Still life photos by torchlight

Use a small pocket torch to add interesting light effect to still life subjects

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Using a small pocket torch as a light source can be the recipe for some very creative lighting effects.
Words & Pictures Peter Bargh ePHOTOzine

The technique, known as painting with light, allows you to illuminate precise areas of the subject by pointing a torch at it during the exposure. The trick is to build up the amount of light on the subject so that it is correctly exposed.

Any standard torch will do but the powerful compact models from the likes of Maglite are perfect. You can also often adjust the beam from a wide spread to quite intense making it useful for different types of subject.

Still life photos by torchlight
I sometimes use a cone made from black card to make an even more precise point light source.

This technique can be achieved with any camera although working with digital is much easier as the exposure is quite tricky to calculate with a film camera and you need to bracket to stand more chance of getting good shots. Start by setting the camera on auto exposure and bracket two stops over and under making notes so you can refer to them when your photos are printed. With a digital camera you can preview the photo after you've taken it and shoot again if the result isn't quite right.
Focus and set the camera on focus lock so that it isn't fooled by the uneven light.

Still life photos by torchlight
Mount the camera on a tripod so you can control the torch with one hand while tripping the shutter with the other.

The left hand picture shows that the torch was pointing from the front, while the right hand shot has light from the right side. The narrow beam ensures the rest of the wooden sculpture remains in shadow. Still life photos by torchlight

Below are four examples of a pair of mushrooms. The first is with normal flash and while okay, is not very interesting. Bring the torch into action and the results become far more creative. You can either hold the torch still or move it around to avoid patterns from the bulb or hot spots appearing.

Still life photos by torchlight Still life photos by torchlight
Still life photos by torchlight Still life photos by torchlight

One thing you'll probably have spotted at this stage is the colour. A torch has a colour temperature that's much warmer than daylight so pictures illuminated with it will be very warm or orange. You can use a blue 80 series filter to correct this with film, whereas a digital camera has an automatic white balance control that adjusts to make the picture look like daylight. When necessary you can override the white balance and set the colour correction manual.

The final example below shows the difference you can make by moving the torch around the subject, in this case bananas. Different angles produce very varied lighting. It's all about experimenting and when you use digital it costs you nothing to try.

Still life photos by torchlight

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