Low Key Lighting for Still Life

Or, Finding a good excuse to show off my latest work.

I bought some new lighting equipment several months ago.

I got 3 new strobe heads, two new soft boxes, and light stands. Other than the initial post-UPS delivery inspection, I haven’t done a thing with any of it.

Part of the excuse reason is a change of domiciles after the arrival of the equipment, which entailed weeks of packing, planning, loading, hauling, unpacking etc. Not to mention the earning a living thing.

Enough is enough.

I would also like to interject at this point that I have been exceedingly antsy to create some ART UP IN HERE. In particular, I would like to co-create some art with other people.

Yep. I would like to lure some person or persons to sit down in front of my camera lens and embody some strangeness for me.

Model Mayhem Frustration

I could try to connect with potential models through Model Mayhem. I have certainly done that successfully in the past.

However, most of the ‘models’ on Model Mayhem are looking to get into fashion and glamor work. They have delusions aspirations of becoming the next tall-skinny-girl-who-gets-$10K-just-to-show-up super model. They are also very concerned with updating their ‘port’ which, despite its nautical sound, has nothing to do with maritime adventures.

Be like water.

Sometimes you have to take the path of least resistance.

Last night in a fit of utter physical BOREDOM and stupefaction, I decided to ‘play’ in my art room. Cranked the music and set about setting up my new lights….or at least one of them.

If there was no person to photograph, I would at least photograph…….something. Damn it. Janet.

Going back into the closet.

Like most artists and creatives, I am a hoarder collector of everything random things. Much like a magpie or a crow, I like shiny, sparkly things as well as broken, rusty things, weathered things with age and patina. I’ve already mentioned my rock collection.

In my current domicile I have a fabulous (yes, I just used the gayest word ever) closet wherein I have shoved stored any number of fabulous (!) things. So after ransacking the place rummaging around I came up with a collection of things to photograph.

Not so much.

I found a random selection of pieces parts and started laying them out on a piece of black velvet.

FYI black velvet absorbs virtually 100% of light falling on it, therefore making it very slimming for the ladies and great for shooting in small, tight places. It doesn’t bounce stray light around.

Low Key Lighting for Still Life

I get these ideas sometimes and go chasing off after a ‘theme’. My theme here was Art Deco. It certainly occupied my mind for a couple of hours and I was no longer bored. However, when I started uploading the images, it seemed so busy and arbitrary. I am always arguing against myself and constantly trying to do things differently.

We are who we are.

I like things simple. Clean. Minimalist. Reductionist. Abstract.

No matter how much I struggle and rail against my nature, it is immovable on certain points. I just kept coming back to that lovely spiral at the very heart of the image.

So I went back to the art room, tossed out all the objects except for the round rock (a bit of glacier my mother brought back from New Zealand for me) and the bit of broken sea shell perched atop it.

Wherein happiness ensues.

I spent the next hour or so happily playing around with this image until I got it to conform to my ideas of beauty and simplicity.

Low Key Lighting for Still Lifes

The low key lighting part of the equation.

You thought I had forgotten about how I lured you into this post with the promise of low key lighting techniques, didn’t you? Oh little turd knockers loyal readers, how little faith you have.

I’m not going into a lot of detail, nor am I even going to give you a diagram like I do in Low Key Portrait Lighting or Photographing Children with Low Key Lighting, but I will at least tell you what I did.

I tossed a large piece of black velvet fabric on the floor and placed my key (main) and only light to the direct left of my subject. (This would be a good time to refer you to my tutorial Studio Lighting with One Light.)

I used a medium soft box with a shiny silver lining and only the front diffusion panel. In other words, I did not use the additional, inner diffusion panel that comes with most good quality soft boxes. I wanted the light to maintain most of its punch and brightness. Using two diffusion panels is great for shooting people, because it diffuses aka softens the light, produces kinder, gentler lighting.

The light stand was lowered as far down as I could get it. Had I not been so very lazy, I could have rigged up a lower set up, making use of a 3 legged milking stool, some yoga blocks and gaffers tape (I told you I hoard collect things). But as Dylan says, the hour was getting late.

Just to mess with your head and complicate things.

I didn’t actually use my strobe. I shot this image with the modeling light.

I was using an very old, manual focus 75-205mm f/3.5 macro Quantaray lens with a Nikon bayonet mount.

This lens is so long and heavy I could use it for an assault weapon. Or a baseball bat. I bought it dirt cheap a very long time ago. It is not user friendly, but I love it for ultra closeup work, despite the fact I have to manually focus it. The rock didn’t move much, so it worked out okay.

I put my camera on a tripod, spread its legs (minds out of the gutter) and aimed straight down on top of the rock and shell. I was so lazy I didn’t even bother to get out my light meter. I just started out with a 1 second exposure at f/22, then kept opening my aperture 1/2 stop at a time until I got an exposure that looked right on my LCD. I think the final exposure was f/8.5 at 1 second.

Because of the long exposure time, camera shake was an issue. So I just settled my hand on the camera (I told you I was feeling lazy, so no looking for a release cord or trying to remember how to work the self timer) and waited for it to quit moving. Oh, and I held my breath. I also found facing Bombay helpful. Or is it Mumbai?

Why the long exposure?

I wanted as much depth of field as I could get.

When you’re shooting macro with a long focal length lens, you tend to get one spot that is sharply focused and they rest is out of focus. This comes into play when you have a subject that isn’t the same height/thickness all over. The shell was stacked on top of the rock, and I wanted both to be in focus. Ergo the smallest aperture I could get away with at only one second. Any longer than one second and my chances of camera shake increased exponentially.

Are you people taking notes? Am I being too subtle? There are WORLDS of esoteric yet useful information sprinkled throughout this post.

Back to Co-Creating Art

If you’re in the Asheville, NC area and want to co-create some art and are willing to sign a model release, drop me a line. Feel free to check out my profile over at Model Mayhem to get a better idea of what I’m looking for.

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