I've seen the term "dark field lighting" a few times and was wondering why its used and how you do it?

An example (by one of our members no less) http://www.flickr.com/photos/spqr_ca/5362714988/.

Edit: My go at it, based on the answer (thanks!):

alt text

  • \$\begingroup\$ By the way, I commented on Flickr that I'm pleased and flattered that your daughter liked the shot. That seriously makes my day. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 3:02

1 Answer 1


Well, since you used my shot as an example, I suppose I should answer... ;)

Dark field lighting is about lighting glass, a subect that is both highly transparent and highly reflective. The idea is to catch the edges of the glass, creating form and definition without dominating highlights. To do that, you need:

  1. Light source
  2. Black Gobo
  3. 2 white reflectors

Now, you can do all of that with a table lamp, a black bristol board, and two white bristol boards. The idea is that you set the light up behind the black board or gobo and place the white reflectors forward and to either side. Like so:

alt text

Excuse my quick and dirty CorelDraw example... With this set up, basically, the light reflects off the white sides and defines the glass edges while the black card prevents direct light through the glass.

For a lot more information, on this and a whole host of other lighting techniques, check out Light: Science and Magic in any book store you can get it in. It's probably one of the best books on lighting you can get and is my source for this technique.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't really matter where you place your light source, the key is having two, evenly lit, white light sources (reflected or direct) on the sides. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 2:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jędrek Kostecki - True, I'm just presenting the "book" definition here as it is the simplest and quickest means to the effect. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 3:00
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @Pearsonartphoto - I can't say enough good things about it. Worth the price, in my opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 3:22
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ So, its just lighting from the bounce off the reflected spill? \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 4:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @rfusca - Yep, that's all that it is. Simple, really, once you know. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Jan 23, 2011 at 13:48

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