The Buddha’s Hand

0 Hand


Everything new, strange, or bizarre tends to excite our imagination and help us to be as creative. In this lesson, photographer David Cross takes a very unusual fruit and and pushes it into the realm of photographic art. With a few inexpensive parts from the local hardware store and some innovative lighting, David elevates the quality of the image substantially.

David runs through a three-point lighting setup that can be used to get several different styles and selection of final results. Each have their place in commercial product photography.

Topics Covered:

  • The Office Snapshot
  • Conception and Set Up
  • One Light
  • Two Edge Lights
  • One Edge, One Fill
  • Three Lights


  • Olympus E-5
  • Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/3.5
  • Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/3.5
  • Olympus Zuiko 14-60mm f/2.8-5.6

The Office Snapshot

We’ve all had that experience where we come across something we’ve never seen before and we’re compelled to photograph it. From mountains, to statues, to people in foreign countries, we like to share what we see as strange, new, or bizarre with our friends.

Jaron Schneider, my assistant and friend, happens to be an avid gardener and likes to grow fruits and vegetables that are otherwise hard to find. Recently, he brought to work something he grew in his backyard, which is one of the strangest fruits I have ever seen: a Buddha’s hand.

This bizarre citrus, though a little burnt from the recent cold weather, got a lot of attention around the office, and one person even took a picture of it with his cell phone to show his wife.

That got me thinking. This would be an excellent subject for an unusual photo shoot. I told Jaron about it and we decided to put together a special setup to really make this fruit stand out. We wanted to take a picture we could print and frame and not just settle for a low resolution, unlit cell phone shot.

Conception and Setup

We wanted to make the Buddha’s hand look as though it were emerging from dark water to accentuate the color and shape of the citrus. We also wanted to render some interesting reflections in the water. To do this, we needed to make a quick trip to the hardware store.

We purchased a water heater basin (used to collect water if a heater ruptures or breaks) as well as the associated PVC nozzle to make the unit as water tight as possible. We brought the parts, along with some matte black spray paint, back to Photoflex® headquarters and set up outside where we wouldn’t get paint on anything.

Once the PVC nozzle was securely attached, we sprayed the whole basin with two layers of the spray paint. This would ensure that the basin would be as matte black as possible. [figure 3]

After the paint dried, we took the basin into the studio and placed it on a small table. We then set up a 39×72 inch LitePanel with black fabric and mounted it to LitePanel legs. This would serve as our background.

We then filled the basin with water and placed the Buddha’s hand in the center. We also padded the PVC plug with towels in case the water tight seal wasn’t as water tight as advertised.

With the subject in place, we could then start to arrange our lighting.

In our first lighting setup, we used three lights. We took three StarLite® QL continuous lights, an extra small OctoDome® nxt, a small HalfDome® nxt, and a medium SilverDome®, each with a 500 watt tungsten bulb, and arranged them around the Buddha’s Hand. Here’s the basic arrangement.

Though we set them all up, we weren’t sure which combination of lights would have the best look, so we started by turning them on one at a time.

We chose not to put the diffusion faces on any of the soft boxes, but rather just go with the interior baffle on the OctoDome® (positioned toward the front of the the box where the face would normally attach) and the SilverDome® and no diffusion at all on the HalfDome®.

We used the HalfDome® with no diffusion at all because we wanted a hard-edged quality of light to render texture and to help separate the fruit from the background. The other two soft boxes, with their interior baffles attached, would provide a mixture of hard light from the silver interior and soft light through the baffle.

One Light

We started with just the extra small OctoDome®.

For this shot [figure 8], I chose a 35mm macro lens and had the camera set to the following:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/60th of a second
  • Aperture: f/3.5
  • ISO 200

Though it had a dark and spooky feel to it, we agreed it was hard to tell exactly what the viewer was looking at. We needed more light and a different angle.

Two Edge Lights

Next, we turned on the HalfDome® to fill in the other side of the Buddha’s Hand.

For this shot [figure 11], I used a 12-60mm f/2.8 lens and shot with my camera set to:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/50th of a second
  • Aperture: f/2.8
  • ISO 200
  • Focal Length 60mm

I then switched to a 50mm f/3.5 macro lens and shot with the following camera settings:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/40th of a second
  • Aperture: f/3.5
  • ISO 200

As you can see, the light in these results is dramatic enough to draw significant visual interest, but not so ambiguous as to not be able to tell what it is. Also note that we were able to capture the reflection of the citrus in the water, which gave us the beautiful mirror effect we were envisioning when we conceived this shot.

One Edge, One Fill

Even though we liked the results from the previous lighting arrangement, we still wanted to see what else we could do with this setup. We decided to turn off the OctoDome® and turn on the SilverDome®.

For these shots, I switched back my 35mm macro lens and had my camera set to the following:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/80th of a second
  • Aperture: f/3.5
  • ISO 200

In figure 15, you can really make out the beautiful texture of the fruit. The mix of hard and soft light creates little shadows along the bumps in Buddha’s hand, which is why we can see the texture so well.

In figure 16, the full shape of the citrus is visible along with the texture, which looks great standing out from the black water.

Three Lights

Next, we wanted to try one more setup. We turned the OctoDome® back on, but placed another 39×72 inch LitePanel with translucent material attached in front of it. Going for a totally different look than we did in our previous shots, we angled the OctoDome® behind the LitePanel to create a gradient reflection in the water.

In this shot, notice how water reflects the gradient of light projected onto the Translucent LitePanel.

For this shot, I switched back to the 50mm macro lens and had my camera set to the following:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/60th of a second
  • Aperture: f/7.1
  • ISO 400

Just out of curiosity, we switched off our HalfDome® edge light and snapped another image at:

  • Shutter Speed: 1/50th of a second
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • ISO 400

As you can see from this lesson, one lighting arrangement and a few camera angles can allow you to capture a large variance of moods and tones for your images. Any one of the images we managed to get could have its commercial uses, and we owe that to our lighting design.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Take the ordinary and chuck it out the window!

Written by David Cross and Jaron Schneider. Photographed by David Cross.

Product/Still Life,

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