slightly different perspective by not including the light source in the photographs.  The reasoning for this was the notion that an in-shot source can turn out to be a shot of a street lamp or display spotlight and I wanted to look at what the light was doing  more than the luminaire itself.


Whilst this is a fairly atmospheric image it includes the lamp so I won’t be doing more of these. The light source seems to be quite cold, perhaps a modern compact fluorescent or LED type.  I have set the camera to daylight white balance as i wanted to use the colour of the illumination as it was, not ‘corrected’ to daylight.


Here and in most of the following images the lighting is distinctly sodium, giving the characteristic yellow glow.




This seems to be a different type of lamp again, cooler than sodium.


This is quite a mix – externally probably halogen, then the fluorescent tubes in the chiller which tend to be a bit green and the incandescent bulb to the centre right, which is comparatively warm.


The streets of Confolens are paved with gold bars….


As I mentioned at the start I have attempted to make these images without the obvious presence of the main light source itself.  Ambient artificial light is most noticeable at night because compared to the sun it is quite weak and anyway such lights are mostly turned off in the day.  Colour temperature is compromised where different sources are present but only if a homogenous colour temperature is wanted – I wasn’t concerned about this.  The lights tend to be very close to the areas they illuminate which makes shadows deep and the falloff relatively shallow.  There is a characteristic ‘look’ to artificial light night photography for those reasons.  It tends to produce ‘patches’ or ‘pools’ of light surrounded by deep shadow areas with little or no detail.  The lamps themselves, should they be included, are most often ‘burnt-out’ without any detail at all.

Technical notes

Including the light source whilst using wide apertures can disclose artefacts produced by the lens or filter in the form of flare or smearing.  Exposure times are generally too long for handheld so I used a tripod for all these images.  I kept the ISO down to 400ASA because with camera support the higher speed options were not needed.

Learning points

  • It’s often cold and sometimes wet; warm clothes and a willing assistant with umbrella are advantageous
  • A tripod is a great help – well, essential really.  I left the camera attached and covered it with a waterproof bag when walking between locations
  • ‘Seeing’ the shot is not easy – perhaps this is to do with how the eye works in low light of varying quality but the view through the camera was often strikingly different to the way I initially saw the shot.
  • Recording RAW files avoids being stuck with the JPG interpretation and allows greater adjustment of shadow and highlights – and to a degree, colour temperature should it require adjustment. Although I do recognise that adjusting colour temp in editing is not a substitute for setting it correctly at the time of exposure
  • I used the self timer set to 2 seconds delay so I could let the camera/tripod settle before exposure.
  • It helps to have a good knowledge of camera controls and menus because it’s more difficult to see in low light
  • I still need to spend more time  and take more pictures!