Made In The U.S.A.

Commercial product photography is rare for me but I’m always pleased when  clients call me back.  In the spring of 2014, I did a shoot for the website of Curtis Blake Leather.  This spring, their assignment was to photograph a new line of wine and beer totes with the idea of having some images for boutique magazine use.

01 CB 2016The first step, just like a portrait session, was to meet with the client, learn about the products, what they wanted and propose some ideas.  My client wanted to use a setting we’d used before.  It suited the products and it would help maintain a consistent look and feel with the existing web content.  I proposed some studio setups that would allow me to control the lighting more completely than an outdoor location.  We agreed on some approaches and I planned the shoots(s).

While the lighting was very different for the outdoor and indoor setups, some basics were the same.

To get the sharpest possible image, the camera was mounted on a tripod and the shutter triggered remotely.  I also used a shutter release with a 2 second delay and MLU ( Mirror Lock Up).  The tripod holds the camera still and the remote trigger eliminates vibration by not touching the camera shutter button.  When the shutter is tripped, the mirror in a SLR or DSLR flips up, introducing vibration. Locking the mirror up and using a 2 second delay before the shutter fires allows the mirror vibrations to dampen, maximizing sharpness. Mirrorless cameras eliminate this variable.

Outdoors, I used an aperture of f8. Generally 2 or 3 stops from the widest aperture is the sharpest or “sweet spot” of a lens.  I didn’t need a wide aperture to isolate the subject from background, everything was in the same plane of focus.

Lighting the outdoor images was a matter of balancing the ambient light with a pair of manual speed lights or hot shoe flashes.  Without the flashes, everything would look flatter and the texture of the leather barely seen.   With flash, I could establish the modelling and contrast I wanted, to show the product at its best. It was a simple setup with two remotely triggered flashes on light stands, camera left and right.  Ambient or daylight was part of the “fill” and the speed lights were “main” or “key”.  As always, I moved them and adjusted power to get the direction and ratios I wanted.  Instant review on a digital camera is the modern Polaroid test shot and it’s a wonderful tool.  While I didn’t make detailed notes of the lighting setup, I did use “snoots” to concentrate the flash output.  Using bare flash as a point source gave me the hard light I wanted to match the character of the leather.

Indoors was more complex to setup but simpler to light.  Ambient light was a non issue.  I set my aperture for f11, ISO 100 and Shutter for 1/160 so if there was no flash, the image was completely dark.  The only light that would be recorded would come from the flash.  When I had the set built, I put a single gridded light on a boom directly above the setup. Again, I moved it adjusted power to get the directions and ratio I wanted. The grid let me keep the light where I wanted on the product and off the background for the dramatic lighting ratio.

  03 CB 2016 04 CB 2016 05 CB 2016 06 CB 2016 07 CB 2016

08 CB 2016 09 CB 2016

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 17-70/4 lens, Manfrotto 055XProB Tripod, YN-560III Speedlights, YN-560 TX Remote Trigger, Vello Wired Remote, Expoimaging Rogue Flash Grid & Flashbender, Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder, Savage 53″ Seamless Paper, Gaffers Tape

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro


Spring Walk

Our neighborhood is coming alive with Spring.  Oaks and Maples are almost fully open, Daffodils are long gone and the Azaleas are in full bloom.  Just before dinner, we took a much welcome walk, been spending too much time in my office chair.  Took along a camera and made a few stops along the way.

1. Blue Clematis: Top lit with the soft diffuse light of open shade, medium key.01 Loop WalkSpotted this single Blue Clematis at the base of a mailbox.  The street was heavily shaded and protected from a windy afternoon.  This is an easy exposure that the camera meter will usually get right.  I could get close since my lens has a MFD ( Minimum Focus Distance) of 12″. I used  the maximum aperture of f4 to emphasize the center or the “star” in sharper focus from the rest of the “supporting cast”.  Shutter speed of 1/200 was plenty fast for still air.  That left me with an essentially noise free ISO 800.  Had I used my Incident Meter, which I leave set at ISO 100, it would have read an EV (Exposure Value) of 9 or -6 Stops from EV 15 aka Sunny 16 Rule.

Near our front door, Azaleas are blooming.  Common in the American South, I never tire of them.  Originally from Asia and I felt connected when I saw some walking down a residential street in Japan.  My photographs of them still haven’t captured their iridescence and textures so I keep trying.

2. Hybrid Encore Azalea: Back Light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key.02 Loop Walk3. Hybrid Encore Azalea: Front light, hard direct sun, high contrast, low key.03 Loop WalkThese were lit with the hard, directional sun of late afternoon which will provide some modelling vs the flat overhead light of mid-day. Open to the wind, I needed a fast shutter speed to prevent blur, even as I waited between gusts.  I had no flash to stop movement.  I stopped down to f8 for more DoF ( Depth of Field) as I wanted the blossom to be sharp from front to back.  It would be the “Star”.  Leaving my ISO at 800, I bumped my Shutter Speed up until the Histogram looked good and it was fast enough to freeze the wind motion.

Number 2 is back lit so the sun shines through the translucent blossom, letting us see how it grows. It helps show the iridescence.

Number 3 is front lit (I simply moved around) and is how most will photograph the blossom.

During editing, I got rid of background distractions, especially bright spots that take attention away from the “Star” and branches that lead the eye out of the frame.  The goal is to keep impact by not diluting the dominant element and maintaining interest in the entire composition.  It can’t be too busy or too sterile.  It needs to be like the temperature of Goldilocks porridge, “just right”.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax 17-70/4 lens.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro


High, Low and Long

Our Butterfly Bush is getting sparse and so are the Butterflies it attracts.  And I’ve been scaring off the visitors with my presence.  A perfect Red Spotted Purple was gone in a moment this morning, just as I approached.  I wanted to try standing off with my longest lens at 300mm + 1.5x Teleconvertor for a total of 450mm.  Trade offs are 6′ minimum focus distance and f22.  Depth of Field would only be about a 1/2″ at 6 Feet, 3/4″at 8 ft..

Other than a few Skippers and Carpenter Bees, the only visitor for the better part of an hour was a Blue Dasher Dragonfly.  The good news is, you have a chance to establish focus because they land and stay still.  The bad news is,  trying to hold focus by hand at 450mm with all that weight and mass and not much DoF is wildly optimistic.  In hindsight, I’d have been on a tripod with a loose ball head but didn’t because I expected to be moving around and though it would be too slow to frame & focus.  Of course, had I been on tripod, butterflies would have shown up and I’d have flailed around like part of a 3 Stooges routine.

1. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, high key

001 100-300 + TC 6097

2. Dragonfly: Top lit, mid-day sun, hard light, high contrast, low key

002 100-300 + TC 6094_1

My model did cooperate in that he gave me two lighting setups, one high key and one low key.  In this case, the model moved (flew) so the background changed.  The last time I did this was a portrait session.  We finished the high key on white with soft light (umbrellas) and switched out the background to black and went to hard light (bare flash)  with snoots.

Exposure was easy.  Lens at f22 but actually f32 due to a 1 stop loss from the TC.  Lots of light, so Sunny 16 as a baseline.  Plenty of shutter speed to help with the really long lens, varying a stop or two, depending on open shade or pointed at sky.  Moved ISO between 400 & 800, shutter speed between 1/800 and 1/1000 sec..  Of the two images I kept, one was a stop over and the other a stop under but both in the ballpark.  At relatively low ISO’s, plenty of Dynamic Range with RAW files, easy to recover and keep image quality.

One other camera feature I rarely use was shutter burst mode.  Today, I’d establish focus and fire 3 or 4 frames, trying to compensate for my movement.  I have in body stabilization, so that helped.  Out of 112, I kept these two. Pushing thing as I was, it’s tough to handhold and you won’t do it for long.  And I just remembered my monopod!

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Sigma 100-300/4 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC.

Editing Tools used in this post: Adobe CC2015, Nik Collection, Pixel Genius Photokit, Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet, Pantone Huey Pro