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Proper Photography Lighting and Setup

Last Updated: 30th Mar 2011

By Jamey Swisher

Plain boosting of saturation gets very artificial and adds other issues into play as well. Levels would be second best, with curves being number one. Also, many times saturation can get boosted a bit as a side effect of doing a local contrast enhancement (LCE, which is done after resizing an image due to what the human eye sees as sharpness, when in reality it is mostly a loss of local contrast due to the algorithms used for resizing). I typically try to adjust the saturation about -1 to -2 after doing a LCE just to compensate for this side effect, but most do not and end up getting some boost in saturation from using the USM, or unsharp mask, unknowingly actually doing a local contrast enhancement due to their settings in the USM, lol.

Some editing is fine, as ALL images from ALL digital cameras are edited to an extent, some far more then others. All cameras based on the Bayer sensor alter and adjust and create color data, all digital cameras have on board software that edits the JPEG images and applies curves, saturation, contrast, sharpening, etc. Even if shoot in RAW most cameras embed the data which is then picked up by the RAW converting software and the settings applied, or some software has a default set of adjustments that get applied to the images.

If the shot was taken properly, there should not need to be that much editing done to make it look realistic. On my screen it doesn't look realistic now, it looks overly done, I will grant you I am over due for a hardware color calibration so it could just be my system being a bit out of whack. I need to calibrate it again this weekend.

Sunlight is always the best choice of light, but too uncontrollable. You can essentially recreate this in the studio quite easily using reflectors and diffusers and choosing the proper set of lights. Cheaply, go snag a set of 8" clamp on shop lamps from Wal-Mart automotive for like $7.98 each (6" are like $5.97) and a set of Ott-Lite 6500K Daylight HD CFL bulbs, but they must be the HD bulbs, as they use far less mercury in them so the color spectrum is much more even and less spikes in it caused by the higher levels of mercury in the other CFL bulbs.

The second to best choice, but a bit more expensive, is to grab the same same exact lamps as above, then order a set of Solux PAR38 3500ºK bulbs in Spread 30. They give a full spectrum light and at 3500ºK, they reproduce what, in photography, is known as the "Magic Hour(s)", which is when the sun is at its perfect temp to bring out all the natural colors in the surroundings. It is the perfect time to shoot anything! The Solux are like $15 each and you need three of them and three of the shop lamp deals. And diffusing material that is NOT flammable as they do get quite hot! Wal-Mart also has a fabric in their department that is a cotton/Polyester/Nylon blend and it will get brown but not burn, at least not yet, and had them on for over 8hrs one day, lol. Another choice is to trig up a cut up milk carton in the path of the light ot diffuse it, but keep far enough away from the bulb as it will melt and torch as well, lol! The other night the Solux bulbs melted my Raynox KS-2000 Macro stand, grrrr! I got lucky and the plastic was still malleable enough to fix it for the most part, just cosmetic damage, pheeeww!

The almost proper way, and the second most expensive way, would be to get a set of two normal light stands and a third light stand with a boom. Now you will need three constant light heads, one for each stand, and three of the Solux bulbs for them. Then get a few softboxes for the lights and stands. Some reflectors, macro reflector for your lens, etc.

The totally proper way, but expensive way, would be to snag three Quartz Halogen light heads that are tungsten balanced @ 3200ºK (in range for magic hour colors). These will cost you about $75-$150 for each one, and you need three minimum, well can get away with two if you really know what you are doing. The you will also need two light stands (cost about $30-$120 each) and a light stand with a boom as well (about $39.95-$59.95). You will also need softboxes to diffuse the lighting of course (they cost between $25-$150ea).

So you have multiple choices for lighting, from next to nothing to a small fortune, lol. And I did not even get into the fancy fancy setups costing $5000+!!

Honestly, I have the big fancy studio strobes and constant lights, but always still go right back to the Solux for most things and the Ott-Lite 6500K Daylight HD CFLs for the others. But, I also do not believe in spending lots of money on something if this other product costs a fraction of the price and does the job within 90-95% of the far more expensive one.

Also it would be nice to have a soft box/tent to shoot your stuff in. Not the typical closed on all sides with a hole in the front though, unless you get one of the huge ones that a kid can fit into, otherwise a bit hard to maneuver around.

Here are some examples of better lighting setups (I have NO affiliation nor do I receive any kickbacks from Adorama, I am just a long time, always happy, and well treated customer of theirs, I buy almost all my photo equipment from them, customer service is hard to beat! What you buy is what you actually get, unlike some where you buy a USA lens and end up with a cheaper no warranty Imported one! They typically have the best prices too anyways, lol). These setups would be for those with lots of room obviously.

Real simple two light setup

Entry level, but nice two light with softboxes setup

Entry level, but still nice, 3 light setup:

[b][size=large]Here are some table top type setups that I have tested in the past that worked nicely, depending on the camera you are using.[/size][/b]

Cheapest that works, use your own lighting, gives a decent infinity white background for product shots

Just a nice pre-made studio box to shoot your products in, works well, use your own lights.

This kit gives you a bit more freedom in your shooting, and while I have not used it, a friend has and likes his.

A bit more money, but one of the better table top setups. I love them! They are made by Novoflex, one of the top end photog equipment and accessory manufacturers for many many decades, been around since the early film days! I have lots of their equipment, even a lens, lol.

This is a unique and wild setup and allows for lots of freedom in your shooting and negates the need for a tripod as well. Not sure if it will work with a dSLR though, but does well with any of the P&S cameras, even the higher end ones. Should be fine with one of the smaller bodied dSLRs I would imagine, like the Canon XS, Nikon D3000 or D40/40x, Pentax KS or K2000, etc.

Again, same as above about camera and uniqueness. Works very nicely too!

You can use these as reflectors to direct light where you need it:

But a better choice for a reflector would be these sunlight/white reversible ones:

And a macro reflector for around your lens. It works two-fold, one for reflecting light right onto the front as well as blocking out most reflections that could ruin the shot from the camera and/or your face/body. I use one all the time.

Also, you do not have to hold the reflectors, if you want to spend the money they make tripod like holders for them. I just make an assistant help, lol.

But typically I keep it simple. I use three of the Solux bulbs in 3 of the Wal-Mart clamp lights(used 6" but now switching to 8") with the fabric I mentioned earlier for diffusion, I have a white plexiglass/lexan base plate I sit the subject on, with a another white lexan piece glued perpendicular to the base for the backdrop to get the infinite background, and I have one light from each side and one from the top with the macro reflector on my lens. Sometimes shoot with a circular polarizer as well to cut down on reflections, but stick with either a B+W or Tiffen(cheapest bet) as they do NOT give color casts like the normal Hoya ones do as well as other cheaper branded ones. Tiffen is cheapest and best bang for the buck. B+W is more expensive, but is probably the best filter you can buy. Sometimes I shoot with a box like the Giottos ones linked above, sometimes with a smaller light tent even. When get studio downstairs by the shop finished I will go back to using the same lights I always use, Solux and Ott-Lites, but will be making a shooting table with thinner translucent lexan and clamp between to saw horses into an s-curve, then I place the lights below the table and use the lexan as the diffuser and reflectors above to direct the light back down on the subject, macro reflector on lens, diffused light coming from behind and over my head, works the best. Same method used for most higher end magazine product shots.

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