Wild Week & Lighting Demo

San Diego — School has demanded my full attention over the past week or so with a few “brush fires” to put out or help put out.  Solving the repeatability issue by creating a dozen new classes, dealing with a teacher who feels it unnecessary to do what the class description requires, dealing with fall out from my own MAJOR screw up of double booking a Landscape class field trip and an Adobe event at school… whoa.  Enough.

Teachers will understand this: “teaching” is the easy part, it is all the peripheral stuff that makes it difficult.  I was bemoaning not shooting for a while but my lighting class came to the rescue since I needed to do a demo on Monday.

My next assignment for the Lighting class at City College is to shoot something solid and textured for a catalog.  This gave me a chance to do a demo of several things.  The first was the lighting itself designed to show off the shape, form, and texture that makes an item unique.  But then the idea of requiring an exposure blend of multiple shots and finally the use of text or copy in a layout arose during the shoot and edit.  (Technical data is at the end of this post.)

I have a couple of old Brownie cameras that seemed suitable for a “catalog” for camera collectors and besides, something interesting to set up and shoot.  The concept was for them to be in a pool of light so I sat them on a light sweep (a table with curved translucent white Plexiglas for a table top).

The lighting for this demo consisted of mostly hard light out of 7″ dish reflectors on the Photogenic monolights (monoblocs for those from the UK) to show that you do not have to have a pile of umbrellas and softboxes to make a shot.  In the old days all we had were Mole-Richardson Fresnel lights or maybe some large spun aluminum reflectors and had to learn to really control the light and use the environment to your advantage.

The main/Keylight came from the rear over the upsweep on the table and a little from screen right. This provided definition to the items.

Filling in the shadows created by the main light was accomplished using another light but aimed at the wall to bounce softly back on the set.

A third light aimed across the cameras from about the 8 O’Clock position and was feathered to provide another fill light by using the edge of the light pattern.  The angle also helped make the texture on the front of the cameras stand out a little better.

And finally a snoot on a light was placed behind the translucent Plexi of the table to provide the pool/vignette of light.  Here is a plot of light placement.

Lighting Plot for catalog cover demo

Lighting Plot for catalog cover demo

I shot vertically with the item in the middle of the frame to leave room for a catalog title, sub title and any other detailed information I later decided to add.  However. the shot properly exposing the cameras showed a flaw in the plan.  The angle of the main light was creating so much light on the table’s shiny surface bouncing straight into the camera that the entire background was going “blown out” white.  This would give me the chance to show the compositing solution that is so much easier in the digital world than it was with film.

Main shot with exposure for cameras but background blown out.

Main shot with exposure for cameras but background blown out.

When I was satisfied with the main shot’s staging and arrangement, I took the first shot.  Of course if I had wanted to drop the background this would be perfect, but it was not the concept I wanted to demonstrate.  So I then turned out all of the lights except the snooted light behind the sweep and made an exposure for that.

Second shot for the background lighting only.

Second shot for the background lighting only.

This gave me the background I wanted but the cameras were now in silhouette.  Photoshop to the rescue!  These two shots were composited using the exposures of the cameras from shot one and the background from shot two. Camera exposure was the same for both, only the lights being used changed.  The compositing was done by opening the background shot as a background or bottom layer, adding the camera exposure as a second layer over the background and then removing the blown out background from the camera exposure (#1) to reveal the darker vignetted background from that exposure (#2).

The editing was made a little more difficult because in all of the talking to students and handling the shots I had succeeded in unknowingly moving the camera ever so slightly but just enough that the shots were no longer in perfect alignment.  Plus I had purposefully not cleaned the cameras thinking the dust would make them look older.  Actually, when the shots were examined closely it looked more like I had shot just after an explosion in a dust spot factory so there was quite a bit of cleanup that would have been solved by cleaning the cameras before they were shot.

Because it was a shot of old antique cameras, a sepia toned image seemed appropriate although I left the gold on the shutter and name plaque of the foreground camera.

Composited shot of #1 for cameras and #2 for background.

Composited shot of #1 for cameras and #2 for background.

With the composited shot completed it was only a matter of choosing some type and dropping that in for the final creation of the “catalog” cover.  In this case for a company specializing in collections of old cameras.

Final cover shot with text.

Final cover shot with text.

And that was that.

Technical Data:

  • Shoot time:  From entering the studio to strike was about 50-60 minutes.
  • Lighting: 4 Photogenic 320 W-S monolights using three standard 7″ reflectors plus one snoot. 
  • Stage:  Large Light sweep/Light table with translucent white Plexiglas top.
  • Edit time: was roughly 2.5 hours using Photoshop CS5.
  • Camera:   Canon 5D MkII with a 70-200mm f4 lens at roughly 100mm and f16.8

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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