Lights for tabletop photography – color corrections

Tabletop Behind The SceneFor tabletop photography there are lots of lighting possibilities.  This also applies to still life and product photography.  We can rule out the largest Hollywood “can” lights and big fluorescent banks, due to the small spaces that tabletop photography usually takes place in.  But any reasonable size light can be made to work, with some adjustments.  Continuous lights, even household lights, are tempting.  You see what you are going to get, and their cost is very low.  But there will be color issues to deal with.  Speedlights and studio strobes also work, except for the most powerful ones, that will simply overwhelm a small tabletop.

This is the first in a series of articles on the how-to of tabletop photography.  Selecting lighting, looking at color quality and corrections. The lead photo is the Behind The Scene (BTS in photog lingo) shot, to show the setup for the camera and light. The camera is a Canon 50D DSLR, visible in the gloom in the lower left corner. The particular light in this case is my studio monolight, a 150WS Flashpoint II 320M (sold by Adorama). To the left of the subject is a 22 inch “5-in-1” portable reflector. The silver face is used here, tried the white and it did not provide as much fill light as I wanted. The reflector is mounted in a reflector arm, which is a kind of boom to attach to a light stand.

In the collection below, each light gets its own column.  The sample at the top of the column is a JPG direct from the 50D with the WB set to the appropriate preset, or AutoWB.  As the samples progress downward additional color corrections are applied, often to the RAW image in Lightroom.  So the best correction is at the bottom of the column.  Click on any sample for an enlarged view, plus easy access to the other samples for that light.

About picture styles:  These are in-camera presets for color saturation and a few other attributes to be applied to JPG images.  For a Canon the most saturation is found in the Standard picture style.  It’s my habit to use the Faithful picture style, which more or less emulates the old Ektachrome film.  So all of the original shots were with Faithful and all of the JPGs that start each set of samples are Faithful.  Now note the color checker card in the foreground.  This card revealed that even the Faithful picture style over saturates a little.  Lightroom duplicates these picture style settings.  So, with the RAW versions, for the sake of accuracy and realism, I reset the RAW images to the Neutral picture style.  If you see greater saturation in the JPGs at the top of each column, now you know why.

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