In this first configuration we’re going to use two lights. There’s not much to talk about here — this is a very basic, functional setup that works well with documentation photos — that is, pictures you take of your project as you’re working on it. It doesn’t work so well for shooting “finished” projects, because it produces some confusing shadow patterns that can be distracting. However, for shooting while you work, it’s the best compromise between quality and expediency.
You should have two matching lights, with bulbs of equal output. Some folks like to put diffusion material over the lights. You can do this if you like, as it does soften the shadows a bit. If you do this, remember that the diffuser absorbs some light, so your exposures will be longer. Also, be mindful of the heat produced by the lamps — you don’t want the material to melt. Try to use heat-resistant diffusion gels, such as those sold by Rosco.
For your start position, set both lights at the same height, about 3 feet above the table surface, and pointed at the subject.
Imagine a line connecting the center of the light bulb to the subject, and another line parallel to the front edge of the table that runs through the subject. These two lines should intersect at an angle of about 45 degrees. This is a good starting point, because it eliminates shadows as much as possible. You will still see some shadows, of course, but we’ll take care of those in editing later. Looking at things from overhead, the lights should be at about 4 and 8.
The camera is at 6 o’clock. The distance from the camera to the subject varies depending on what you’re taking pictures of, but 18 inches away is a good starting point. Bear in mind that it is not necessary to fill the frame with the subject, as you can crop it later. In fact, it’s not advisable to be right on top of the subject with your camera, as it makes it more difficult for you to work (directly under the lights), and it can cause focusing problems. Plus, by moving further away you increase your depth of field, helping everything to be in focus.
If you have your lights set up properly, you should be ready to take some photos. The next section provides some details and hints about using the camera.