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


December Azalea

_IGP8430Stuck inside since Thanksgiving with a bug, I needed some outside time today. Of course it was damp, grey and chilly.  The good news was, a few steps from our front door are some Encore Azaleas that survived my planting. They bloom in spring and fall and the color is welcome on a dull December 1st.

Soft diffuse light from an overcast sky doesn’t lend itself to vibrant color or contrast.  It’s simple to change that with a hand held flash.

I put my camera on a tripod and composed and focused the image.  The lens was an old manual focus 50mm stopped down to f8. It has a MFD (minimum focus distance) of about 18 inches. Adding a 1.5x Teleconvertor made the focal length 75mm without changing the MFD.  It let me fill most of the frame with a single blossom.

Shutter speed was 1/160 for flash sync and ISO to 100.  The exposure would be black except for flash contribution.  A wireless trigger in the camera hot shoe let me hand hold the flash, move around and change the light direction.

The camera was set for 2 second delay which in my case also activates Mirror Lock Up.  When I push the shutter on my wired remote, the mirror is locked in the up position and the shutter opens two seconds later to allow vibration form the mirror action to settle out.  Tripod, not touching the camera, mirror lockup – all contribute to making the camera as stable as possible for the sharpest possible image.

I wrapped a snoot around the flash to control light spill and set it to half power.  A few exposures showed me I need to drop the power to about 1/16th.

Gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Pentax M 50 1.7 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, Manfrotto 055XPROB Tripod with Manfrotto 488RC2 Ball Head and Vello Wired Remote, Yongnou RF-603NII Wireless Trigger and 560III Flash

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

Butterflies, Bees and Flash

A Butterfly Bush by our front door attracts nectar seekers all summer.  Silver Skippers are omnipresent, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails arrive in mid July, plus the occasional Painted Lady and more I’ve missed.  I am attracted to them as they are to nectar.  I never tire of watching or photographing them, the images help me bear the short days and gray bare branches of winter.

Even though our summer days are mostly bright sunshine ( Sunny 16 Rule / EV15 at ISO 100 ) I like to add light with a handheld flash because I can control the light direction and consequently, show the character of something as I see it vs as found with the ambient light.

Light has 4 properties: Intensity, Color, Direction and Quality (Hard or Soft). Direction is the property I most care about because it determines how we see form.

Image 1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, below is an example.  Balancing ambient  light  with my flash power setting, I held the camera in one hand and flash in the other,  extended as far as I could reach and pointed at the butterfly, from camera left.  The flash light raked across the butterfly from the side, creating shadows from the texture of her wings.  We get to see what the surface of the wings look like and the scaly texture so important for their ability to shed water and still fly. Shadows define her form, the same as any portrait.  It is a she, males don’t have blue spots.

  1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast Tiger Wings

Since my aperture is a stop or two below the ambient exposure, the background goes darker, further increasing contrast.  Compare that to the next image, 2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  It’s a properly exposed, ambient light image. Images 1 and 2 have very different characters and impacts, accomplished simply by changing the aperture setting and adding a bit of light from the side.   And I didn’t have to wait for the butterfly to be in the right spot at the right time.

2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail: Ambient, front lit, soft light, low contrast  003 Swallowtails 0419

Image 3. Painted Lady was taken within a few minutes of 1. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  The difference is the light direction, now pointed from the front and a little below.  Without the side light, there are no shadows to show texture.  The  patterns and colors of the wings are well lit and the contrast with the darker background is maintained.

3. Painted Lady: Front lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 31 July 2625

Sunday was a rare overcast day, what some photographers call God’s Softbox. The ambient light was mostly directionless ( there’s a half stop difference you can use if you know where the sun is behind the clouds) and soft, so low contrast and very little shadow.  A very safe day for Auto mode.  Not being satisfied with an ambient exposure, I again used a handheld flash, this time with a snoot to get even higher contrast with the ambient light and background.

Large and colorful butterflies get all the attention but they were in short supply today. Those I saw were really ragged with large pieces of wings missing.  Skippers are always around and are more tolerant of my flash. Image 4. Silver Skipper is an example of how you can turn a grey, flat light day into something more interesting.   Same setup, camera in one hand, flash in the other, this time with aperture farther below ambient, 2 to 3 stops.

We again get to see the Skipper, its scaly texture and shape.  The shadows create contrast, revealing form.  The flash illuminates the butterfly but not the background, courtesy of the Inverse Square Law.  The light simply falls off before it can be reflected from the back ground.  Our small aperture of f16 renders the ambient dark, dramatically increasing the contrast between figure (butterfly) and ground ( background). Imagine the background “properly exposed” and much lighter.  The contrast and impact are gone.

001 28-75 + TC + flash 4625

4. Silver Skipper: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast I used a 28-75mm lens with a 12″ minimum focus distance. Adding a 1.5X Teleconvertor ,  my minimum focus distance stayed at 12″ but my focal length became 42-112mm, easier for getting close to small butterflies. It also helps in making the subject as large as possible in the frame for the best possible resolution. It’s not true macro, a 1:1 image, but it’s gets close.

A workable Depth of Field requires a small aperture so I stopped down to f16.  The DoF calculator showed me that at 111mm focal length and minimum focus distance, f16 gave me about 3/16ths”.  At f8, the calculator showed DoF of 1/16″, not something I could use handheld.  Macro photographers know the problem well, which is why they use tripods.  I have a tripod but it wouldn’t work here as butterflies tend not to wait around for tripod setup.

Looking at small butterflies, I found Image 4. Carpenter Bee, who was very engaged in his work and completely tolerant of my flash. He cared nothing for my work.

4. Carpenter Bee: Side lit with flash, hard light, high contrast 002 28-75 + TC + flash 4638

Photo gear used in this post: Pentax K5IIs camera, Tamron 28-75/2.8 lens,  Kenko 1.5x TC, YN603N II Wireless Trigger, YN 560III Flash, Rogue Imaging Small Flash Bender.

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