Figuring Out Lighting For Still Life Setup

Hello all!  I have been really trying to figure out the lighting in my tiny spare room that serves as my home office/studio.  It is packed with furniture that I can't relocate into the other part of the house so that all has to stay.  The setup experiment seems to be okay but feel there might be room for improvement and any suggestions would be most helpful.

This is a snapshot of the little room.  Not included in the photo to the left is an H style wooden easel, a double filing cabinet, a large dog crate where my two cats sleep at night, and behind the camera is a large chest of drawers.  You can see my old lightbox setup that really didn't do the trick.  You can see the stick light in this photo, a clip on light with foil around it to direct the light, and in the center of the room is a 2-bulb ceiling light where there are two 5000K daylight bulbs.

This is a snapshot of how I set up the still life.   I used black foam core board and used a really long piece as a roof in the lightbox to block out the overhead light.  I unscrewed one of two ceiling bulbs so there is one overhead 5000K bulb there with no fixture cover.  There is a clip-on light to the left of the lightbox that has a piece of folded tissue paper taped over the front of it to diffuse the lighting.  Using a portable tripod easel rather than the big H style wooden easel worked really well.  The H style wooden easel is fixed up with a big piece of cardboard for my paintings to sit against in order to block out the view behind it, which is distracting to me, and was just too large to use in this setup.  The keyboard drawer on the desk was the perfect place to set up my palette where a bit of paint on the palette knife with mixed paint could be held up directly to the subject.  

I'm wondering if I should do anything differently?  Should I get maybe a smaller lumen bulb?  Maybe move it so that it shines more directly toward the front of the still life setup?  Is this just something to continue experimenting with depending on the subject matter to paint?  

Here is the painting produced from this setup.  I did not photograph the setup.  The drawing is just a tad off on the sliced orange and there is orange color mixed into the background color where a mess was created in redefining the drawing.  Love that it was created inside of one day using just 5 colors (titanium white, cobalt blue, lemon yellow, alizarin crimson, and burnt umber) in traditional oil paints rather than the usual Alkyd paints I normally use.  What are your thoughts on the lighting?  Too harsh?  Too much contrast?  Interesting enough shadows?  Too dark?  I can't tell you how much fun it was to do this exercise.  Painting from life, matching colors, and you know what?  Mark Carder's method just seemed to channel through me, getting in the darks and the background first, then the darker parts of the fruit....mixing the paints first, something I really hadn't done before but rather would just mix colors on the fly.  This looser style of painting really, really speaks to the artistic part of my heart.

Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by and having a look.  If there is any advice for this particular studio setup and/or lighting issues, I am all ears!



  • One thing lighting wise to consider is the have the same amount of light on your painting, pallet and color checker.  That way you can accurately mix and match values and colors.
  • edited May 22
    Thanks @GTO.  What I did was mix the paint, pick up a little bit on the palette knife, and match it with the object I'm trying to paint.  I would then apply it to the paper and say to myself, "Trust the color," if it didn't look quite right.  I did try to keep your suggestion in mind when figuring out the lighting and could not for the life of me figure out how to put the same light on the still life and the easel at the same time.  I think it is "pretty close."  The space is so small and cramped that a professional LED light with a diffuser box on it would not fit.  Do you have any suggestions on how to get the same exact light on the easel and palette as on the still life?  I really value your thoughts.  In Mark Carder's demonstration of setting up a studio, the still life box is lighted from the top and I know it isn't the same light as what is on the easel and palette??
  • The light in the shadow box can be set at whatever you want.  
    It’s just that the pallet and canvas should be the same as well as what light you have on the color checker.  
    I just hang four color balanced bulbs at 35 degrees angle to the canvas and pallet.  The ceiling I have is 8 ft.  And the lights have a wide enough angle to cover the pallet and the color checker when I look at the shadow box.

  • Thanks @GTO.  I have a 7-foot ceiling.  When you say you hang four color balanced bulbs, are they are a string that you plug in, or how does that work?
  • My setup is very simple.  It is one ceiling bulb and three separate bulbs in small individual clamp on holders.  
    They clamp onto a rod and I can aim them to light the area.
  • What a great idea @GTO.  Thank you!!!
Sign In or Register to comment.