This photo was taken in our basement. I tell you this because actually it wouldn’t have mattered where I took it because it’s so dark outside. WINTER is here in Cleveland. Yes the white stuff has been spotted—I don’t like to use the “S” word until I have to shovel.
Someone recently wrote to me asking what inexpensive lighting they could use in place of professional lights now that taking photos in available light is getting tougher—she asked if some clip on lights from Home Depot would do the trick. Answer: Yes. But you just can’t plug them in and shine them straight on. Controlling the light from them is like the difference between using a sharp knife or a dull knife. Photography is all about light. The more you understand it the easier you are able to improvise.
I bought those silver bowl clip-on lights a long time ago when I was a student. The photos weren’t good, but neither was my understanding of light. If I bought those lights today, I bet I could come close to the photo above. This bread shot had 3 lights, a soft light above to the right and back, a soft light less strong low to the left front side and a soft back light that lit the background loaf and wall. I shot this with my Nikon D200 with a 55mm macro lens at f11 and used Dyna-lite strobes that also have modeling lights that I can add a soft box, grid spots or umbrellas too. They connect to a small 500 watt power back that plugs into the wall. For table-top food photography you don’t need anything stronger. They will set you back about $2,000-$3,000.
Clamp on lights or desk lamps with bendable arms will cost you no more then $20 each, but you’ll have to use a tripod because they give out a much weaker light compared to strobes. A steady tripod is important, and even with that you can create camera shake just by clicking your shutter. If you have a “mirror lock up” on your camera, use it. If you don’t (point and shoot cameras don’t) you don’t have to worry, just be careful when you click the shutter not to jar the camera. I would buy at least 3 or 4 because I would adapt them for different light sources.
With one, I would simulate a soft box by covering the light with some white semi-transparent material, like white parchment paper. Poke several holes to vent out the heat of the bulb—we don’t want to start a fire. For another, try attaching black boards to either side to simulate “Barn Doors” (that’s what we call the lights that have movable flaps so you can narrow the angle of flare), duck tape goes a long way. Close them almost completely and you have what looks like light coming through a blind in the window. Use it as a back light just when you want the light to skim the surface (see previous juicy onion post). This will be a difficult one to make work, but anything you can rig up to control the light can be very useful, even just cutting out different sized holes in black cardboard to place in front of the light to make different size spot lights. And try making a lot of dime sized holes in one board to simulate a “grid spot” that creates a soft round spot light. These are all great for back lighting your subjects.
The last light I would leave alone. With this one you can either point it straight up at the ceiling, if it’s a light color, and the light will bounce off making soft over head light—or, point it at a white card to the side of your subject and the light will bounce from the white board onto the subject creating a soft side light. Pieces of foam core that you can get at any art or office supply store are perfect and don’t need to be larger than 16X20 if you’re doing food. You won’t have to use all of these at the same time. Play with one or two add more if you need it. In lighting, as in most creative processes, less is more and know when to stop.
But—most importantly have fun, and good luck.
Wanted those of you who ordered signed copies of the Calendar to know they are all shipped out. Pakistan wins for distance! Alaska comes in second. They will get there’s next week, everyone else should be receiving in a day or two. Thanks everyone.