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Working with artificial lights part II – the desklight

Endresult with desklight

For the second episode of the working with artificial light series I wanted to see how far I would get with any regular office light or reading light. I didn’t really have an actual dish at hand to shoot as it was late at night when I took these shots, so I used pretty figs instead. The end result with a plate of food shouldn’t be too different, but I will try soon an entire tabe setting with the same lighting setup.

Our light this time is just one single desklight. Again it is a coper lamp and fairly yellow light. Not so bad as with the big overhead diningtable lights though.


Without making any adjustments this is what comes out of the camera. Not so good, I am sure you agree. Harsh shadows, yellow light and in general unusable. The first thing you notice are those big black shadows on the front, so we’re going to work on those first. The photo is also a bit underexposed so it’s going to need an exposure adjustment as well.

Basis setup

As you can see in the lighting setup I placed the light to the left of the subject slightly behind. This is a more pleasing lighting then if you would use full frontal light on the figs. But anyway, those shadows… To light them up a bit I – again – use my trusty foamboard. I should really get myself some new ones as it starts to become a bit yellowish around the edges… 🙂

With the foamboard I light up the shadows on the front and side and I use the following setup to do so. I didn’t have a lot of space to take the photos so you don’t see much of the foamboard but my guess is you can see where it is placed.


But because the light is fairly bright the shadows are not lifted enough as you can see if the next photo. Also please make sure you position the foamboard at the right angle so play around and see what gets you the best results. I angled mine in a corner to reflect as much light as possible. But still not what I was looking for. Better for sure.

Light coming from the left behind, reflection of foamboard on an angle to the right

The only other option is to make the light of the lamp itself a bit softer. I could have placed it further away but my table wasn’t wide enough so it had to stay put as it was. So I got my trusty diffuser out again and held it in front of the lamp to make it a lot softer and that worked. Ofcourse the whitebalance was completely wrong but because I shot in raw and took a photo of my greycard I could easily correct it afterwards in Lightroom.

From a horrible photo to a reasonably acceptable one

All in all I think a fairly decent result for a desklight! And good to use in case of emergency (read:no light anymore!) I am curious how it’s going to turn out with a bigger setting, so I will try that next time too. The light I was used was fairly wide so it wasn’t coming in too narrow as that would have meant even harder shadows. In general desklights are fairly bright so make sure you take that into account. Also be aware of the fact that the lights get hot so holding a diffuser in front of it could get hot or melting or even bursting into flame.

For the next time I think I am gonna go with the much used and ever so uncharmingly kitchenlights…. (we have little halogen spots on the wall… mmm interesting!)


About the author

Simone van den Berg

Food- and travelblogger from the Netherlands. Loves good food. Loves to taste good food the world over.
She also loves to share travelstories, delicious recipes and ok, cat pictures too. She sometimes feels the need to get really healthy for a while, always mingled with periods of insanely delicious sweets and other decadent treats.
Lives together with Tom and their two cats; Humphrey and Buffy.
Profession: Food photographer

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Hi. My name is Simone and I believe you can change your life by eating the right foods. I am a certified holistic nutritional coach, food photographer, recipe developer and story teller.

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Travel calendar 2018

March: Blankenberge, Belgium
April: 3 weeks roadtrip through East USA
May: Turkey
May: Germany
June: Germany
September: Newcastle