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Lighting Models-Basics

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  • Member since
    April 2016
  • From: Parsons Kansas
Lighting Models-Basics
Posted by Hodakamax on Wednesday, August 17, 2016 11:53 AM

Lighting in art and photography is an immense subject requiring years of study, trial and error, and accumulated experience. It can be complicated but is best done simply. Product photography tries to bring out the best features and is generally done with soft light from broad sources to reduce shadows. One light is the most natural and in small product photography a large light box which can be several feet across is usually the method. If the subject is small, an umbrella can be large enough to produce the needed results. Another broad source can be light banks like the one shown.

Here's a basic set-up for small part photography with an umbrella and a household fluoresent bulb. A tripod is needed for longer exposure times. Light sources can be anything from daylight balanced strobes, bulb type lights to fluoresent types. Just a quick set-up for demo.


And not telling everyone how to photograph their model only that this is good way to shoot small parts with light flooding of a subject without spending a lot on lighting equipment. I've even used a white shower curtain suspended above the subject with a shop light above it to get soft lighting effects.


  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, August 18, 2016 1:33 PM

Here's a link to some of my model photos: . I'm sure the folks in the "Ships" section are thoroughly sick of these photos by now, but maybe they'll be of some use here.

I took these pictures in about 2001, using an extremely simple - and cheap - setup. The camera was a Pentax SLR, before I went digital. (In 2001 the cheapest DSLRs cost a lot more than my film camera - more than the family budget could handle.) I used good old Fuji Reala print film. I had the local camera store make me a CD from the film, so I could doctor it a little (not much) in Photoshop Elements.

I wasn't financially well off in those days (I'm still not - but the kids are out of the house), but I cobbled together a reasonably effective setup with minimal expenditure. I bought, from Adorama, a Savage backdrop. Like the folks at FSM, I favor a medium-to-light blue - especially for sailing ship models. I want both the black standing rigging and the tan running rigging to show equally well.

For lighting, I bought two photo flood bulbs from the camera store and screwed them into cheap metal, clip-on reflectors from Lowe's. Then, taking a tip from one of the camera magazines, I swathed the reflectors in several layers of cheap cheesecloth to function as diffusers. One light pointed at the model from above, straight-on; the other on the backdrop to counteract the shadows made by the first one. I didn't have any light stands, but a couple of step ladders did the trick.

Here's a tip for newcomers: if possible, buy a wider backdrop than you think you need. You want to allow considerable distance between the model and the backdrop behind it (to soften shadows). The first time you look through the viewfinder you'll be shocked at how the backdrop seems to shrink when the model's pulled away from it.

I don't remember the specs of the lens I used, but it probably was the Pentax kit lens (18-55 mm or thereabouts). At the beginning of the session I shut down the aperture to F22 and left it there, and relied on the auto-exposure system to set the shutter speed. (I think I took some bracketing shots, but the camera's interpretation of the right exposure was almost invariably right.) I think I may have used one closeup filter for a few of the shots, but I mostly shot from a foot or two away and relied on cropping. As you can see, blurring due to depth of field wasn't a major problem.

At that time I was using a tripod that cost about $20.00. It was a beast to adjust, but for this kind of work it did fine. I tripped the shutter with a remote release.

I don't claim these are the best model photos ever taken, but they seem more than good enough for anybody who's looked at them. I used the same setup, in the same room, for my stepdaughter's college graduation portraits.

I still get out that old film camera for nostalgia's sake now and then. (It still works perfectly. Pentax makes good gear. We have a good camera store in Greenville, and it still stocks a few rolls of high-quality film.) Most of the time I use my Pentax K-10 DSLR - a fine camera, though in some ways trickier to use. I'll freely admit that it's mighty nice not to have to wait till the pictures are processed to see whether I got everything right.

Prices (for those interested): the camera was about $350, the backdrop about $25, the bulbs about $10 each (they've gone up since then), the tripod about $20.00. Not bad - and I had tons of fun with that old camera taking all sorts of pictures. Not a bad investment. Nowadays, in addition to the DSLR, I've got a decent set of lights, stands, and umbrellas, and a better tripod. In all honesty, though, I can't claim the model photos I get now are better than those I took on film fifteen years ago.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    July 2014
  • From: Franklin Wi
Posted by Bakster on Thursday, August 18, 2016 6:23 PM

Hey Max, this is a good subject idea and an informative one. It helps take model photography to a higher level.

JT, nicely done and I love the ship. I like it right down to how you have the flags draped. Once again, I love your work on the furled sails.

  • Member since
    April 2016
  • From: Parsons Kansas
Posted by Hodakamax on Friday, August 19, 2016 7:10 AM

Hey Gang, for those interested in lighting, these are availiable from B&H Photo online. Even the single bulb with an umbrella will duplicate the set-up above. I use the standard household 2700K bulb that matches the color of my shop fluoresents rather than the daylight 5000K (bluer) that usually comes with them. Also shown are some reasonably priced lightbox kits. Check it out.




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