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How to Light Objects So They Look Good

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 3/12/2010

A simple method of lighting objects or and products so they look great on digital video.

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    Object Lighting

    Not every digital video project has the goal of recording people or events. Some home projects require shooting inanimate objects and making them look as good as possible. If your goal is to record an object so that it looks great you simply have to employ the same techniques that video based advertisers have been using for decades in the professional realm. To make the object you are shooting the only thing the audience will focus on you have to take it out of its natural position and place it somewhere that you have created. This is similar to how things like jewelry or shoes are displayed in video commercials, where they are isolated from the natural world in everyway.

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    The Set-Up

    The best way to achieve this effect is to take a table and cover it with a blanket that is one solid color. Maroon and navy blue work very well for this because they do not compete with the object in the final image but are colorful enough that they add to the video. Drape the blanket on a high, flat table. The idea here is that you are going to place the object on the blanket, and then place the light in a manner that will make the object look appealing. The blanket, depending on its cloth and on the table, is either going to drape very flat or bunch up a little. If it is wrinkly then make sure that you bunch it up on the table a great deal. If the cloth is flat or excessively bunched up it looks good in the image, but if it is just slightly wrinkled it looks cluttered and messy.

    Place the object on the blanket in the position that you would like it to appear. Some items should be laid flat while certain items, like shoes or other objects where you would like to see their underside, should be at an angle. You might want to put a box under the blanket to set the object on or lean it against. Then you will need to take white card, or white poster board, and suspend it directly above the object.

    There are a number of ways you can do this, but the easiest is to take a metal stand of some sort that has a protruding arm at the top of it and clip the card so that it is extending flat above the object. You do this so that you can bounce light off the card directly downward onto the object. What you do then is take a light, if you do not have a portable light kit you can use something like a powerful flashlight or home spotlight, and put it close to the floor and angle the beam toward the white card. What the card does is reflect the light diffused and evenly onto the object. The object and the cloth it is sitting on will be illuminated so it appears to be glowing very softly.

    You then mount the camera on a tripod so it is a few inches above the object and then place the tripod directly behind the light you have pointed at the white card. Here you can make the object look as large or small as you want with the zoom. Since you are going to be so close and a single object is of such importance in the image it is absolutely crucial that it be in perfect focus. Try zooming as far into the image as possible from your position, refocusing so it looks clear at that range, then backing up the zoom to the position you would like it to appear.

    Following these guidelines will result in "tack sharp" images that look like they were taken by a professional.