Thinking about Light

As time presses on and having made the decision to go back and reshoot my project in medium format. I have experimented with Ilford black and white film with improving results as I get to know the camera. which has been sitting in a store room for at least five years. I have had some disasters such as the back of the camera sometimes flipping open in addition to focussing the camera manually which is especially difficult as I am often unsure if I have achieved optimum focus. Using an eye level viewfinder with the weight of the camera is also difficult. Ideally I would like to experiment with a waist level viewfinder however due to financial constraints that isn’t an option. 

Despite the challenges I have fallen in love with the medium format and the emotion I feel when scanning a negative and seeing a sharp portrait with the depth and detail is a great feeling. 

This week I have set about making work using colour film. Having done my research and having a lengthy chat with Phil Hill I decided to go with the Portra 400 film. The reason being that I understand it is forgiving with skin tones and provides some versatility when editing. Being a novice at shooting in this way I felt that I needed all of the help I could get. Remembering the portfolio reviews some time ago with Steph Cosgrove she commented that my work was cinematic in its nature which was interesting to learn. At that time I was shooting digital using a flash to ensure I had a clear light on subjects faces. I grew to like this approach however in shooting medium format I feel that I would still like to encompass this approach although I don’t have the luxury of a flash. In relation to my wider project I don’t think it is totally necessary however it is a technique I would like to pursue beyond the MA. Having had an Instagram conversation with Jooney Woodward on Instagram noticed that she uses a video strip light to achieve a high key light on her commercial work for the likes of the Financial Times supplement ‘How to Spend it Magazine’. When pursuing this type of constructed photograph she is able to align her work with the audience of the text.  

In preparation for working in this way I decided to conduct an experiment with a work friend in the studio based in the college where I work. The objective of this experiment was to understand the amount of light I needed to act as a fill light for skin tones in an environmental portrait. 

Lighting Skintones

In furthering my contextual understanding of the work I’d like to make, I begun to look at the visual language of the band ‘The Streets’ as I remembered the video for the track ‘Dry your Eyes Mate’. The video directed by Johan Renck has a cinematic approach and influence which he describes as coming from his background in photography. In viewing the Streets video I recognised a number of creative choices in addition to a style of lighting that could be described as baroque influenced in addition to chiaroscuro lighting. 

He achieves a working class discourse through the use of vernacular associated with males such as the snooker club and a curry houses. Certainly avenues I could explore further. The ambition in the short term is to produce a portrait using an interior vernacular which is in keeping with the theme of the project. 

To conclude this short post, my project is beginning to align with my personal ambition of how to take my practice further. Shooting medium format will become the new norm while using continuous light will enable me to push the technicalities of my approach further. This represents a huge development from the entry point not just of the course, but the evolution within the FMP. I am not exactly confident that I will achieve my intentions within the confines of the MA although I am hoping this will be the case. The real victory is in the development of my practice. I am increasingly feeling that I have taken what I needed and wanted from the MA course as a whole. My creative choices have developed significantly eventually leading to the evolution of my functional practice and choice of equipment. I have a blueprint for my long term engagement with photography and the pursuit of personal projects. The final consideration I am currently wrestling with is learning to shoot at the 80mm focal length which is challenging as I am tasked to continue to retain a powerful discourse with a tighter frame. In earlier modules I was quite happy shooting portraits at 24mm before shooting at 35mm. I am now working at 80mm and still learning but that journey quickens as I have a capital in working in medium format which breeds confidence in other areas. 

The coming weeks will consist of appeasing my own work. I suspect assessing the many failures and few victories. Outcomes are less important at this stage although I am quietly confident.

Johan Renck [Online] Available at: [Accessed] 27th June 2021.

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