On Bathroom Detail All Week

We're remodeling two bathrooms, and as part of a barter deal with the contractor I am doing a series of before and after photos. I'll post more about that later, but I just wanted to drop something in quickly about the lighting on the detail shots I was doing today.

It's a quick-and-dirty, two-light setup and the effect is almost like a charcoal drawing—sort of 2-D and 3-D at the same time. And try as I might, it's pretty hard to mess this up.


The two lights in this case are a gridded key and a ring fill. And while there aren't many universal solutions in photography, if you are shooting detail shots this one comes pretty close.

The key is in the way the two work together. The gridded key (in this case an Einstein e640 mono with an 8.5-inch standard reflector and a 30-degree grid) spotlights the object, creating an area of full exposure just where you want it and falling away where you don't.

The ring flash (in this case, an SB-800 in an Orbis ring flash adapter is the floor to the exposure. Remembering this is all flash (i.e., no ambient) I like to put the fill about two stops below the hottest part of the gridded key. So between the fall-off of the grid the the "floor" of the ring flash, you have three light zones in the photo:

1. The spot-lit area in the center of the grid. In this case, the shelf and soap.

2. The area of equal mix. In this case, the edges of the frame as the grid falls off and the ring smooths the transition

3. The full shadow of the key. In this case, the ring-filled area under the shelf.

Such a simple combination, but so many ways it can be executed. By varying the "floor" exposure of the fill (two stops? three stops? one stop?) you control the dynamic range of the photo.

By varying the fall-off of the grid, you control the zone of interest that allows you to concentrate attention where you want it.

I used a monobloc for the key, but certainly did not need to. In fact, the e640 was dialed all the way down to 2.5ws—as weak as a speedlight on 1/16th power.

But in my case I was using the power of the mono in other photos to blast the bathroom and give me deep working apertures for good depth of field. So I grabbed it, gridded it and went with it.

But I do think the fact that the grid was on an 8.5-inch reflector made for a softer shadow line under the shelf than if I would have used a small, gridded speedlight.

This has been really fun—more so than I expected. With the presence of lots of mirrors in very small spaces, there are certainly lots of problems to solve when hiding from your own reflection and that of your lights.

But I am banking coin not once, but twice on each bathroom shoot. Which is cool given the commute is just one flight of stairs. Plus, bathroom remodeling ain't cheap. So every little bit helps.

More on that later. For now, it's back to bathroom detail shots for me.


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Blogger John Samolyk said...

We're about a week away from our master bath remodel -- the guest bath has also just been done. And just last night the contractor mentioned that he'd like to use our bathroom on his website. Of course I jumped up and said "I'll try to figure out how to light this to get some good shots for you." So Thank You David for your absolutely perfect timing -- can't wait for the rest of the series!

May 31, 2013 7:33 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


For the life of me, I don't understand why more photographers do not do this. We estimated we made $10-15k more on our house sale in 2009 (and sold far more quickly) as a result of using photography as a catalyst. And I have been doing it in various forms ever since. No brainer.

May 31, 2013 10:52 AM  
Blogger hotshoeless said...

@David -- I love the bartering idea. Out of curiosity, I'd love to see what you figure out to be the rate of return for your efforts for photographing the remodel when you are done. Skills wise, it sounds like a great trade.

Are you finding that another plus for using the monolights in this environment is the modeling lights help in finding and controlling the reflection problems or is that not a big deal?

- Joe

May 31, 2013 12:12 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Nice tutorial. Thanks! And the bartering is a great idea. Did you consider alternative soap and dish "models", or are these just the ones that you had. In particular, there are many many colors of soap, from stark white to black, with blue, or even red or green shades in between. I wonder also what it would look like with a metal or stone soap dish.

May 31, 2013 12:57 PM  
Blogger Roy Inman said...

David, do you encounter any color balance differences between the Einstein and the SB800? I tried combining my Bees and the SB800 and found that I had to gel the SB800 200K to balance with the Bees. Have never used the Einstein, so it's mileage may vary.

May 31, 2013 1:26 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Holy my goodness I can relate to your comment about mirrors! I've never contorted myself in to so many places in my life lol

I dabble a little in real estate photography as a family member owns a home building business. Typically I work with the light that's available but this time around I added 2 off-camera flashes. I would love your opinion! Please, be kind but I definitely need some helping pointers :)


May 31, 2013 1:46 PM  
Blogger David Sorcher said...

I'm glad the barter concept worked with your contractors. I tried that with mine, but they were just too much in need of the cold, hard cash to negotiate. I try to barter were ever i can. It's a great idea.

May 31, 2013 1:55 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Overall, I am way ahead of the game as the first time I ever tried this sort of thing in general was when we sold our house. That was, net, a huge windfall. And I have been open to trying it ever since. I'll talk about it more on the later post.

And I really don't need modeling lights to visualize my flash. Been doing it with speedlights for so long it is not an issue. Actually, since I am using battery power on the e640 (no cords to hide in the bathroom) I would shy away from modeling lamps anyway.

May 31, 2013 2:03 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


It would look different, I guess. But I am not turning these into catalog shoots; just photographing what is there, but nicely.

May 31, 2013 2:04 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


All speedlights are going to be different among different models, and different within the same models that have varying ages. They yellow as they age. (Generally I like an aged speedlight for portraits.)

Einsteins have scary consistent color—much more so than ABs. They may have similar casings, but the similarities stop there.

May 31, 2013 2:05 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Fear not. Your work is miles ahead of that of the typical RE agent. If you want to up your game, I strongly suggest Scott Hargis' eBook on lighting for real estate photography. It's fantastic and worth every penny many times over to someone in your position.

May 31, 2013 2:07 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

lol Thanks David! I will check it out :) Your work is amazing by the way, I've been following you for awhile now :)

May 31, 2013 2:11 PM  
Blogger Danny Howard said...

@Nikki -

Just getting started in real estate photography myself. Your pictures look great. A couple of pointers, you might want to correct your verticals and distortion to help them look even better.

Another great resource is http://photographyforrealestate.net and the corresponding flickr group.

May 31, 2013 3:00 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Thanks! I will check it out :)

May 31, 2013 4:04 PM  
Blogger Wink of an eye Digital said...

You hit a nerve with doing barter work. I have a friend (ah-hum) that does pictures for vacation rentals....one thing leads to another and Poof you have credit weeks in extremely expensive houses on the water for nothing. had one family trying to post a Ad with no picture...got zilch for calls added a little strobe and flatten to one picture in photo shop and
Poof booked for the summer.
There is gold in small network things for photographers....just pick up the small nuggets

May 31, 2013 5:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My son has a glass and mirror company who specializes in bathrooms, shower doors, tile showers, etc. If you have any tips on making the glass and mirrors the focal point I would love to see those too!

May 31, 2013 8:35 PM  
Blogger EleganceAndChaos said...

Did you switch from your Profoto setup to a Paul C. Buff Einstein based setup or have you added an Einstein to supplement your Profoto kit.

If I remember right part of the reason you wrote about for going with the Profoto system was the access to larger range of modifiers.

I am curious about the switch as it can be difficult to have a range of modifiers on hand for two systems.

May 31, 2013 9:38 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


I actually use a mix of Profoto Acutes and Einsteins, and it has worked out very well. For one, all of the boxes and strips are interchangeable, so that helps.

But I find each system has some great advantages that compliment each other.

The Einsteins are cheap, have great t.1 times and a wonderful battery solution. The Acutes are much more rugged and have access to some of the best mods in the world. Access to the Magnum reflector alone is worth it.

So I use them separately (best choice for the job) and together (when I need more light sources). In color mode, the Einsteins easily match the color consistency of the Acutes. So they combine seamlessly.

June 01, 2013 9:14 AM  
Blogger lv pg said...

Love your lighting tips David. Always appreciated! If I have adopted one decent philosophy in business it is, "Never donate or barter your livelihood, as provides short-term benefit on a path to nowhere." Donate your time and energy; Pay your bills with cash; Accept nothing less for your work. Your success is far greater than mine will ever be as a photographer. But, I offer these tid-bits of info from my own life's experience. As always, thanks for all.

June 01, 2013 3:35 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


That's a great philosophy, lv, and I hope it works well for you. I largely followed it for the first 20 years of my career. And I suppose it served me reasonably well, even if in a very limited way.

In the spring of 2006, I experimented with a new philosophy, which was to consider my skills and knowledge as a currency that could be spent or even given away. That was how Strobist was born.

The results were almost immediately remarkable. I would have never anticipated many of the positive downstreams not just for myself but for many, many others.

So I kept at it, finding as many ways as possible to use my photography as a currency. I have yet to be disappointed with the outcome of that philosophy.

That said, I respect your approach and the choice is quite obviously yours to make, just as it is mine.

June 01, 2013 5:11 PM  
Blogger michael anthony murphy said...

That's going to be one bad ass bathroom, the most important room in the house.

June 02, 2013 4:42 PM  
Blogger Thom Deevers said...

David - Just in case you didn't hear - the Chicago Sun Times fired ALL of their photographers!

Here is the link:


June 02, 2013 7:41 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

Is it just me or is the grout different colors? At the top, the grout lines on the left look lighter than the right. In fact, the right side grout line seems to disappear. Under the shelf, everything looks similar in color. And the corner looks to be darkest.

June 03, 2013 8:31 AM  
Blogger Anthony C said...

I'm just glad you met a contractor who thinks photographs are worth more than a couple hundred bucks....tops.

June 08, 2013 9:38 AM  
Blogger Shawn Ruyffelaert said...

Hi David,

I've been mulling over what you said in an earlier comment about using photography to enhance your home sale. I'm intrigued and would love to hear more about how you did this so that we can also follow along.



June 17, 2013 2:08 PM  
Blogger John Samolyk said...

Our renovations are done and I just finished shooting the results. Between the mirrors and polished tile I wasn't always able to get the shot as cleanly as I would have liked, but it was a fun challenge! Anyhow, the final set of shots can be viewed at http://jks.smugmug.com/Portfolio/bathroom-renovation/30395864_pgkdQr

Thanks again, David, for sharing all that you do. On the other hand, I also blame you for blowing my hobby budget on all things lighting and especially the x100s (which I love!)


July 06, 2013 9:53 PM  

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