Thursday, 21 February 2008

Product Photo: Microphone

This entry is based around what is a pretty average and perhaps fairly boring product photo. A simple shot to show what the product is without being overly dramatic, while making something a little more exciting than your average eshop shot.

I've made a video to go with this, which you can view at the bottom of this entry. For a change, I decided to "bare all" and show all the shots involved in this shoot. You'll probably gain more from this exercise if you can view the video as well as this blog entry, because I'm only able to show the main stages for this image.

So starting off, I go for a two light setup. A key light and a rim light. I quickly felt the key light needed to be diffused, so opted for a shoot through brolly. This gave the following shot:

To bring the product out of the blackness, I added some small white reflectors to try and give some curvature to the handle of the microphone, and get a little extra light on some of the edges.

To further bring the product out of the blackness, I put a spot of red light (chosen to bring out the red in the microphone) on the background behind the microphone. I also softened the rim light a touch to make it a little more subtle, relying more on the background light to provide separation.

It's always wise to get a couple of different shots, so I took a vertical format image at a different angle. Same setup, so just a change around of angles. Quick and easy to do, and gives your client some choices when laying out a page for their product brochures. Also, keeping the same light means that the images you give your client have consistency, which can be good if they're using more than one in a brochure and want to maintain the same look and feel throughout.

Here's a couple of shots of the setup

Monday, 11 February 2008

Correcting light for complex ambient sources

I mentioned in my previous entry that when I checked the ambient light, it was pretty similar to tungsten light, meaning I only needed to correct with a CTO gel, but that sometimes you can require an additional fluorescent gel to correct for certain types of mercury vapour lamp. I think for some people it goes a little against the grain to add more than one gel, so hopefully this example will help a little.

So, in this example, I was photgraphing a large factory building which had high powered mercury vapour lamps high up. There was the added complexity of daylight coming in through windows, but we shall try to ignore that for now.

So taking a daylight balanced photo to check the light, I was presented with the following image

Now, at a glance as you walk in to this building, you'd think "close to tungsten" because there is a distinct orange look to the light. On taking the quick shot above, you'd be forgiven for thinking your thoughts were confirmed, but switching to tungsten, you get this image

A pretty nasty green colour cast! So is it closer to fluorescent? Well, taking a shot in fluorescent white balance mode, you get this image

A rather warm tone in fluorescent and a rather green tone in tungsten? That's the joy of some mercury vapour lamps! So if we take a custom white balance, which is basically a mix of the tungsten white balance and fluorescent white balance, you get the following image.

This is the "correct" white balance, in that the grey areas are indeed grey where they are lit only by the mercury vapour lamps. So to correct your daylight balanced flash, you'd need to have a combination of a CTO gel to correct for the tungsten component, and a plusgreen gel to correct for the fluorescent component. Varying the strengths of these gels, you'd be able to get a pretty accurate white balance match to the mercury vapour lamps.

Out of interest, for the shot these examples are cropped from, I wasn't shooting with flash at all (they just represented a good image to use for the examples). I actually found a white balance close to fluorescent was the most pleasing on the eye. The reason for this is that a combination white balance leaves daylight very cold blue and rather unappealing, and that wasn't the atmosphere I was looking for with this shot. So it isn't always purely about what is "correct", but also what looks good for the intended atmosphere you want to show.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Using gels to correct light from flash and match ambient

For once this isn't a product related entry, but I hope it will still be of some interest to read.

I was shooting a charity burns supper the other night in a local hall. Quite a large location, probably about the size of a basketball court in total. About a quarter of the hall has a second level with seating, which was unused for the event, so I took advantage of a quiet location to shoot from, not to mention a more interesting angle than down below.

As soon as I arrived, I metered the hall and found it to be a typically dull 1/40s @ f/4, ISO 800. Worse than that, it was an even spread of very high up lamps leading to a lot of nasty downward light giving pretty unflattering shadows on everyone in the hall.

I grabbed the organiser and the band together and checked flash would be ok, and as soon as they confirmed they didn't mind, I disappeared upstairs to set things up. The first step was to get some control on the light. I found a bit of white painted wood and took a quick shot of it. At a glance I could see it was a very orange photo, which confirmed what I already thought - these lamps were producing light which was relatively close to tungsten balance. A very slightly fluorescent green was also noticable, but so little I didn't feel the need to balance for it. I'm guessing these were the large mercury vapour style lamps you often get in large buildings. The green cast is easily sorted when processing the raw files (pick a tint between which takes an average of the slight difference), and saves the flash needing to fire much harder through two filters than one. Had it been like some mercury vapour lamps I've come across which give a very green image when set to tungsten white balance, I'd have had no choice but to add a fluorescent gel.

I instantly deleted the test image out of habit, but I managed to find a wide angle shot I'd taken with available light, and cropped in on a white table setting. You can see how orange it appears with a daylight white balance setting.

Once set to tungsten, the colour casts all but disappear, at least to an extent which is good enough for what I needed.

Having established that I only needed a CTO gel to balance for tungsten light, I stuck it on the flash and hooked the flash up on the wall. This little decorative thing proved a useful place to stick the flash. You can see the gel attached on the front of the flash if you look carefully. I also zoomed the flash fully in to 105mm to give the best throw of light given the size of the hall.

Here's a shot which shows the CTO gelled flash firing with the camera set on tungsten and daylight balance. Lets you see how important balancing the flash is for decent looking images.

With the flash balanced to tungsten, and my camera balanced to tungsten, I was free to shoot from anywhere in the hall and have plenty of clean "white" light. I was now shooting at 1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 1250. A much safer exposure given I was including ambient light, but as you can see, I'm now underexposing the ambient a bit from my original metering when I arrived. Adding up the numbers, you can see my shutter speed is 2 1/3 stops darker, my aperture 1 stop darker but my ISO 2/3 brighter. This means I'm underexposing the ambient light by 2 2/3 stops making that part of the exposure pretty dark, and therefore it won't make a huge difference to my images if I get any camera shake when using a longer lens (I was getting some close in shots on the singer/band etc.). The flash exposure, even with a fairly high power, will be faster than 1/700s which is plenty fast enough to give sharp images. The ambient light is providing some subtle fill though which is what I wanted. Why have I opted for a higher ISO speed? Well, it saves the flash having to work so hard, and a well lit image always hides noise that much more than a poorly lit one. Also gave me a touch extra depth of field to work with given I was able to stop down a little.

You can see the flash is easily powerful enough at this high ISO speed to fire right across the hall and light the far wall a good 50-60 feet away. It is also giving a subtle fall off in the curtain behind which helps when I'm taking shots of the band. Gives a nice vignette look to the image.

Here's a shot I took from the left of the balcony where it extends out across the hall a bit. You can see where I was at the left border of the previous image. From here, the light is close to side lighting the band, which gives a nice contrasty image, with my ambient exposure combined with reflections from the wall opposite the flash serving to control the contrast.

Here's a shot where I fired off a second shot too quickly and the flash didn't keep up. It gives you a feel of how I've underexposed the ambient and I'm really only using the flash to give my exposure.