Live-blogging a Product Photography Shoot

I’ve got an all day product photography shoot today, shooting high end glassware and cookware for Juniper Homes. I thought it might be fun to document the whole shoot, and, decisive guy that I am, that’s what I’m going to do. When I refer to degrees and such, it’s how I think about lighting angles. Picture a circle around the subject that goes through the camera. The camera marks 0 degrees. so a light at 90 degrees right is on the same plane as the subject, camera right.

9:15

Got everything hooked up. I will be shooting with my camera tethered to my laptop, dumping raw files straight into lightroom. I’ll also be controlling my camera’s shutter and exposure settings with EOS utility. So, my camera will sit on the tripod the whole time, and I will control it from my laptop, based on the live results I get from lightroom. Slick. I only ever need to look through the viewfinder when I need to move my tripod. I am using a Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens throughout the whole shoot that I rented from PPR Atlanta.

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Here are some shots of my initial set up in the morning. I have a collapsible black reflector mounted on a set of tripod legs. This will be my drop-in black background. I have a few strobes set up with snoots and grids, all homemade. These will rotate in and out based on the setup. My biggest light, the JTL versalight 160 (pfeh), is clamped to a post I have mounted to my ceiling (beginnings of my overhead truss system) will be dialed up to full power (again, pfeh) throughout the whole shoot. That full power will get me f/11 at 200iso, and the white backdrop will just barely not be clipped off the top of my histogram in lightroom. When I am shooting on white, I will have this light pointed at the backdrop, where it will kick back through my glassware for a nice, healthy glow. When I am shooting on black, this will swivel around away from the backdrop and down toward the subject at about a 45 degree angle. This will give me some of the backlighting that the white backdrop gave me, as well as some specular reflections.

Speaking of specular reflections, we are shooting metal and glass today, so that is pretty much the name of the game. As I go through the shoot, I will illustrate what each light is bringing to the party. When you’ve got hard reflections to deal with, sometimes a nice light can do more harm than good.

Once the client arrives, the first thing we have to do is get the product into the studio, and start sorting according to lighting setup. We’re going to be shooting basically everything on white, with a few special items to be shot on black. Client is going to sort the product while I get my metering tweaked in. We’re starting with glass.

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Here are our cleaning supplies. We are going to use them to keep our glass looking immaculate. Dusting is way easier pre-shoot than in photoshop (especially since I hope to do about 95% of the processing in lightroom!) We’ve got compressed air, monitor wipes (these can leave fibers behind, but are great on spots and streaks), and trader joe’s multipurpose cleaner. I love this stuff. It is remarkable for glass, and doesn’t contain any pollutants! The mitts you see are microfiber dusting gloves. Today, they are going to be used to transport glass from the staging area to the shooting area. Swiffer clothes (for dust) and microfiber clothes (for polishing) as well as optical microfiber clothes (for super polishing). A lot of this is just an assortment I grabbed. We will see what is truly useful as the day goes on.

11:30

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We’ve got product! Getting started on lighting tweaking.

12:41

Got the lighting set and the product sorted. Working through the glassware now. Showed Christopher, the client onsite, a few example shots, shown below. These represent slight lighting variations. The first shot is just the softbox on the backdrop, nice clean sillhouette. Second shot adds a snooted nikon sb-26 (set to 1/32) about 45 degrees above and behind the subject, camera right. The third shot adds another sb-26 that matches the first on camera left.

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We’re going with option two, with a few catchlights, because the 2nd strobe adds too much ‘interference’ (as i like to think of it) in the middle of the glass. Here are a few shots we’ve done so far.

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Keeping glass clean with compressed air, microfiber + trader joe’s stuff for getting gunk off, and the optical cloth for final polishing. So far, no dust.

3:45

Had lunch, walked through a few images with Christopher, who is pleased, so far! That’s good. I’ve moved on to the opaque stuff, and changed my lighting setup for the new products. We’re going for mostly wrapped, mostly hard light. From camera right, I have a gridded sb-28 about 90 degrees right, 15 degrees up, 1ft from the subject, at 1/32. 5 feet from the subject, at 45 degrees right and up, I have a bare sb-26 at 1/32. 4 feet away, 75 degrees right, 15 degrees up, I have another sb-26 at 1/8 through a white umbrella.

8:00

Slow going through each product, since this stuff is far less uniform than glassware was. My wrapped light scheme worked very well, because it was versatile. The best way to trouble shoot funky lighting is to turn your lights on one at a time, and see what each is doing. For each different product type today, I had to ‘rebuild’ my lighting. I didn’t move lights very much, except perhaps my grid as an accent light. I mostly had to adjust angles, and turn off a light or two from time to time. I will post some examples here shortly. I am shutting down production for the day. See you tomorrow.

Day 2
8:30am

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Here are some shots from yesterday. I’m pleased! An assistant would have been very useful yesterday. Next time, I am going to build that into the invoice. I am also going to do some looking into propping things up. The one thing that really kicked my butt yesterday was getting the product at nice angles, without any obvious or ugly support. Shooting continues today, so we’ll see what happens. Today I will be finishing up a few smaller items: cake pans, a coffee press and some kitchen tools, followed by a few large appliances and then some more glass decanters that Christopher is bringing over today. That should be the end of the whole product line shot on white.

We’ve flagged a few products for ‘special attention’, as in extra detail shots, multi-item shots, or especially sexy shots. I’ve got this awesome macro lens and some really great glassware, so I intend to really knock some dingers right out of the park.

1:15

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Still working on shooting appliances. Slow going, but the good news is that I am getting some great shots and the client is pleased. I’ve posted the setup shots for the Beertender to illustrate what a pain in the butt chrome is. I love it, because chrome doesn’t leave you any room for mistakes. The beertender has a big rounded chrome section right down the center. From the setup shots, you can see that I have taken my white paper backdrop and run it down in front of the subject, and then back up again, where it is attached to the roof. I have cut a hole in the paper, and I am shooting through that. This white paper will give me a big, smooth broad specular reflection in the front of this unitasker.

I am lighting the backdrop with an sb-26 set to 1/8 power. I am also underlighting the subject with another sb-26. They are catty-cornered like that so they don’t cast shadows of each other, which would then show up in my reflections. No chance to be sloppy with chrome. I have a light back and behind the subject pointed over it, higher on the backdrop. Its purpose is to provide some catchlights higher on the subject.

Saturday Morning

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Shot more on Friday, finishing up the last of the appliances, and starting on the secondary shots for some items. Sorry I didn’t blog it, but I was very tired, and the client was onsite for most of the day. The secondary stuff is basically cool, sexy shots of certain products, like the waterford crystal. I was really looking forward to this part of the shoot. If you know my architecture work, you know that I have a geometry fetish (I even married a mathematician!). I was really excited to approach this glassware with an architectural eye.

Lighting the glass was really, really easy. I swiveled my backdrop light (the jtl softbox) around and dialed it way down. It was lighting the glass above and from behind with smooth light. Then, I would add 2 gridded sb-28’s about 15 degrees above and behind the subject. Sometimes I would use one, sometimes two. Sometimes I would use one, and use the other in a snoot, straight down on the subject. The trick with etched glass is to use very tight, controlled light. A little will go a very long way. Most of the time, I was shooting at iso200, f/18, 160th of a second, and my strobes were set to 1/32 THROUGH a grid. That is almost nothing. My lights had plenty of headroom, powerwise, so I was able to get up to f/32 for some stuff later on with ease.

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I am really happy with these two shots. Lit with 2 sb-26’s, one gelled full CTB camera left, and one gelled red camera right, each through a sheet of clear coroplast. Soft box high and behind and sb-28 bare and low, provide edge definition. Tried it without the softbox. didn’t like it.

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I love this Riedel decanter. Lit with a gridded sb-26 (1/8) behind the subject, gelled full CTO, and with a snooted sb-26 (1/32) from above, and again the softbox above and behind. The star thing is the decanter’s stopper, straight down, at f/32. Crazy. Lit with a gridded sb-26 off to the side. In fact, I am just going to post the rest of the series. Assume that everything is lit with one or two gridded sb-26s, on very low power, a little behind and above the subjects. Easy peasy, lemon Squeezey!

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  1. Wow, talk about a shoot you have going there. Quite impressive.

  2. Hi awesome photographs love what you have done, its a great inspiration for my own work…

    cheers Rob

    http://www.takemyphotograph.com

  3. Great wrap up and really nice photos. Would you mind if I emailed you with questions on how I can reproduce your results with minor differences?

  4. Really learned alot, thanks for your post bro!
    jack.

  5. Cleaning products a must! Certainly with that much glass/silver.

    A pain but saves time in the long run.




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