Yesterday I spent some time testing some new lighting techniques (and tweeted about it) and got a number of inquires for more information about what I was doing. I have started to put together a longer post about some of the techniques that I am working on. But as I got into it I realized that there are so many different issues that come up that there is no way I’ll be able to write up a comprehensive post today. So that post is going to be a work in progress and will happen sometime in the future. However, here is a quick look at what I was doing yesterday.
My main focus was not so much on the food (as you will see I didn’t actually use any food on this test), but the quality of light. Yesterday was cold and gray, and by the time I’d gotten through my todo list it was nearly dark outside. In these cold winter months this happens a lot. Since I didn’t have the sun coming in my windows I needed to create my own. For my subject matter I worked with two different sake sets, along a few chopsticks from my collection. For the record, I only have a very small (but growing) collection of props. I am always keeping my eyes open at thrift stores for interesting stuff and for creative ways to make what I already have accomplish more in my photographs. For example, in these photographs, the burlap placemat is actually an empty basmati rice sack that I cut open at the seams and ironed. The surface I’m using is two $5 floor tiles I got at Home Depot a while back.
Here is the breakdown of how I lit the image: I have a large octabank softbox on camera right (a light modifier that I generally use for portraits) which is my key light. On camera left there is a white wall just outside of the frame. The light from my key light bounces off of the wall and back onto the subject, acting as my fill light. Finally, at the top the frame (behind the subject) I have a second softbox (with a grid) pointing back at the subject which has two functions. It gives my subject a rim light, which gives it nice separation (notice the nice highlight along the edge of the chopsticks). It also mimics a window light streaming in from behind. All of the light sources are large and soft, which means that I don’t get any harsh shadows, and the specular highlights on the glassware are nicely shaped.
Both lights work together build the image. In this case, either of these lights working alone at this intensity and exposure wouldn’t cut it. Here is a look at each light firing independently:
The image on the left is the key light by itself, the image on the right is the rim light by itself. As you can see, the rim light causes too many dark shadows, and the key light is fairly flat and not every exciting. Combined however they make pleasing and natural looking light.
Post-production is just as important as setting up your lighting as well. For a second shot, I used the same lighting set up and simply altered the camera angle. Then I over-exposed the image slightly, increased the contrast, and then cooled down the color temperature. This gives me a completely different look:
Full disclosure: I did use my professional gear (softboxes and strobes) for these shots because that is what I have available. I get paid to make photographs and therefore have a lot more gear than your typical blogger. Gear is awesome and fun but there is no need to go out and buy all sorts of expensive stuff to get this effect. You can accomplish the same shot by using a Home Depot work light behind a sheet as a replacement for each of the softboxes. The sheet will do the same thing as the softbox – it will diffuse the light. Using hot lights instead of expensive strobes makes color correction a little more challenging, and you’ll likely have to use a longer exposure, but it can be done.
I’ll try to demonstrate what can be done with inexpensive equipment and discuss in more detail some of the factors in shaping light in a more comprehensive post in the future. In the mean time, if you have any specific questions, hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them. Hopefully this brief explanation will give you some ideas to get started.