Monday, December 10, 2018

Synergy II

Normally I eschew discussion of technique because, honestly, I am not a brilliant technician. I muddle my way through things.

But, here's an example of some ideas colliding in my brain.

A common thing that happens on the Internet where n00bs appear is that a n00b shows up with a need to take some photographs of products. His girlfriend is making artisanal crack pipes or something, and he has foolishly agreed to do her web site. He's got some setup and he's not happy with the results.

At some point some lighting hero will point him to a book or two, to the strobist web site, and someone will explain that you can't do product photography with continuous lights, you need to use strobes, because you need power to freeze that stationary crack pipe apparently.

Another pretty common problem that arises for n00bs as well as not-so-n00bs is shooting glass or reflective objects because, well, the reflections. This is legit hard, because you have to manage the reflections and not get a picture of your camera and a bunch of lights. You end up encasing everything in black material, and then using strip lighting or whatever to try to get highlights that reveal shape, and then you have to play games so your strip lights or reflectors don't end up reflected obviously, and then there's your camera reflected there too, arrrg.

So, obviously, anyone who isn't an idiot knows you can shoot product with continuous lighting, in fact in damn near total darkness if you have a tripod. Products don't move. You just have to use very long exposures. At this point, it popped into my head that you could use light painting methods to make the problems of shooting glass a lot easier. When you move the light around, it's not going to turn up as a sharp reflection of a light, it's just going to be a highlight; and if the room is basically pitch black to start with there's a lot less stray bullshit getting reflected (like YOU and like YOUR CAMERA).

So I hung up some black horse blankets, wiped down a bud vase, and busted out a flashlight. After a couple minutes of experimenting, and watching what was happening, I bounced the flashlight obliquely off a large chunk of paper to create a vertical strip of light, pointing the flashlight up so the spill would come back down off the ceiling. Then I used a 6 second exposure so I could waggle the paper around, to conceal, in the reflection, the nature of my ghetto "strip light." With a little experimenting you can create pretty much whatever pattern of highlights you want, and there was enough spill to light up the rest of the glass.

While it was not pitch black in there, it was pretty damn dark.

I did end up with a very slight reflection of the camera (I think?) which I burned down when I cleaned up the glass a little. Start to finish, 30 minutes, including ironing the black fabric under the vase. In addition to minor cleanup cited, +1/3 EV in post, to render the support slightly visible.


  1. There is a guy on pooh-tube who is an ex top-tier advertising photog from back in the day when it was done on 8x10 in one exposure. His name escapes me... He was doing what you did with a flashlight White card and a few little mirrors to move the light where he wanted it. Some of the stuff they used to do in one exposure was mind bending.

    1. There's this video by Blair Bunting about lighting a Lambo, and first he does it with a HUGE Chimera softbox and a whole pile of other lights and modifiers and shit. $60,000 worth of kit.

      Then at 7:40 he says "or.. you can throw a 60 watt bulb into a softbox on a stick" and then he paints the car. It doesn't look the same, but it's pretty goddamned nice.

      Digital changes everything. If you have eyes and can actually look at what you've got, and are willing to keep testing until it's right, you can do anything.

      Polaroids helped, but they weren't free.

  2. 20w softone bulb (so that there is no rush painting, and more time to make effects), home-made lampshade, extension cable; low iso, small aperture (again, so that you don't have to hurry); camera on B-setting. Different light sources in one photo is also cool - great for team work, if you like, and the kids can join in too.

    1. I have been known to use homemade snoots or as the cool kids call them "tubes" to use as, basically, squirt guns for light. A little here, a little there.

      It doesn't work very well on people unless you have a truly pitch black room and want to paint up some truly unusual postures and proportions. Then it's fun ;)

  3. See Emil Schildt's work on the web in various places. He taught me how to paint with light. He's also a master of alternative processes. Not averse to the odd memento mori either.

  4. I haven't read the entire post yet but you got me right here: "His girlfriend is making artisanal crack pipes..." You are a wonderful writer. I laughed out loud and sent the link to a friend. Now, I'll get back to the reading... Thank you! Kirk

  5. In another place I find a fellow who read my remarks above as busting on n00bs, which I have to say disheartens me. Ain't a thing wrong with n00bs, we all got to start somewhere. Sure, they get themselves into messes sometimes, but we all did and we all still do.

    My snarky remarks above the bit where I launch in to technique were aimed at the wanna-bee experts who presume to advise n00bs. Specifically the ones who advise them to purchase strobes for product lighting.

    But, apparently that did not read properly :(

  6. The days of shooting 8x10 art pieces with movable lighting and even the commercially available "Hosemaster".
    A friend, Elle Schuster would do complicated setups with her 4x5 Sinar - involving as many as 35 separate exposures - on one sheet of Ektachrome film. Absolutely beautiful work.
    A tripod, camera, light source and a working brain can make for creative results that are repeatable - not one off lucky exposures.