Creative Lighting: Revealing Details

This post is part of a larger tutorial called Creative Lighting Without a Flash

The second component of creative lighting is revealing the details and textures that make the subject unique. I used a completely different setup for these examples because I wanted to emphasize details rather than just shadows. A piece of fruit, a watch, flower, or tv remote should work well here. Building off what I learned with my wooden model, I started my second series.

I placed an orange on a black piece of foam-core and positioned the light behind the orange. As you can see in the first image (below left) there is virtually no detail visible in the orange. (Why do I keep typing “oranged”?! It’s driving me nuts!) Anyway, instead of positioning another light, thereby complicating the scene, I grabbed a big white envelope to serve as my reflector. I held it between the camera and the orange but just off to the left of the frame. The second image shows the results. This effectively revealed the texture of the orange, but it still seemed a bit flat.

Almost directly behind. No reflector. Almost directly behind. With reflector to the left.

To remedy this I repositioned the light above and slightly behind the orange, and then I fired the third shot (below left). This simple adjustment simultaneously gave me a strong backlight, plenty of texture, and solid shape. I thought the texture could use a little more depth, so I added the reflector and fired the last shot. The orange now has more form, texture, and color.

Above. Behind. No reflector. Above. Behind. With reflector.

Normally I wouldn’t place something like an orange against a black background –it just seems out of place. BUT, think of how different the image would feel if I used a white floor/background. All the light would be reflected back at the orange. After all, my reflector was nothing but a white piece of paper. Think back to the photos of the wooden model. How do you think it would appear if I used a black background instead of white?? Remember that your shooting environment accounts for a lot of the bounced light. Just because you don’t intentionally put a reflector in the scene doesn’t mean there won’t be any reflected light. Try to keep this in mind as you set up your shot.

Next I ate the orange and then placed my watch on the foam-core. The next series of images follows a similar pattern: Shoot a photo, reposition the light, use the reflector as needed. Those are the only things I changed in this next series; it didn’t get any more complicated than that. Again, hover your cursor over an image for a brief description. Click here to view as slideshow.

Directly above. No reflector.Front-left. Above. No reflector.Front-left. Above. With reflector to the right.Behind. Above. Left. No reflector.Behind. Above. Left. With reflector.

Above left.Behind. Right. No reflector.Behind. Right. With reflector.Above. Right. With reflector on left.

Careful attention to detail will easily put your photos a step above most others’. Using a reflector is an excellent way to accent those details. The beautiful thing about a reflector is that it can never be more powerful than the original light source. It’s entirely possible to use a Fill light to reveal details, but just be careful that it doesn’t overpower your Key light. On a random note: watches are almost always photographed with the time reading “10:10.” They say it’s the most aesthetically pleasing time. Go figure.

Continue to Part III: Capturing Highlights and Reflections

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