Lighting for still life - where to start?!?! : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

So, I was sick last week and stuck in the house being bored, so I thought I'd play around with my camera and shoot some things in the house, mainly (I'm an LF beginner) to experiment with plane of focus and camera movements. Anyway, I realised that I'd no idea where to start with lighting! There doesn't seem to be anything obvious about it either, and my photography texts I now realise are biased towards outdoor, ambient light shooting. So, where does one start? What basic equipment would I need to set up some simple B&W still life shots? I want to do the classic types of thing like photograph a book on a table and change the POF to get the whole page in focus, use very small depth of field and again POF to highlight selected items in a set of objects, etc. Do I need to spend a fortune? I know zip about studio lights. Anyone got any good resources? Web pages, books, etc?

-- Gavin Walker (, September 20, 2001


If you don't have any lights... use what is available. Window light. Table lamps. Tin foil or pan bottoms or mirrors for reflectors. Bedsheets & tablecloths & lace to bounce or soften light.

Available light photography is as old as photography. If the subject is holding still you can sit & experiment, set something up & watch the window light play across it at different times of the day or work with 'available shadows' if you want.

I don't think Edward Weston had Black Line strobes for his peppers.

-- Dan Smith (, September 20, 2001.


I know this will get some turned up noses, but. If your using B&W go to the local Hardware Store and get 3 or 4 clamp on lights with the small reflectors and regular 100w screw in spots. You will have a cheep set of HOT Lights(you will soon see why they are called HOT and use caution). You will be able to get very impressive results and you can see how the movement of the lights changes the subject. You can even get by without a Flash Meter. After getting a few great exposures,then you have to start making all those Damn Choices again. Depending on your location you may be able to rent a simple studio flash set. Flash lighting is the one thing,for me that seems so complicated, but after a few hours with the hot lights it is a pleasure and worth the $. I still like using Hot Lights for a number of subjects,especially people when they can handle the heat. There are a series of books out,on different lighting subjects(still, product, glamor,etc.), I'm sure someone in this group will help me with the name, they are worth checking out. One thing that I have noticed with LF Lighting (compared to Med and 35mm),it seems to take a LOT of Light! So when you go to make your purchase make sure you have the Power to do the job you need.

-- R. L. (Mac) McDonald (, September 20, 2001.

Hot light is very good and (can be) inexpesive, if you choose a professioal system the only advantage is the number of accessories which somebodyelse has been already inventing for you, but that comes to a price. If, on the other hand, you are good in DIY then many adaptations of cheap light sources will be at your service.

Natural light is the best source if you can understand it and master it, reflection screens and mirrors work wonders and cost nothing. Portraits with natural light are the best. use high speed films, large format films hardly show any grain whatsoever.

Flash units, strobes, are great and if old can be very inexpensive, I bought many different brands and currently own a Balcar Jazz 750W.s (great for close-up portraits) and a Bläsing traveller 1000w.sec with lots of accessories (fresnel spot, striplight, ) only buy reputable second hand, sturdy studio sets like Bläsing or Strobe can be surprisingly cheap when second hand, because they look old fashioned and bulky but they are stunningly good and powerful.

-- Andrea Milano (, September 21, 2001.

Your best lighting accessory 'ever' will be a big sheet of diffuser material. This can be simple drawing film, proper fire-resistant woven fibre scrim, or a sheet of translucent perspex. All these will double as reflectors too.

Hollywood style spotlighting is a thing of the distant past, thank goodness, and artificial-looking and complicated lighting setups have generally been replaced by a more natural look. Keep it simple, and keep it soft, to begin with, and you won't go far wrong.

-- Pete Andrews (, September 21, 2001.


Take a look at the Hicks/Schultz Pro Lighting book series. Each book covers a specific type of subject matter ranging from portraits to food shots. The books are well illustrated and include specific diagrams showing the positioning of lighting equipment. They also describe what equipment choices are available to you.


-- Dave Willison (, September 21, 2001.

Gavin, if you want to fool around with limited depth of field, then you don't need to worry about getting together alot of power...the problems in LF & lighting, usually get compounded by trying to shoot at very small apertures. As someone who works in a studio & on location as well, I would suggest adopting a KISS're best to start out with one source (whatever--sun, clamp light etc.) and some reflectors. White foamcore, cardboard, crumpled up tinfoil pasted to a board, pocket mirrors whatever. You should see some of the stuff we use in our studio, the majority of it has been dug out of the scrap bins of our exhibits shop. For small objects, we'll often fog a sheet of rc paper & run it through our processor to get a dark background paper, or just run a blank sheet to get a clean white can do just about anything with scraps, so don't get bogged down by the fancy stuff.

Start small & figure out what you need only if you get in a bind & can't pull off your shots. I think it was W. Eugene Smith who said, "use available light/every light available"...always worked for me....I might suggest a good theory book: Ross Lowell's "Matters of Light & Depth". Have fun!

-- DK Thompson (, September 21, 2001.

i think, you should buy a polaroid back, and a lot of film ! experiment with every lights available......with polaroid, you will be able to see your picture in "real time", and learn quickly !

-- dg (, September 21, 2001.

start with sunlight as your source. Figure out all the ways you can basically modify this cheap and abundant light source: diffusion, concentration, reflection, shaping, sizing, and all of these modifications in conjunction with each other. to get quick feedback use Polaroid ( if you use Type 55 and rate it at a basic "ISO" of 32 to 25 you'll get a very usable negative but an over exposed print. rate it at ISO 50 and you'll get a thin negative but a good looking direct print.)

Don't be afraid to play. The only two rules of lighting that matters are these:

1.) Light your subject one way. if you don't like the result, change your lighting and try again, keep goingtill you getthe effect you are seeing in your mind's eye.

2.) Keep it simple and have fun. The more you make it feel like work at first the less you'll experiment.

Now as far as the other stuff you ask about, those are primarily handled by camera movements. There is a book by a man named Merklinger that covers these topics. My very serious advice is to avoid anything written on the subject of the view camera by Mr. Merklinger. Sinar sells an excellent guide to working with view camera movements, but it is heavy on selling you on the benefits of the Sinar system. However it has the great advantage of being clearly written. Steve Simmons has also written a book on using the View camera, and the classic textbook on the View camera is written by Professor Stoebel.

here are some basic guidelines for your experiments: a.) Always start with your camera pointing at your subject , focused in the center and all movements zeroed.

b.) Rear movements control perspective rendering and focus distribution while front movements affect focus distribution alone.

c.) Never correct your corrections. If you can't get the image to basically "come together" in three to five movements, "zero the camera" and start over again.

-- Ellis Vener (, September 24, 2001.

As Ellis states, start with sunlight... a simple thing as a white bed sheet can be a background and a diffusion materal all in one. If you have a picinic table, drape the white sheet on the table and then from behind the product, bring it over and above your table top product. You now have a high key setup to shoot flowers and the like... Just a thought. Cheers, Scott

-- Scott Walton (, September 24, 2001.

Thanks a lot everyone for your helpful advice. I'll stick to basics for now and hope 'er indoors doesn't notice the missing white bed linen. Then again, one side of my darkcloth is nice and white...

-- Gavin Walker (, September 25, 2001.

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