Photographing still life in studio – how to shoot reflective surfaces

Have you ever tried to shoot still life with bottles or any other glass object? If you did then you know that it is difficult. It is difficult because glass reflects bloody everything. Theoretically I knew that, but I totally forgot about it when I suddenly got the urge to shoot me some bottles 🙂

I realized that only after first few clicks of the shutter, when looking at the back of my camera I saw reflection of me, my camera, ceiling and most of other irrelevant stuff in my studio. Then I started thinking what can I do to eliminate all the reflections.

First thing I did was to turn off all ceiling lights, leaving only modeling lights from the strobes to light the studio. It helped, but I didn’t want the strobes to be reflected in the bottles either. My solution was to place main light under the table pointed at the background, so the main light itself wasn’t visible at all and the bottles were lit from behind. I still had to add some light from the front, and so I did.

In the photo below you can see the reflection of the front soft box ( I cleaned it a bit in post, but it is still visible). This photo is a composite, in which bottles were shot fist and then I shot two additional photos while holding the grapes with two fingers at each side of the bottles. Having camera on tripod all the images were aligned to begin with. Later I loaded them as layers in Photoshop, and masked out my hands from the grapes.

Still life with bottles and grapes

For the next image I didn’t want to have any reflections on the bottle and glass at all, but I still needed to light the vase from the front. Since the vase wasn’t transparent, when I only lit the scene from behind, it was almost totally black. Therefore, to create the image below I shot two photos – first only with back lighting, and the second with additional light from the high left. In Photoshop, again, I loaded the two images as layers into a single file, and used the bottles from the first image and vase from the second.

Still life with bottles

It took me a while to create the image below, and not due to technicalities. On the vast plains of the Internet I saw a few creative still life photos with pears, and felt like trying something creative with them myself. It turned out to be not simple at all (not that I thought it would)! At first I just tried to arrange pears and other items without any intention – just to make something nice. After about an hour I realized that it doesn’t work. Then I put everything aside, and just sat on the couch and thought about what I really wanted to create. I thought about what happened lately in my life and in the world, and little by little ideas started popping into my head and I ended up with the image below, which I call “Examination”

Examination

 The background texture was added later in Photoshop, if you were wondering 🙂

P. S. There is one really cool way to get rid of the reflections of your light sources in the bottles (or any reflective surface), but it requires additional equipment, part of which I didn’t have. You can buy sheets of polarizing gels and put them on your light sources. Also you’ll have to put a polarizing filter on your lens. Then by adjusting the polarizing filter on the lens you will be able to completely eliminate the reflections.

Your comments  and thoughts on this post and my works are very much appreciated, so don’t hesitate to write them in the comment section below !

Old Cars Show in Mornington

 

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition
A couple of weeks ago Ira and I visited a collectible cars show at the Mornington’s racecourse. There were lots of beautiful old cars and we had lots of fun.There were also quite a few photographers taking shots of these beauties. But from my photographic perspective, I didn’t want to simply photograph the cars as I am sure there are already many photos of each model that was showcased there.
So instead I tried to look at the event not as “this is a car show, so I am going to photograph cars” but more as “this is a social event featuring nice cars, so there will be people interacting with them, and I want to capture this interaction”. And even when I photographed only the cars I tried to convey how I see them. For example when shooting the b&w Jaguar in the photo above I tried to show the “facial expression” of that car which was kind of “right in your face” 🙂 Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition


We spent about one and a half hours at the show, and just when I thought that I’m done photographing, the car owners began starting up their cars and drive away – it was the end of that day. During the show the cars were standing unattended, while their owners were sitting somewhere in the shadow chatting and drinking coffee, so now it was a great opportunity for me to capture the cars together with their owners, and I tried to make the most of it.

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

 Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

 

From the technical side the biggest problem was the harsh sunlight, which created deep shadows and sharp transitions from light to shadow, so it was difficult to capture both the car and its surroundings and the driver sitting inside the car in the shadow. My solution to that problem was to shoot in RAW and slightly overexpose my photographs. This way in post processing I could lighten up the shadows and darken the highlights (the RAW format gives you a bit of freedom in correcting your exposure).

 

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

 

Hope you enjoyed the photos, and as always – you’re welcome to leave your “creative responses in the comment section below” (© Equals Three) 🙂

Mornington Racecourse Old Cars Exhibition

Portrait Studio Photo Shoot

Recently one of my friend’s friends, Renata, saw these portraits I shot about a  month ago, and liked them. So we decided to do a studio photo shoot with her. When I said “studio”, I meant a tiny studio that I put up in my living room. It consists of a black or white background, one light stand with Canon EX430 flash inside soft box, and one tripod converted to light stand with Yongnuo flash and white shoot-through umbrella.

Shooting in my home studio I am limited by the size of my living room, so I can’t use any focal length I want. The biggest zoom I can use is about 100mm. In that case I have to stand at the far end from the model, and still be able to shoot almost only head-shots.

The following photo was made using Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens. Even though when shooting studio portraits I usually use my soft box as the main light, in this photo my main light was the Youngnuo flash through white umbrella from the left, and I used my soft box as hair light from the top right and it also acted as a fill in light to soften the shadows.

I placed the lights at such angles so that almost no light would spill on the background as I wanted the background to remain black. It is intentional that the Renata’s dress is also black and looks only slightly lighter than the background – I wanted to make an emphasis on her face.

Canon 100mm f2.8 macro; Shot at f8, 1/200 sec | Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

Continuing the discussion regarding the photo above – shooting that portrait I looked for Renata’s natural expression. At first she was a bit constrained trying to pose for the camera, but then we started a conversation about all kinds of topics and she got more relaxed. At one point I put the camera down and we continued speaking about a particularly interesting subject for her, and I noticed that she  got completely relaxed. So I grabbed a camera and started shooting.  This is when I got the shot above.

Next photo is posed, of course. It was my idea to shoot Renata with a candle, but after trying everything I had in mind, I couldn’t make a single nice photo. Then I asked my model to do anything she liked with the candle and just watched and shot. After a while I saw her making this pose and thought – “this is what I was looking for!”, so I asked her to remain in that pose and shot several variations. The photo below is the one me and Renata liked the most .

Sigma 28mm f1.8; Shot at f5, 1/200 sec | Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

In the next photo, I wanted to try a bit more dramatic lighting with stronger shadows. One of my primary concerns was to make her left eye (the one to your right when looking at the photo) free of shadows coming from the nose. I wanted it to be as vivid and visible as the right eye, and still to have strong shadows. This involved moving the main light around the model until I found the desired angle. All my flashes were set to manual mode, so in order to achieve stronger lighting I just increased the power of the flash.

 

Sigma 28mm f1.8; Shot at f5, 1/200 sec | Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

One more aspect to think about is the flash recycle time. I use small strobes (Canon EX 430 and Yongnuo), which are powered by 4 AAA batteries. Using such strobes at full power means waiting two to five seconds between shots, loosing priceless facial expressions and body poses. So I never use my strobes at full power unless I absolutely have no choice. I usually don’t go above 1/4th of the full power and set ISO and f-stop accordingly (taking the DOF into account of course).

After getting a few decent portraits, which were the main goal of the photo shoot, we started to improvise. I particularly liked the shot with the sunglasses. I liked Renata’s expression in that one – it is radiant and tender at the same time. Of course I didn’t get this shot on the first try, but the final result is what counts, right? 🙂

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L; Shot at 24mm f2.8 1/200 sec | Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

The following photograph is my favorite. I love the dynamics of it. For this photo I had Renata stand facing the background and then turning swiftly around on my mark. I really wanted to catch that hair movement. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds because at each turn hair moves differently, and it doesn’t always look as nice as in the photo below. I probably did about 15 shots before making this one.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L; Shot at 42mm f4 1/200 sec | Click on the photo to enlarge.

 

I really enjoyed this photo shoot and I am pretty satisfied with the results. I find the background a bit boring, therefore thinking of my next photo shoot to be on-location somewhere.

 

I hope you found this article to be helpful and interesting, or at least one of these 🙂

 

Your comments / questions / suggestions are always appreciated!

Cheers,

Greg.

 

 

Flowers Macro Photography Tips

Sometimes I see a photograph, and I wonder how it was done, what tricks or special equipment (if at all) did the photographer use to achieve the result? In most cases there is  no way of asking him, and I have to guess and speculate on how it was done.

A few days ago I did a few flower macro shots, and posted one of them in a couple of forums. In the responses I’ve received I saw some questions as to how I did it, so I decided to write a post about it.

Flower. Macro Photography

  • I used Canon 100 mm f2.8 Macro lens, a light tent, and two flashes – the main one from the right side, and another flash from the left side. I set the second flash to be much weaker, so it would make the back side of the flower just a little brighter.
  • I didn’t want big depth of field so I set my aperture to f5. On the contrary, I wanted to be able to control what exactly will be in focus.
  • The shutter speed was 1/200 of a second, but it is not important in this case because I didn’t use ambient light – only strobes.
  • Since I had total control of my lighting, and I could set it to be as bright as I wanted to, I used ISO of 100, the lowest ISO on my Canon 40D. As you probably know, the lower your ISO setting, the less noise you’ll get in your photo.
  • Of course I used tripod. This is an important point. You might think that shooting at speed of 1/200sec doesn’t require the use of tripod, and under certain circumstances you might be right. For example when using wide angle lens with fairly closed aperture. But in my case I used telephoto lens (100mm) with f5, which means that even the slightest movement will shift the focus from where I want it to be to another random location. So, the conclusion is that in macro shots tripod is almost always an essential piece of equipment.

As you can see on the shot I sprayed the flower with water. Water drops are a very nice touch to many natural subjects, not only flowers. Sometimes photographers photograph the water drops on their subject in such a way that a reflection of something would be visible in the drops, and it makes for great images. In my case I wanted to achieve the exact opposite – I didn’t want any reflections in the water drops in order to focus the attention of the viewer on the flower, and to achieve that I photographed my flower in a white light tent.

And finally, the background. In the shot above and in one of additional examples from that photo-shoot below you will see that my background wasn’t plain white. But what was it? It is easy – I used one of my calendars with colorful photos as the background. When shooting macro, DOF is so tiny that a photograph placed 30 cm behind the subject becomes totally indistinguishable collection of colorful splashes, which makes for a nice background.

Below you can see a few more examples from that shoot

Flower. Macro Photography Flower. Macro Photography

Flower. Macro Photography >Flower. Macro Photography

I hope you learned something from my experience.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.

Cheers,
Greg.

P.S. For those of you who wonder, the flower’s name is Morning Glory

Night Photography With a Single Flash: Step by Step Guide

Imagine that you need to photograph a large dark space, like a cave, or a church, but you only have a single flash. Is it even possible?

Quite some time ago I saw in a photography magazine photo of a big beautiful cave, perfectly lit, all the beautiful stalactites perfectly visible, and I thought to myself – there is no way photographer could bring powerful studio lighting equipment down there!

Fortunately there was a brief description to this photo – photographer put his camera on tripod and set it to long exposure, then during the exposure time he ran around the cave with small strobe flash and flashed all the areas of the cave. “Simple and Genious” I thought to myself back then.

Genious? Sure. Simple? Well, not really.

Recently I decided to photograph the front of my sister’s house decorated with shiny Christmas lights. Yes they still haven’t took them off, because my three year old nephew likes to turn them on every night before he goes to sleep :).

In order for Christmas lights to be visible, I had to do that after dark, and I only had one flash (not that it matters but it was Canon 430 EX). So I decided to try the technique described above, and it turned out not as simple as I first thought it would.

I’d like to share with you the tips that I learned from this experience, hoping they will make it easier for you should you decide to use this technique. I will do this in the form of step-by-step instructions how to perform this kind of shoot.

Here we go:
1. Set your camera on a tripod and compose your shot.
2. Choose the desired f-stop (here your guide should be only your artistic intentions, and not exposure considerations).
3. Focus your camera where you need to, then switch to manual focus. The reason for switching to manual focus is that in the dark it is hard for automatic focus to work, so each time you’ll press the shutter it may take a long time for camera to focus if at all.
4. Look at the scene and decide which areas need to be lit and which don’t.
5. Set your flash power to about 1/8th of its max power.
6. Press the shutter, and run around the scene with a flash in your hand flashing all the areas that need light. Flash ONCE each area.
7. Take a look at the result, and go over all the areas that needed to be lit. If they are too dark, next time you’ll flash them twice, or increase the flash power. Using low flash power and flashing several times the same area gives you more versatility in case you need different areas to be lit diferently.
8. Repeat the steps 6 and 7 until you are satisfied with the result.

In addition to this process you also need to have in mind the following:

  • When flashing hold the flash pointed outwards from your body, and as far from you as possible so that no light will spill on you (otherwise “ghosts” of you will be visible in the image).
  • Always point the flash away from the camera, so that no direct light from the flash will hit the lens (otherwise you’ll see bright points of light all across the image).
  • Remember that the longer the exposure time, the more noise you’ll have in the photo. Try to complete the shot as quickly as possible, unless you want the noise for artistic purposes.

Here are a few examples of the house that I photographed:

Night Photography With a Single Flash



In the photo above, you can see that I deliberately flashed into the lens a couple of times to create lights in the tree. This is also a good example of what you’ll see in your image if you do it by chance.

And here is another example, this time without the lights, and with better lit right side.

Night Photography With a Single Flash



Feel free to ask questions and share your experiences in the comment section below.

Till the next time, take care!

Greg.