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With Halloween rapidly approaching, this month I thought I'd treat you to a couple of cool tricks, which will be useful for anybody new to still life photography. These spooky shots were taken with the use of only one or two lights along with some basic creative trickery!

Let me introduce you to Eddie; he usually sits on top of the bookcase in my living room, but he joined me at the 3Objectives studio last week for the headshot I've been promising him since he still had a full head of hair.

I find the best way to light your average skeletal friend is with two harsh lights from the side and slightly behind. This enhances the bony texture and highlights the shape of his face, but because we are lighting from slightly behind the subject, details such as the eye sockets are left in shadow.

My main light is a medium-sized dish with a honeycomb grid on the right. On the left, I used a snoot to achieve a narrower beam of light; my intention is to pick out only the shape of Eddie's head, leaving the rest of those creepy details to the imagination.
To add atmosphere, I introduced some smoke! Why visit a misty graveyard in the dead of night when we can recreate the scene in the comfort of the studio? The trick here is to light the smoke as well as your subject. For the best results, light from behind, making sure the light is hitting the smoke. The key to this is to use a dark background, or else it will not show up in the picture.

Below is a shot from behind the scenes, with Eddie adorning his favourite attire. The narrow beam of light from the snoot only picks out a desired spot of your subject.
My favourite thing about Halloween is pumpkin fritters, witch is a traditional South African dish (check out the recipe here). Unfortunately, I'm not very good at making them. However, my next favourite thing is photographing carved pumpkins.

The trick here is to combine two light sources – the flash, and available light, which in this case is from a candle inside the pumpkin. To do this you need to do two things: black out the studio (that includes the modelling light on the flash!), and select a longer shutter speed.
I experimented by moving my light around the pumpkin (I used a snoot and honeycomb because I only wanted to light the edge of the pumpkin, leaving the rest in shadow). The light of the carved face comes from the ambient light of the candle, for which I required the longer shutter speed of half a second (using a cable release and sturdy tripod).

By increasing the length of exposure, you will achieve a brighter effect, as below...
Or if you wish, you can try adding another light (such as a long softbox on low power, for example two or three stops lower than your main light) to reveal more of the pumpkin. By experimenting and playing with light, the possibilities can become endless!
Technical Details:

To get you started, I’ve included a brief list of some of the equipment and camera settings I used.
  • Hasselblad medium format with a Phase One digital back, with a 120mm lens
  • 100 ISO
  • Aperture f11 ½
  • Shutter speed 125/sec for Eddie’s photographs. For the pumpkin images, try experimenting at half a second, 1 second and 2 seconds.
  • Two Elinchrom flash units, with a medium sized dish (with a honeycomb grid) and a snoot.
  • Black velvet backdrop to ensure a pure black background.
  • You will require a sturdy tripod and a cable release for the images with longer shutter speeds.
  • Tea lights and matches - but remember to take extra care when using matches in the studio!

If you have a question for Lee, or would like to feature as a 3Objectives guest blogger, contact the studio.

Lee Murrells -
Freelance Photographer