Once in awhile a challenge is fun to keep it interesting. For example, I had a client call and said that they had some jewelry that they wanted photographed for eBay, easy enough. I arrived on location and asked to see the pieces before I unpacked my gear just in case. In the pile of stuff that was to be processed was a bracelet from Tiffany. I kind of laughed to myself, as I didn’t want to insult the client. I was thinking, “You want to put a piece from Tiffany on eBay?” Granted I hadn’t been on eBay since the boom in 2000. As I was looking the piece over I noticed that there was a makers mark. As I was studying it, the client told me not to worry about it, as I wouldn’t be able to capture it. I nodded and set up my stuff. A remark like that to a photographer is like telling a guy that we can’t find our way out of a paper bag. It may take us awhile, but we will find our way (I love Lola, our Garmin). One of the lenses that I brought with me as I do with any kind of shoot like this is my trusty Nikon 105mm Macro. I set up the piece and adjusted the flashes and I was able to make the original makers mark that was about 1/8”, into an 8×10. I presented the photos to the client and didn’t say a word. As they were going through them, I watched very intently as the makers mark photo was coming up. When it did, they turned the paper around, brought it closer to their face, moved their glasses off their head, and then I heard this, “I have no idea what this is. You must have mixed up another job with this one.” I smiled and pointed to the bracelet. I got the deer in the headlight look; I flipped the piece over and pointed to the makers mark. Still they really didn’t believe that it was the same mark. I explained that I have special lenses that let me get really close to details. There was still some skepticism, I told them to add it to the listing on eBay and see what happens. Three days later it sold.
Photography is all about solving problems. One lights a section and it casts a shadow over there, I need to get closer so I switch lenses but now my client looks like a cone head. This is where a photographer’s knowledge separates out the weekend warriors with the everyday professional. I’m not knocking the weekend warriors out there I was one too. What I’m simply saying is that folks that do this everyday run into problems faster than those who don’t. Therefore one better know how to fix or adjust things to make it right, especially if the client is on site or looking at the monitor as the photographer presses the shutter button. As a “professional” photographer, you better have an idea how to come up with solutions to issues that arise during a shoot and quickly.
Recently I got a call from Wahoo, a fishing lure company. The representative that I spoke with said that they had a few lures that needed photographing and would I be interested. One thing that I have learned in business is to be honest with people. I explained that I was interested but had never photographed a fishing lure before. All of the sudden I had visions of lures posed on a wooden boxes with netting and focusing lighting, etc. I asked what exactly were they looking for. They explained that they needed them on a white background. I said, “Not a problem.” I was thinking what the hell did I just sign up for? I asked if I could get a couple to test to see if it would meet their standards. They told me that they had a lightbox that they were using and weren’t really happy with the results and that they would send me over a few examples so I knew what they were NOT looking for. This is a good thing, now I’ll have a reference.
I have experience with a lightbox, if you have never seen one, they are like a white cloth cube that you put lights on the outside and this evenly lights the piece that is on the inside. Sounds wonderful….unless you want a white background. These cubes are not designed for that. Usually after you take the photo, you have to go into Photoshop and get very friendly with the eraser tool. When you are going to be doing production work, you want to get the best possible photo in the shortest amount of time. Don’t get me wrong, you still want to do a great job for the client, but you don’t want to loose money on the deal either.
A day or so later, I received an email from the person that I talked with an attached photo. This is what was presently coming out of the lightbox.
Technically, this photo is spot on, the exposure is perfect on the lure and there is tons of detail. The only issue is that the background is GRAY. I made an appointment to meet the client a couple of days later (this is key) to pick up the sample lures. As I’m driving from place to place I’m usually thinking about upcoming projects and the best way to shoot them. This is why I never say, “Oh gee, how’s tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.?” I like to give projects a few days to marinate in the old noodle to come up with a couple of ways to shoot the object.
Now that I know what the client is looking for and I have seen what isn’t working for them, I can formulate a plan. Sometimes I find pulling out a notebook and sketching out some ideas can help. Lures that I have used in the past were rubber, metal, or a feather material. Hanging these would be an option, but that will slow down the process. We don’t live in space so gravity is in play. The other option is to lay them down and fan them out. In my thought process, this is what I came up with.
The trick here is that the background has to be white. This is going to call for a two zone lighting set up. I have done this numerous times before and most of the time it goes off without a hitch. Since I’m going to lay these down, what’s the best surface? It can’t be reflective, it can’t scratch and it has to be optically clear. I have used plexi in the past and works OK, but it has it’s challenges. I made a call to someone I know who own a frame shop. I asked if he and any museum glass lying around. He did. If you’re not familiar with museum glass, in a nutshell, it’s the Lexus of glass, it’s as clear as it gets with no reflectance issues. Once I had the glass in hand, I was all set.
I like to build my studio from back to front or in this case, from floor to ceiling. Since these are smaller pieces, this works perfectly on a kitchen table. First, I taped a couple of sheets of copy paper together. This is my white seamless background. Granted, it’s not seamless, but for a test, this is perfect. I know this paper is going to have to be lit so I placed a flash just a little higher than the table and focused it on the paper. To photograph the lures, I can’t just place the glass on top of the paper it needs to be elevated. I know my wife gets shoes by the ship full. I should be able to find a couple of shoeboxes. I opened up the closet, and I see that a recent shipment must have arrived. I found two boxes that were the same size. I opened the boxes and threw the shoes out on to bed. When I made it back to the studio, I placed the boxes on the left and right side of the paper creating a gap in the middle. The dashed boxes in the above diagram represent the boxes. I placed the glass on top of the boxes. At this point the background is going to be lit but the lure will be in shadow. I added a flash with a shoot through umbrella as the main light. Knowing that the other side is going to be darker, I took out a white reflector (you could also use a white piece of paper for this as well) to bounce the light off and light the opposite side of the lure.
The camera itself was on a sturdy tripod with a cable release attached. Those of you who have been in my classes have seen this demo that I do with my tripod. With the tripod in position, I pulled out the center column and made it to go horizontal instead of vertical. This allows that camera to have a “bird’s eye” view of the scene. I also used my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 as this is a prime lens and one of the sharpest that I have, the 105mm would have been too long for this set up. Detail counts more than ever in this case. Since I’m using flash, there are a couple of things that I can take into account; first my shutter speed can’t exceed 1/250. Also, I have lots of horsepower since I’m really close to the subject so I set the ISO to 100. This will give me a noise free photo. Lastly, is depth of field, I find that f/8 or f/11 are the sharpest f-stops on lenses. To help the flash out, I set it for f/8. The only thing left was to pose the lure. The client gave me a 30 second lesson on how they wanted it to look and what anglers are looking for when shopping, who knew a spinner bait was supposed to look like a school of bait fish? With everything set up, it was time to take a couple of test photos. I pushed the release and this is what appeared on the card.
As you can see, the background is white. Since I was shooting a RAW file I did a contrast adjustment and sharpened the file. Done. The solution to the clients problem was solved with a very efficient system saving them money and me time. It’s a win-win for everyone.
I was feeling very positive about the outcome. I sent off the test photos to the client for review. A few moments later I got a phone call, “These are perfect, just what we need. How soon can you start?” Spencer, “How many do you have?” Client, “A few hundred thousand.” I dropped the phone on the floor. Apparently, a small detail had slipped through the crack, ahem.
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean