It’s cold inside

In some of the first interior scenes in Lady Macbeth you can literally see the dust falling through the air and, so still are the interiors, that this counts as action.  Stillness, silence, boredom – the scene is being set. The house is introduced as a character, the sounds of doors and windows, footsteps on hard floors. Several times we are told how cold it gets, and conversely, how it is best to stay indoors as it is clearly even colder outside. A prison within a prison.

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Lady Macbeth, William Oldroyd (2017)

I love films that appear naturalistic, daylit interiors especially (I was reminded of a recent film by Jessica Hausner called ‘Amour Fou’ which is worth watching for the colours and lighting alone) and the quality of light and interiors here is very reminiscent of paintings by the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi. That same sense of silence and the feeling of time passing very slowly if at all.

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Amour Fou, Jessica Hausner (2014)

Some of the interiors in Lady Macbeth are pure Hammershoi with the muted colours, side light and absolute stillness.  There is a view right at the end of the film as the main character walks away from us along the hallway that is like a Hammershoi picture come to life.  The photography (and presumably lighting) is by Ari Wegner and very beautiful it is too.

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Lady Macbeth, William Oldroyd (2017)
Vilhelm Hammershoi

But the link that struck me even more than Hammershoi was with a photographer called Desiree Dolron, specifically a series of pictures she made called XTERIORS. The clarity of the lighting on faces, the coldness of daylight spilling in through windows, the darkness of the interiors was all very reminiscent of the dutch photographer.

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Lady Macbeth (larger images) / Desiree Dolron XTERIORS (smaller images)

The visual mood of XTERIORS is darker but the lighting and sense of silence and foreboding is the same – the film is cold and dark to the core.  The feeling of being trapped in a house, outside light leaking in slightly but not enough to brighten up the gloomy interiors, nothing good is going to happen here.  If there is a soundtrack to this it is creaking floorboards, another thing that Lady Macbeth does really well is sound, the sounds of the house, the outside sometimes heard in the far distance, the quiet birdsong playing over the end credits.

All this Scandi/Flemish noir is right up my street and if you like this kind of thing too then I urge you to go and see the film, but wrap up warm!

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XTERIORS, Desiree Dolron
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Lady Macbeth, William Oldroyd (2107)

Where is everybody?

Increasingly the emphasis of project photography, be it for lighting or architecture, is on people. Documenting people in the space, their activity, the visitor experience. People are the reason architecture and lighting are designed, they are both creators and end users. This means including (where possible) people in photographs and these are some of the considerations I take into account when doing this.

(a large amount of credit at this point must go to Speirs+Major for not so much suggesting as insisting that my photographs include people.)

Stansted Airport, Sat 1, Pascall+Watson

Where are they?

As soon as a person enters the frame they become a, if not the strong element within the picture.  Immediately the eye is drawn to the figure – so position them carefully within the frame and make sure that the eye is drawn to something revealing.  The Serpentine Pavilion project has many good points, but one I particularly enjoy is the level of interaction it encourages between visitor and architecture, it is very direct and playful and leaves me thinking we should interact with architecture more often.

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Serpentine Pavilion 2015, selgascano
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Serpentine Pavilion 2009, sanaa

Where should they be?

If the image is of an empty space then the sole focus is on architecture – in this instance the specific focus is a lit wall at the rear of the space.

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

Once a person enters the frame there is immediately another focal point. In this example the figure brings a sense of movement to the scene as well as demonstrating the scale of the space. Perhaps more importantly they also provide a silhouette against the rear wall thereby enhancing the lit effect that is being illustrated.

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

Also drawing the eye will be the brightest elements in the frame, in this instance the red lobby in the background is very strong so perhaps the person should be dressed in red to balance that out? Where exactly within the frame should they appear in order to create that balance? Maybe they should be here, or here, or here…….

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1 Oliver’s Yard, Selux Lighting

What are they doing?

As well as drawing the eye people can help to illustrate the use of space and explain what it is there for.  Whether it is an exhibition stand set up in order to demonstrate lighting equipment or a workstation in a shoe shop, by showing people carrying out specific activities it is possible to add to the amount of information provided by an image.

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Lumenpulse at LuxLive
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Joseph Cheaney, Checkland Kindleysides

How many are there?

What kind of space is it? What is its function? How many people would usually be there?  Once full of people the atmosphere of the space is completely altered.  It becomes full of life and energy, movement, interaction and of course sound – a subject I will look into more in another post.

Oxford Brookes Lecture Theatre, Speirs+Major
Oxford Brookes Lecture Theatre, Speirs+Major

Where are they going?

In the image below the suggestion of movement up the staircase serves to enhance the flowing lines and curves of the staircase design whilst at the same time providing a nice contrast with static nature of structure.  I usually like to show people moving or blurred, – not only does it show that they are alive(!), but also it slightly reduces the focus on them, you are not wondering about who they are and whether you recognise them or not, it is more generic and keeps the focus on the architecture whilst enlivening the picture.

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Miles Staircase, Somerset House, Eva Jiricna/DHA

What are the wearing?

Is this just a coincidence? I find this happens a lot, people will be dressed to match their surroundings (no, really) especially at art exhibitions, it might be just my imagination, but I like to think it is some sort of subconscious decision, we are drawn to the things we like……..

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Serpentine-Pavilion 2015, selgascano

Don’t look at the camera!

You have seen them, but have they seen you? Most people will ignore the camera, some will get out of the way and avoid being photographed, abut then there are always those that want to get involved…………….OK move along now please.

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Passers by posing for their photo to be taken

Dusk = 6:57 PM

There is a point on a clear evening with a crisp blue sky when everything seems to be in harmony. Calm and serene yet vibrant at the same time, an electric atmosphere hangs in the air for a short period, a merging of darkness and light. The lighting on the buildings is seen in balance against the remaining blue light of the sky and the city seems especially alive. This is why I enjoy dusk; photographing lighting projects is why I spend a lot of time waiting for it!

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Regent Street, Lighting by Studio-29

If I google ‘dusk’ it says 6:57 PM Friday, October 7, 2016 (BST), Dusk in London, UK.  All very precise, according to this dusk will be happening 33 minutes after sunset.  Wikipedia then tells me that Dusk is actually short for ‘Astronomical Dusk’, or the darkest part of twilight before night begins. This is part of a whole sequence of events that lead from day into night – sunset, civil twilight, civil dusk, nautical twilight, nautical dusk, astronomical twilight and then astronomical dusk all occur before ‘nightfall’.  Time measured against the course of the sun.

Minute changes in light level, angle of sun and colour of  sky are what we will see as this process unfolds, this is one of the times where we can most vividly experience the minute by minute changes occurring around us. Flux in action – visible.

The following images (Lower Regent Street, lighting by Studio-29) illustrate an exercise in recording and viewing these changes. When seen together they allow us to observe the balance shifting within the scene; the sky darkens and the emphasis drops onto illuminated windows, traffic on the street and building facade lighting. As one aspect of the city dissolves another appears.

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Sunset
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Sunset + 5mins
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Sunset + 10 mins
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Sunset + 15 mins
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Sunset + 20 mins

My rule of thumb for project photography is sunset +20 minutes, this is usually the time I can start taking the photographs.  Pre-planning will allow me to have mentally ‘set up’ a number of images and then it is a race against time to try to get them all done during dusk.

All of this will depend upon the project, the local environment, the level of artificial light, the amount of sky that is visible in the image, the weather, cloud cover and what is happening at the location.  So there are many factors that will help me to decide when I am going to take the photographs but ultimately it just feels right at the time.