Adventures in…Lighting

I think I’ve become hooked on photography (which is better than say, being hooked on crystal meth) and I’m completely fine with it. Unfortunately, when it comes to food photography, I have one major problem: I live in a basement apartment. The lack of windows means I do not get good natural light, so I’m forced to rely on the lighting in my house. And as those who shoot food know, household lighting does not provide quality shots (see the picture of the salad to the left and the cheesecake below).

I knew I needed some sort of photographic lighting, but wasn’t willing to spend hundreds of dollars on an effective set. So when I learned about the more affordable Lowel Ego Fluorescent Lights, I was intrigued. The Steamy Kitchen blog waxed poetically about the effectiveness of these simple lights, but I was skeptical. How good could a lighting system that was basically a lamp shade and two fluorescent bulbs truly be? Tack on how cheap they were ($88 each) and my inner cynic reared its ugly head. But since my birthday is coming up (oh yeah, I have no shame…I tell the homeless guy on the corner my birthday’s coming up as I buy a copy of Street Sense), and the lights were so inexpensive, I decided to roll the dice and buy one.

You can purchase either one light or a kit that includes two light sets, a bounce card, a plastic sweep system and an assortment of colored paper to use as backgrounds. Because I was still unsure of the quality of the lights, I opted to purchase just the one light set (which also comes with a bounce card). When it arrived, I pulled out the various parts and immediately thought I’d made a mistake. The light box seemed to be made of a material that really was tantamount to a lamp shade and didn’t seem sturdy. But on the plus side, the assembly instructions were easy to follow and it only took about ten minutes to put the light set together. Once it was assembled, I set up the light, a salad and the bounce card and turned out all the other lights in my apartment.
From the beginning, I got a bad feeling; the images on the LCD screen had a slightly bluish-green tint to them. I had no f%#!ckin’ clue why the lights were giving off such an odd hue and I was getting frustrated. Okay, I was getting pissed. Yeah I didn’t spend a lot of money on the lights, but I was still looking so forward to getting some quality lighting and it seemed my satisfaction was to be delayed. Out of desperation, I started playing around with the settings on my camera and ran across a fluorescent manual setting. I switched to it, put the camera on my tripod and looked at the salad through my LCD display again. And I was BLOWN away! The difference was phenomenal! Not only was the bluish-green tint gone from the pictures, they were crisper and clearer than the other pictures I had taken. I still need to play around with the level of exposure in my shots, but I am definitely on the right track! Over the next few weeks, I will be learning more about exposure and camera settings in order to get even more out of my shoots (this includes pumping all of my photographer friends for tips…). I highly recommend these little wonders for anyone who wants to add another dimension to their food photography…and did I mention they were cheap? I see another visit from the UPS man coming up soon…

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