IKEA Light at Photokina

IKEA Light at Photokina

Two small flashes, a fake plant, two blue cups, a paper lantern and an orange cup were used to light the above image. Photokina is all about photo gear but for my demos at the Fujifilm stage, I wanted to show that you don’t always need all the expensive equipment. It’s amazing what you can do with some knowledge, creative thinking and … a bag of IKEA stuff.

 50 EUR buys you a bag full of the finest Swedish light modifiers

50 EUR buys you a bag full of the finest Swedish light modifiers

For my demos I used the GFX50S and the GF110mm F2. The studio was equipped with Profoto gear, so I used two A1s for my demos.
I hear you coming: “why use an expensive medium format camera and the most expensive speedlights on the market and then use IKEA modifiers?” I get it, but my message is twofold:

One, an X-T20, a 50mm f2 and a couple of Godox flashes will still get you similar results and a package like that is within reach of most photographers.
Two, there are more reasons to use cheap modifiers apart from budget. Like most photographers, I work mostly alone and I’m limited in the amount of stuff that I can carry with me. I certainly can’t carry modifiers for every possible situation. On top of that, these improvised light modifiers often give you a less perfect but more natural light.

All my pictures in this post are JPEG files, edited in Capture One Pro. The collaboration between Fujifilm and C1 was one of the biggest announcements at Photokina for me. I’ve only just started to experiment with C1, but I’m impressed. I’ll probably write something about it after I used it a bit more.

 image by  Jonas Rask

image by Jonas Rask

I’m not going into too much detail about the setups. One of my demos was filmed, so I’m pretty sure Fujifilm will put it online at some point (I’ll let you know). And it’s better for you to stretch you lighting muscles a bit in trying to figure out how I did it.

For my first setup I used one A1 and a shower curtain. Those who know me, know that I often carry a shower curtain with me. It’s cheap and it can act as a large softbox, a scrim, a reflector and much more. This is an easy and safe setup that looks good on everyone.

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Seven years, a camera system and a house ago, I even made a video that features a shower curtain. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch this old stuff, but I still stand behind the content, so:

Wow, that was a trip down memory lane. But let’s get back to the more recent past. To make the images a bit less clinical, I held a fake flower in front of my lens and shot through it.

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IKEA has plenty of other curtains, so I invested 10 EUR in a lace curtain for another soft-ish look but a bit different and more interesting than the shower curtain.

 We started with the lace curtain a bit away from the model. This makes the pattern of the lace pretty much disappear so you end up with rather soft light again. We let some light spill past the curtain to create a bit of a pattern in the background.

We started with the lace curtain a bit away from the model. This makes the pattern of the lace pretty much disappear so you end up with rather soft light again. We let some light spill past the curtain to create a bit of a pattern in the background.

 With the lace curtain close to our model, the modd changes.

With the lace curtain close to our model, the modd changes.

 And when you put the curtain really close to the model you get those wonderful shadow patterns.

And when you put the curtain really close to the model you get those wonderful shadow patterns.

I usually start a shoot with soft light because it makes it easier to get a first decent picture in the pocket before moving on to more experimental light. Simple hard light doesn’t work on everyone in every situation but it’s always worth trying out.

 When using a single hard light source, it usually better to frame the shot a bit wider. Half or full body are way more forgiving than a close up shot in which you can see all the detail in the skin.

When using a single hard light source, it usually better to frame the shot a bit wider. Half or full body are way more forgiving than a close up shot in which you can see all the detail in the skin.

When I went to IKEA to buy my supplies for Photokina, I also had a little home shopping list with me. One of the items I needed was a salad bowl. The only one that was big enough was so nice and shiny that I couldn’t resist bringing it to Cologne. I figured it could be something in between a standard reflector and a beauty dish.

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 Keeping the light and the bowl at the right position was a bit challenging. And the kind of hard, specular light it produced wasn’t the easiest to work with. But when we got it right, the light was very interesting. I think I’m going to make some kind of bracket to attach the light to the bowl and experiment a bit more with this setup. So, no salad for me. (image by  Jonas Rask )

Keeping the light and the bowl at the right position was a bit challenging. And the kind of hard, specular light it produced wasn’t the easiest to work with. But when we got it right, the light was very interesting. I think I’m going to make some kind of bracket to attach the light to the bowl and experiment a bit more with this setup. So, no salad for me. (image by Jonas Rask)

In the movie industry gobos (it comes from “go between” and is something you put between light and subject) are commonly used. In the photo world, it’s way less common. But basically you can use anything to create interesting patterns. In this case, I used a plastic plant between the A1 and my subject.

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With just one light, it can be a bit challenging to create a pattern on the background while keeping the light on your subject clean. A second light can make things a lot easier. We made sure the light through the plant only lit the background and we bounced a second A1 into the wall to the model’s left.

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 image by  Jonas Rask

image by Jonas Rask

Now let’s take it a step further and change the mood of the light completely by just adding some other items. A blue plastic cup (that fits the A1 perfectly btw) adds a bluish tint to the background and creates a more night time feel. The second A1 was put into a paper Chinese lantern as this is exactly the kind of light you would expect to be on at night inside a living room.

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Now let’s add an orange cup to the main light (the Chinese lantern) and play a bit with the white balance on the camera. And suddenly we have yet another look.

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I found the background color a bit pale, so I stacked two blue cups on the background light and shifted the white balance a bit more.

By the time I finished the blue and orange look, my time on the stage was up. Doing a live demo for a lot of people at the biggest photography show is nerve racking. Doing it with light modifiers that I just bought at IKEA, didn’t make it easier at all. But I wanted it to be about the creative approach towards lighting and using mistakes as stepping stones towards a decent picture.

I’d like to thank everyone that came to watch my demo, my volunteer assistants on stage, my fellow X-photographers for the moral support and Fujifilm for not even questioning my IKEA concept.

Like I said, the demo (the Friday one) was taped, so I’m pretty sure it will be shared at some point. I’m also thinking about doing some YouTube videos on this subject. Let me know if you want to see some IKEA action.