On Assignment: Book Club Pt. 1

This week I had an assignment for The Sun to illustrate a story on book clubs. I am going to write a detailed On Assignment for it later this week, but I wanted to throw the final photo out as a reverse engineering exercise first.

So, to be clear, you are looking at the result and trying to backwards-engineer the lighting involved. If you wanna play, take a moment to analyze the light and leave a note describing how you think it was done in the comments section.

Don't hide behind vagueness. You explanation should allow someone to reproduce the look - in camera. There was only minimal Photoshop: Curves correction and the cleaning up of some sensor dust. Nothing fancy.

I'll even give you this much: It was lit with an SB and one small continuous light source. Oh, and there was a ziplock baggie involved. There, I've told you too much already.

You can see it big here. I'd suggest looking around the individual chairs for clues about the lighting.

Please note that your comments will have to be moderated, (otherwise, it's spam city around here) so they will not appear until I have a chance to move them. But I do moderate comments several times a day.

Have fun, and beware unnecessary complications.

Now, I am off to try to clean my dusty camera sensor for the very first time, using one of those Copper Hill sensor cleaning jobbies.

I will write about my sensor-cleaning results later. Hopefully without long streams of profanity.

Next: Book Club Pt. 2


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Anonymous eric said...

Tungsten light below the camera, just below the height of the table, and centered under the camera. SB with a zipock baggie to give the very strange highlight on the book to the back, pointed at the chairs, 45 degrees up and behind the rightmost chair. Not far away, since the shadow directions change a bunch from chair to chair.

White balance between tungsten and flash. And probably something blue in the bag.

January 21, 2007 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

White Balance on "Tungsten". Continuous light source (like a desk lamp) behind the setup and a little camera right.
SB24 slightly camera left and low, at about 1/16.
Ziplock baggie to hold the good stuff you were smoking when you decided to make all those little chairs!

January 21, 2007 10:09 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

I'm just going to add to Eric a little:
I'm saying the orange colored light on the book and chairs is light painted using a small flashlight. Naturally, the exposure was probably a few seconds. The blue colored light was the SB gelled with a CTB and placed a little bit above and behind the set, just a little bit out of the frame. The baggie was placed over the lens and fogged with David's breath (I'm not so sure about this one . . . it's more a guess!) Camera WB was set to daylight.

January 21, 2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous edo said...

Flash from a bit to the left and bottom of the camera, with CTO gel. A toungston light bulb (continuouse) above, in back of the book and a bit to the right. A ziplock bag with white stamping on it streatched above the book. The exposur is long enogh to pan the camera and allow motion blure to the top of the chairs.


January 21, 2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

couldn't have said it better Eric.

January 21, 2007 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Eric Schmitt said...

Continuous light above/behind the chairs a little bit, jelled a blue plastic baggie. SB below the camera on even plane with the tabletop, jelled with an orange filter and set to very low power and rear curtain sync mode.

January 21, 2007 10:42 PM  
Anonymous richryan said...

SB from top behind subject with snoot. one exposure with baggie on lens to blur top facing text. Continous source from below with another exposure with no baggie to expose ege of book and text facing us. Camera set for tungsten causes SB to go a bit blue, perhaps a blue gel on sb as well

January 21, 2007 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would say a tungsten light directly below the camera, just slightly lower than the book point forward and a little up. Cut out freezer bag on top each chair (and the side of a few) to give it the blue tint, also use it as a gel for the SB at about 1 o'clock from camera and higher up (pointing downwards at the chair) to give the book the same colour as the chair.

Not sure about exposure. Expose for the tungsten and dial down the SB a stop or two?

ok, i think i might be completely off... that glow from the book is way too good to be straight from tungsten light..


January 22, 2007 12:31 AM  
Anonymous rbarbera said...

Continous source inside zip bag and blue filter (¿or was a blue zip bag?) from behind the chairs. Low light level so, you can sake the camera to get the blur on top the chairs. SB snooted below camera, CTO geled to frezee the vertical "flaps" on the chairs.

January 22, 2007 2:19 AM  
Blogger dan'ism said...

Blue strobe, back, high and camera right.
Actually, make it a strobe in a blue ziplock bag.

Then continuous light on camera left.

January 22, 2007 2:34 AM  
Anonymous Eric Schmiedl said...

Blue gel on continuous source. Baggie over lens + shaking the camera a bit during long exposure. Somewhere in there you fired the flash with an orange gel.

January 22, 2007 3:29 AM  
Anonymous Julian Lynch said...

I think first comment, from eric, nailed it...

January 22, 2007 6:09 AM  
Anonymous Chad said...

Don't worry about the sensor cleaning. I've got the copperhill kit and use it every few months. It usually takes me 3 tries to get dust free. There's always a stubborn corner on my sensor.

When I first got a DSLR I was so frustrated with sensor dust I almost returned the camera to get a Sony R1 because of it's attached lens and APS sensor. But now I've gotten used to it. Landscape photogs are more sensitive to it. Small apertures and large even areas of colour are worst for sensor dust.

January 22, 2007 7:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn you David Hobby!
I've spent the last half hour trying to duplicate this lighting setup. :)
Unfortunately I've got the wb backwards, alas work calls.
Thanks so much for a great site!

January 22, 2007 7:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


15sec-ish exposure.

Strobe from below the top plane of the book, snooted maybe, underneath the camera coming from the bottom rh corner of the
image aimed diagonally towards the upper lh corner so to speak , CTO gel.

Trip the shutter (fires the strobe), then hold the zip lock bag over the lens and with a small LED "key fob torch" paint
the seats from the opposite angle (upper right of image, around 2 o'clock and behind. The bag gives the blur of the blue light
(which is blue due to the LED - WB set to daylight btw), the direction of the key fob torch light creates the nice
reflective surface of the book front to lift up too.

Loads of extra points for the relevance of the text on the seat backs - give the designer details David! ;-)

Kind Regards

January 22, 2007 8:21 AM  
Anonymous carlos benjamin said...

There is a blue continuous light source from behind the book, above it and to the right. There is a gelled sb to camera left and slightly below the book (casting shadows on the "legs" of the two leftmost chairs). The baggie was placed in front of the lens to defocus everything being lit by the continuous source and was only removed for the manual triggering of the flash. Doesn't matter if it was triggered at the beginning or end of the exposure.

January 22, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger pete g said...

I think the low light is the strobe. The blue is a constant light source gelled with a CTB, and the white balance was adjusted accordingly. David filled the ziploc bag with water and held that in front of the blue light, jiggling it around for a surreal looking long exposure. That's what the star pattern in the middle of the image is.

January 22, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger photoimagery said...

Sheet diffusing paper/tracing paper as sweep background, lit from behind with a blue gel'd strobe at opposite angle to camera and slightly right.
Foreground, orange gel'd strobe low to camera left, snooted to give cut of.
Short - flash exposure to keep background dark, no time exposures I think.
But then I could be wrong!!!

January 22, 2007 10:45 AM  
Anonymous FargoFoto said...

This is a huge guess, but I'm guessing the continuous light was below the camera, close to or at table level. Your SB was above the camera...almost coming straight down with the baggy and a blue gel on it? Other then that, I'm not sure about any other settings...other then a strange white balance.

January 22, 2007 2:16 PM  
Anonymous QorbeQ said...


You've honestly never had to clean
your sensor before?

No matter - it's no sweat - really!

It's no more onerous than wiping your specs (albeit if you had to do it remotely because they were at the bottom of a quarter-length of toilet roll tube :))

You'd have to be a REAL clutz to do something wrong...

January 22, 2007 3:51 PM  
Anonymous icyjumbo said...

The "blue" light is above the Huckleberry Finn chair, about as far above the top edge of the back as that edge is above the edge of the book immediately below it. Follow the shadows of the chairbacks, and they all intersect there.

The "orange" light hits the back of every chair, but the sides of only the two left-most chairs, and definitely not the seat of any chair. It must come from below the height of any of the seats. It doesn't light the surface of the book, only the page edges, so it must come from below the top surface of the book. The orange light is stronger than the blue light.

Everything lit by the blue light is not sharp, the seats, the book's cover, the "legs" of the chairs, but those things lit by the orange light are relatively sharp. I think that means the blue light must be the small continuous source, and the orange light must be from the strobe. I think the strobe must be a fair distance from the book, because of all the surfaces it manages to light. As it lights both page edges, it must be on this side of the book, to some extent.

The orange light doesn't light the side of the single chair, but the back edges of its legs are lit, right down to the book's cover. I think the baggie is bouncing the orange light from camera right.

Lastly, I think the continuous light is daylight balanced, the strobe is gelled orange, and the camera's WB is set to between daylight and tungsten, with the PS curves stretching the colour gap between them.

I also think this isn't quite right, because I haven't explained the motion blur, only noted it. Oh well...

January 22, 2007 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

If I were to guess (which I am) I would guess that you had a continuous (incandescent) light source to the bottom-left of the camera set just below level with the book the little "chairs" on arranged on. This gives you the orange glow so visible on the leading side of the book. Keeping it low enough also insures that the "chair seats didn't get much (if any) of the orange light. A second light source (flash) was arranged to be behind and to the right. It had a blue gel to give the color. The camera was white balanced to give you somewhere between the two color temps. The plastic baggie was placed on the camera lens to give some image gradation on the chairs...potentially with holes cut in specific places to give a clear view of those areas you wanted sharp.

January 22, 2007 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Ryan Milton said...

Blue-gelled continuous source top right, slightly behind subject.

2 snooted strobes camera left & right, slightly pointing up towards the book.

Ziplock baggie placed *on the surface of the book* to create the highlight and longish exposure with a bit of camera shake to make it dissolve into looking natural.

January 22, 2007 8:48 PM  
Blogger Chris Parker said...

I'd say the constant light source is behind the object, the flash is in front slightly lower than the level of the book so it just hits the chair backs. As far as the baggy...maybe that's what you brought your lunch in to work in?

January 23, 2007 12:27 PM  
Anonymous dominique said...

This photo uses selective diffusion.

If you look closely those parts of the scene lit in blue are diffuse and those parts of the scene lit with the orange light are crisp. This is how I think it went down.

Flash is gelled blue behind subject slightly camera right. Continuous light source is low angle and fairly large/diffuse to be able to wrap around the bottom of the book. Looking at the shdows and intensities my guess is that it's camera left. Besides David really likes cross lighting techniques anyways.

Overheads have been killed. Camera on a tripod. Slow exposure (in the order of several seconds) allows the blue flash to be fired with the baggie in front of the lens diffusing the blue lit portions of the scene. After the flash has fired the baggie is quickly removed and the continuous light is either turned on, unmasked (or if David is really fast, left on at a really low level) so that the continuous light exposes it's parts of the scene crisply.

If this was film it would be easier to do a multiple exposure and expose orange and blue values on different passes. But since only a handful of digital bodies allow multiple exposures it was probably done in one exposure. After some testing of course.

January 23, 2007 2:36 PM  
Anonymous Captoe said...

Continuous tungsten light slightly below the surface of the book, probably a clip-on desk lamp, probably modified by the lamp’s own shade. GoBo’ed (possibly by the desk it’s on) to keep extra light off the bottom edge of the book, gobo is roughly the shape of the book and is below. Lamp clipped to a chair between the corner of the book and the camera, camera right of center.

SB unit is gelled blue CTB or 2xCTB. The SB unit is otherwise unmodified, above and and directly behind the rightmost book. Not more than 12” away, back of chair third from left points at its axis, almost directly above the rightmost chair.

Aperture and SB unit power set to properly expose blue areas.
Shutter set to properly expose the orange.
WB set somewhere between flash and shade (depending on natural color of lamp bulb) to enhance the orange in the tungsten.

Ziploc bag keeps the butler’s fingerprints off the real murder weapon.

January 23, 2007 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Captoe said...

I just read the other comments and now I see the blue glow.

The ziploc bag is to shoot through during the blue lighting, presumably flash. Remove the bag from the lens for the orange lighting.

January 23, 2007 4:58 PM  
Blogger leslie said...

Hmmmm. I think you used the baggy to contain a blue liquid that made the blue light. It was placed above and to the right. The movement on the chair seats but not on the rest of the image could be from moving light from the blue liquid. The other light was placed just under the camera and little to the left. Then you used a tripod and a slow shutter speed to catch the "bouncing" light.

How'd I do?

January 23, 2007 4:58 PM  
Anonymous dominique said...

Looking at it more closely now I realize that orange light is camera right too.

January 23, 2007 7:27 PM  
Blogger Amaresh said...

Hi David

I have been visiting your excellent site for the last few months. Unfortunately the authorities in the UAE where I live have banned access to flickr. This means that I cannot see most of the pictures you post in your blog. Wondering if theres any other way to access those pictures.


January 27, 2007 4:13 PM  

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