Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Photos with reflections

When taking photos for a client its nice to occasionally have full creative control. Unfortunately a great number of companies like to have a standard size & orientation pure white web image to advertise their products. This is great if you want to be the same as everyone else but when it comes to standing out from the crowd a little creativity can speak volumes. If your client is open to new ideas, I say jump at the change to suggest them. It will make your job as a photographer a whole lot more interesting.

I recently was commissioned to take product photos for a client, we did the usual white background web style images. However I overheard them talking about new advertising strategies and I suggested perhaps a change in image style for their website. Not a complete overall just a few extra images of perhaps their best selling products. They were a bit unsure to begin with but I took a few sample images using reflections and they loved the result.

Equipment needed:
A reflective surface such as a piece or clear colourless Perspex
An off camera flashgun
A flashgun sync cord or wireless transmitter
2 x A4 pieces of white card for small items or A3 for larger items
A Key light such as a 5000-5500k daylight temp head and soft box

How to:
When experimenting in this technique for the first time it is best to use a product / item that is not very reflective. It is easier to control the lighting without the subject itself being reflective. A piece of fruit such as an orange or banana or even something like a matchbox is a good product to start with.

Dependant on your setup you can have a light underneath the Perspex. This should be diffused light through a soft box for example. However this night should not be a strong light as it can detract from the reflection. I would advise to start with setting up your piece of white card down on a flat surface and putting the Perspex evenly on top of it. The white card under the Perspex will get light from your key light and flashgun so it is not a necessity to light the Perspex from underneath.

Next set up a piece of card standing up directly behind the Perspex at a 90 degree angle. You may need to lean something behind the card to keep it upright! This is your background and needs to be straight and even.

Key Light
What you need to do next is setup your key light. This will add lighting depth to your product. You have several options here and they are dependant on what outcome you are trying to achieve. Using a bare bulb / bulb with reflector dish will cause harsher shadows but will make the edges sharper. Using a soft box will give more even lighting, less harsh shadows and softer edges. It’s your choice but I would advise to try several different methods so you can learn what each setup can do for you. Where you put the key light is up to you. Try either directly above the product or off to one side. Directly above will give very even light and minimal shadows (best for reflective products such as shiny metal). Off to one side will create longer shadows and more depth to the product as one side will be brighter than the other. Again play around with this and take note as to what setup creates what sort of image.

The Flashgun
Lastly its time to setup your flashgun. What you need to do is have the flash fire on the background card but not the product itself. First position your product on the Perspex. Now get low down with your eyes and look across the Perspex from a low angle. You should be able to see a reflection of the background card on the Perspex. This is your usable shooting area. (If you cannot see the reflection of the card, turn on your key light or shine a light on to the background card as a test). Now position your product as close to you or the front edge of the card as your shooting area allows. You need a nice gap between the product and the background. Now put your flashgun on the Perspex standing up off to one side halfway between the product and the background. Then angle the flash head to the centre of the card. If set up correctly this should light up the background but not affect your product.

Top Tip
If for whatever reason you are getting flash spill light on your product there are two ways to reduce it. Firstly move the flash closer to the background (this may cause some of the background not to be illuminated) or secondly you can use what is know as a snoot. Easily made from some card or paper. Wrap an a5 size piece of card around the flash head in to a cylindrical shape. Then tape the card edges so it stays in shape. Cut the overall length to 10cm. I use one 10cm one and have one longer 15cm one in case I need to move the flashgun close to the product or the front of the card but do not wish the product to get any light from the flash.

Settings for Camera and Flashgun
Ideally you need a high f/number for sharpness and detail but as I do not know what lighting / flashgun combination you are using I will give you the settings I used. I had a simple 5500k bulb above the product through a soft box and a sigma super 530 flashgun.

Here if you have a light meter it will make your life easier. If you do then the thing to remember is that for your background to be pure white it needs to be 2 stops brighter than your product. So start with your flash turned off and turn on your key light. Measure the light coming on to the subject. Then turn your flash on and set it to 1/1 or full power. Measure the light from the backgrounds position. Then adjust the flash settings from 1/1 down to the level 2 stops brighter than the subject. Example: Subject light is ½ second at f/4 the background needs to be f/8.

If you do not have a light meter then it’s a bit trial and error. Use your camera in manual to see what settings you need to get a good exposure. Then set the flash off at 1/1 and see how the photo comes out. It will most likely be too bright so keep adjusting it down until the background is pure white and the subject is also well lit. If the background is bright in the centre but fades to a grey colour closer to the edges try moving the flash further away from the background card.

The perfect settings I found for me were:

Camera (in manual):
Manual focus

Flash: (in manual)
1/4 - 1/8 power.

Try different angles with your camera and always remember to keep in mind the usable shooting area. You will find that some angles work better than others. Once you have found what works for you make a note of the lighting setup including angles and flash / camera settings for future reference.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Events and Exhibition Photography

If you have ever been asked to cover an exhibition or show I wouldn’t blame anyone to in waning to turn it down. Unlike portrait or product photography you have virtually no control on the subject, lighting or the crowds bumping in to you!

At most indoor exhibitions you are required to obtain a press pass, not always easy but it does come with its advantages. I recently covered Crufts 2011 which was a big challenge.
Not only because tripods were not allowed and the lighting was awful but because trying to get images in crowds that are constantly bumping in to you is not easy!

My first piece of advice would be to arrive early before any of the crowds arrive of at least before the bulk of the crowds roll in. Scope out the main areas where you will taking photos for lighting and white balance as well as potential access issues due the impending crowds. Either note down the settings you need or as I do use a small memory card as my white balance info on it already taken by you from test shots. That way when you go to take your photos later in the day you will be setup in no time!

So camera settings. Most exhibition halls will have poor and random lighting. A flash gun is an absolute must. If you are taking photos of subjects that move quickly or you can potentially stumble on TV interviews etc use high speed sync flash and free off a high number of images to ensure you will get some keepers. You may want to consider a fairly low f. number and maybe even bumping up your ISO if conditions are really bad.

Unfortunately at exhibitions and shows large crowds are almost guaranteed. This makes getting the right shot pretty challenging at times. Having a lens that allows you to keep more of a distance from you subject can be beneficial as you can find a spot that helps you get less involved with the crowds. Sometimes though you need to get up close and use the advantages of our flash so you really have to stand your ground and just go for it. Be prepared for the odd idiot to bump in to you, just be committed on the shot and fire off some quick images to ensure you get the shots required.

The best piece of advice I can give is keep mobile, photograph anything interesting and talk to everyone. You never know what shots you will end up with!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

How to photograph a splash of water

High speed Photography - Water Droplet

Everyone has come across something and at some point had that ‘how did they do that’ question in their mind. Whether you are a photographer, artist or just someone who appreciates unusual images / objects. Needing to know how something is created is often what drives us to learn new skills or improve on old ones. Whether it’s a new song on the radio that you just can’t wait to get home and try and work out on your guitar or an amazing image that you just can’t get your head around.

I have to admit with the internet, video sites and blogs available, discovering secrets to new techniques and ‘how to’ guides is incredibly easy. In this blog I reveal how to achieve an amazing and simple water splash image using basic props and high speed photography.

Firstly you will need the following things:

  • DSLR camera
  • Off camera flash gun with sync trigger
  • A tripod
  • An elastic band
  • A biro pen
  • Remote release cable / camera with remote of timer
  • Macro lens preferable but it can be achieved with a 18-55 or equivalent lens
  • Paint tray or dark plastic tub of the equivalent size
  • Sandwich bag / plastic bag
  • A stand and boom arm or anything that you can rig up that will hold a bag full of water still approx 4-5 ft off the ground.
  • A white piece of matt card
  • A towel!

To start with the most important piece of equipment above is the towel. You may think I’m going mad but trust me grab a hand towel or kitchen towel. You will be dealing with water and electronic equipment which don’t mix! If you accidently spill water on your equipment its good to be prepared trust me!

The setup
1. What you need to set up first is somewhere to have your paint tray / tub to sit. A table or sturdy workmate is more than sufficient.
2. Next get your paint tray and fill it 2/3 full of water.
3. Attach the white card to the paint tray by using either tape or sandwiching the card between the tray and another heavy object. Attach the card in portrait orientation to the paint tray. You want the paint tray facing you length ways with the card attached to the back of the tray. This enables you to have the maximum amount of water between you and the card for reflections.
4. Next get your plastic bag. (Usually a small sealable sandwich bag is a good size) and fill it 2/3 full with water. Seal it and tie an elastic band round it.
5. Set up your boom arm 2 – 3 feet above the paint tray that’s now full of water. Attach the water bag to it with the elastic band. Make sure everything is stable and not going to fall over!
6. Setup your flash gun to the left or right hand side of the card. What you want to do is have the flash gun fire on to the card only. Not in the water. To stop any stray light trial moving the flash further forwards and further back or further up and down. If you get too much spill light in to the water try using a home made snoot. (Piece of card made in to a cylinder shape and slid over the flash head).
7. Almost there…..Setup your camera on its tripod and have it looking slightly down in to the water. The distance between the tray any you camera really depends on what lens you have. Set it up initially so that you can see all the water and just the edges of the tray.

Camera Settings

Flash 1/16
Aperture :F8
Shutter speed : 250/1
Auto White Balance

These are the optimum settings so that you get a nice bright reflection but don’t over expose and get a washed out image. However do experiment with the shutter and flash settings to find the best effect for you. Take some test images and see how the lighting is before you start the water dripping.

If you are happy with what you see then pierce the plastic bag with a pin. You will find that a steady flow of drops come out and 99% of the time hit the same spot in the water tray. This is very important as it will enable you to get the shot you want and keep it in focus.

8. Ok so the water is dripping in the same spot and you need to focus in. You will need to switch to manual focus as auto focus will not be able to cope no matter what camera / lens u have. The secret to focusing on the water droplet is a biro pen!
What you need to do is put the biro in to the water where the drip is entering the water. I have found that a biro with writing on it helps as you can manually focus on the letter where the drip lands. Once you have focused remove the biro and allow the water to settle for a few moments.

NOTE: Try focusing with the biro as vertical as possible, if you position the pen almost flat when you focus then the splash that often bounces out of the water will not be in focus!

Then start taking photos. You will find that if you watch the drip fall and release the shutter a split second after it falls then you will catch the drip entering / bouncing out of the water. Practise makes perfect!

The most appealing photos not only show the splash but a few ripples too. You may have to move your camera or zoom in / out to achieve this. Also try photos from a slightly higher angle and slightly lower angle. You will find what works best for you. However remember that you will need to re-focus every time you move anything!

Once you have got some shots that are keepers and have perfected the technique there are a number of things that you can try to add to the cool effect that you can already create.

Firstly try changing the white balance to tungsten. This will give you photos a very natural looking blue hue.

Secondly (once restoring the WB to AWB) try changing the colour of the background card. Why not try, red or yellow or even a nice pattern of mixed colours?

I hope you have found this blog useful, please leave me any comments or questions at