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Still Life on a Budget

Bonvilston 7 61 8 United Kingdom
18 Jan 2012 7:44PM
Here's my dilemma. I want to try some still life. nothing too sophisticated at this stage. I have no idea if I am going to be any good at it so I have to be careful of budget. I want to set up something at home. Can't spend 100s on lighting partly because I may not get into it and partly because I don't have it to spare. Don't have lots of spare large rooms and every window in the house has leaded squares across the window casting sharp shadows. I could hire a studio, but even if that worked out well I would not be able to recreate it at home.

In the light of all of this, can anyone suggest a cheap way to get a still life set up, preferably able to take shots with a dark background and low key lighting.

Not much of an ask eh ? Wink

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cattyal Plus
13 8.5k 6 England
18 Jan 2012 7:51PM
Take a look at the techniques section HERE . The first one on the list is an excellent example of just using a plain desk lamp - you don't need anything fancy Smile
Bonvilston 7 61 8 United Kingdom
18 Jan 2012 7:59PM
Thanks Alison. I will give these a try. When I get to the stage of your still life shots I will know I've got there !!! Grin
SueEley 12 279 96 Wales
18 Jan 2012 8:02PM
I have taken still life on my dining room table using natural light (I also have square panes, which are a bit of an issue to work around but sometimes it can work for you), desk lights and work lights (though the colour balance needs adjusting) - as still life doesn't move, as long as you have a tripod, it doesn't matter if you have longer exposures. I have used black velvet, black mounting board and other board/fabric as backgrounds. I have also used granite table mats as backgrounds for macro work. It can be nice to experiment with depth of field. I have also shot still life with shadows on white board on the floor to get a strong more or less mono shot. That used strong daylight and the pattern of the windows.

For low key, a chair on a table draped with black cloth or taped with black paper (which has less texture) to create a curve, a smallish subject at a reasonable distance in front of the back drop (to avoid seeing creases and texture) and play with whatever lights you have to try and get the effect you want. It's fun, but harder work than you might think - I find it involves a lot of 'Get down and look through the camera, get up and recompose the objects a little, get down look and move the camera a bit, move the light a bit, shoot one and start again'. Before you know it, you've been doing up and down 50 times! Probably you should avoid mixed types of lighting and shoot a reference frame with a grey card or other neutral grey, especially if using work lights which can have odd white balances. I have a quite powerful led white work light I got for under 40 - it doesn't even get hot and it is great fun to play with. Oh, and if you shoot glass, polish it! You won't notice all the dust till you get it on your computer, and it is a beast to clone out.
cattyal Plus
13 8.5k 6 England
18 Jan 2012 8:02PM
You're welcome Peter Smile

When you get to my stage of still life shots you'll know you're heading in the right direction - I'm a long way off producing masterpieces Smile One day though I'll get there!
chase 12 1.1k 246 England
18 Jan 2012 11:03PM
There are lots of things around the house you can use for subjects,one neat tip...get the ironing board out to use as a table,nice bit of height ajustment to avoid the bending down.
A small torch or desklamp will suffice for lighting & try using a small shaving mirror to reflect some light back onto your subjects too.
If you are concerned about the type of lighting you are using & white balance...don't have a grey card ?...then shoot in Raw & have a play with the WB in your editing program.
Hmmm....the leaded windows in your home could be used too,they make great shadows on an image.
A dark bg could be the back of your camera bag,a dark jacket/towel/plain sheeting.You can get large sheets of black thick paper for a couple of quid in a craft shop,a few bits of sellotape/blu-tac...instant bg.
Good luck.
SlowSong Plus
9 7.4k 30 England
18 Jan 2012 11:08PM
I do quite a few still lifes and all I use is my ironing board as a base, a bit of paper or cloth draped over it and stuck to the wardrobe at the back as a backdrop and one, maybe two, ordinary desk lamps. Sometimes only daylight and a reflective bit of card, or black card. You really don't need much at all. I always shoot RAW though.
Bonvilston 7 61 8 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2012 11:26AM
Thanks for all those suggestions. Only thing I am frightened of is that if I ask my wife if I can use the ironing board she may get the wrong idea Wink

Good suggestions though, which I will give a try to.
akh Plus
14 1.2k 5 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2012 11:50AM
I use the table in my kitchen for all of my still life and indoor floral shots. Luckily I have a window in the back door just to the right which provides different types of light depending on the time of day and the weather conditions outside. This shot shows how I work. The background is a piece of black velvet attached to the underside of some kitchen cupboards and the reflector is a piece of cardboard covered in kitchen foil. All of my shots are done using natural light. The background can be easily changed for other colours.


Resulting shot.


MeanGreeny 12 3.7k England
19 Jan 2012 11:57AM
You might look up Andrew Sanderson and his images. He takes pictures of the most commonplace things around the home and makes them extraordinary - almost all by natural light.
digicammad 14 22.0k 39 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2012 12:10PM
You can buy a tabletop light tent for not a lot of money (about 15 if I remember) and any adjustable desk lamp will do. I bought a couple of cheap flexi bedside lamps with halogen bulbs for about a fiver each.

Another option is to go to your local market or cheap fabric stall and get a length of black velour (or similar). You can sometimes find lengths of blackout material for not a lot of money.

Finally, keep an eye open for a second hand slide viewing lightbox, they can be used pretty effectively as backgrounds for macro work.

Bonvilston 7 61 8 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2012 12:38PM
Tony, Thanks for the contribution. It is useful to see a set up like yours to give a feel for what it actually might look like. Cheers
weseeyou 7 112
25 Jan 2012 8:04PM
I'd take a look at Karl Taylor's free video tutorials . Coincidentally Karl sent me a video tutorial on DIY still life just the other day.
Hopefully the link will work for you. If not let me know .
StrayCat 14 19.1k 3 Canada
25 Jan 2012 8:09PM
Doesn't work.Tongue
Bonvilston 7 61 8 United Kingdom
25 Jan 2012 8:11PM
Yep - same for me. Clicking the link just opens a new tab, but no webpage. Sad

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