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.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! You do some really good work. I love the clean reflections you do.