Monday, September 7, 2009

The Electric Koolaid Strawberry Lighting Test

So far, my food photography has been getting by on sheer luck. Sure, I've learned how to throw around some lighting terms like "key", "fill", "reflector", and (my personal favorite) "snoot". But I really have no idea what I'm talking about.

I have learned a few things about lighting, but they are either the absolute basics or things I've discovered through pure dumb luck.

But I can't look at a plate of food and instantly decide the best way to light it. I can't get the lighting I want when I want it. I can't figure out why certain lighting set ups work for one dish, but are terrible for another. I'm a lighting newb, and I know it.

Or I should say I'm a studio lighting newb. I spent many years doing outdoor photography, so I do understand natural lighting.

Oak tree near the Sutter Buttes

Natural lighting is easy. It's there or it's not there. It's right or it's not right. For natural lighting there are only two rules of thumb: shoot within 2 hours of sunrise or sunset, and side-lighting is the best lighting. Both of these rules can be broken, but you can get a long way on them.

Vineyards, Sonoma Valley

Not so simple with studio lighting (as far as I can tell).

I've actually had studio photographers tell me that they don't see how I do my outdoor work. "You have no control over the lighting. How can you ever get the results you want?" This makes sense coming from someone who is used to controlling every aspect of lighting, and who knows how to do it.

Delta King, Sacramento

My problem is that I really don't know how to do it.

So I decided to do some basic lighting tests using a plate of strawberries. They look nice, they qualify as food, and they don't get cold. In other words, they are the perfect subject.

I started with a pretty typical set up
  • Left key through brolly
  • Rear fill through reflector
  • Right Fill through brolly
Strawberries - Lighting Set up A
Initial lighting set up

Then I took a photo of the strawberries with different combinations of lights (the following are unretouched JPEGs):

Rear Fill Only
Rear fill light only

Right Fill only
Right fill light only

Left Key light only
Left Key light only

All 3 Strobes
All three strobes

The last image seems overexposed, but in fact it is just very flat lighting that isn't flattering to the strawberries. There are too many specular highlights, particularly from the right fill.

I decided that though I needed a fill on the right, the strobe was too harsh. I also decided that I didn't really need the rear fill for the strawberries. So I turned off the rear fill and replaced the right fill with a small reflector, placed close to the food.

Left Key and reflector
Left key, plus reflector to the right

This was both simpler and better for lighting this subject. A bit of minor tweaking in Photoshop and here are some of the images I got:

Strawberries - Final 3

Strawberries - Final 2

Strawberries - Final 1

Pulitzer Prize material? Unlikely. However, I'm pretty darn proud that I was able to diagnose and correct some basic lighting issues. In other words, I'm learning.

No comments:

Post a Comment