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Basic Information: Three Point Lighting System

August 26, 2010


This cheesy graphic I made shows rudimentary lighting to get good photographs of 3-D objects for your portfolio.  You need three lamps, four is good if you want more light.  You want at least one lamp to light the background [not the back of the object but the background] to reduce harsh cast shadows.  Use at least two lamps to illuminate the object.

Further tips to make your photos better:

  • Try to use white, cooler lights that are closer to daylight rather than yellow tinted light bulbs.  I’ve had better luck with halogen lamps and “Reveal” brand bulbs rather than incandescent or fluorescent lights.  Use one lamp to illuminate the background and two to illuminate the subject for a classic “three point lighting system”.
  • Use a roll of wide and long paper (a “sweep”) to curve behind the object for a neutral background.
  • Use draped fabric or a sheet if you do not have a good paper sweep.  Try to minimize folds and wrinkles in the fabric.
  • Move the lights around and see how it changes the look of the object.  Take pictures with each lamp movement and compare the photos to each other later to select the one you prefer.
  • Diffuse the light from the lamps with light diffusing fabrics (sold in photography specialty stores) or sometimes you can use tissue paper if the bulbs are not hot enough to scorch the tissue paper.  I like one or two of the front lamps to cast diffuse light.
  • Be aware if the metal legs of your tripod is reflecting any light.  This was a problem when I used two point lighting for a framed piece behind glass; light reflected off of the aluminum tripod legs and created a glare on the glass.  It is best to photograph 2-D art before you frame it; but if you can’t really pull the frame apart, wing it and do the best you can.
  • Rotate the art and get photos of the piece from different sides / views.
  • Try using more light for brighter photographs and try using less light for some shadows, take pictures with these variations and see what makes the art more interesting as a photograph.  Do you need a clear photo with a lot of detail or will some shadows show needed texture?

Good photographs will help you apply for events and showcase your work.  With 3-D work, which can be larger, fragile and harder to move around, you will be able to have a portable image of the work for presentations.  The photograph becomes a valuable record of your work if the pieces are sold over the years.

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