Assignment 4: Languages of Light

6th August 2021

Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or controlled light from Part Four (Ex 4.1, Ex 4.2 or Ex 4.3) and develop it into a formal assignment submission. The submission requirement for this assignment is a set of between six and ten high-quality photographic prints. 

OCA EYV (2014:97)

In My Place: The Artificial Lights of Lowestoft

The Final Selection

Assignment Concept

‘In My Place’, is an extension of Exercise 2: Artificial Light. The objective of this series is to map one of my frequent routes through Kirkley which ends at the Hatfield Hotel and documents the different types of artificial lighting that can be seen on the route in the evenings.

The route was mapped out and areas highlighted where which artificial light sources could be found. These sources were:

  • Street lights
  • Traffic lights
  • Business signs
  • Business’s with their lights on – from the outside
  • Homes with their lights on – from the outside

The composition of each of the images within ‘In My Place’ are purposely shot without the presence of people. This concept is influenced by the Japanese photographer Sato Shintaro, who in his series ‘Night Lights’ (1997-1999) avoided people within his images.

The avoidance of people enables the viewers to focus solely on the artificial light in each image. This unifies the series concept because the viewers will not try to make a connection with the people to the ‘place’ and study, for example, their body language, features and clothes.

Shoot 1

Shoot 1: Technical

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH5 – handheld
  • Lens: 20mm Fixed Pancake Lens (40mm 35mm equivalent)
  • ISO: Miscellaneous
  • File type: RAW
  • Mode: Manual
  • WB: Auto with manual adjustments when needed
  • No tripod

After researching night photography which is a new technique for me, I decided to use a fixed 20mm pancake lens dues to having a 1.7 aperture which enables more light to enter the camera and it is one of two lenses that I use for street photography. I experimented with the ISO values, due to the fact that the camera was jumping from being overexposed to underexposed. The viewfinder, however, brightened the scene in front of the camera giving visual inaccuracies which caused problems when it came to deciding on settings. This made me uncomfortable as I was not getting to grips with the technical aspects of night photography.

Shoot 1: Contact sheets and annotated contact sheets

Contact sheets 1: Original files

Contact sheets 2: Original files annotated

Below are some of the more successful shots from shoot 1.

Showing where improvements are needed

Shoot 1: Review

During shoot 1 there were problems concerned with shooting at night and safety. Therefore the shoot had been conducted early evening which which meant that outside lights were not as dominant as they would have been in the darkness. It also meant I didn’t wander into one of the more notoriously unsafe areas so I couldn’t take all of the photographs that I wanted.

During shoot 1 I had problems with the camera technically. I had to manually alter the exposure for the viewfinder to actually resemble the light and darkness as my eyes were seeing them. For unknown reasons the digital viewfinder automatically brightens what is seen through it, therefore giving an incorrect start to the exposure triangle that one is trying to successfully achieve. Research did not prove helpful because many photographers were having the exact same problem with different camera makes.

I did learn however from the research that I conducted that the viewfinder is predominantly used for checking the composition and framing of the subject, but not for the brightness, contrast or colour, information which I am not sure is correct as it came from numerous photographic forums that I frequent. Alternatively, I read that I should be using the histogram to read the actual brightness of my image.

The end results were quite interesting, disappointing and incomplete, due to the fact I didn’t take photographs of everything that was planned for. Due to this I decided a second shoot was needed which, if left for a later date, would mean the photographs could be made in the dark, I could re-think my settings, watch more videos on the technicalities of night time shooting and actually complete the whole of the journey that I had planned for.

Shoot: 2 – Re-working

Shoot 2: Technical

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix GH5 – handheld
  • Lens: G-Vario 14mm-42mm
  • ISO: 3600
  • File type: RAW
  • Mode: Manual
  • WB: Auto with manual adjustments when needed
  • No tripod

I decided to change lens from the 20mm prime lens (40mm in 35mm equivalent), to 14-42mm (28-84mm in 35mm equivalent). This lens can be used as a wide angle or medium zoom lens. The only draw back is the aperture range which is f3.5 (wide) to 5.6 (telephoto), I therefore compensated by using a high ISO.

Shoot 2: Contact sheets and annotated contact sheets

Contact sheets 1: Original files

Contact sheets 2: Original files annotated

Contact sheets 3: First reduction of images

Contact sheet 4: Final selection annotated

Final image selection

While putting together the contact sheet , seen below right, it was noticed that one composition was very weak due a lamp posts positioning in front of the light source, which in this case was the amusement arcade. This was rectified by a further shoot to capture the arcade and floor light reflections with a tighter composition.

The contact sheet with the poorly composed shot and the final contact sheet with the replacement photograph can be seen below.

Presentation of the Images for Viewing

Studying the images further I decided there are three different ways of presenting this series of images. However with each different way, I would present the map with images on them so that the information would be able to be seen by the viewers.

Firstly the images can be viewed in book format. Viewing one image on a two spread page means that the orientation of each image does not matter at all. This is because each image will be viewed in isolation and will be the sole focus of the viewer at that particular given time. The content will be the focus and not distracted by visual differences such as orientation and height differences.

Secondly if the images are presented for exhibition depending on the type of space available, they can be shown in different ways. These include, running in journey order from left to right in a strip format, shown as individual photographs but kept on one wall as a series, or presented on a map which shows the journey.

I have resized the portrait images to fit equally in height with the landscapes, therefore the height adjustment means that if the images are placed next to each other in an exhibition in journey order, they flow visually. This arrangement can be seen below.

In My Place: Artificial lighting in Lowestoft shown in strip format
Exhibition wall

Thirdly, as a slideshow.

Conclusion

How do I feel about the completed series? Does it satisfy the assignments objectives? Is there anything that can be improved on?

The series has achieved its aims and objectives and presents image that show the artificial lighting on a pre- planned route.

The series presents information that shows how the journey begins with bright colourful lights and as it progresses the lights in the environment become more unified and less colourful.

An important question to think about is, how can I improve the series. I believe that rather than improving the series concept, it is my technical competence and knowledge in night photography which needs expanding and the pre-planning of a photographic series that needs to be improved.

A few of the images do not look sharp to me when viewed at a very large scale but soft in appearance. I believe this is due to shooting at night holding the camera rather than using a tripod.

This shoot was one of a very few that I have ever completed in the dark. I therefore have much to learn and to physically practice in this area of photography. .

This assignment has been a huge learning curve for me, not an overly pleasant one either. But I know that one cannot move forward in knowledge and technical skills without attempting new things.


Research

The research focuses on the technique of night photography and lighting, the concept ‘What is place?’, and Sato Shintaro.

Sato Shintaro

All images from sato-shintaro.com with kind permission from Shintaro.

Neon lights, shimmering neon lights and at the fall of night this city’s made of light’sang electro-pop pioneers Kraftwerk. Japanese photographer Sato Shintaro uses the ‘blue hour’, the period of time between dusk and night, to depict a Tokyo made of light. His series Night Lights demonstrates that  night photography doesn’t have to be dark. In fact it’s a good idea to keep exposures quite high to avoid reducing your night shots to isolated pools of light within a black frame. 

OCA EYV 2014:85

Looking through Shintaro’s website has been quite a pleasure. All of his series have been shot at night which enhances the artificial lights that he captures within his images, creating powerful two dimensional planes with an abundance of visual information.

Shintaro explains that the same lights at different times of the day and night are not visually the same. Night time produces a far more varied colour range in its sky as well as the signboards which become vivid and far more intense. (2009)

Each series works on the theme of lights at night but they are all so very different in visual content. Within the images we are met with lines, shapes, form and colour which give a sense of three-dimensions.

The compositions within each of Shintaro’s series are from different viewpoints. Looking at the following three series, ‘Night Lights’, ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Origin of Tokyo’ we can note that,

  • ‘Night Lights’ – different viewpoints, with leading lines leading the viewers eyes through the rhythm of the focus elements. ‘Take a brightly-lit busy street bustling with people and remove the people: the purpose of the lighting is lost and only the glow remains – providing a glimpse of the streets we know well from a less familiar perspective…’ (Shintaro, S. s.d.)
  • ‘Tokyo Twilight Zone’ – from around the 10th floor on a fire escape, viewers eye looks out horizontally at the city (Shintaro, S. s.d.)
  • ‘The Origin of Tokyo’ – high viewpoint, panoramic images

Night Lights (1997-1999)

In an interview with Japan Exposures (2009), Shintaro discusses ‘Night Lights’.

I took the photos in adult entertainment districts in Osaka and Tokyo — kind of red light districts. When I first saw these densely populated areas, I thought that I had to take pictures there. I was fascinated with this kind of area, and so I took pictures, especially of all these signboards. I like densely formatted photos, like those of William Klein, or Osamu Kanemura. Maybe these shops set out their signboards just for their practical need, and not for the beauty of them. But from my vantage point, these signboards created some beautiful rhythms and shapes. I think this unconscious or unintentional beauty is interesting.

Shintaro, S. (2009)

Another aspect, and an important one for me, is that the content of the ‘Night Lights’ images are filled with text, or in this case bold Japanese characters. The equally vibrant and picturesque markings are just as dynamic as the focus elements of light, colour, lines, shapes and forms that over lap one another within Shintaro’s compositions. They are a contrast to the colours, and break up the challenging visual formations present and draw our eyes around the picture plane just as much as the colour forms do.

Shintaro’s urban ‘Night Lights’ series shows no human presence other than inanimate objects such as bicycles. In the interview with Japan Exposures (2009), Shintaro explains that he did not want people in his shots because the viewers to his work see the people and are distracted from the rhythms of the focus elements in his images.

To obtain people free images, Shintaro would have to cover up his lens so that people would not appear in the frame, “… So to make a 30 seconds exposure, I have to be shooting in this place for about 30 minutes…” Shintaro, S. (2009)

Sato Shintaro’s images in ‘Night Life’ are composed of a wealth of visual information. The light, colours, lines, text, shapes and forms construct an energetic experience and they often remind me of paintings which I like to look over to see the different aspects in play. For me, being introduced to the work of Sato Shinataro as been such a positive and inspiring thing which has informed my next practical exercise connected with the topic of artificial lights.


What is Place?

NOTES: Place, Tacita Dean and Jeremy Millar

For Assignment four, I decided to work with the subject of artificial lights along a specified and familiar route that I take within Kirkley, Lowestoft.

Due to the fact that the assignment is connected with a route within a place, Kirkley Lowestoft, I have researched the question ‘What is place?’

To research this concept I read extracts from, ‘Place’ a publication that builds an exhibition within a book which, ‘…presents some of the most challenging art to address the function of place in the contemporary world.’ (Dean and Millar, 2005: Inside Front Cover).

philosophers and theologians

‘my geographic place’

pg14 (1976) Yi-Fu Tuan… ‘When space feels thoroughly familiar to us, it has become place.’

Reading the introduction, ‘Place – The First Of All Things’, the concept of ‘Place’ is interpreted in various ways throughout history – different countries, cultures, individuals.

For a place to exist in any time or location it has to be experienced.

pg178 Postscript – Tacita Dean (British visual artist) – ‘I have realized in my search for a description of place, it is so often best imagined through the senses and through the memory of the senses…. I played with many ideas about place for this book but in the end I realized it can only ever be personal.’

Dictionary definition – Oxford languages via Google search: noun: (1) a particular position, point, or area in space; a location (2) a portion of space designated or available for or being used by someone.

The National Geographic – ‘… place has numerous definitions, from the simple “a space or location with meaning” to the more complex “an area having unique physical and human characteristics interconnected with other places.” There are three key components of place; location, locale, and a sense of place.

Location: position of a particular point on the surface of the Earth.

Locale: the physical setting for relationships between people.

Sense: the emotions someone attaches to an area based on their experiences.

Place does not have to be fixed in time or space.

Place can change over time.

Place can be remembered differently due to personal interpretation, responses, experiences connected with the place.

Questionnaire: What is your definition of place?

I asked four people that I know… this could be extended further for another project or assignment

SPB – 56 year old teacher: Somewhere you can be – somewhere where you are – anywhere you can be is a place. For example at home in the toilet is a place, in the middle of a roundabout is a place. It is anywhere you can be.

PT – 14 year old autistic girl: A place is a term for a physical area or space.

RF – 21 year old marine biologist technician: A colloquial word for a location. It is not defined.

CC – 21 year old Just Eat Delivery man: A physical or mental place you are able to visit.


Notes: Night Photography and Lighting

Notes: Digital Night and Low-Light Photography

Standard lens: 35mm = 40-60mm mark, equates to angle of view of the human eye. MINE = 20mm fixed lens (40mm 35mm equivalent). Fast lens… (pg. 14)

Bracketing and exposure compensation: bracketing one correct exposure, one under and one over. Exposure compensation settings – allowing up to five stops exposure compensation above and below the correct exposure in 1/3 stop increments. BRACKETING is usually a better system for exposure control. (pg. 28)

  • I didn’t know these were separate techniques. I will have to read the advanced manual!!

Bracketing/ white balance compensation: You can bracket the White Balance in the same way as the exposure. Increases the values in increments of 10mmired (Micro Reciprocal Degrees). (pg. 29)

  • Did not know about this setting either. Will need to check the camera.

Colour temperature: The perceivedcolour depends on – lighting conditions of the time, height of the sun, surroundings, and atmospheric conditions while outside. The artificial light and the colour of any reflective surfaces while inside. (pg. 36)

Colour temperature artificial: If you think there is a colour cast in your scene, ask yourself if it adds or detracts from the image. Take some test shots and look at your LCD display if you’re not sure. (pg. 38)

Analysing images: Review images, giving you some idea of whether the shot is correctly exposed, framed, and focused. Histogram. (pg.48)

Night photography: Buildings: Do a series of shots using each white balance setting to see which one works the best. If you shoot in RAW you only need to use Auto, as other modes critical colour judgements in the comfort of your own home. Floodlit buildings = difficulty, parts in shadow and other areas brightly lit. Use spot-meter or take a reading from the sky midtones. To stop flare from light use lens hood. (pg. 120)

Night photography: Mixed lighting: One major dilemma when correcting mixed light sources is which colour cast to eliminate. Eliminate one and you may add a colour cast elsewhere. EG add extra blue to remove a warm cast of tungsten lighting, but any daylight present will go bluer…. It may be best to leave mixed colour casts alone, as these add extra saturation and vibrancy to a picture anyway. (pg. 124)


Images

Fig 1. Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Kabukicho, Tokyo Kabukicho, Tokyo (Photograph) https://sato-shintaro.com/work/night-lights/?modal=1 (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 2 Shintaro. S (1997-1999) Kamata, Tokyo Dogenzaka, Tokyo (Photograph) https://sato-shintaro.com/work/night-lights/?modal=1 (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 3 Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Nishi- Kamata, Tokyo (Photograph) https://sato-shintaro.com/work/night-lights/?modal=1 (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Fig. 4 Shintaro, S. (1997-1999) Asagaya-Minami, Tokyo (Photograph) https://sato-shintaro.com/work/night-lights/?modal=1 (Accessed 23.07.2021)

Bibliography

Books

Dean T. and Millar J. (2005) Place. (1st Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson

Gartside, T. (2006) Digital Night and Low-Light Photography. (First Edition) United Kingdom: Ilex Press Limited

websites

Google search: what is place? first in the list

National Geographic Society (2021) Concept of Place. At: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/topics/resource-library-concept-place/?q=&page=1&per_page=25 (Accessed 22.09.2021)

Shintaro, S. (2009) Interview with Shintaro Sato. At: http://www.japanexposures.com/2009/08/25/interview-with-shintaro-sato (Accessed 16.07.2021)

Shintaro, S. (s.d.) Sato Shintaro: Archive. At: https://sato-shintaro.com/ (Accessed 17.07.2021)

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