Using Light For Effect

by William Lulow

As a portrait photographer, I don’t photograph products as much as I used to. But because I learned lighting and what it can do early in my career, I have made some truly interesting photographs over the years. I began by working in various studios for several different photographers, each of whom had to shoot products on a regular basis. I saw what the effect of light tables was and how to use them. Basically, a light table is just a couple of pieces of translucent plexiglass on a couple of sawhorses for support, and a light placed beneath them. The purpose of the plexiglass is to diffuse the light, making it soft enough so that the light from underneath them doesn’t have any hot spots. As I began to experiment with this setup, I noticed that interesting reflections were happening especially when I shot glass objects. Here is one such setup I did with a bowl of salad:


This is the salad placed on two sheets of translucent plexiglass with a lightbox underneath it. One of the first things I noticed was how the light was blowing out the glass, but actually shining through it all the way up to the rim of the bowl, creating a neat highlight! So, since this image was originally made on film, I scanned the chrome and did a little work on it in Photoshop. I cropped it much tighter and cleaned up the exposure quite a bit to arrive at this image:


Now, the highlight on the rim of the bowl creates a nice compositional element in the photograph and the light shining through the lettuce in the background creates a beautiful light green leaf.

This image was also lit from the top with a large softbox. The light under the table was approximately 1 – 2 stops brighter than the top light thereby making the highlights stand out.

I love doing shots like this because, as I mentioned, being a portrait photographer, I don’t always get a chance to experiment with the various qualities of light that are available to the still life shooter. Photographing smaller objects can be very rewarding in itself.