Exercise 4.1: Daylight – Michael Schmidt

05th July 2021

Taking the photography of Mann, Atget or Schmidt or a photographer of your own choosing as your starting point, shoot a number of photographs exploring the quality of natural light.

OCA Expressing Your Vision (2014:84)

I was very intrigued with the description in OCAs course work which states that Schmidt shot in flat midday light, this is something I fairly rarely do myself, as I prefer dark shadows which give a sense of depth and texture.

Michael Schmidt

I prefer to work with neutral diffused light, i.e. to produce an image without noticeable shadows. The viewer must allow the objects portrayed in the photograph to take their effect upon him without being distracted by shadows or other mood effects.


Natural Light

Natural light can be hard or soft with either a warm colour or cold colour tone depending on the existence of cloud, which if present will give images a cooler tone. Daylight can change an images visual appearance depending on how direct it is, and the time of day that the image has been taken. This is because the strength of the sunlight and the direction of it will cast different tones and dictate the strength and direction of shadows.

The image below show how the absence and presence of daylight can effect colours.

Fig. 1 Briggs, D. Digital illustration of a stripe of red paint passing between shadow and light

The red stripe appears brighter and more colorful in the light than in the shadow, but is seen as having the same object colour (Munsell 5R 5/14) with the same chroma in both areas. Because the brightness increases in proprtion to the colorfulness, both areas also exhibit the same saturation.

Briggs, D. (2016)

I took a few shots of different areas of the wildlife garden without sun to begin with and then a few with sun as it broke through the clouds. These images were taken to compare both types of daylight and their effect on images that are taken.

Why do we prefer the brightly saturated colours over the muted tones? Which is the true representation of colour, those that appear in the shade or those within the light? These questions I keep pondering on and are well worth extra research under the umbrella of visual interpretations of colour.

The exercise

The subject matter that I photographed is my garden wildlife areas, which are purposely grown in a natural way consisting of plants and flowers, with weeds, stinging nettles and long grass amongst them to attract the insects. This meant there were many different shapes, textures and overlapping leaves and flowers.

The four images that I took for this exercise based on Michael Schmidt’s technique can be seen below. With the absence of sunlight the subjects within the composition look naturally duller in colour and flatter due to the softer shadows which have been cast.

The diffused light creates less contrast than images which have bright sunlight therefore there is less noticeable details in the composition such as texture and form, and the colour saturation is darker and less appealing to the eye. Although visually the images may be less appealing to the eye, I find that I am taking more information in of the whole composition because I am not being attracted to specific sections of the images by their colour, contrast, form or textures. In fact my eyes are looking around the whole of the compositions naturally.

I turned my images into black and white to view them as if looking at a photograph that Schmidt had created.

I prefer black and white photography because it guarantees the viewer a maximum amount of neutrality within the limits of the medium. It reduces and neutralizes the coloured world to a finely nuanced range of greys, thus precluding an individual way of seeing (personal colour tastes) by the viewer. This means that the viewer is able to form an objective opinion about the image from a neutral standpoint independent of his subjective colour perception. He is thus not emotionally distracted.

Schmidt, M. (1979)

I am attracted to these images in a curious way. The lack of definition in the subject actually keeps me focused within the composition longer. The reason for this is my eyes are defining each object by tracing the outlines more and then they focus on the form and details.

Below is a colour and a monochrome image side by side for easy comparison.

This exercise and looking at the work of Michael Schmidt has been quite an eye opener and it has been very thought provoking. I have come to realise that looking beyond that which I have been told is ‘good lighting’ and ‘good lighting practice’ and experiment more beyond the rules that I have grinned up with.

The images using diffused light may not be as aesthetically pleasing to the viewer visually, but mentally they are stimulating because we are working more within the composition to interpret what we see.


Fig. 1 Briggs, D. (2017) Digital illustration of a stripe of red paint passing between shadow and light. [Diagram] At: http://www.huevaluechroma.com/016.php (Accessed 07.07.2021)



Schmidt, M. (1979) Michael Schmidt: “Thoughts About My Way of Working” (1979) At: https://americansuburbx.com/2010/10/michael-schmidt-thoughts-about-my-way-of-working-1979.html (Accessed 08.07.2021)

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