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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