What you need
For all the examples shown during the tutorial and presentation, as shown on this write up you only need some very simple household items;
- A light – Something with a “beam” like an anglepoise lamp. It doesn’t matter what kind or what power the bulb is, however if you’ve got a choice a 100W or 150W Daylight bulb is easiest to work with
- A prop and something to hold it in – I used individual flowers and an empty beer bottle!
- A background – I used art paper in a variety of different colours however anything about A1 size is ideal including perhaps a sheet, a towel or even just a plain wall.
- Reflectors and flags – Any piece of black or white card that’s about A4 size. I use the bit I cut out when mounting a print!
- A diffuser – There are lots of commercially reflectors available (including the 5-in-1 pop-up type which are very good), however grease-proof paper or a white carrier bag will work too. I’ve even used a shower curtain in the past!
n.b. None of the photos shown here have been tweaked in Light Room or Photoshop so should represent what you can achieve straight out of the camera!
Here’s my set-up!
Moving your light
Light is probably the most important thing in composing your image, so part of this tutorial was to try experimenting with the position of your lights.
- One of the best places to start is with “Rembrant” lighting where the light is in front of the subject, 45 degrees up, and 45 degrees to one side. This is very natural light and great place to start.
- Moving the light to one side shows much more of the shape of the flower, but because the light is still from above it looks natural.
- Placing the light at the same height as the subject and to one side, gives a very different look where the underside is being lit, something we don’t normally see in nature.
- Having the light directly above the subject is bit more unusual, but still looks natural.
- With the light directly in front of the subject the light becomes a bit “flat” and looks artificially lit, like a shot with an on camera flash.
- Lighting the background only is a fun way to get a silhouette.
Hard and soft lighting with reflectors and diffusers
Photographers regularly talk about hard light, which creates sharply defined dark shadows and emphasises textures, and soft light which produces more gentle shadows and a smoother transition from light to dark but which can conceal texture. As part of the tutorial Andy showed how something as simple as a piece of greaseproof paper or a carrier bag can be used to soften light or how a piece of card can be used to reflect light into the shadows.
During the presentation Andy explained how you should choose your background to either compliment or contrast with your subject. Colours on opposite side of the colour wheel will compliment each other and highlight the differences in colour (for example a red flower on a green background), however other combinations such as a red flower on orange don’t work as well because the colours are too similar.
Adobe provide a really good tool for visualising the colour colour wheel and experimenting with complimentary and other colour schemes.
Here are a set of images showing different backgrounds with the same flower. Which do you think works best?
Auto white balance gets it wrong sometimes
Auto white balance normally does a great job of correcting for different colours of light (for example Daylight, sunset or tungsten lights), however with a strongly coloured image, auto white balance can get confused, in these next three images you can see the difference between shooting with your white balance set to match your light, and when Auto White Balance gets confused.
How to get a black background
When working with a black background it will always come out a bit grey because some of the light shining on the subject will spill onto the background, however if you move the background further away from the light, angle the light so it doesn’t shine on the background or use a “flag”to cast a shadow on the background you can make it darker.