Table Top Lighting
by Walter Graff

Over the years I've lit everything from the chicken you see in KFC commercials to the products in pharmaceutical ads. And on thing I have learned is not to be afraid. Table-tops scare some folks, but they shouldn’t. There is really nothing you can do wrong. Rather, it’s a way to really have fun experimenting. I thought I’d do a quick table-top set-up of a bottle of wine and a glass for you.

Lighting anything that acts like mirror means you can’t simply aim fixture at it. Add a curve to that‘mirror’ and you could really have problems. A bottle and glass are like
that mirror. Try to aim a light at it and you’ll see a pin-point of light reflected in the glass and you don’t necessarily want that. The simplest way to light this tabletop is with a bounce card from one side. In my case a 4x4 foam core with 600 watt open face aimed into it. The bounce card makes the light appear as a larger glow of light in the surface and contours the curve of the bottle which helps tell the viewer it is a bottle.

Notice the nice long white reflection in both the bottle and the glass that gives them dimension. That is a reflection of the foam core card. Depending on how far to the left I place that foam core determines where on the bottle the reflection appears.

Next I have to consider separation of the table elements from the background. To do that I placed a 200 watt fresnel on the opposite side from the foam core creating a rim light on the objects.

I can’t tell you how important a star filter is here. Without it, you can light all you want but isn’t going to look as good as it does with the star filter. So I am using a six pointed star filter to make the hits in the glass appear the way they do. Without the star filter the hits ar just dots.

My next consideration is giving the glass a bit more of a ‘glass feel’ from behind. For that I use a 200 Watt fresnel which comes from the rear of the table as does the rim light but from the opposite side. In this case on the left side of the screen as you look at the photo.

The lights function is to sweep across the table slightly shadowing the bottle a bit and giving the glass a glow. Notice the glow in the bottom of the glass as a result of the light and the shadow in front of the bottle. That shadow further helps to create depth in the shot.

And finally, I need to give the background a complimentary glow. For this I used a 200 watt open face with a dimmer so I can adjust intensity. I adjusted the barn doors so as to make a sort of diagonal streak across the background. The background I am using as the white surface is a piece of 4x4 foam core that I laid up against the table vertically. I then picked a red color that complimented the neck of the bottle with a red gel and slashed it diagonally across the background.

The red slash helps say ‘red wine’ to me. Wine is not blue so that color might counter the feel. And the fact that the table I am using has a bit of reflective value helps create even more depth as it takes the reflection of the slash and brings it towards the camera creating another shadow of the bottle and glass.

Some might want to try a fixture from behind that gives the wine in the glass a glow. I did try it here but found it looked unnatural. Some wines look good with a bit of glow but the darker reds don't to me so I let the wine be, letting the background red help say wine.

When you put it all together it makes for a nice shot. It's one of many ways to light the bottle. I don't think there is a wrong or right way. Rather it depends on what the content calls for, what equipment you have available, and your mood at the time. In this example I tried to do as much as I could with as little as possible.

If I was in a studio doing it, I’d probably have more equipment available to light it but I wanted to do a set-up that anyone reading this could try.

Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'

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