A Short Course Book
Curtin's Guide to Digital Cameras
And Other Photographic Equipment

Studio Lighting

When lighting flat objects you want the light even over the entire surface. To do this you need two lights set at 45 degree angles so there are no hot spots or reflections. Lights courtesy of tabletop studios- http:// www.ezcube.com.
Light tent with red goblet- http:// www.ezcube.com.
5000k compact fluorescent bulb highly recommended for product photography.
http:// www.ezcube.com.
This very complex subject was shot in a lite tent. The soft diffuse light reached every part allowing it to be captured without dark shadows and burned out highlights.
http:// www.ezcube.com.
A medallion placed on a light box and shot from above has a pure white background. A small lamp is used to side light the coin to bring out its relief. http:// www.ezcube.com.
Here a crystal glass was shot in a light cube against a black background to set it off.
A hole was cut in a piece of black paper and placed on a light panel. The glass was then placed over the hole and looks like it's illuminated from within.
The Diamond Dazzler light brings out the brilliance of diamonds. Courtesy of tabletop studios- http:// www.ezcube.com.
There are two important reasons to use artificial lighting in studio photography. First, increasing the level of light lets you use smaller apertures for greater depth of field, and faster shutter speeds to reduce blur from camera or subject movement. Second, you can better control the illumination of the subject, placing highlights and shadows to reduce or emphasize modeling.

Candidates for Studio Lighting

There are a number of subjects that lend themselves to being photographed under controlled lighting. Here are just some of them.
  • Portraits can be either candid or more formal. Candid portraits are usually captured during the flow of action. It's the more formal ones that give you the time needed to arrange lighting.
  • Small three-dimensional objects need to be illuminated properly to bring out details and colors. You can light a subject in several ways, depending on your objectives. For example, an object with low relief, such as a coin needs to be cross-lit to bring out details. A translucent or transparent object needs to be backlit to bring out colors. As you'll see, many of these subjects photograph better with the diffuse lighting provided by a light tent.
  • Flat copy such as posters, stamps, prints, or pages from books require soft, even light over their surface and the camera's image sensor must be exactly parallel to it to prevent "keystoning". Even then, most lenses will curve otherwise straight lines at the periphery of the image because they are not designed for copying and are not perfectly rectilinear. (This is called curvilinear distortion.) There are other lens aberrations that make it difficult to keep the entire image in focus at the same time. One suggestion is to use a small aperture that increases depth of field and uses the center portion of the lens where aberrations are least likely to affect the image.


For good portraits or product shots, you need to improve on the camera's built-in flash. Direct on-camera flash creates hard shadows and doesn't give a picture the feeling of texture and depth that you can get from side-lighting. If you use an external flash, an extension cable lets you position the flash so the subject is lit from an angle for a better lighting effect.
  • Light tents bathe a subject in soft, even lighting and are particularly useful for complex subjects such as wildflowers and bouquets, highly reflective subjects such as jewelry, and translucent subjects such as glassware. A subject placed in the light tent is surrounded by a pure white translucent material which is lit from the outside by two or more lights. The white fabric of the tent diffuses the light so it's the equivalent of surround-sound in the theater—realistic light strikes the object from all directions. The result is a very even, soft lighting of the subject.
  • Studio lights are reflectors with bulbs mounted on adjustable stands. Keep in mind that the color of the light you use to illuminate an object affects the colors in the final image. For best results you need bulbs that are daylight balanced. The best of these are fluorescent because they don't give off any heat and last a very long time. The quality of the stands and reflectors is also important because they should be easy to work with and lock in position.
A light tent can make an amazing difference in table-top photos- http://www.ezcube.com.
  • Reflectors. When the light illuminating a small subject casts hard, dark shadows, you can lighten the shadows by arranging reflectors around the subject to bounce part of the light back onto the shadowed area. You can use almost any relatively large, flat reflective object, including cardboard, cloth, or aluminum foil (crumpling the foil to wrinkle it, then opening it out again works best). Position the reflector so that it points toward the shadowed side of the subject. As you adjust the angle of the reflector, you will be able to observe its effects on the shadows. Be sure to use a neutral-toned reflector so its color doesn't add a color cast to the image.
  • Light panels are an ideal source of light because they have so many uses. When you place an object on the illuminated panel and shoot from above, the area surrounding the object is captured as pure white. If you cut a hole in a sheet of background paper and arrange it as a sweep above the panel, a glass placed on the hole appears to glow from within as light streams through the hole and through the glass. Finally, by tipping a panel on its side, it can be used as a background or used like any other light source.
  • Flash definitely has a role in studio photography. It doesn't hurt to see what results you get from the built-in flash but you might also want to try an external flash of some kind. Many of these have heads that can be rotated and pivoted to bounce lights off walls, ceilings or reflectors. Also try firing the flash inside a light tent so the light reflects off the interior sides and bounces around, illuminating the subject from all sides. You can use a cable to move the flash off camera and point it at the background to burn it out in the photo.


Some thought should be given to the background you use. It should be one that makes your subject jump out, and not overwhelm it. The safest background is a white or neutral curved sweep like the one that comes with an EZcube light tent. It can be lit so it disappears in the photo or so it provides a smooth gradation of light behind the subject. It's safe, because most things photograph well against it. Other options include black, colored or graduated backgrounds, and these should be selected to support and not clash with the colors in the subject. The texture of the background is also a consideration. For example, black velvet has no reflections at all while black poster board might show them.
There are times when you don't want a background in a photo. This silhouettes the subject against a pure white background. You'll often see this technique used in catalog photos but it's also a great way to make it easy to select an object in a photo-editing program so you can cut it out and paste it into another image. To get this effect you need to overexpose the background. In some cases this is as easy as pointing lights at it. In the case of small objects, a light panel makes it very easy.


A white, black, colored or clear high gloss acrylic platform, called a riser, provides a soft reflection of the subject placed on top. The elevation of the platform on a clear riser also eliminates any shadow beneath the subject because raising it throws the background out of focus. This helps the background "disappear". If you position the subject in the middle of the riser, you can then crop out the edges with a photo-editing program so the subject seems to float in space.

Special Bulbs

You can experiment with different kinds of lights. For example, TabletopStudio introduced their Diamond Dazzler bulb with 18 daylight color LEDs to bring out the brilliance in faceted gemstones.
A riser creates attractive reflections and softens the background. Courtesy of tabletop studios- http://www.ezcube.com.

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