The Product Table Or How I Learned To Love Under-Lighting

on May 10, 2016

There are very few occasions when you see light coming up from under a subject in real life; some discotheques in the 80's had light panel floors, you can see it in the classical footlights at the burlesque theatre, and when you open the hatch of hell there is a sort of a lurid glow that comes up. The effect can be quite unsettling.

It is stock in trade for Disney artists and illustrators of fantasy and science fiction when they want to make a subject look evil.

But it is also a very valid technique when you are trying to illustrate products for advertisements. In many cases the art director wants the viewer to see all parts of the subject evenly lit for either sales appeal or technical illustration. In some instances this is difficult to achieve with the classic hard/soft light or even with a light tent. No matter where you place the lights, the thing always has a shadow around the bottom bits.

Enter the light table. A support for the subject that is sturdy enough to bear the weight, but either transparent or translucent to allow light to flood up from underneath. There are several ways of doing this for small subjects:

1. The Lastolite company makes a plastic light cubicle that erects with metal rods and provides a space above and a space for a studio strobe below to flash up through the floor of the photo tent. It is big and cumbersome enough to set up to make it a semi-permanent installation, but it really does do what it purports to. I would equip it with three mono-block lights to tackle any catalog item that you could fit in the cube.

2. The dear old film light table. These are made by Metrolux in Melbourne and you can get them in A4 and A3 size. The acrylic plastic surface is about 3mm thick and will hold a considerable weight. The boxes contain a circular fluorescent light that can do an even job of illuminating the underside of the subject, but you've got to accommodate the colour temperature of this to whatever you are illuminating the top bit with. Fluorescent can be tricky...

3. The Bunnings Steel Shelf solution. Bunnings sell any number of cheap modular steel shelving systems. Think $16 per upright and $ 12 per crossbeam and you can make a good product table for $ 64. Add on either glass or acrylic for the top and you are ready to rock. You don't get the light tent or cube up the top but you can get these from our shop - Promaster and Glanz make them all the way from 40 cm sq to 120 cm sq. Not having a light cube also allows more contrasty lighting.

It is simple to put a mono-block flash down below the table on a small Manfrotto floor stand pointing straight up. I mount an Elinchrom light there and pop a Minisoft 44 beauty dish on it. Then a bit of trial and error...or in my case trial, error, bad language, and more trial...and you are there.

The series of pictures of the 1957 Ford Skyline show the progression from no under-lighting to full effect. The last picture also shows the look of holding a fill card near the subject to throw a bit of the under-light back. In all cases there is only one other Elinchrom light with a wide reflector doing the main lighting. In other words, this is a technique that even enthusiasts with a two-light Elinchrom D-lite kit could use.

For the people who want to make catalog illustrations, this technique goes one eye-catching step above the standard light cube - those who deal in glassware and jewellery will find it particularly useful. Catch an eye - sell a product.*

Remember, Manfrotto, Elinchrom, Glanz, Promaster, Metrolux, and Lastolite products are all stocked by Camera Electronic - and you can get them through our online shop as well.

* or catch an eye and give it to the cat to play with...

PS. The model in the green light is not evil. She is a very nice person. So is the Ford Skyline.