Photography Trouble Shooting: Lighting

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Kaz-D's avatar
Recently during a projecteducate week focusing on Still Life Photography we asked for you to share the issues that you might have when trying to obtain some great Still Life Shots. Through this series of articles we hope to answer some of the queries or give you that push you need to step outside boundaries and get creative. The first frustration came from 1510 who struggled with Lighting additionally a further 19 Deviants voted on the poll to indicate they had the same issues.

"Lighting. I always have to use just window or lamps which are never
good. kind of given up on still life photos, even I have still tons of
ideas..." 1510

"1510 lamps and natural light are a perfectly good way of lighting a subject. Many 'professional' lighting solutions, particularly the ones that burn 'hot' or constantly, are not much more than high wattage incandescent light bulbs often with some sort of cooling (to prolong the lifespan of the bulb). Other lighting options use strobes, off-camera flash units, that achieve much the same effect without putting out hundreds of watts of thermal energy and literally heating a room.


Desk lamps in particular, are a good, and cheap means of lighting a subject. You can even get daylight balanced bulbs to use in them so you can use the lamps in conjunction with natural daylight. Granted such bulbs may have a price premium over normal incandescent or CCFL bulbs.


If you're not going to get a daylight balanced bulb, then the most important concern with artificial lighting, is the white balance.
Incandescent bulbs are black body radiators, in other words, white balance should be easy to achieve, as the hotter an incandescent bulb burns, the whiter, and eventually bluer it will be. Most common lamps don't burn hot enough for that, though, so you're looking at around 2500 to 3500 kelvin.
CCFL Bulbs (more commonly known as energy saving bulbs) are fluorescent bulbs. All fluorescent emit UV light inside the tubes, which is then converted to visible light in the tube using phosphor. The important point is the fluorescent lights don't follow the form of a black body spectrum, so white balancing is a little more difficult with these bulbs. But certainly not impossible.

All that said, the main difference between a desk lamp, or equivalent and constant studio lighting is in the power of the lighting.

This doesn't or shouldn't represent much of an issue for most still life photography, as you can simply use a longer shutter speed to compensate for the lower lighting. Of course, the other option is to simply place the lamp as close to the subject as possible, which, thanks to the inverse square law, will give you large gains even with a small distance adjustment.

Personally, a lot of my hand held indoor macro images have been lit with just my desk lamp as a source of light, so, using cheap lighting is certainly not a limitation to some semi decent lighting options. "



The above tutorial helps you to learn how to get the most from the conditions you are working with. claremanson shares her tips and tricks for achieving natural looking still life photographs.

"I'd say for lighting, use windows and as much natural light as possible.  The sun is your friend for sure. Also, lighting is the MOST important part of the photo. You can have the best composition ever but if your lighting is bad the whole photo is too. So set up your lighting, then set up the background, composition first.

Utilize all the awesome tutorials and articles on Devianart and get books from your library or see if you can borrow books from your local photographers! Learning from the pros in any way either in books or quick 1 on 1 questions etc is so important so always keep doing that!"
~ AJ333 

Thanks to everyone who helped out with the article! Next time we're going to focus on Backgrounds...

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JamminJo's avatar
Added to #DevNews posting on June 15, 2012.