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Photoflex Lighting School
This is the second in a three-part lesson series that explores photographing reflective glass in a high key style.
By Garry Belinsky
Using the Backlighting Technique
An alternate way to light glass objects is to back-light them, a common studio lighting technique that involves placing the light directly behind the glassware. If you're using a large soft box, it can serve as the backdrop for the shot. This is where the Plexiglas product-shooting table really makes things easy. I placed a large Photoflex SilverDome soft box, available at the Adorama Photoflex Shop, behind and as close as possible to the Plexiglas sweep so that its projected light would fully illuminate the translucent background.
To do this I used a Small Photoflex LiteStand, available at the Adorama Photoflex Shop, that would allow the soft box to be positioned lower to the ground. This also allowed me to point the SilverDome up at a slight angle to cover more of the Plexiglas and create a more even spread of light across the background.
Technical Note: When you have a large soft box on a relatively small LiteStand, make sure to position one leg so that it is pointed in the same direction as the light is directed. This will also prevent the LiteStand from tipping forward and falling over.
The image below is the result of using this kind of backlighting. As you can see, the light source itself serves as the background. This results in absolutely zero reflections on the surface of the glass. The glass object is more or less silhouetted against the light and all we can see is its contour, which is outlined with an elegant, black edge. This was definitely a step in the right direction for the type of look I wanted to create.
Adding a Second Light
In reviewing this last shot using the backlighting approach, I decided that the bottom of the decanter felt a bit too heavy and dark. I preferred to create the impression that the decanter was lighter, almost as though floating in white space. To do this, I positioned another StarLite, fitted with a small SilverDome soft box (available at the Adorama Photoflex Shop), underneath the shooting table using a Background LiteStand. I then pointed the light up through the Plexiglas.
In the result below, you can see the difference this second light has made. Now the background is evenly white all the way to the bottom of the frame and the decanter has a much lighter feel to it. The mirrored reflection on the Plexiglas surface had almost disappeared, which is just what I wanted.
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the shots taken so far.
Creating a Pleasing Composition
I was confident with the lighting setup at this point and was now ready to work on the composition. After a few variations using different kinds of wine glasses, I arrived at the image below.
In this shot, the decanter was positioned slightly off-center with two wine glasses on either side at varying distances. The third glass was positioned well in front of the other two, which makes this glass appear much bigger than the other glasses and decanter. I used a wide-open aperture (f/2) in order to selectively focus on the decanter and the two adjacent glasses while leaving the glass in front completely out of focus. I felt that the selective focusing technique added a sense of intimacy to the shot, making the glass in front appear very close to the viewer.
If you think about the way you normally perceive close objects, you'll notice that your eyes have a limited depth of field, just like a camera. This is especially obvious when you try to simultaneously look at an object that is very close and one that is very far away. To experience this effect, simply hold out your hand in front of your face and try to focus on both your hand and the distant background at the same time. You'll find that you can only focus on one or the other, but not both.
The selective focusing, or shallow depth of field, technique in photography is often used to simulate the way we normally perceive close and distant objects. In this case, I hoped to create a sense of depth and distance by purposely throwing the front glass out of focus.
After I had fine-tuned my composition, I was now ready for the fun part - pouring the wine! However, this proved not as straightforward as one might expect. As it turns out, red wine is quite dense or opaque in color.
In order to see any color in the wine, I had to dilute it with water to about a 1:1 ratio. It's not the best thing to do if you plan on drinking the wine (so use the cheap stuff!), but it sure helps to thin out the color and make it more visible in the photograph. Without diluting the wine, I would end up with glasses filled with a mysterious, black, colorless liquid.
The shot below was taken with the same lighting conditions and camera orientation as the previous result, only this time with the diluted wine carefully poured into the decanter and glasses. My final shot was nearly there. All I had left to do was a few minor tweaks and adjustments before I was ready to take this photograph into the post-production stage.
Fine-Tuning the Lighting
One minor adjustment I wanted to make was to slightly increase the intensity of the floor light. I noticed that having the wine in the shot caused the reflections on the bottom to darken a little bit. To compensate, I raised the Background Stand up by placing some wooden boards under it.
The other thing I noticed was that the dilution of the wine was a little too strong, as it looked too light to pass for real red wine. To fix this, I added wine to each glass in small, carefully measured increments until each glass had just the right color density. Finally, I was able to achieve a rich red color that was true to the way it looked in person.
Below is a side-by-side look at the last two shots for a closer look at the chages made.
Stay tuned for the final installment of this lesson series, in which Garry makes finishing touches in post-production.
For more information on the products used in this lesson, visit the links below:
Related Products, Available at Adorama:
- Photoflex Starlite QL, 3200° Kelvin Continuous Output, Quartz Light Head
- Photoflex Silverdome, Small Softbox, 16" x 22" x 13"
- Photoflex Silverdome NXT, Large Softbox, 36" x 48" x 25"
- Photoflex ShoeMount/SpeedLight Umbrella Kit with AC-BSWCP Multi-Clamp, LS-B2200 LiteReach LiteStand
Learn more at the Adorama Learning Center:
- Understanding How Soft Boxes Work
- The Kitchen Table Studio
- The Kitchen Table Studio: Part 2
- Lighting a Wine Cellar with a FirstStudio Kit