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Thread: Still Life Lighting

  1. #1

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    I am from York PA, living in Oxnard, CA
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    Still Life Lighting

    Good day to all, I am looking for some advice for photographing still life indoors. To start with, I enjoy photographing with my 4x5 camera but what I tend to photograph is outdoors with ambient light. Currently I am taking still life classes through an online school; however, the classes are geared more towards lighting for smaller formats (35mm or APS). I know there are some similarities and some differences between the two but I wish to challenge myself for the final project of the class and photograph exclusively with the 4x5. I currently have 2 Alien Bee B800 strobe units with light modifiers (umbrellas, softbox, honeycomb grids, snoot, etc.) and a Minolta Auto Flash III light meter. As a requirement, unless otherwise directed, the images for the class are to be photographed exclusively indoors with controlled lighting.

    - I feel the advice I am looking for is what to consider for bellows factor in accordance to bellows draw, aperture, shutter speed and movements?
    - Would the Reciprocity timer app (which I have) help me in figuring this out?
    - For those of you who shoot still life imagery quite often, could you offer your process for approaching the subject?
    - Which would be a better, constant lighting or strobe? I do have shop lights that work fairly well but I am limited in how I can modify the light.
    - Any other considerations that I should be concerned about that I haven't thought of (film recommendations, focal length, etc)

    Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer.

    Kind Regards,
    David

  2. #2
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    For bellows compensation, something like this is good: http://www.salzgeber.at/disc/index.html I use a Calumet version, but it's not available anymore.

    For still lifes, little things are really important, the shine on a glass, say. These days commercial pros shoot digital tethered to a large monitor, and they can easily combine elements for different exposures. With film, that's not as practical. In the old days, when view cameras were used for product shots, the photographers used a lot of Polaroid. You're going to have to develop a very good eye for how the film image will look just from eyeballing it. That will require lots of practice. You can also shoot the scene, leave everything setup, develop film, evaluate, modify.....

    I often use flash, but then I sometimes add IKEA Gooseneck LEDs as accent lights.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  3. #3

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Congratulations, you are entering a very interesting world!!!

    For a start, using continuous light is a +++, as you can see/study what the subject reflects in real time, without digital or pull-o-roids... A big difference is that LF would require more light (for a smaller f-stop), where digi requires less (and often will not stop down below f11 on many cameras), so it can be hard to use both on the same power setting...

    A good B/W light are those reflector clamp-on lights, with LED or CFL bulbs for smaller sets, as the light is close to the subject and will read brightly at a couple of feet away... (The light modifiers you would use for strobe are often to be used for longer distances, so might not focus properly at closer distances...) But learning to use a single light + reflector for a key light is often the most honest looking effect, and fill with home-made white + foil covered reflectors to fill the "holes" can give a multiple of different effects/looks...

    Brush up on your bellows compensation, and reciprocity tables are usually included with your film instruction sheet... You can time low wattage lamps with your enlarging timer, so you would open your shutter/film slide in the dark, and hit the timer, so you won't jar the camera before exposure starts...

    For subject approach, pick-up an item you might shoot and look at it in your hand... Ask yourself what this thing might mean to yourself or anybody else, and think about possible meanings for it photographed... Study the different forms as you rotate the angles and see what it reveals... Do the same with the light and see what speaks to you... Put another item next to your subject, and see if they converse, etc... The goal is what these will say to the viewer...

    Have Fun!!!

    Steve K

  4. #4

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Personal opinion only: still life is the most difficult of genres to execute well. It is also, for me, most rewarding on the infrequent occasions when I think I have succeeded.

    LabRat's suggestion of a single light and reflector is excellent; I would add that adding simple frame, clothespins and a variety of diffusion materials (hit the local fabric store) will give you a greater range of control. Unless you put a fair amount of money into strobe equipment, you will probably find that you have either insufficient light, or so much that you have no choice of aperture. A tape measure and the basic formula for bellows factor, and a goal of keeping exposures below one second will take you a long way with continuous lighting. But beware of the often-seen advice to use tungsten-halogen work lights from the local home improvement store; heat is a really big issue, and the stands are not much better than a clamp-on light attached to the back of a chair.

    The one thing that I found most problematic in the beginning was the effect of working in a small room--if the lighting is soft enough to reveal depth in the image, most of it will go right on by and bounce back from a wall. This limits your prospects; move the light back, and the lighting ratio approaches unity. Move it closer, and the highlights harden faster than the shadows darken. The two best solutions known to me ( other than finding a larger room or painting the walls black) are to set up in or adjacent to a doorway (with no light in the adjoining room) or rig dark-colored drapes surrounding the setup, and then use a reflector to control the light on the shadowed side. If you don't want to invest in duvetyne or velour (check out Filmtools in Burbank, CA ) you should be able to get wide muslin from a fabric store and paint it any dark color with ordinary latex paint. I did this a few years ago using cloth wide enough to hang from the rafters in the garage nearly to the floor; it made a world of difference in still life, and also in portraiture.

    With regard to approach: it is sometimes appealing to discover a particular form or texture, and then try to build a picture around it. This is great fun, but it takes quite some skill to correctly visualize how the camera will see (grayscale, in two dimensions, and possibly with different perspective) what was so interesting to your eye, so be persistent.

    At the other extreme, a good still life, like any other good picture, will have recognizably "good" (whatever that means) composition. One way to develop skill in this regard is to play with simple forms (I like eggs, and bottles spray-painted flat gray), trying to create a pleasing picture which doesn't depend on particularly remarkable properties of the objects.

    Finally, the still life thread on this forum contains many superb examples (Christopher Broadbent's being my personal favorites) and it is very instructive to pick a simple one and try to replicate it. If nothing else, this will force you to learn to analyze how and why the original works!

    Best of luck to you---

  5. #5

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Thanks to all for replying. I'll be going over all these suggestions with a fine tooth comb and will ask more questions from there.

    R/
    Dave

  6. #6

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Suggest you do a search on Christopher Broadbent's posts here -- user "cjbroadbent". Lots of excellent still life information and examples to be seen.

    Robert

  7. #7
    Tim Meisburger's Avatar
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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Although others have done outstanding still lifes, I think Christopher's work is consistently excellent. He hasn't posted in a while (I hope he is okay), but you can see his work here, or google him for his website.

  8. #8

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Quote Originally Posted by seabee1999 View Post
    Good day to all, I am looking for some advice for photographing still life indoors. To start with, I enjoy photographing with my 4x5 camera but what I tend to photograph is outdoors with ambient light. Currently I am taking still life classes through an online school; however, the classes are geared more towards lighting for smaller formats (35mm or APS). I know there are some similarities and some differences between the two but I wish to challenge myself for the final project of the class and photograph exclusively with the 4x5. I currently have 2 Alien Bee B800 strobe units with light modifiers (umbrellas, softbox, honeycomb grids, snoot, etc.) and a Minolta Auto Flash III light meter. As a requirement, unless otherwise directed, the images for the class are to be photographed exclusively indoors with controlled lighting.

    - I feel the advice I am looking for is what to consider for bellows factor in accordance to bellows draw, aperture, shutter speed and movements?
    - Would the Reciprocity timer app (which I have) help me in figuring this out?
    - For those of you who shoot still life imagery quite often, could you offer your process for approaching the subject?
    - Which would be a better, constant lighting or strobe? I do have shop lights that work fairly well but I am limited in how I can modify the light.
    - Any other considerations that I should be concerned about that I haven't thought of (film recommendations, focal length, etc)

    Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer.

    Kind Regards,
    David
    David,

    Why not just use window light? For tech info, try a Kodak Dataguide
    .
    (photoİChristopher Nisperos, 2016)
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails poivron-surexciteİC.Nisperos.jpg  

  9. #9

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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Why not just use window light?

    Not to speak for the original poster, but to possibly help any beginner in this genre:

    Window light is wonderful, properly handled, but it has the huge disadvantage of not remaining constant. It works for "found" pictures, but these are not at the heart of conventional still life, which is "arranged" with respect to subject matter, composition, and lighting and then photographed with some combination of lens, film, viewpoint, and so on. There is nothing quite like making an image, processing and proofing, and then using the results to go back and try to make an improved version.

    A simple setup which can be left in place for subsequent attempts is invaluable for learning. If this is impossible, the next best thing is probably a north-facing window and the freedom to work around the times of the solstices, when day length and sun elevation are not changing rapidly.

    I can think if one picture that has accounted for about twelve sheets of film, spread over three years. Not because I could leave the setup for that long, but because it uses natural light, and the sunbeam only enters the kitchen and hits the right spot for a few minutes on each of two or three days each January! An extreme example, but still...

  10. #10
    Jon Wilson's Avatar
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    Re: Still Life Lighting

    Even if the "golden window" is a small window, you have the timing down.

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