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How to shoot Black Objects on Black Backgrounds

In my last post, I talked about using a DIY blue gel to add interest to a portrait by lighting the background. This time I’ve added a DIY orange gel, and used the same Gary Fong Powersnoot for some product photography. This is a three-light setup.

Photo of a Canon EOS 5D MkIII on a black background

Exposure: 1/200, f/14, ISO 100
Camera: Canon EOS 5D MkII
Lens: Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L @ 60mm

When shooting a dark colored object against a dark background, one challenge is that the edges of the object tend to get lost in the background. Here are two ways to deal with this:

1. Light the background to add separation. This it the technique I used in my last post.

2. Use rim lighting to clearly define the edges of the object, as shown in the photo above.

The key to this kind of rim lighting is hard, directional light, so that the light goes exactly where you want it, and nowhere else. Good lighting is often about what not to light, as much as it is about what to light.

Set Diagram

Photo lighting diagram

Main Light: Canon 430EX II @ 1/2 power into 70cm white bounce umbrella just outside the frame to camera left

Rim Lights: 2 x Canon 430EX II @ 1/2 power into Gary Fong Powersnoots with grids a back left and right

I triggered the flashes with the Canon ST-E2.

Gary Fong Powersnoot with DIY orange gel

Background: Black curtain about 1.5 meters behind the camera. The distance is important. If the background is too close, it will pick up some light from the main source and not appear totally black. Get your background cloth as far away as possible if you’re going for a pure black background.

The camera is sitting on a small square of black plexiglass (aka perspex) that I picked up at a local home improvement store.

Start With the Rim Light

To get the orange and blue highlights and the reflection right, I started with the gridded snoots. I shot a few frames and made small adjustments until I was happy with the look. Then I added the main light. It helps to build your lighting set up piece by piece.

Setup photo showing only the rim light

Once I was happy with the rim lighting, I added the main flash, in the 70cm umbrella. Here I was looking for two things. First I wanted a nice catchlight on the lens. Second, I wanted enough light on the 5D logo on the top right side of the camera body. The umbrella is located just outside the frame on the left side, a little above, and angled down toward the 5D MkIII.

You don’t need a lot of space for a shot like this – I made this photo in my living room. The perspex is sitting on the coffee table, and the black curtain is draped over our TV.

I hope this article has given you a few useful ideas for lighting black objects against black backgrounds. I’d love you hear your comments, and as always, feel free to contact me on Facebook or Google+.

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Jason Weddington
Jason Weddington

is passionate photographer and the creator of PhotoQueue.com, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

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