Nikon School

Shooting Still Life With Household Lights

By : Nikon School Blog   |  16 Sep, 2014  |  373

Nothing is as satisfactory as trying something new and succeeding in it. Trial and error is a time tested process that has given mankind almost all its great inventions. The successful invention of photography also led to experiments with techniques. Many of the photographic techniques popular today were discovered accidentally by bored photographers trying to do something different.

Starting from today, we’ll engage in simple experiments which you can try even with your so called ‘entry level D-SLR’ right in your home. 

Today, we begin with still life shooting with household lights. Almost all homes have some sort of torch-lights or lamps that give strong, continuous light. These can be of great use to light up your food or product shots. The process is simple, all you need is the right approach and lots of patience. 

What we need:

Subject : 

Decide on an interesting subject which has the potential of looking good in a frame. It has to be still in case you missed the header, because we will be using long exposures. If you are thinking of shooting food, as I am, then make sure it can be kept under the lights for at least an hour without spoiling. So, no ice-creams or Pizzas (unless you can sacrifice your pizza for the shoot).You can also try shooting various articles in your home with this technique.

A torch  (or any other other light source) 

Anything with a bit of power and a moderately wide throw would do. I’m using LEDs and flashes which don’t heat up and provide bright, steady light. I have also used cellophane papers to add warmth to the light. Yellow, orange or red, you have to decide how much warmth you need.

Reflector 

Anything white will work e.g. a sheet of white chart paper, or a thermocol about 2 feet square. 

Tripod 

The most essential part of our shoot. Any decent one would do.

Remote release

Although not essential, having this would definitely help. 

The set-up 

Place the subject on a chest level table and arrange the props around it. Mount your camera on a tripod and fix the frame. If you are at lower than eye level, using the live view for framing is useful.

Shooting

  • Mount the camera on tripod and select manual mode. 

  • Select a shutter speed of 2 to 4 seconds. The size of the set up and the brightness of the light would determine this. A larger set up would require longer time to light up, so longer exposure is needed. 

  • Select an aperture of  f/11 for moderate depth of field.

  • Set lens at 35mm if you are in DX format, 50mm if you’re using FX format. This gives the best un-distorted perspective.

  • Use single point focus to get maximum sharpness on the main subject. You can also focus manually if you are comfortable with it.

  • Set the remote mode, or self-timer if remote is not available.

  • Turn the VR on the lens OFF.

  • Switch off the lights, and ensure no external light is falling on the set up.

  • Start the exposure. Once the shutter opens, light up the torch quickly and move over the set up. Your hand movement and speed will determine how accurately the scene is lit up. It’s a trial and error process, so have patience.

  • Try to experiment with depth of field by changing the aperture. Remember, with open aperture, you’ll need less exposure time, and vice versa. 

  • Experiment with the direction and focus of the light. Use the reflector to soften the shadows.

Once you get the hang of it, try the same technique and different light sources with other subjects as well. 


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