Just One Light - Uncomplicated Lighting Set-Ups

When it comes to Product & Still Life Photography it is possible to make stunning imagery with just one strobe.  Whether you're using Continuous lighting, a hotshoe mounted flash, a monolight, natural window light or even a table lamp, you can make a bowl of fruit glow with light and colour that you would never find in the fruit aisle of a supermarket.  

If you start out your tabletop photography career with just a table lamp, some tracing paper, some black & white cards (to bounce the light back) you can produce fantastic quality shots of Wine Bottles, Glasses, Food, ornaments... the list goes on.

Even Jewellery photography, which can be very complex and can utilise a gang of strobes in one studio set-up, can be tackled with one light and softbox and bounce cards.

Phillip McCordall, a very experienced, Professional photographer, uses just one overhead strobe in a softbox in this video:

His videos are excellent learning tutorials for any aspiring beginner.  He mainly uses table lamps to show you the process of lighting Bottles, glasses and other stuff.

Another excellent Photographer, Vadim Chiline of EpicMind Studio, takes you through his shot of a cosmetic product using just a grid spot, on his blog.


I was using one light for the Carved Wooden Motorbike shots this week.  An 18cm, 20 Degree Grid Spot in various positions, set the tone for me.  Dramatic, moody, mysterious, those were the themes that I had in mind when I started shooting.  I knew that I could achieve this by using a Honeycomb grid.  

The fun part of lighting shots like this is how to light the rest of the bike.  The narrow beam of light that the grid spot provided, did not fill in the areas that remained untouched by the light - the bottom side of the bike facing the camera.  

This is where I used white bounce cards, to light those areas.  Depending on the angle I placed those cards, or if I used a black card to cut out the light, (which I initially did) I can subtly shape the light to my taste.

Want a bit of shadow and contrast near the back, then I would cut out the light with a black card.  A little more light down the front; turn the white card towards it.

In this case, after various set-ups I found that I wanted the side of the bike to be lit evenly, so I evenly place the white bounce cards along the front.

I took three separate shots with the grid spot in different positions and post processed in Lightroom & Photoshop to achieve the three shots I have of the bike.

I think it is just as enjoyable lighting Still Life & Product photography with just one light, it certainly is satisfying finding the correct position for the light and then bringing light back into the shadow areas with the cards.  Just remember to have items to prop the cards up, like wine bottles or stands.