Cinematic Lighting – Still Life

Cinematic lighting can be used in more than just character and portrait photographs. This week we created a simple still life photograph of a white jar filled with a bouquet of large, yellow sunflowers. The challenge was to create a dramatic image of the sunflowers using a single strobe light. This can also be done with a standard off-camera flash because the watt/sec needed to create these types of images are generally not that powerful and so you can use lower settings on a strobe light or medium settings on a flash. Either of these approaches gets you to the right watt/sec and hence the right amount of light to create the image.

If you only have one light but you can maintain the same scene before the camera (i.e, nothing is moving), then you can shift the strobe light or flash to different locations and create multiple photographs that you can them combine in post-production using Photoshop or various other post-production applications. For purposes of this image, we used Photoshop 6 since it was the last version of Photoshop that allowed you to purchase and download the application without the monthly fees (OK, I admit it, I am cheap and enjoy working on a budget).


Gregory Beams, Sunflowers, 2016

The set up for this image was fairly simple. We used some bubble wrap that came with a large photograph we had professionally printed a number of weeks ago and taped it to the wall behind the flowers. By setting the F stop fairly low (shutter was then wide open) the image contained a significant amount of bokeh (blur behind the in-focus portion of the photograph) that drew the viewer’s attention to the flowers. We used a single strobe set at 20 watt/sec that we then moved amongst three different positions to create three different photographs, aiming the strobe at different sunflowers for each shot. We used a snoot on the strobe to focus the light on a narrow section of the bouquet, generally one flower. If you are using a flash, you can also purchase a snoot for it as well or you can make one for yourself! Cinematic lighting is about controlling and shaping the light, not about buying equipment and so use what works!

We set the strobe to camera right, center and then left, hitting the center flower and the flower facing each of these three directions and then combined the three images in post production. When combining images in post-production it is generally easiest to blend in each by creating a layer mask on the top two images (or however many images/layers are present before the bottom image/layer), masking out the entirety of each of these layers and then “painting in” only the content from each layer that you want to impact the final image. Otherwise you have to mask out multiple layers in order to get to the content that you want to include in the final image and it ends up being a lot more time and effort to get to the same final photograph.

While I generally like to create the final photograph in a single image and so in this case would otherwise use three strobes with three snoots, this is an example of how to work around equipment limitations to get the photograph you originally envisioned when you don’t have access to all of the equipment you need in order to create the photograph in a single shot. This becomes more important on large shoots where you need significantly more equipment than you have access to or can afford to rent. By using all of your lights in sections of an image, you can create the cinematic lighting you envisioned and then combine the images in post production to create the final photograph. The important thing to consider in these types of shoots is around which portions of the scene might move and which are stationary. You don’t want to combine images that have movement within them because it is oftentimes impossible or ridiculously time consuming to match movement amongst multiple photographs. Whereas if you can divide the scene into sections where there is movement within a section but not across sections, then you can more easily combine the three sections together since the intersection of the images doesn’t involve movement and the movement within the sections is captured in each of the single photographs.

Next week we are going to create a self-portrait in the style of the movie – Neon Dream and the photographer “Dean” played by Karl Glusman using only one key light, one background light and one accent light. The equipment we’ll use will involve a key light with barn doors, a background light flagged off from the character and an accent light to light the camera. Fun stuff!


Only My Two Cents,

Gregory Beams

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