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Weekly challenge: use a single light source

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This week, the challenge is about light, not about the actual subject itself.

I want you to photograph something in your house or garden lighting it with just a single light.

Your light source can be anything. If you have any proper photography lights, then great. But, you could also use:

  • A torch
  • A desktop or bedside lamp
  • A fibre-optic lamp
  • A candle
  • A lava lamp
  • The light from your TV or computer monitor
  • A bonfire or barbeque in the back garden
  • The light shining from a room out into the garden at night
  • The sun or moon

The only exception is that you shouldn’t use the flash on your phone or camera as you can’t have the light in a different place to your camera.

(You can, of course, use the light on your phone if you’re taking the photo with your camera. Or, you can use a flash if you can separate it from your camera.)

The main point of the challenge is to try moving your light in relation to your subject and your camera to see how it affects your photo.

You should do you best to get rid of all other light except the one you’re using. So, unless you’re using the sun as your light source, close the curtains and the door and get your environment nice and dark.

Things to think about

What are you going to photograph?

Although I said your subject isn’t the important part of this week’s challenge, you should still try to choose something that’ll make an interesting image.

Because you’re playing with the light, you could use something that has a rough surface or an interesting shape that you can bring out with the contrast between the light and shadows.

Have a look at the ornaments you have on your mantlepiece, the equipment you have in your kitchen, or bigger items such as the wheels on your bike or the plants in your garden.

Or borrow someone else in your household, or even a part of yourself. A spare hand, perhaps …

If you choose something transluscent, such as a wine bottle (empty or full), you can put your light to the side or behind it, and you’ll shine the light through the glass and liquid. It could produce some interesting results.

Where are you going to put your light?

There are so many ways you can set up your light relative to your subject.

You could have it pointing straight on to highlight its overall shape.

You could have it to the side, throwing half your object into the shadows.

You could have it shining down from above, mimicking the sun.

You could have it shining up from below your object, like when we were kids and shone torches up from beneath our chins to make our faces look crazy.

You could shine it from behind to make a silhouette.

Or a combination, such as above and sideways to get a diagonal light.

Also, will you have your light really close to your subject to produce a high-contrast look? Or will you move it further away to get a softer, more even look?

Each one of these will give you a different results. And sometimes just moving the light a couple of centimetres can produce a very different photo.

Experiment, try a few different combinations, and see what happens.

Could you play with interesting colours?

Can you get some rich, beautiful colours going?

Put something colourful and transluscent between your light and subject. The wine bottle suggestion could get you some lovely colours.

Use a coloured light, such as a string of Christmas lights (yes, I’ll let that one go as a single light source …), a fibre-optic lamp or lava lamp, or a coloured light bulb.

If you’re using your TV or computer monitor, find something colourful (live music gigs on video sites like YouTube can be a good source of bright, colourful lights), pause it and use it to light your subject.

If you’re using the sun, get out either first thing or in the evening, when the sunlight has that lovely low, golden light. You get wonderful long shadows then as well.

Pro-level tips for getting your exposure right

How will your camera cope with the extreme of light and darkness on auto mode? It’s the thing you’re photographing – your subject – that needs to be exposed properly. The rest of your photo can fall away into shadows.

If you find your camera’s trying to make the picture brighter than it should be because it’s trying to brighten up the shadows, there are three things you can try:

  • Use your exposure compensation to reduce the overall exposure. Reduce it until the object you’re photographing is how you want it
  • Set your camera’s metering mode to spot, then make sure your autofocus spot is set on your object where you want it to choose the exposure
  • Try using some manual settings. If you can keep your camera steady (on a tripod, or a table-top, for instance), set your aperture to a middling setting (somewhere around f/4-f/8), set your ISO low, and then adjust your shutter speed until you’re happy with how it looks

The rules

The weekly tasks are here to be fun and constructive. In order to accommodate different skill levels, I may add in ‘pro’ aspects to tasks to add more challenge for those who want/need it.

But, this isn’t school and it isn’t work. So:

  • You don’t have to do every task. Don’t want to do it? No worries. You don’t have to make excuses or report back. Just sit it out
  • I can’t keep coming up with ideas that everyone will be able to do every week. If you can’t do a particular task, but you’d rather like to, it’s OK to bend the parameters and do your own version
  • You don’t have to work by yourself. Get the kids, the other half, or your housemates involved
  • Don’t submit someone else’s photo as your own. Apart from the fact you may be breaking copyright laws, it completely defeats the point of the task. The tasks aren’t about who’s the best; they’re about learning and being creative
  • It’s OK to find the humour in situations, but don’t poke fun
  • Express yourself. Develop your own style. It’s OK to go and find inspiration, but just because a particular type of photo seems popular on Instagram (location shot with a long-haired, super-skinny girl in a sunhat looking away from the camera sound familiar …?), it doesn’t mean you have to follow suit
  • Nothing 18+, no nudes, and nothing sexually explicit, gory or violent
  • Whilst we’re in lockdown, the tasks will largely be home/garden-based. However, once we’re allowed to start emerging from our cocoons, we can start widening the net a bit

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