A pronounced desire to solve artistic problems with the help of technical equipment seems to be a common pattern, notably among male human beings. Not so long ago, in a Wikipedia discussion about an upcoming food photography session, one of the participants asked:
“Another question about the equipment. Which studio flash system will we be working with? Are we going to have access to different soft light devices? (note for my German readers: I had to look up the word “Lichtformer” in a German dictionary and I’m still not exactly sure what the English equivalent is) Are we going to be able to darken the room with black fabric to avoid interfering light? Which camera will we be working with, which lenses will be available?”
Not the kind of questions I would have asked. Whenever I think about food photography, I’m mulling over questions like “What’s the story that I’d like to tell? Which props should I use to tell that story in a compelling way?” And, of course, “Are we going to be allowed to eat everything afterwards?”
Achieving maximum effects with a minimum of spending
And – as many of you might know already – I’m a huge fan of achieving maximum effects with a minimum of spending. So, the lighting setup that I’m going to explain today costs $13.94. No fancy studio flash system. No soft light devices. Actually, shooting on a cloudy day helps, because the combination of sun and clouds is the biggest natural soft light device you can think of.
All you really need is a bright window ($0), an ironing board ($0) – seriously, everybody should have access to one; if not, please ask your neighbor –, a huge sheet of white or colored poster board ($2.95), and a light reflector like the one I bought on Amazon for $10.99.
Setting up the ironing board and everything else
Here’s what the setup looks like:
I set up the ironing board right next to a bright window. Then I used some tape to glue the poster board to the window frame. During the shot, the light reflector provides additional light for the dark parts of the object. And to be super clear: even your iPhone shots will improve dramatically with this kind of simple setup. Because you’re setting up a well lit object in front of a non-distracting background.
I usually set the camera into Live View mode, magnify the object, and focus manually. That way I get a better sharpness than if I let the camera set the focus. With a bright object, I also use some exposure adjustment.
Once in Lightroom, I select the best shot and adjust brightness as well as whites and blacks (hold down the ALT-key on your Mac to control the level of adjustment; colored spots on the black background indicate when you went too far).
Finally, I’m using Viveza to highlight the center. Just slightly.
Here’s the final result:
No need to sell your car. Just $13.94, a window, some tape and an ironing board. Keep it simple.