The Hot Light Hoedown

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Yee Haw.

This week another photographer friend and I explored the possibilities of super-cheap lighting for small proc studio work. She is putting together a rig to illustrate small bottles and potions as well as jewellery and novelty products. As with all photographers of shiny objects, she had previously experienced uncontrollable highlights and contrasts.

The first experiments with an on-camera flash and a strobes soft box were fine, but there can be some inconsistencies between the flash and the camera that make it a hit and miss affair. Plus the business of getting the menu settings to agree with each other was somewhat of a nightmare. I sold those sorts of cameras and flashes and even I was pushing buttons and puzzling.

The answer turned out to be the good old outdoor wall floodlight and socket as sold by any hardware store. The bulb is the flood type, though you could select other sorts if needed. The holder has a useful range of screw holes and prongs on it to enable you to attach it to a studio table framework, and the triggering system is simple; none.

Once we diffused the light from the two floodlights with simple picture frames covered in tracing paper, the specular highlights disappeared and glassware and reflective surfaces came down to a manageable level. IKEA sells perfectly suitable frames for cheap and rolls of paper from the drafting supply company are easy to get.

The best thing about it was the fact that moving the lights around and shining them through the diffusers was as good a teaching tool as any book or diagram. All we needed to do was look. Admittedly hot floodlights in a cold studio in May are better than the same in a hot studio in December, but we are not talking about marathon shooting sessions. Bottles of essential oils and bits of jewellery never demand time out for tea or a toilet break so you can shoot fast.

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