Project 2 – shadows and light

Outline – This project involves hunting for strong shadows and highlights. I chose outdoor environments. Utilise the light on a clear day when the sun is low on the horizon. Have a look at the work of Trent Parke making notes on how Parke uses high contrast light and shadow to create telling dramatic compositions.


In line with my plans for this project/ exercise I spent approximately an hour on 4 consecutive days walking around the city centre. I shot around 400 shots in the 4 days – there was an element of trial, error and chimping about a number of the shots. I was experimenting with the light meter to generate high contrasts in the shots. The camera is generally set on spot meter anyway, so it was no great shakes using it for this project. But it took a number of goes to judge the light meter reading so as to know that the bottom corners of the shot (for example) would be very dark/ black and therefore creating that angle or frame so often seen in shots like Parkes.

It took about a dozen attempts at doing this project before the weather was suitable – Dublin in a very rainy, cloudy January didn’t lend itself well to long shadows. I read through a Parke street photography book I had, and decided I would try to use elements of his work in this. I also thought it was quite interesting that Magnum really push his colour work at the expense of his b&w images. So I wanted to try and include colour in this also.

Parkes colour work seems to take advantage of light, bright Australian skies and sun, plus new world advertising colour. These colours aren’t really Irish, and neither is the weather, so I have real doubts whether the light can be matched in Dublin, but it was interesting to create that blasting white out, and the black edge and corner to create contrast.


So Parke often seems to include the contrasts of light and shade, as well as monochromatic and colour – all in the one shot. And it was this I was trying to capture above.

I had gone to the centre of town to mirror Parke’s use of high rises, and built up city scapes. The Sydney high rises mean that within the image there are clear linear divisions between stark light and shade.

It was interesting to realise that over the course of the afternoon I began to become aware of where I would be more likely to see suitable images, from which angle the sun would work best, and what surfaces would offer the most success. Small laneways channeling light, having the sun over your shoulder, glass or metal, were all elements I was learning to spot.

The images were ok, but I would like to think that another spell on this project would allow me to utilise what I learnt, focus on a certain area, and give myself some time to wait for the light to hit appropriately. I suspect Parke spends a long time waiting for the right person, right light, right moment. I would also be interested in trying another Trent Parke homage during summer, or else not in Ireland – just to utilise a different stronger light.

I tried to have a few varieties of image. So as well as Parke’s city scape images I tried also to capture his burnt out figures. Elements of these were successful. I tried these in both black and white, and also in colour. I couldn’t however get a whole figure to burn out as Parke did. I could get most of a figure, but where the angles changed, and the light hit the person differently, then I lost the over exposed white out. So this would need more work.

Processing these images was a challenge. I had intentionally over exposed, or underexposed images, targeted extreme highlights or shadows. So processing was mostly compositional and tidying up.

Parkes use of the environment and the people within it to interact with the light/ shadow and create the drama, was something I was trying to mirror. So I tried to find people who were doing something, even if it was only walking. People in and out of their environment is something that interests me, and Parkes ability to often create an other-worldliness from his figures is often achieved through their interaction with the light and their surroundings. I wasn’t especially successful in achieving this. I don’t think any of the figures in my shots look apart from their surroundings. I  suspect that the two principal reasons for my not achieving this when Parke can is a) the technical ability Parke has in achieving that specific whitening out/ halo effect/ translucence etc, and b) his ability to spend the required amount of time waiting for the correct light, the correct bus to pass, people to turn etc. There are probably other reasons as well, but these at least we areas I could look at, tackle and hopefully improve.




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