Still Life Lighting

by William Lulow

Most of the time, I shoot people. I do commercial portraits for corporations, annual reports, magazines, musicians and anyone else who happens to like my style. I am also a lighting expert and I enjoy solving lighting problems and creating different effects using various lighting techniques. Here is an interesting shot that I found by experimentation with items shot on a light table. Basically, I set up two thicknesses of white (milk) translucent plexiglass sheets on two sawhorses. I place a large lightbank under this “table” and place my product on top. I then place another large lightbank on a boom to light the product from the top. What you end up with is light from both the top and bottom which creates an interesting lighting setup. I don’t want the under light to be too bright, but I want the plexi to register pure white. I do this by setting that light one-stop brighter than the top light. This ensures that the table top will be pure white and that any highlights created on the product will be white as well.

Here is an example:


Here you can see how bright the bottom light is compared to the top and how white the plexi is rendered. The bottom light is also creating nice highlights on the lettuce and the top light bank creates a nice highlight on the edge of the bowl. Also, the light from the top bank, because it is one-stop less than the other bank, creates a softer light on the other salad components.

Here’s what the final, cropped picture looks like:


The principles of lighting are basically the same as for portraiture, except that some of the equipment and other tools used are different. The large lightbank on top of the set gives a soft light, whereas the light underneath the set, if set one-stop brighter than the mainlight, creates highlights.

I enjoy shooting things like this almost as much as I do shooting people. Still lifes, by their very nature, don’t move. So, the photographer can really take time to make sure that the lighting creates the images desired.