Demo in Studio: Lots of Texture for the Lighting Class

This week I shot a demo for the lighting class to illustrate lighting to emphasize texture.  Their assignment is a solid textured object in which the texture is an important sales feature of the item they have chosen.  To show such lighting I could not think of anything I had that had more texture than some of the Indian beaded items I have such as my Shoshone moccasins and belt.  I also placed them on my Inuit Caribou mittens and added a knife sheath I made in my “Mountain Man” days.

The goal was not to make a stunning wall hanging still life but to make a tough textural tableau with the texture running in all directions.  That way we could really discuss lighting types and placement.  It also allowed me a chance to use the Rhinocam in the studio for the first time.  I normally would prefer to not try a first pass at some new piece of equipment in front of a class but, hey, what the heck.  The worse that could happen was a complete failure.

Well, no, the worst would be to manage to set fire to the studio but I did not expect that to be a risk so everything less was workable.  However to add some sport to it, I also told them I would I would shoot it so that I could drop in a different background to replace the studio light sweep table I set it on.

The first step was to create the composition.  Were this a real assignment I think fewer items – like ONE at a time – would be better, or make one of them the main item with the other items serving as props or “support” but that would have simplified the textural issues so I busied myself with busying up the composition.  Then I set the lights.

I used the following lights:

  1. Two undiffused strobes as main/key lights to accentuate the textures that were formed in different directions.
  2. A softbox accent from the opposite side to help separate the items from the darker background I intended to create.
  3. An undiffused light on the right side to bring out the texture in the fringe
  4. A softbox fill light close to the camera to raise the density of the shadows.
lighting plot/diagram for the demo.

lighting plot/diagram for the demo.

I used Photoshop to assemble the mosaic from the Rhinocam since that is the same progam the students would have to use.  It is less than ideal but it does work… sort of.  After trimming off the waste from a slight misalignment I had the following 317 Megabyte file.

Here is the original image as assembled from the Rhinocam.  Because I knew I would have lots of resolution to use I slightly overshot it to allow some final cropping.  Made from 6 frames with Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 150mm f4 using the Rhinocam adapter.

Here is the original image as assembled from the Rhinocam. Because I knew I would have lots of resolution to use I slightly overshot it to allow some final cropping. Made from 6 frames with Canon 5D MkII w/ Hasselblad Zeiss 150mm f4 using the Rhinocam adapter.

Then I cropped it for a final and edited the image using curves and some subtle burning and dodging.  This brought the file down to 173 Megabytes.

Cropped and edited using curves and some burning and dodging

Cropped and edited using curves and some burning and dodging

Now it was time to add a more interesting background.  I decided to do it in two steps.  The first was to create a rich brown gradient and cut out the white background from the  light sweep.  To save time, I simply allowed Photoshop to select the background and then erased it using a layer mask.  If this were a client’s paying gig I would have used one of the far better selection tools from Topaz or On One plugins.  But it is the concept I wanted to illustrate and I assumed some of the  students will not have the luxury of any thing other than Photoshop at school.  (Note: yes, Photoshop is capable of allowing me to use paths and other delicate selection methods to precisely mask such difficult places as the fur on the mittens or the foreground fringe, but it can be enormously time consuming and the ancillary plugins make it SOOOOO much faster and easier.)

Adding background step one: creating a rich brown gradient.

Adding background step one: creating a rich brown gradient.

Once the dark brown appeared in place of the pale white, the shot was instantly more visually interesting as the items now stood out from the background rather than blending into it and creating an overall flat feel.  But this was not how I visualized the final so I needed one more step.   I grabbed a texture sample from a rock face I shot near the Grand Canyon and used it as a texture screen over the gradient using the Overlay blend mode.  And that yielded this final…

Final version with rock texture background blended into the gradient.

Final version with rock texture background blended into the gradient.

This is a larger file so you can enlarge it full screen in a couple of clicks to see the detail better.   OK, now on to other stuff…  If we don’t get rained out (a high possibility according to the weathermen) I may get some good shooting in over the weekend.  I’ve got my fingers crossed…

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About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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