Bob Knill’s “Moody Style”

Photographer Bob Knill, Maryland.



Bob Knill of Frederick, Maryland wanted a very dark, moody portrait.

Using a main light consisting of a 5-in-one scrim (the inside of a 5-in-one reflector system) with a speedlight he created a very earthy, dark but sublime main light. By keeping the strobe very close to the scrim he was able to create a bit of a hot center, while the surrounding scrim was lit up enough to provide excellent “ambient”. A second hard light (un modified speedlight) was added behind the subject to give an edge to the natural shadow side, presenting detail and shape.

Bob sent along a behind the scenes shot of his lighting setup. Note how close the flash is to the scrim.



Note how the gentleman’s head never disappears into the very dark background. Bob kept the ambient at a point where the head never falls away. The detail provided by the hard “kicker” light behind is just enough to give the image separation and depth. The overall dark, mysterious look is achieved by not letting any of the subject blend into the background.


Using a scrim or shower curtain for a main light, bring your source (flash/strobe/hot light) into a distance of about 3 – 5 inches and use that ‘hot spot’ to light your subjects face. Control the ambient with the amount of ‘spill’ you get from the light in close to the scrim. Don’t let the subject melt into the background, instead provide either fill cards or a second light for separation. Work this out… you can do it, and it can be a wonderful stylistic approach for you.

Still Life Breakdown: Corn in Virginia

Still Life Breakdown: Corn in Virginia

This past weekend I was privileged to hang out with a bunch of photographers in Virginia. It was not a workshop, it was a hangout-and-shoot-your-ass-off weekend. Stephen and Michele were the gracious hosts who put it all together, and we had a blast.

Saturday had us shooting a wide variety of talent they had booked, and we shot in a very nice little studio in downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. The weather cooperated and we had a couple of lovely days to shoot outside and in the studio.

More of those images on this Sunday’s dispatch “In The Frame” which you can sign up for free right over there on the right. We don’t spam you and we let you know if there is something for sale. Most of the time it is just a lot of fun, and stuff you will not find on this site.

One of the attendees, Bob Knill, wanted to step up his game in the still life / food arena, so he came prepared with two fresh ears of corn snapped up at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. (If you live near Fredericksburg, you really should check it out – Saturday mornings near downtown.)

We are going to take a look at this image from a different perspective… we are going to deconstruct it from finished to start. Instead of starting with the corn and adding in what we did, we will look at what happens when we take things away.

(I should mention that these are straight out of the camera with zero adjustments or modifications. They were processed from Raw in LR5, and exported to PS for JPEG.)

First let’s set the stage:


You can see all the major players here.

  • The main lighting is the scrim placed just above the set. That is lit by a small softbox about 4 inches from the scrim to make the light have shape. Backing it off fills the scrim, but moving it in close creates a hot spot on the scrim and lets Bob focus the main part of his light wherever he wants.
  • The second light is an unmodified speedlight on the left, passing through a glass block placed very close to the set.
  • Notice the glass block has a black card on the speedlight side and one on the corn side. Those small cards are helping to shape the light as it comes through the glass block. It also keeps unwanted light from spilling around the edges.
  • There are two small white cards propped up in front of the corn. They are adding a bit of fill, and something for the glistening corn to reflect on the shadow side.
  • Bob is shooting tethered here so he can see the nuances of his lighting.

The set is quite small – less than the coffee table we were shooting on. He set his shutter and aperture on a setting that assured no extraneous light would be added by the ambient.

ISO 200, f4.5, 1/60th of a second with a 50MM lens were the chosen tools and settings.

The first shot is with all the gear set as in the BTS above. Click on the images for a much larger experience.

Notice the smooth light, with delicate fill all around the corn. That is the combination of small speedlight and diffuser providing a nice ambient feel. The speedlight to camera right coming through the glass block gives the image some depth and interest, as well as shaping the top ear of corn with light and shadow. Notice how subtle the light is from the left.


In this shot we removed the black cards that were on the glass block. The light is less nuanced, but still interesting. It is your shot – make it your way. With the cards no longer shaping the light, the fill cards in front are now brighter and providing more fill than when they were not receiving so much of the speedlight from the left.


Now we remove the cards from in front of the corn and it goes much darker in front of the corn.



This shot is with the light to camera right shut off. Now the only light is from the diffuser and the small softbox above the corn. This has a very soft, natural light look to it as well.


On this shot we removed the scrim and just used the speedlight in the small softbox. You can see the entire feel of the ambient is now gone. This has a very point-source feel to it.


Interestingly enough, you may like any one of these for your work. There is no one way or right way to do this stuff. Experiment and have fun creating your own versions of how you want to light.

Bob spent a couple of hours on this, working out exactly what he wanted to do, and doing some cool variations. I hope he shares those on his blog when he is ready.

This shot shows how the little shelf blocked some light behind the set so it would create a shadow and some fall off for the background.

Paying attention to the smallest details is what this type of photography is all about.

BTW, it is a blast to work with subjects and light like this. Try a couple ears of corn or a head of broccoli or whatever you like. Blend the light, make the light do what you want it to do and don’t give up at the first shot. Keep working it till you get what you want.


Another shot of the set.


Sort of a ‘spy-cam’ feel, eh?

OK – see you next time.

BTW, if you would like to see more posts like this, please let me know. I am happy to do them.


creativeLIVE Workshop: “Table Top Product”

creativeLIVE Workshop: “Table Top Product”

The great folks up at creativeLIVE produce new learning experiences for photographers, designers, illustrators and more. Their plan of delivering focused, intensive learning that is student centric instead of geography or school centric, is bold and, I think, disruptive.

In the good way, disruptive.

There have been many workshops at CL involving photographing people. I did my introduction to Lighting Essentials workshop in early April, and we did a lot of cool setups with people shots.

However, they noticed that I also like to shoot inanimate objects and cool things. Still life and product.

And they also know that I think the ability to shoot some product can help most emerging photographer’s bottom line.

So they invited me back in June to do a new kind of workshop. A product and still life centric workshop. It will be the first on CL, and I hope you join me for a very exciting “Introduction to Table Top Product Photography” weekend.

Still Life and Product is one of the mainstays of commercial photography.

Some shooters prefer it, some do it was as an ancillary part of their work, and some, like me, love it for its various intricacies and detail. I flat out have a blast when I am shooting product and still life.

And the subjects rarely have attitude… ya know?

Craig and Kendra asked me to come back to do an introduction course on Product and Still Life photography for those photographers who want to learn how to do it, want to do it better, and want to add the discipline to their services.

The other cool group that will like this workshop are the various artists and creators out there who make things for sale. Whether you are an artist at Etsy, or a jeweler selling your work online, or a fashion designer making accessories, the ability to make decent. well lit and composed product shots can add to your bottom line.

We start out on Thursday, July 21 with a half day introduction to the INTRODUCTION course. We will cover the basic lighting tools, and lighting itself – especially as it is being used for table top and still life.


Improvisation with Pods… Lighting for Dramatic Effect

Improvisation with Pods… Lighting for Dramatic Effect

I have promised myself that I will get out and shoot more for myself this year. These “improvs” are part of the process. I limit myself to one subject and one hour. And the subjects can range over whatever happens to be near me or catch my eye.

This time it was pods I picked up while walking the dogs on Friday afternoon.

I used only speedlights for this set of images as I was curious as to how much I could do with them in an hour. The bigger guns can take more time, and I thought it would be pretty cool to work with some small strobes and modifiers.

I used the SpeedlightProKit grids and the small SpeedlightProKit softbox for these shots. One boom (LumoPro) and three stands rounded out my gear. Err… along with the three speedlights, that is.

One hour from beginning to shoot till wrapping it up.

Here is what I got.

A little video showing my setup/

Let us know if you are doing any improvs and share the links.

See ya next time.

Creative LIVE, April 5, 6, 7, 2012

Still Life for Article on the Challenges of Home Gardening / Pesticides…

Still Life for Article on the Challenges of Home Gardening / Pesticides…

… or something like that.

I don’t remember the particulars on the slant of the article.

Late on a Monday, the art director called in a panic with a rush job. Could I do an illustration for a publication that was going to press on Wednesday. We had to shoot it, approve it, scan it, get it separated and into the layout in a day.

Sure, we can do that. She faxed over the page layout and the ideas for the shot and we went out to get the props instead of heading to a planned dinner. (You gotta have a very understanding spouse in this business.)

I started out at the local hardware store and they had the scoop thing, as well as some very course fertilizer. They also had some very nice work gloves that I bought. I had an idea, but I know I needed gloves anyway, so I got them and we headed back to the studio.

On the way, I dropped in on a local nursery down on Baseline and about 32nd St and made one of the guys an offer. Trade the brand new gloves for his pair of ratty old gloves. Well, it was a deal he couldn’t turn down.

So back to the studio and it was now going on 6. The AD was waiting and we got going on the shot.

She wanted:
Black and white.
“Gritty and Earthy”
It will be framed by copy.
Small area bottom right to be used for copy (call out).

More After Jump.

Some Fun Videos of Lighting Setups

Some Fun Videos of Lighting Setups

These were quick and fun little videos I did while Regina was shooting at the one-on-one workshop she won at the Lighting Essentials Contest last winter.

She has a great little studio for shooting and making great images, and with 7 lights and all kinds of modifiers at out disposal, we simply did a lot of fun lighting setups and had a blast.

I will not apologize for the crazy video moves… it ain’t about the video, folks. I was simply having fun and thought I would share them with you.

Let me know if you try any of these, and they can be done with hot lights, speedlights or studio lights. Share them at the Flickr page or post a link to them in the comments.

Here ya go… (hit the jump)