I really like that style of still-life photography that looks like an old Dutch-school painting with soft, warm, low-key directional lighting. One of my holiday-break projects was to experiment with this, and here is my first attempt.
I actually worked on this all day, and I came to a profound realization in the middle of the project (and all you “pros” can laugh at me if you want). The realization that I came to is what the difference is between a large shoot-through umbrella and a soft-box. I have the former, but I never really saw the point to the latter until today. When I started using the large shoot-through I realized that although the light was nice and soft, I couldn’t get the directional characteristic that I wanted. The large convex shape throws the light everywhere in a 180-degree arc even with a spill panel, and it lit up the background more than I wanted it to. I then realized that this is the purpose of a soft-box; the flat rectangular surface provides not only softness, but a much more directional throw of light. I suppose that I have read these words in a few lighting books, but it wasn’t until today trying to take this shot that I had that “duh” moment. So now that I know its purpose, I guess that I’ll have to run out and buy me a big ol’ soft-box.
I tried two other techniques in lieu of having a soft-box. First I tried to balance a pair of units on each side with one about a stop brighter than the other. I used grids on both, which did what I intended in that the background was now protected from the light and completely dark. Unfortunately this still left the shadows harder than I liked. It was even more disconcerting that you could easily tell that two lights were used. The shadows on the left projected toward the right and the shadows on the right projected to the left and although some might not notice that, I found it to be very annoying.
This one is lit with a single Alien Bees B-800 at 1/8-power through a 64-in PLM shoot-through camera-left and just out of frame. For fill I set up an empty 64-in silver reflecting PLM umbrella camera-right and just out of frame. I wanted the warmth that this style of photography/painting so often has, but I didn’t have an appropriate gel for the B-800, so I manually knocked the camera’s WB from the standard 5200-K to 4700-K. A little “glow” and vignette was added in post.
Oh yeah, and in case anyone is interested, these are all family heirlooms from our attic. I have maybe a hundred old 19th-century photos from my family, that big-old 19th-century bible (including family birth/death and marriage records), the marriage certificate is my great-grandparents dated 1872 and the CSA dollar bill is somebody’s war-souvenir.
Canon 5DmkIII; EF-85mm f1.2L; ISO-200; f11; 1/160-sec; 0ev; WB@4700-K