Photographing Flowers; The Strobeless Approach

in Flashes, Strobes & Lighting

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I am big fan of the strobist home photographer revolution but sometimes I don’t think you need to use fancy flashes and strobes or bright lights with umbrellas, sometimes you can make a beautiful photograph with just a subject, the light attached to your ceiling and some white packing foam.

The Final Product

Let’s Tarantino this and show you my final outcome first

Without using an external flash, my on camera flash or any other strobes of flood lights I took these lovely photographs. Just my overhead room light (with two 60 watt bulbs) and some white Styrofoam as reflectors.

The Lighting Setup

Here’s a quick lighting diagram of what I was doing, though really, there’s not a lot of stuff going on.

Strobeless Setup for Flower Photography

The Props

Though I did not use any off camera lighting I did use a lot of things I had around to really assist in making the best I could out of the light I had to work with.

  1. Styrofoam packing sheets
    At work last months we got seven new filing cabinets (pre-assembled) that were all packed with four sheets of crisp white Styrofoam. I know that since Styrofoam has a matte finish it will reflect light very evenly, and since they are 1.5 – 2″ thick they’re fairly sturdy. Not to mention free!
    I took about eight of these 24x18x2″ blocks home; only eight cause that’s all that I could fit in my trunk.
  2. Bed side table
    I use the same one that holds my alarm clock, just to put the subject on to elevate it to a comfortable tripod height.
  3. Glass
    I used the glass from a frame I picked up on sale at Homegoods for $15 cause the frame was damaged. I had plans to put a new picture in the frame and clean it up but I broke the glass. Read on for that…
  4. Mirror
    …I’ll tell you another day how I came into a mirror that is approximately 1/2 the size of the one that may and or may not have fallen off my bathroom door.
  5. Shoji screen / privacy screen
    I’ll use this to hold up my background. In the off season (when I’m not taking pictures) it serves to hide the mess in the corner of my room.
  6. Black bedsheets set
    The pillow case will be used to cover the table to protect it from the glass or mirror and the flat sheet will be used as the background.

I can almost guarantee you have 1/2 of those things around the house and with you don’t have you can pickup at a discount store for a great price and probably still be able to put it to good use.

How big does the mirror or glass have to be?

I really only needed the glass and mirror to be maybe 2ft square. Bigger is great but only necessary if you need that much reflection, which on a small subject like a flower and vase is adequate.

Setting the Scene

Glass Topping the Table for Subtle Subject Reflections

Strobeless Single Flower on Glass Setup
In the first photo you see I put the pillow case over the table and the glass atop that. Then came the subject, the vase w/ flower.
In the last photo you see how I then used the Styrofoam reflectors to bounce light into parts of the subject that needed more light.

Strobeless Single Flower on Glass BounceI put the black flat sheet over the Shoji screen, and put my bedside table about 3′ in front of the screen so I could ensure that the background would be beyond the focal point and blur out any texture attributed to the bed sheet.

Excuse the quality of these setup shots, this is about behind the scenes remember: the quality is in the product.

Here are the photographs this setup produced

Happy Outside, Sad Inside Profile

White Background

With my white backgrounds, I will admit most of it really becomes “white” in post-production (Lightroom).

Strobeless Single Flower White BackgroundMoving from the previous setup I propped Styrofoam against the screen so it was high enough to serve as a background. Since I decided I was no longer going to do a full length shot I replaced the glass atop the table with another piece of Styrofoam to help bounce from below (remember the light is directly overhead of my subject.)

I still used other pieces of Styrofoam to bounce in at an angle, especially the face of the flowers. Don’t bounce your light directly into the flowers though, you want it to angle and cascade to give the flowers depth. a flat bounce to the face will make your flowers look just that…flat.

Photos from my Styrofoam White Setup

Are They Fighting? Together, Like Family

Mirror Reflection

First I removed the Styrofoam from the background and replaced the Styrofoam table top with the mirror (pillow case used to protect the table.)

Strobeless Single Flower Dark Mirror TentIn order to get the black background and ensure there were no wonky reflections besides the subject in the mirror I needed to move the background closer. I needed to get the camera at a high angle to get a healthy amount of reflection so I really brought that background in close by leaning the screen till it was touching the back of the table. I pushed the table so it was about 1′ behind being below the over head light so that when the background was leaning over the table I could still easily bounce light into the ‘dark mirror tent’ easily.

I was pretty proud of myself for figuring out how to actually make this happen without breaking things.

Here are the photos from the mirror setup

Reflective Coupled

Word of Caution

I may have gotten overly excited and careless with my props while shooting this, and well I stepped on my glass top. So keep a paper bag and broom/vacuum around when working with glass. Trust me!

For more talk about using reflectors check out one of the installments at StrobistLighting 102 – 5.1 Refract and Reflect! Think foil, mirror, and use a strobe or flash or like we did here just your run-of-the-mill home tungsten lighting.


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