Share Discuss Tabletop Photography Techniques

Feb 18, 2015
New York State
Earlier on in this thread there was considerable discussion about light sources.

Daylight and tungsten bulbs produce a continuous spectrum.
Although the quantity of light emitted does vary in the different parts of the spectrum the curve is continuous — with no gaps and spikes.

Fluorescent lamps emit a discontinuous spectrum with high spikes in some colours and a total absence of other colours. (Sodium sports field and street lighting push the discontinuous spectrum and colour-rendering problems to the extreme.)

A discontinuous spectrum is not important if you are planning to produce black and white photographs but it can make it very difficult to produce accurate colour reproduction under artificial light. This causes major issues in commercial advertising and product photography.

A low CRI rating is a clear indicator that a full spectrum of visible light is not being emitted.

"Colour-matching" Fluorescents (with a high CRI) do exist. They usually have some additional, and expensive, red phosphors which help to fill the gaps in that part of the spectrum. I have always used these in my darkrooms and studios for general room-lighting but have always felt the need to evaluate final colour prints under natural daylight

If you view your light-source through a diffraction grating (filter), you will quickly see where the spectrum has gaps and ceases to be continuous.

Photoflood bulbs offer a high intensity full spectrum but have a low colour temperature (they are weak at the blue-end) and unfortunately their burning-life is only about four hours.

I have used studio flash (with built-in modelling lamps and an assortment of different reflectors) ever since they were invented. I use them on location too but they are large, heavy and a very expensive investment if you are not going to get extensive use out of them. However the emitted light is consistent and full-spectrum, and the flash-tubes do have quite a long life and are easily changed when they die.
The built-in proportional modelling lights allow you to see exactly what you are doing and to judge the direction, spread and density of the shadows as well as the balance between multiple light-sources.

Inexpensive small flash heads (speed lamps) can also be used for studio work but, without a continuous modelling light, you are left to keep guessing and making numerous tests until you get the Lighting results that you want

LEDs are another solution but only the expensive ones built specially for photography appear to provide good colour-rendering. (I have some regular domestic LEDs in the basement and the emitted light is heavily purple!)

Apart from sturdy but foldable light stands, the one lighting accessory that I would never want to be without is a counterweighted Boom.

A Boom lets you swing and position a top (hair-light), or an overhead back-light (essential for succulent rendering of food shots!), exactly where you need it. The counter-weight prevents the light-head from taking an unplanned nose-dive into your set.

I have just found this page which has some useful explanatory images of the variations in emitted spectrums.
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Anyone here ever used a Westcott Ice Light 2? After much research and a discussion with a photographer friend on another site, I've just ordered one to use with my macro/tabletop/closeup photography since I have been needing something in the way of light source beyond what I've already got. I also ordered a tilter bracket with spigot thingy to use on the light stand (already have those) to provide more flexibility in positioning the Ice Light 2. Like Mike, I have limited space here -- no "studio," just my dining table (living room/dining area) or my dresser in the master bedroom (conveniently under a window which gets good afternoon light) or from time to time, the kitchen and a countertop.....

Last winter I "made do" with what I already had and have used natural light as much as possible, too, but this year with winter inevitably approaching and the prospect of doing more macro/closeups/tabletops in the house again, I decided it was time to do something about lighting....
I guess nobody here has the Westcott Ice Light 2. Well, let me tell you, it's a really cool (in all senses of the word!) lighting source and I am very pleased with it so far. My very own Light Saber!! LOL! Super versatile and easy to use in just about any situation and in any location that I might find desirable, and the light is very consistent, soft, even daylight, which can be adjusted from fairly dim to fairly powerful, although it won't light up a whole room. I can and will be able to quickly and conveniently use it with a setup on my dining table, a setup on my dresser in the bedroom, a setup on the deck or in the kitchen and probably places which haven't even occurred to me yet. Indoors, outdoors, it is very portable (the battery lasts for about an hour before needing recharging and the battery can either be charged while still in the device and in use or separately in the provided external charger or car charger while another charged battery is quickly snapped into the Ice Light 2 for portability and freedom from cables). This thing is very convenient in that it can be handheld or put on a light stand or tripod (mini tripods work just fine for tabletop setups). Last night, which was the first time I was experimenting with it, when I wanted to try a different angle, at one point I even grabbed a handy Kleenex box to support and elevate it to the level I wanted (too lazy to go back to the armoire to retrieve a mini tripod) -- because of the LEDs being cool (there's a good heatsink in this device!) I didn't have to worry about burning down the house.

The Ice Light 2 is set up and calibrated for daylight but also can be used as a Tungsten light source by using the included plastic snap-on tungsten accessory. One can also easily use standard Rosco or other gels with this thing, too, by positioning them in place with the included clips or even just using a couple of strategically situated pieces of gaffer tape. I haven't tried this so far, though. Additional accessories include a set of barn doors which can be snapped into place and used as effective light modifiers (I don't have these [yet] so can't speak to how well they actually function in use). Of course one can also use various flags and gobos to control the direction and amount of light with this device, too. It already puts out soft, nicely diffused light so no need for diffusion socks or other diffusion devices, although in some situations those could still come in handy.

Definitely this is a different direction in which to go from traditional continuous lighting, strobe lighting or flash lighting and of course there will be situations in which it cannot replace any of those methods, but for me it offers so much in the way of flexibility and versatility, not to mention the fact that it can easily be stored in my armoire when not in important consideration when living in a small space.
Sep 13, 2007
Northern VA suburb of Washington, DC
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #185
It's good to know you're enjoying your new tool, Connie! I was on vacation when you posted both messages about it and didn't see them until just now. I've looked at several ice lights over the years and couldn't justify the price for the few times I would use it.

When you use a gel such as a Rosco gel, do you have to buy the gel or is the size of the sample gels large enough?
Hi, Mike! Yes, when I didn't see a response from you after a couple of days I checked your profile and saw that you hadn't been around here since last Saturday and realized that you were probably out of town on a trip....hope you had a great time!

I haven't yet tried one of my Rosco gels with the Ice Light 2, but yes, I have a set of a dozen or so of the full-sized gels so probably would be wrapping or clipping one of them around my Ice Light, although I suppose it would be possible to use one of the small samples instead, too..... I've got a full sample packet of those as well. I'll have to experiment!

Right now I have still been doing most of my shooting outdoors, figuring that colder weather and wintertime will be along soon enough, so I haven't yet really put my Ice Light 2 through its full paces, just did a few experimental shots and that was about it. I bought it now in anticipation of a lot of use later. Its time to (literally) shine will be throughout the winter months when I am doing more photographic stuff indoors rather than outdoors.....

In thinking about what I wanted to do with lighting, a situation that I didn't address last year but rather "made do" with what I already had since I'd already dropped so much money in changing systems with the expectation of adding a couple or three more lenses along the way, I looked now at all the various options and thought about my limited space (both for actual usage and for storage) here and also what I tend to shoot and how I shoot it. I don't do portraiture, I don't need a setup for that, really, or pocket wizards to control everything. I really don't have the space nor the need (I think) for a full-out studio lighting setup with a couple of strobes, light stands, soft boxes, umbrellas and various accessories such as a beauty dish or a grid or barn doors -- and I do already have light stands and a couple of umbrellas from a long time ago. I came to the conclusion that I don't particularly want to get into something which would require the speed and responsiveness of flash, such as water-drop photography and such (I'll leave that to you! You've already set the bar pretty darned high..... You're the one who does the work and the rest of us get to enjoy the wonderful results! ). Most of my work has been and I daresay will continue to be done under continuous lighting, as there are so many advantages to that when doing a tabletop/still life/closeup/macro......

In looking at all the options online it was very quickly rather overwhelming -- even to someone who already has a general idea about lighting! Times have changed significantly, though, since I last worked with studio lighting in a class.... OK, so there are these sets of "studio lighting," some of which are so low-priced that my suspicions were immediately aroused as to the quality, there are these options of Godox and other lighting products which can be used either on- or off-camera, there are these various LED panels of various sizes and capacities..... AAARGGH!!!

While I was wandering around in this virtual maze, I mentioned it on another site, and a fellow photographer who does happen to do a lot of tabletops/closeups/flat lays, etc., for his wife's crafts endeavors (she sells on eBay I think) and who also works in a place which deals with computer monitors, various types of lighting for photography, etc., etc., commented that he uses the Ice Light 2 plus another light, the name of which I forget now, -- Neo--something? -- because he, too, usually is working in somewhat cramped shooting conditions at home and also has limited storage space, plus at times needs to have additional lighting outdoors as well. I'd never heard of this Ice Light 2 thing so of course ran a search.....and was instantly interested. Lightweight; portable to the max; LED (and therefore cool); battery-operated, thus flexibility in all kinds of ways, both indoors and outdoors. Ticked all my boxes and I went ahead and ordered one from Amazon and it didn't take long after its arrival here for me to decide that, yeah, for my purposes this thing is going to be just dandy!!!!

It is lightweight enough that I can stick it into a small mini tripod/light stand right on the surface where I'm shooting, or I can even just casually stick it on top of a box of Kleenex which I did once to get the correct positioning for the light angle I wanted (and didn't have to worry about burning down the house), or I can put it on one of my light stands from years past...... The amount of light being put out can be controlled, so that one can dim it to what is needed or let her rip full-blast..... It is also nicely diffused so no need for diffusion socks or other devices. LED technology is fantastic -- so cool (literally) and yet so even with the lighting it puts out -- definitely the way to move forward with photographic lighting!

On Amazon there is also a set of barn doors which can be purchased as a separate accessory or along with the device itself as a set (I should've done that right from the get-go, but really didn't know what this thing was going to be like and how well it would work out for me), and one can also purchase extra batteries and/or extra chargers as well; I can see how that would be very useful for someone who is doing most of their shooting on location and who needs to quickly be able to swap batteries in-and-out or who either in-studio or on location may need to fine-tune the direction in which the light is going by using barn doors. You can charge the battery while it is still in place on the device and while you are using the device, too, though, which is a huge plus as far as I am concerned if I am doing something right on the dining table anyway, conveniently near a surge protector into which to plug the thing. With the battery, though, I can also so easily just cart the light, the subject and the whole works off to the deck, the kitchen, the bedroom, no power source needed.....

Thankfully the price has come down somewhat since the Ice Light 2 was initially released, but even so, now, yes, it is still not inexpensive. I weighed all the pros and cons before deciding to go with this and of course it does not rule out my perhaps deciding to add something else to my lighting repertoire further on down the road, too, if the need arises....early days yet! All I can say right now is that I'm really pleased with this thing so far, and quite happy that I have bought one!
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Sep 13, 2007
Northern VA suburb of Washington, DC
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #187
It is also nicely diffused
That can be a disadvantage when you want hard light (edges of shadows that are well defined). Maybe use a different light source in that situation.

The Ice Light can also be used for creating swirls of light in an otherwise dark background. You would light the scene using other light sources the way you want it. Use a long exposure that works for that lighting setup. Then move the ice light while the shutter is open to create interesting swirls and patterns of light in the dark background.
Yes, I do have other, older light sources that would still be employed when need be, to create sharp shadows or to just fill in a little here-or-there. Small, surprisingly powerful LED flashlights work nicely for that kind of thing, too. In future I may decide I do need something else in addition to the Ice Light 2. Basically, I'm taking the same approach to lighting as I've been with lenses: I wait until I identify a specific need and use for a particular type or focal length and then get it and put it to work. Actually, though, since right now the weather is still pretty nice and I'm still outdoors a lot, I haven't done a lot of indoor tabletop lately, just a couple of experiments with the Ice Light 2, and even at that, one recent tabletop shot I did out on the deck where I utilized natural lighting. That said, one of my experimental shots with the Ice Light 2 came out so nicely that I included it my Week 41 post in my 52-Weeks Challenge.

I've seen some nice examples of using the Ice Light and other similar light wands to create interesting images, but I doubt that I will try that in here. It could be fun out on my deck, though, or on the larger deck that adjoins the community clubhouse building, the one next to mine. One night around a month or so ago I watched a guy practicing a juggling act with two light sabers -- it looked as though it was really fun! He didn't have a camera set up, as I don't think that was his purpose, and although I tried getting a few shots from here, they didn't come out all that well. I was too fascinated just watching him to actually do a decent job with the camera!
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