Monday, February 20, 2012

Shooting Details in Low Light With Basic Lamps and A Tripod

When taking pictures, I'm all about natural light. And for detail shots that nice big window light is the bee's knees. That's my ideal light, but sometimes I run out of time and find myself in the dreaded lamps only low-light situation. Bleh! Yes, I have multiple flashes and could go for an extensive setup but most of the time I'm just lazy. Why would I want to do that? So let's say you're like me and you spent the afternoon playing Sims (um, I mean working) or maybe you just get home after dark. If you're itching to take pictures of your new Etsy swag with only low-light, here's what you do:

Get a tripod.

Tripods come in all sizes and price points - just make sure to get one that is sturdy enough to hold your camera. Those big guns like my Canon 5D Mark II get really heavy. Using a tripod for product shots works wonders in both natural light and low-light detail situations, especially if you want to get lots of stuff in nice focus. But for this post, we're all about that low light situation, inside with just your average household lamps. This is for detail product photography only - not people.

Shooting portraits in this light would just be a hot mess. Trust me.

So here's my lazy person set up:

  • stuff to photograph (globes)

  • camera on tripod

  • two basic floor lamps (different lamps will produce different results, so just try it out)

  • white balance set to Tungsten light (I usually stick with AWB but not in this situation)
Just FYI this is at night, so I'm relying solely on ambient light from lights in the room. In the image above you can see some yucky shadows on the wall.  That's because in this shot the overhead light is on (ceiling fan.) When you're trying to do this, overhead lights like ceiling fans and chandeliers will NOT cut it. They cast too many shadows either on the wall or big shadows from your product.

So let's say you don't have a tripod. This is what happens when you have to use a slow shutter speed to let in more light. Anything handheld slower than 1/50th second is going to look bad.

The other option you have (if you don't have a tripod) is to use flash. Here's an example of the Canon 40D's standard pop up flash. See those big shadows and bright highlights on the globes? Meh.

Low light + details + camera + tripod = yay! In the photo above I only have one light on in the room - lamp #1 (on the right.)  It works nicely, but if you want to fill in a little more shadows / darkness  on the left of the globes... you could turn on lamp #2.

And here it is, a globe shot with both floor lamps turned on. These images have a little editing in Photoshop. There is so much more to work with when you shoot detail shots with a tripod. So the next time you want to take detail shots but it's already dark outside - get out your tripod. And remember, that tripod is great for anytime you're shooting product / detail photography - even when there's still window light to use.