After awhile you have to ask yourself, “What’s something different that I can put on the blog?” The website and blog have been three years in the making. Every week, it’s like feeding Seymour from the Little Shop of Horror, it just wants more content, as fast as my little phalanges (fingers) can type. As I was riding from venue to venue it hit me, I could post about a lighting class that I’m teaching right now. Why is this so special you may ask? These photos that I’m going to show you came right out of the camera, zero Photoshop, except to knock them down to web size. This is really a two banger; some of you have been asking when the next lighting post will be coming along. So, here we go, a lighting post with photos that haven’t been processed…what’s next, horseshoes on ducks?
Maybe I should back up a little. I’m teaching a lighting class at the Englewood Art Center in Englewood, Florida. We have been studying how the equipment works and more importantly how light affects your final photo. Everyone there laughs at me every week as they see all of the equipment that I haul in; I think it’s the suitcase that puts them over the edge. Anyway, this past week I wanted to have them see how to shoot different types of products. As I was getting some errands done earlier in the day, I realized that I didn’t have any products for the students to work with. I put out an SOS call to one of my friends who is also taking the class and asked if she could bring a few things that she had around the house. She was most helpful and said she would see what she could find.
I arrived at the venue and it’s time for the weekly unpacking of the car. Everyone thinks photography is this glamorous profession. I have to tell you, if you are interested in doing this for a career, you better be able to lift 50 pounds minimum and you better also like dumpsters and broom closets. Some of the jobs that I have shot, I was told to “pull in around back and come in the back door.” What they should also say is use a cloths pin on your nose since the parking is next to the dumpster that is full of last week garbage that has been baking in the Florida sun. Boy do I have stories, OK off my soapbox now. I try to get to the venue early and get things set up so the students can focus on learning and not waiting. My friend who was in charge of bringing the items also was there. Perfect, all is a go. As I was getting myself together in the parking lot, she came over and I asked, “How’s it goin’? She replied, “Great. I brought Kathleen.” I thought to myself, who is Kathleen and I thought we were going to do product photography. I didn’t see anyone with her so I thought maybe today was placebo day on the medication. Oh well, we’ll see how it goes. We walked into the digital lab and got to work with the set up.
Since I have to build a photo set from scratch, I like to work from the back to the front. I knew the plan was going to do some product photography; we were going to need a table to hold whatever we were going to work with. We came upon a card table and I set it up in the middle of the space. Then I assembled my background stand behind the table. So far so good. One of the requested topics was how to take photos on a white background. I brought my three-foot roll of white seamless paper and loaded it on the background stand. I unrolled the paper and draped it over the table so it created a sweeping “L” shape, a little gaffers tape to hold it in place and we were off to the races. For the lighting, I wasn’t sure what we were going to need so I prepped three light stands with external flashes and umbrellas. At this point, the students are arriving and were ready to go.
To prep the camera, I do something a little different than I do at other venues, since I have a state-of-the-art Mac lab at my fingertips, I take the instructors Mac and I use a cable to connect the camera to the computer. This is called tethering. What is nice about this is that the computer is connected to a projector so the students can either look at the computer or projector screen and we aren’t all huddled around the 3” screen that is on the back of my Nikon. Also, now the computer is acting as my camera card. Yes, I now have three TARABITES at my disposal! Camera cards are so 2013! Just kidding, we still need them. Anywho, this set up works wonderful and is also how professionals work when they are working with major companies so everyone can see what is going on. Everything is in place, the only thing we are missing is the product or, ugh, “Kathleen”. Right on queue, Kathleen was summoned to the set. She wore her best to the photo shoot and didn’t complain one bit; she was a perfect subject to work with. Here is the lighting diagram that we started with.
We positioned Kathleen on set exactly where we wanted her, she didn’t move a muscle and stayed put. As you can see from the diagram, I used one flash for the main light on camera right. One light that isn’t on the diagram was another flash on camera left to light the paper. I had the camera set to ISO 100, f/8 and 1/250. I released the shutter and the lights needed some adjusting. After a few attempts, we were nailing each exposure. The whole time Kathleen was a real pro, you could tell she had done this before. Here is the final image that we created using the white paper.
OK, as you can see, Kathleen is a figurine. I laughed when my friend pulled Kathleen out of a bag and placed her on a box of batteries that I had brought. At this point on, she was “Kathleen” and treated as so. As you can see, we hit the white background.
Why the unprocessed photos? In the lighting class, the goal is to create the photo in the camera, or at least 90% in the camera. Once you learn how light works, flash gives you a snappy look that you just can’t get any other way. I was telling the students that if they had products that they wanted to sell on eBay, this would help sell the item. We spent a few minutes on set getting the lights just right, but now that everything was set, we could create different looks and see how they would turn out. For example, what if we removed the white paper and added some black fabric?
Kathleen is exposed to the same main and fill light, the only difference is the background is not lit and we replaced it with black. Objects that might benefit on black background would be anything that would have contrasting colors such as white bowls.
One place that I did get a chance to stop at before class was Wally World (Walmart). I went into the bakery and looked over their selection of baked goods. I bought some vanilla and chocolate cupcakes, not for their flavor but for their color. This was going to be a challenge having these two different tones in the same frame. This has happened many times in my shooting career and I wanted to see how the students were going to handle this. To be brutally honest I was planning to sabotage them, this is how we learn.
During one of the exercises, someone asked if there was a way to shoot the light thought the paper. We tried this and it was OK, but we couldn’t get it as even as we would have liked. The next option was to use some translucent material. I happen to have my 42” diffuser on hand. I took the diffuser and used an “A” clamp to attach it to a light stand. I put the flash behind the diffuser and now it was acting as a lighting modifier. We placed the cupcakes on set and arranged them. I originally arranged the cupcakes so the chocolate one was on the left and the vanilla was on the right. The main light is on the right. Again, being the evil professor, I set this up for failure. However, while we were working on these exercises, someone said wait a minute, shouldn’t the darker color be towards the main light. I looked at them and smiled and said, “Exactly”. What I had hoped for was happening, they were thinking like photographers. My job here was done. We switched them and took another photo.
There is detail in both cupcakes and also in the vanilla frosting which is white and can get blown out if one isn’t careful. The flashes were being tripped wirelessly via the slave built in the flash and were in manual mode. This meant that we had total control on how much the flash was putting out. I’m not a big fan of TTL or auto mode. I find that I can’t get the flashes to do what I want and they are usually too hot, or too much light and you get the dreaded DMV photo.
Now that we were using a translucent piece of fabric for the background, someone asked, “What if we gel that background flash?” Gels are pieces of plastic that come in different colors. These are placed in front of the flash head to change the light color coming out of the flash to a specific color. We ended up using CTB or Color Temperature Blue. We played with the flash power and here is the resulting photo.
We also moved the flash off to one side to add a gradient. Pretty cool, huh?
Remember, no Photoshop touched these photos. What you are seeing is what came out of the camera. To get the “finished” look, this was one of the few times that I shot in JPG so the camera would do the processing. The RAW files wouldn’t have looked like this out of the camera. I would say that even though these have never seen Photoshop, they would be passable for just about any company or for any online sales site. People buy with their eyes first. Next time you are in the store, look at the magazines, product displays and product packaging, it’s all around us. We will never run out of ideas, it’s our job to create the next big thing in marketing and make someone’s product look like a million bucks….literally. As for Kathleen, I gave her a cupcake and she was more than happy.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean