Commercial Break: Demo for Lighting Class

We interrupt the Taos Trip series (there will be one more post — No. 7 — but all the images and narrative are not quite ready) to bring you a quick demo shot for the lighting class at City College.

It seemed like it might be instructive to have a student bring in a piece of jewelry for me to light “cold” and without being able to pre-plan how I would set up and do the shoot.  that way they could see the thought process for a shoot of this type.  To be honest the lazy side of me was hoping for something large and simple but just to be sure, I brought in the 5D MkII with the Sigma 50-500mm lens capable of 1:3 magnification.  Not truly macro (1:1) but able to get in pretty close and with that zoom range I hoped I was ready for anything.

And I almost was…

Angelica brought in an old art deco ring that was really very dainty and delicate.  I needed a true macro lens to do this right but, hey, here we were, students gathered around and it was too late to back out now.  Besides an important studio skill is being able to adjust when plans are run over by reality.

To buy some time to gather my thoughts I explained several ways to hold the ring upright and we ended up using the most common, a small dob of sculptor’s wax provided by a student.  I decided I would shoot it on the top of our portrait posing table since it had an interesting black plastic texture I hoped would compliment the texture of the decorations on the bezel and band near the stone.

I would have preferred it to be lower to allow the camera to look down on it more, but the top was stuck in a high position and rather than fight it with students gathered around I slightly turned the ring so the stone faced the camera a bit better.  Now to light it.

Just below is a lighting diagram of the studio set-up.  It is off a bit from reality since my main light, a small softbox, was placed over the ring, slightly forward and aimed back at the ring.  From the overhead view of the lighting plot, however, it would cover the ring so I moved it out front a little more in the plot.  I shot basically under the softbox.

lighting-diagram for ring demo for blog

I then placed accent lights on either side to rim light the ring and its design elements and used a snooted strobe from high and behind to create a pool of light around the ring.  All of these accent lights were at low power and pulled back to balance their un-modified reflectors with the output of the softbox and to create some specular light on the ring.

That looked pretty good but the front of the band was too dark so I added the fill light from the front, level with the ring, and aimed right at the ring.  It too had to be pulled back even at lowest power to avoid overpowering the softbox main light.

There is one “cheat” in the shot, necessitated by the reflective surface of the ring’s band as it curves inward past the mid point and reflects… the table top.  In the film days you would either change surfaces, rely on airbrushing, or paint the ring’s band.  But that was then and this is now…  Once the overall lighting was set and that shot taken, I slipped a sheet of paper onto the table and in under the ring then took a second identically set shot.  In post, I simply used the 2nd shot’s lighter lower band layered onto the main shot where that area was dark.

Final exposure was f16 @ 1/125 second at ISO 160 with Photogenic 320 W-S Studio Max monolights on an overhead grid.

Here is the camera shot with some vignetting to start making the ring stand out and the sculptors wax removed. (I grabbed the wrong RAW file and this one is a little soft but the final was not. When shooting I thought I had nudged the camera so took an “insurance” shot which is what was used for the final.)

Ring demo as shot (after removing the wax holding it up and adding some vignetting to the edges.

Ring demo as shot (after removing the wax holding it up and adding some vignetting to the edges.

BORING!  BBBOOORRRIIINNNGGG!  Worse, that “neat” texture I was relying on really conflicted with the tiny design elements on the ring, it made it hard to tell where the ring ended and the background began.   But there was no way to reshoot it now on a different surface.

However I did have all of thr elements I needed; they just needed some individual attention.  I decided the shot needed to be a little more dramatic (it is “art deco” after all) so started that effect with the surface pushed back tonally and blurred very slightly.  But it also needed the punch of a little color to emphasize the blue of the stone and make it a little less boringly monochromatic.

So with a little tweaking, here is the final.

Ring demo for blog

It shows what some simple tweaking can do when a shot is close but not quite “there.” However if I could do it over, as I tell me students to do, I’d add a reflective surface or softbox to the left of the ring to light up the edge of the band.

Could it have been done in a light tent?  Of course, but it would have been far less dramatic and for the art deco style ring I thought it called for some drama.

So that was my one shot for the week.  Oh well, it will hopefully be informative for the students watching the demo.  We will do a food demo next week then we are into final portfolio madness!!!

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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