Creative Lighting Made Easy

I received a note from reader Pat, who was having some issues photographing a set of vintage bowls.  She says:

“I’ve had them outside, inside, dark background, light background, flash, no flash,fabric background. I think I’ve put 20 miles on them dragging them from one place to another and still can’t get them right. The problem is the frosted glass around the trim. It always looks washed out and the details don’t show in the photos. This picture was so bad I wasn’t going to put it in my shop, but nothing sells sitting on the shelf either. So if you have any ideas on what to do with this one I would greatly appreciate it. They are so pretty, but the photos don’t show that at all.”

Here’s one of the photos that Pat was using:

Do you remember the post I did on histograms last year?  Well, one of the reasons that Pat’s photo look so “flat” is that the histogram for it looks like this:

As you Photoshoppers out there know, a few quick “levels” adjustments would help a bit (go ahead and give it a try).  But it won’t be enough.  Instead, what we’ll need to do to really show off the frosted roses is light the bowls a bit differently (okay, a lot differently).  But different doesn’t mean difficult — it just means getting a little creative.  There are a lot of ways to do this, and a little experimenting will show what’s best for you personally, but here’s what I did:

This is my crappy cardboard light box (lit from the top):

If you look at the bottom of the image, you’ll see a plastic storage bin with a power cord disappearing into it.  Inside that bin, in a reflector facing upward, is one of the Alzo Digital lights that I recommend here.  On top of the storage bin, covering the false bottom of the light box and going up the back wall, is some black paper (it looks gray because of the way I had to light this shot to show the bin and cord) with a single hole cut in it.  Here’s a close-up of the hole (you can even see the top spiral of the bulb through a piece of clear plastic I have on there to support things):

Next, I placed one of Pat’s bowls directly over the hole, as shown here:

You can still see the top of the bulb through the glass bottom of the bowl, along with a bright reflection of the top light and all the walls of the light box (not the look we’re going for).  I knew from past experience (it would take you about 10 seconds to realize this) that if I turned on the bottom light as is, we’d end up with nothing but blinding white light shining up like a beacon and ruining the entire composition.  So I took a lid from a small jar and placed it in the bottom of the bowl as shown here:

The purpose of that lid is simply to block the unobstructed light coming up through the bottom of the bowl and redirect it up through the glass itself.  The glass, in essence, radiates from within.  I then turned off the top light along with all of the other lights in the room (did I mention that it was very dark outside, too?).  So the only light available was that single bulb shining from below.  Here’s the result:

A close-up:

So you see, it wasn’t that difficult to get a unique shot that shows the detail that Pat was looking for.  It just took a little creativity and experimentation.

Until next time … Happy Shooting!

A Simple Collage

I received a note from subscriber Pam who asks the following question:

I have an Etsy shop and have been trying to figure out how to put together my photos in a way that shows multiple images in one photo.  Is this something you could shed some light on?

It turns out Pam was in luck, since she uses Google’s free photo organizing, editing and sharing software — Picasa.  It so happens that Picasa has a nice “Collage” feature, perfect for what she was trying to do.  After a quick look at the instructions, Pam was able to create her first collage, shown here:

Picasa isn’t the only software that has this feature.  Just take a look at the help section of whatever software you happen to use and you might be surprised how easy this technique can be.

Until next time … Happy Shooting!