Lighting for Tabletop with Gaffer Bobby Earnhardt

Lighting for Tabletop with Gaffer Bobby Earnhardt

The key to lighting table-top is working with a Director who does this all the time. They need to be savvy enough to arrange the products in a way that is visually appealing. Crystals, bottles, tiles, & surfaces all go a long way in making things appetizing. They need to place the product in a way we can get the light to it and move the camera in a way the romances the food stylists work.

I like to start with one large broad soft stroke of light to establish exposure and then multiple fine strokes to establish precise highlights. The Dedo light is my weapon of choice and I like to use 6-12 of them. The rest of the tools is a world of small: small cards, small flags, etc. Lighting is like painting. You can use broad stroke to establish the scene, but you need small precise tools to highlight the details and make it a masterpiece.

Food usually does not move, but cameras do. You have to take your cues from where the camera will be and adjust accordingly. This is not sheet music, but jazz. Grab your horn and start blowing and go to work. Lighting for people we rehearse and block. With food we light a stand in and shoot the hero as soon as it is ready. The food does not flub lines or mess up their blocking.

We used to shoot high speed on film cameras and would pour tons of light onto our subjects. Now that we have gone digital the cameras do not appreciate anything under 2k. We have to work with bigger less precise lamps. The digital cameras are cheaper to operate, but more troublesome.

The future is LED lights. Tungsten puts out more heat than light and LEDs produce over 3 times as much light as heat. However, tungsten still has a quality that can’t be matched by LEDs, although the quality of LEDs are getting better everyday. Our grandkids will probably never see an incandescent light, but for professional lighting today tungsten is still king.