Simple Still Life Tutorial

I decided to take out from my box, where my gear was taking dust, all the tripods and stands I bought over the years to brush up on my lighting skills. The result of my first experiment was this:


Which I like, but which I think was suffering from a bit of too harsh light. For this reason, I decided to try again, however while I was composing the scene, I decided to step up the challenge, and add the idea to light it with just a candle…and some flashes. The final result is this one:


maybe a bit too dark, but that was intentional, otherwise it could have ruined the mood. With this little guide, I want to show you how I realised the final scene starting from this:


Let’s see what I needed:

  • 3 flashes
  • 2 tripods
  • a camera tripod
  • a stand for the background
  • a background
  • a gold reflector
  • a umbrella
  • all the orange gels I could find around
  • wireless triggers

About the flashes: I own Metz AF-2, a broken Metz AF-1 which works in manual only, the cheapest Yongnuo flash you can find on ebay. However since I use the flashes only in manual mode, you can just use Yongnuo ones. They are very good and the ability to use the server mode based on light triggering could save you some money on the wireless triggers.

Tripods and stands are easily found on Ebay. Also in this case I usually go for the cheapest option. I guess I bought something like this for the background stands:

The background itself is very cheap:

this cannot be used for portraits, as it is too small, but I bought it for these shots, so it was OK for me.If you don’t know the fantastic Yongnuo flashes, just ebay them. I don’t even know if the one I used is still available, as it is old 😉 The closest one is this, which actually looks fancier:

Golden reflector is part of the 5 in 1 reflectors you can easily find on Ebay. Just pick up one, they are all more or less the same:

Same goes for the umbrella, however for the umbrella I wouldn’t go for the cheapest solution as they can deteriorate easily over the time. Mine is a Bowens, if you can get one at a good price, buy it:

Also for the wireless triggers, going for the cheapest is not wise, as they are basically a waste of money. Buy the trigger master, a bit expensive, but totally worth it. I own the Trigmaster II and I am totally happy with them, be sure to buy the transmitter for your camera brand, they are not the same.The final setup looked like this:


on the left a flash with a diffuse modifier (probably not necessary) was used. On the right another flash with the umbrella modifier. The third flash was under the backdrop, between it and the table. Two flashes were controlled using the trigger master receiver, while the Yongnuo was set to flash with the light trigger (basically it detects other flashes and fire at the same time with them)

You obviously need to tweak the flash power to find the lighting mix you like the most, but this is not the most difficult part. The tricky part is to control the light itself, as if it starts to bounce over the walls and ceiling, you won’t be able to predict where the direction of the light comes from, bleeding lights from everywhere.The light of the flash on the right was controller by the umbrella, while for the light on the left, I covered it with the golden reflector when it was triggered.

The camera was set to a long exposure of 3 seconds, with f/11 to get sharp details and a deep field of view. 3 Seconds were needed to capture the light of the candle. The fun part here is to set the flashes in such a way they don’t light the whole scene, giving the impression that the candle is still the principal light source of the scene. However with the candle only the scene would have looked like this:


you can see the impact of the flashes used.

Just one note about the third flash. To be honest, initially I didn’t mean to have a blue light in the background, it’s just that I ran out of orange gels! The light became blue because of the white balance (always shoot in raw!), but since I liked the look of it, I left it as it was.

To conclude let’s talk about the post processing. For this I used Photoshop. This is the list of things I have done:

– First of all, with such a cheap background, you must expect a lot of creases. The Healing Brush Tool will be your friend. Just mess around with it, it will do magic to remove all the wrinkles on the fabric. A bit of blur will do the rest.

– I used the not  destructive dodge and burn technique to brighten up the most interesting areas.

– I used a Brightness/Contrast layer, with a layer mask, to darken up even more the peripheral areas.

– Also applied a bit of glow, using this technique

to give a bit of mystic mood. That’s it, if you have any question, ask. You can also follow my facebook page:

3 thoughts on “Simple Still Life Tutorial

    1. Light painting never really grew on me, at the moment I am experimenting with portraits, something that I always wanted to do.

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