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Playing with Light – Photography Challenge

Last month your photography challenge was to get out and shoot at 100 paces. Many of you participated and there were a lot of great images and stories shared, and most importantly – a lot of lessons learned.

I'm so glad you found it so valuable. Here are just some of the things mentioned in the comments:

I tend to be “in a hurry” so the challenge helped me to slow dow and be more careful about the subjects I was photographing.In the end, I think I got less images but more “keepers”. It was a lot of fun. – Maria Rebelo

I saw so many cool things that I wouldn't have noticed had I not taken the time to stop, look up and look down. Another 100 paces took me to the ferry dock at Lincoln Harbor in Weehawken, NJ. The screws caught my eye. I don’t think I would have looked at it the same way without this challenge. – Nina Soifer

It is quite hard to find something interesting in an everyday environment. Yet, I've decided to do shots around my house because of that. I will find more interesting things and will do more photos. It is so cool to show such pictures to neighbors – they have not seen the area in this way. – Andrey

And the winner is . . .

From all the qualifying entries one name was randomly selected. Congratulations to Nina Soifer who opted to receive a set of my Lightroom Presets. Enjoy!

New Photography Challenge – Playing with Light

As I was trying to come up with ideas for this month's challenge I looked back on some of the past topics we've done. One thing jumped out to me, and that is that we haven't done anything focus on using light.

So this month is all about playing with light!

These are my sample subjects for this demonstration. Fitting for this week!

What is an external light source?

Okay, what do I mean by that? Let's get more specific. I find that a lot of beginners struggle not only to see light but using any type of external light sources, such as a flash, studio light, or even a flashlight.

So, what I want you to do this month is to ADD light with an external light source. That is a light that is NOT attached to your camera. It must be something that you can control and move around yourself. That might include any of the following:

  • A speedlight (a flash made for your camera)
  • A small desk lamp that you can move around
  • Studio lighting (more advanced)
  • Flashlight (torch)
  • Candlelight
  • A match (you have to be quick!)
  • An LED or continuous light
  • The light from your cell phone
You don't need all this!
The flashlight on your phone will even work just fine!

Tips for buying a flash if you so choose

You don't have to rush out and buy a speedlight or a flash to do this, but if you do have one – now is the time to get it out and use it. If you don't own one, try a flashlight or get an inexpensive LED light something like this one (click the link) for under $35.

This is a typical looking speedlight.

Or you can go to your local camera store and see if they have any old used flashes (speedlights). Any flash will do. A Vivitar 283 or 285 can often be found for under $30. The thing you want to make sure it has is a test button that will fire the flash when you push it. More on this later, keep reading.

WARNING: If do you buy an old flash DO NOT put it on top of your camera. It will be used off-camera only. Putting it on your camera's hot shoe could result in the flash frying the electronics inside your camera. So do not do that please! 

Alternately, if you are looking to buy a flash but don't want to break the bank, take a look at some by Godox or Yongnuo for under $100. Just make sure you get one that is compatible with your camera system so you can use it on-camera as well. Some have TTL (automatic flash metering and setting) and some do not. If you want to use it on-camera get one with TTL!

Details of the Challenge

As it's Halloween today, I've set up a little still life scene to demonstrate how I want you to play with light for this photography challenge.

Step one – set up your scene

I've done this indoors as it's late fall here and is a bit chilly outside. But you're welcome to do this outdoors if that's feasible for you. I've used pumpkins, but you can use any subject you want. Pick something that has some texture and detail, as well as a nice shape so that you can easily see the effect the light has on the subject.

Wait until the light is dim or it's nighttime, and find an area that is fairly dark so there's little or no light falling on the scene. That way the light you add will be the main or only light on the subject and you won't be battling the sun or another light source.

Use a tripod for this challenge too as your hands will be busy moving the light around. So set up the camera on a tripod and use a remote trigger or the 2-second timer to fire it.

Step two – lighting the scene

Now it's time to experiment and play with light. Get your flash or whatever you're using as a light source and start by standing beside the camera and aiming the light directly at the subject. Set your exposure, it may need to be a bit long (that's why you're using a tripod, but that's okay. Then take your first shot.

HINT: If you shoot in the monochrome picture style or mode (check your camera's settings) you will have an easier time seeing the light and the shadows. So I've converted my images to black and white to demonstrate as well.

First shot – lit with a flashlight from the camera angle. My flashlight had an odd highlight or circle of light in the middle so I used a tissue over the front to diffuse it. Exposure here was: ISO 800, f/5.6, 6.5 seconds. I focused manually using the zoom feature in LiveView mode.

Then try different things like move off to one side so the light is more directionals and take another shot. Bounce the light off the ceiling or off a side wall if you're indoors or use a big white reflector of a piece of white posterboard outdoors. What effect does that have on the light and the subject?

Try using the light both directly (hard light) and bounced or indirectly (soft light) and see what it does. Move it up higher, and bring it down low. Put the light behind the subject aiming back towards the camera. Experiment and observe, taking images of each as you go.

Here are some samples I did in about 20 minutes.

NOTE: These were all lit with a simple household flashlight! You do not need fancy gear to do this.

Flashlight bounced off the wall to the left, same exposure as last shot. What difference do you notice here?
Flashlight on the background only creating a silhouette.
Flashlight bounced off the ceiling behind the pumpkins. OOOOH, spooky!
Flashlight bounced off the ceiling behind the pumpkins. Here I moved the flashlight so it was more behind the pumpkins so there is less light falling on the front.
Flashlight bounced off the ceiling behind the pumpkins and off the wall to the left! Here I changed the exposure time to 13 seconds and divided the time between off the ceiling and off the wall behind me (just to fill in the shadows a little).
For this shot, I turned on a desk lamp behind and to the right of the pumpkins (it is making that nice highlight on the side). The flashlight aimed directly at the pumpkins from the left for about 10 seconds, and for 1 second was bounced off the wall behind the camera to fill in the shadows.

These shots were all done in ONE exposure with a simple flashlight and a desk lamp! You can do this too it's not hard, or complicated and doesn't require any expensive gear. Just try it! Essentially all you're doing here is painting with light.

Here's a little video I did using just the flashlight on my phone just to prove my point. See how the look changes, watch the pumpkins closely.

Participate and share your images

In order to participate in this challenge and be eligible for this prize you need to:

  1. Upload your favorite image (or 2-4) from your playing with light experiments in the comments section below.
  2. Tell us how you shot it (what lens, lighting and camera settings).
  3. Tell us about your experience doing this challenge?  Did you learn to see light and understand it a little better? Tell us about what you learned in as much detail as you can.
  4. Upload your photo, shooting info, and tell us what you learned by the cut-off date of November 30th, 2018. NOTE: please do NOT save your images as TIF (they will be too big to add in the comments, it must be under 2mb) and please do NOT email your images to me for critique. I cannot give personal critiques by email, leave your images below and I will comment there.

Please note: if you do NOT fulfill all the steps above your entry will not be valid. Just adding the photo will NOT be counted as an entry. I want to hear about it too, please. The point of these challenges is to help you learn something new – tell me about that.

You may post more than one photo, and do this as many times as you like over the month (you can comment as many times as you like, and share as many photos as you want – but it will be counted as one entry per person). The more you practice the better you’ll get at it, like anything – so share away. I also encourage you to share the link to this challenge with a friend, so you can do it together!

The Prize

This month the winner will get a $50 Amazon Gift Card. Perhaps you can put it towards getting yourself a speedlight or flash!

Happy shooting, and remember to have fun with it!

Darlene Hildebrandt photographer DPM

Digital Photo Mentor is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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