Study in Lighting

You may remember from another post that earlier this year I finally added some strobes to my photography gear. It’s a great addition, allowing for many possibilities, but comes with one big caveat: one really needs the time to set things up etc before actually taking any pictures. Now for someone used to taking basically grab shots, all this prep work takes some getting used to. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years is that in any skill, an photography is no exception, the only way to improve is to work hard. So with the ambition to improve my understanding of light, I’m starting with a series of studies where the common theme is lighting. Most likely this will generally involve artificial light, for the simple fact that it’s controllable. My plan is to work through different ‘standard’ lighting configurations on a variety of subjects.

I’m starting first with what’s often referred to as the Old Masters or Rembrandt – this is possibly the simplest, with a single light from the side. The concept is to show form by creating a good contrast between the lit side and a deeper shadow. I must admit I’m a big fan of the chiaroscuro effect from the baroque period, where I feel the understanding of lighting and its dramatic effect was particularly intense.

Anyway, I went with the classic fruit bowl as a subject, partly because R recently bought these lovely pomegranates and I could not stop looking at their lovely skin. Both photos are lit with a single strobe on the left with a two-foot soft-box, maybe three feet from the subject. The camera (EOS 30D + 17-40mm f/4L) is on a tripod, angled down, and quite close to the subject. The greatest difficulty I found was excluding any background, requiring me to use a higher viewpoint than I would have liked. In the second shot I had to add some artificial vignetting (which I generally abhor) to reduce the distraction from a reflection on the glossy surface. In the first I had to clone out a distracting reflection of the tripod legs on the bowl. I could really do with a small paper roll. Otherwise the only processing involves some contrast adjustment. Having said all that, please be kind: this is only my first try at this kind of subject. And let’s hope this entry will really be 1/52. My track record on weekly projects is not quite ideal.

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3 comments

  1. Reminds me more of Zurbaran than Rembrandt. In fact, trying to recreate some of Zurbaran’s still lifes photographically may be a worthwhile exercise. I know it’s been done before, but I’m sure there’s a lot to be learnt in the process, not only about chiaroscuro but also about foregrounding the subject without resorting to a high viewpoint, composition, and choosing appropriately coloured bowls! BTW, lovely pomegranates.

    • Mario, thanks for stopping by! I mentioned Rembrandt as the lighting configuration is often referred to in that way, particularly in the context of portraiture. Zurbarán definitely strikes a closer chord. Your suggestion to recreate paintings in photography sounds like an interesting (and demanding) project! By the way, the problem I faced with excluding background was simply too much light spill (so I could not things fade to black), and the lack of a decent and large enough backdrop to use…

  2. […] part of any photography course’s homework. Today I tried two from that list. I started with something I have been thinking of for some time: still life with the background fading to solid black. I experimented a little, and soon realized […]

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