Archive for the ‘Equipment’ Category

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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This summer, my wife Gretchen and I moved out of our one bedroom apartment into our 3 bedroom house. Naturally, we are excited to have the extra bedrooms for our guests and my office, the back yard for the dogs, and the elbow room we sorely lacked. For my career thus far, I have done 100% of my shooting ‘on location’. This is because I don’t own a studio, and I had no room to set up. All of my equipment was stored in a rolling container that lived in my trunk.

Our new house, though, has a garage. In exchange for the linen closet, which is now known as Gretchen’s Shoe Closet, I have been given full reign over the garage, and am free to do with it as I see fit. This is awesome. It’s certainly not perfect, but you know what? It’s mine. I’m very pumped to have a stable studio environment where I can work and experiment easily. All the challenges and surprises of a location shoot are now an *option*.

So, here, with illustrations, is my hot-rod home studio. Let’s start by looking at the space, so you can see what I have to work with. Here is a shot of the studio from outside looking in.
wide studio shot on flickr

Be sure to look at the rest in the stream, too, there are a lot of descriptions there that I do not cover here.

The total space is about 16 feet wide by 20 feet long by 8 feet tall. The height is a real issue in here, and I’ll explain why later. The walls and ceilings are painted white.

I have only two outlets in the whole garage, and one of them is on the ceiling, running the garage door opener. This presents a bit of a problem, because I have a lot of things to be plugged in: fans, lights, laptop, speakers, flash battery charger, camera batter charger. I am afraid of blowing a fuse if I make some power-strip fractal pattern in order to get the number of outlets I need to keep my fans blowing, my lights lit, my batteries charging and my laptop and speakers working. I do use two power strips here, and I make sure to unplug my batter chargers when I am shooting to reduce the strain.

Another big concern I have in the garage is the HEAT. Granted, it is August in Georgia. Luckily, summer is almost over, so the problem will solve itself shortly (until next year, when I may have a better idea). I am less concerned about heating in the winter than I am about cooling in the summer.

The height issue is a doozy for a few reasons:

I mentioned that the ceiling and walls are all white. The tight quarters means that any stray light gets bounced around quite a bit, making it difficult to restrict light coming from a direction opposite one of my walls or ceiling. This can be a good thing, too. Whenever a big, soft light is needed, I can just bounce it off the ceiling or wall to create a giant, soft light source. Secondly, a low ceiling means it is difficult to have a light positioned above me subject. Short of knocking holes in the ceiling, there’s not much I can do to work around this.

To help with both of these issues, I am currently installing an overhead truss system made from leftover PVC parts from my DIY Art Fair Booth, version 0. You can read more about it on flickr, and on the post I write when I am done building it.

I drilled holes through PVC end caps, and I am drilling through them into the overhead studs in the ceiling to provide a strong support for lights and other equipment. By varying the length of the ‘spacer’ pieces between the end caps and the truss rail, I can vary the height of my mounted equipment. The real beauty of my truss system is the total lack of footprint for my lights. I mentioned earlier that there is an outlet on the ceiling, so the whole system floats independently overhead. Since I don’t own any boom stands, it’s been impossible to get a light anywhere near over a subject’s head (barring the use of a lightstick, naturally). My trusses make this easy and painless. Besides hanging lights, I can also use the truss system to hang sheets of black fabric to block undesirable light spillage/reflections from ceiling and walls when they occur.

I am also proud of my backdrop system, which is almost identical to this one that showed up in my google reader recently. 2 eye hooks, mounted to studs in the ceiling provide the support for my backdrop pole (made of PVC, which sags at this length, soon to be replaced with steel conduit, which doesn’t) which clips to two pulleys with carabiners hooked to 2 more eyehooks drilled into my backdrop pole. Each backdrop has its own pole. To change them out, I just wrap the backdrop around the pole, unclick the carabiners from the eyehooks on the backdrop pole, store it and replace it by clicking in the new backdrop pole and raising it back up. Takes about 2 minutes. His design and mine are a little different. I like his better, but not enough to justify the cost and effort of changing mine, which is perfectly serviceable. He uses a double pulley on one side to make the tension even, and I use two single pulleys and gently hold the nearest end of the backdrop pole as I raise and lower it. Instead of his $50 auto-clicking sailing doohickey, I just use a regular boat-dock cleat to tie off the rope. This system works great for seamless paper and cloth backdrops.

I am currently working on a second backdrop system altogether for other surfaces. I haven’t built it yet, so I’m not yet sure how it will stand the test of use. The idea is to have large wall-mounted hooks from which I can mount a piece of sheet rock. The whole system will hang behind my cloth backdrop to save on space. I can cover it with funky wall-paper, paint it different colors and finishes (remember this from strobist?), hang fake brick on it for an urban look, or spraypaint graffiti on said fake brick for an ever more urban look! You get the idea. Like I said, I haven’t worked out the details of the design, yet. Once I’m done hanging my trusses I will tackle this engineering problem.

Finally, I want the space to be nice. Just because I’m shooting in my garage doesn’t mean I can’t have a pleasing and comfortable environment for my subjects and clients. To this end, I am working on keeping the area clean, dust and cobweb free, improving the lighting and decor, and having plenty of comfortable seating available. To make the garage a more palatable location, I plan to install a sliding curtain down the far left wall to hide our recycling and trash.

Eventually, I think I will stream images as they are shot right to my TV in my living room so my guests can relax in an area that is already comfortable and well-decorated (if I do say so myself) and still keep tabs on the goings-on in the studio.

Anyway, that has to be all for now. I spent a few days on this post, and I need it to be done so I can start the next. toodles.

First of all, sorry for the lack of actual photos in this post. I didn’t document my assembly thus far, but I assure you that you will see the final version when it comes together in the very near future. In the meantime, my ‘diagrams’ will have to suffice. My current design is quite different from what I initially planned. This post will document the evolution of my art fair booth’s design. I’ll describe my design goals, materials used, and explain the problems I faced and how I addressed them. I truly enjoy DIY projects like this. I enjoy the problem analysis, the process of designing a rough concept and distillation into a final product. I kind of have a physics fetish, if you can imagine such a thing. My father in law, Perry Deutsch, is a very skilled carpenter and engineer, and I tapped his encyclopedic knowledge throughout most of this project.

Sometimes I think I’m in photography so I can feed my tinkering habit. In any case, here we go.

Design Goals:

Before I start on any DIY project, I like to set aside some time to decide what features my design should have. In this case, I wanted my booth to:

Break Down Compactly:

I don’t own a truck. Most of the time, I travel in my Honda Civic, and if I need more space, I take my wife’s Toyota Scion XB, which can haul quite a bit, but the length of the car prohibits my having any parts longer than 5″.

Assemble Easily:

You usually have to set up the morning of an art fair, and you don’t have a lot of time to dicker around with instructions and proprietary parts. I will stick with universally standardized materials.

Prints mount easily:

I display a large number of very small prints, so it must be dirt simple to hang prints and have them stay put.

Adjust to Different Dimensions:

The dimensions provided for your booth space at various art fairs are far from universal. There is a great deal of variety. Most I’ve seen so far are in the 8×10, 10×10 or 10×12 range. I need to be able to easily reformulate my booth to accommodate these changing conditions.

Initial Concept:

With these design principles, I started drawing up my first version. I designed a 10x10x10 square frame made of 5′ lengths of 1.5″ PVC. I started with PVC because it addressed all of my design concerns: easy assembly, adjustability, and small break-down. This choice was ultimately a bad one, as you will see further down as I refined my design.

We’ll call this initial design version 0.

Imagine a cube. The front, top and bottom are open, as they are the opening, ceiling and floor, respectively. The 3 remaining surfaces would be reinforced internally with a cross-shaped pattern. See the diagram below:

I definitely did not slap this together in 10 minutes in photoshop.

Totally not slapped together in photoshop.

With the frame designed, I then tackled the problem of hanging my prints. I needed surface area in order to hang my print mosaics, but I needed the material to address all of my design goals. I decided on 11 foot lengths of dark grey industrial carpeting, a durable, fuzzy-velcro like material. I would mount the carpet to the frame by installing grommets into the material and wrapping it around the top and bottom edges of the 10′ tall frame, leaving 6″ of tail on each end. Bungee cords run from the grommets on one edge to the other would provide the tension to keep my carpet in place. I lined the backs of my frames with hook velcro (I happened to have a ton of it around), which attaches strongly to the carpet.

This design looked great because it solved all my problems, and I could get the whole thing built for about $300. Not bad!

Problems:

The corner PVC connector piece, the one that links the ‘planes’ to each other, does not exist.

10 foot tall walls are extremely unstable, and far too tall to be useful.

My bungee cords could not stretch the 9 feet necessary to reach from one end of the carpet to the other.

Version 0.5:

Use long bolts through the vertical PVC sections and hand-twistable nuts to attach planes to each-other. I cut some PVC sections down from 5′ to 4′. I lost some of the universality of my parts, but 10′ walls were just untenable. This also solved my bungee cord problem, because my 11′ carpet now wraps around the 8′ wall with a 1.5′ tail on each side. My bungee cords only need to stretch 5′ now, which is about perfect for their tension. At this point, I am able to assemble my booth and stand it up, which revealed more serious issues.

Problems:

The PVC is still too flexible. Whole structure sags inwardly.

The carpet is very heavy. It causes significant strain on the structure, causing more leaning.

The carpet also makes the structure very vulnerable to wind. I have 3 sides of my surface covered with this material, a total of 320 square feet of material. If a strong wind picks up, I basically have a 320 square foot sail. Without going into too much math, if a stiff wind picks up, I am in big trouble.

Version .75

I abandoned using the carpet and went back to square one in terms of mounting my prints. Perry pointed me in the direction of this stuff. If you can’t tell exactly what it is from the website, go to your local big box superstore, go to the covered garden section and look up. It’s that dark mesh stuff. It’s cheap, light, durable, you can buy it in variable light densities, and wind passes through it exerting very little force. This stuff is great. Velcro doesn’t stick to it, though. So, I rethought my system for mounting the frames, and settled on rare earth magnets, which are extremely powerful for their size. I could glue them to the corners of my frames, and stick them to other magnets on the opposite side of my mounting material and once again have a mounting system that is easy, durable and strong.

To try and deal with the internal sagging of the structure, Perry and I drilled hooks into the corner pieces of our PVC frames, to attach adjustable tension cables. A tension cable is like the string on a bow. Instead of pulling a straight piece of material into something curved, I tried using them to make my sagging walls straight. The tension cables would pull together the top front and bottom rear corners of my side walls. Since these two corners are linked with a cross beam, the opposite forces pulled against each other, stabilizing the whole structure. This worked, but not as well as I need it to be. The structural problems of the PVC were becoming an unsolvable issue. At this point, I decided to abandon the PVC design altogether, and start fresh from square one, with updated design goals and materials.

When DIY projects go wrong, repurpose!

Even though this DIY project was a bust, I’ve held on to my materials, and am repurposing a great deal of my PVC into an overhead truss system for mounting lights and such for my studio space. I will be building that this weekend, so expect a more detailed post on that coming soon. The thing to take away from this post is that when you’re designing something from scratch, you have to expect unforeseen issues, and always be prepared to approach your process without emotion or attachment. Sometimes solving one problem can create several others. Make sure that you are always making progress towards your goal.

Stay tuned for version 1, coming soon. I’m through the design phase and should start assembly soon. This time with pictures.

Aug. 19, 1839: Photography Goes Open Source.

Testing out the ‘Press This’ button. Expect to see more, shorter posts amongst the long-winded diatribes I usually post.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I won’t make excuses, so let’s get in to it:

Props go to my wife for this one. The woman is a junkie for the dollar store. Anything that costs a dollar is a good deal as far as she’s concerned. Mostly it’s crap, but sometimes she gets something actually worth a dollar. And then sometimes she gets something that worth more than a dollar.

I immediately knew it was one of those special times when she showed me this:

one dollar kick light stand

It’s a little mini tripod! She saw it and knew that I would find something far more useful than it’s intended purpose. And she was right! I immediately ran and got one of my cold shoe cajiggers that come with those strobist umbrella adapters and screwed it on:

one dollar kick light stand cold shoe

And, hey! We’ve got a little light stand!

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This thing makes for a perfect kick light. A kick light is basically a low backlight. David Hobby once suggested using a tennis shoe for this purpose, but that’s a little more ghetto than I would like to be. It’s only a dollar, it’s totally stable, and it looks like real equipment!

How’s it look when you use it?

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Like that! Here is my dog Annie, lit by daylight with the $1 kick light back and behind. Notice the dramatic rim light. ooo, ahh. So, keep your eyes peeled, and when you see one of these crappy little tripods, pick one up. Because this little stand doesn’t just kick light, it also kicks ass.