Poor man's lighting!

I don't know why I chose the title, but this method of lighting is quite nice and gives you studio quality shots. You could use a torch or candle for all I care. Use anything that produces light for around 15s.

Rich man method:

Get a couple speedlites and softboxes and strobes. Make it 1600 W and get a DSLR and shoot the photo. You can get some awesome food shots for around $1000 equipment.

My trick:

I got this idea from light-painting. I use this method to get an uniform lighting without shadows. For the food shots, I used a simple daily use flashlight. You can buy the whole shop full of those flashlights for $500.

I set the camera of tripod and set exposure to 15s. I took the shot and within the 15 sec, I sort of "painted out" the food by moving the light around it, eliminating all shadows and getting a proper exposure in the second attempt itself. The auto noise reduction then reduced noise too and gave me a clean and nice 14.1 MP photo with proper exposure.

To be honest, I don't like the food shots. They are boring and might never sell. But those are my first few shots. I'll improve. So please don't look hard at the subject matter, just notice the lighting that cost $3. No wonder food was much more expensive than the lighting equipment.


Make sure you set the white balance properly. The method would work on both compact camera and DSLR units. It may be frustrating at first. I don't know how but I just got it right in the second attempt.

Another trick: Set your camera to shoot 2 15 sec shots continuously. Move the light around during the whole two shots. Then put one in Photoshop and on a new layer, put another photo above the first. Set the opacity of this layer to 50%. That deals away with whatever stray shadows you might have left.

For the experts:

You could even produce images with lighting as good as these two images with horribly cheap and really non-professional equipment. All you need to do is, use your flash in combination with a long exposure and get someone else to do the lighting for you. The powerful flash makes sure the hand gets exposed right away and subsequent movements and blurs don't show up. Then the flashlight deals with the harsh shadows. Both of the shots with hand in them are long exposures and have been made by doing some shadows/highlights in Photoshop as post processing. Don't complain. You're already saving a few hundred bucks.

Here are those two shots:

I'm sort of impressed with my own technique. haha! It is working too good for me. I hope you get it right too. Especially the newbies. I'm new to stock but I'm quite experienced with techniques, so people new to everything might find it hard. Try it!

Also, please ignore the EXIF fields. The information is inaccurate/false. I use an HDR plugin and then an EXIF remover which assigns random values to the fields. Most of my photos have wiped out EXIF or strange values.

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April 17, 2013


That's clever! Thanks for sharing. I always made a link between light painting and night photography, but your technique opens new doors for me and it's definitely something I will try. Thanks!

April 12, 2013


Hah!!!It's quite interesting way to do this kind of photos!Very nice, defenetly will try this as an experiment!Thanks for blog!

April 12, 2013


Great Idea, I'm always looking for new ways to create good lighting without purchasing expensive equipment.

March 26, 2013


Given my lack of space in my apartment the size of a closet, this is a great suggestion! Thanks for posting! :-)

March 25, 2013


Great idea, thanks for sharing. :)

March 25, 2013


awesome pics :)

March 25, 2013


Yeah, that's a good addition. I had not read of it from anywhere yet so thought I'd share. But anyway, people don't really experiment. They would not step out the limits and test it on product shots.

@Mudplucker, this method would not work for portraits. So you lost nothing. I'm no genius. Just using existing methods where they haven't been used. Call it resourceful. :)

March 25, 2013


Great idea to use this technique for tabletop shoots. I read about this technique last year on the National Geographic site that had an article up about night shots. If you're doing a long exposure for a night shot and want something in the foreground to be lit up, use a spotlight or flashlight to swirl some light around that particular area while your shutter is open.

Thanks for writing this article!

March 25, 2013


You're a genius !!!! Why didn't i think of this before i bought 3 softboxes and remote flash units ? You're gonna do very well in this business, and food shots lit like yours actually sell very well in the long run i've noticed from other portfolios !

March 25, 2013


interesting idea. i've played with light painting a bit but never considered using it this way.
my cheap method is a couple or three 100w light bulbs with inexpensive desk lamp reflectors. seems to work for static subjects and you can move the light around to add shadows if you like.

March 25, 2013


Can't wait to try this! Thanks for sharing this brilliant idea!

March 25, 2013


I'll use 3D models. lol

March 25, 2013


I'm afraid, sooner or later you will find a way to eliminate the camera itself :))) nice and useful blog...

March 24, 2013


Wow! I am impressed. It just goes to show that the equipment does not make the photographer. Beautiful work

March 24, 2013


Very innovative idea. Just the fact that you might have been the first who did this is awesome. Congrats. I am starting to do food shots as a variance to my work and I have found out that they sell fairly well.

March 24, 2013


Yeah, good idea. Except that it won't work for me.
I have a compact camera and cannot get accurate settings and fix a speedlite on my camera. The gear is quite expensive here. I'm enjoying these innovative ways anyway. haha! I take my friend's DSLR once in a while, otherwise I'm fine with my compact camera. It has a great lens (840mm!) even though it is poor quality, but that can be fixed easily anyway.

March 24, 2013


If you buy some cheap white drawing paper and some hard cardboard, paste the paper over the cardboards as stiffener base, rig up a box with top and front axis open, it might act as a product backdrop for your object photography. Or somply get an umbrella over your subject and angle your speedlight over it. Economical and affordable without breaking the bank.

March 23, 2013


Use bulb exposure and paint all day. Lol
But it gets hard because the hand moves. Photograph food with bulb exposure. Fun!

March 23, 2013


Lack of proper equipment has made me pretty good with this stuff.
Flash power depends on the distance and camera settings. If you use shutter speed of 5s or higher, use high power...or medium power.
I used only the camera's pop up flash! Nothing else. This is really for those who want it perfect with nothing.
White balance causes problems. Be sure you use the flashlight almost everywhere. Otherwise white balance would differ and you'd need zone specific white balance corrections which is difficult.
Can't really tell exact settings, depends on many things.

March 23, 2013


Thanks for sharing! Nice pics!

March 23, 2013



Nice photos, I like the pen and the piano more than the food, and I can not stop admiring how perfectly exposed they seem to be. Regarding the technique you describe the only problem I see is to figure out how many flash releases you use at what power and very important from what distance. It all has to work out so the sum of the light should be exactly what it needs to be otherwise the image gets either over or under exposed. Camera exposure meter does not help. You are completely on your own. If you nailed it in two tries you are very good or very lucky.

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Photo credits: Pratik Panda.