Camera Porn

Camera Porn

Camera Porn


This is a follow-on from my tutorial on how to control specular reflections, where I explained how to get a specular reflection (a reflection of the light source) that adds to, rather than detracts from, the image.

All simple stuff, the same principle applies here but I’m adding some extra light, to fill in detail that is otherwise lost. In the previous tutorial, the shapes were simpler and detail could be added with a simple reflector. That won’t work with this example.

The subject here is one of my own cameras. Like me it’s been around for a while and isn’t exactly pristine – and the lens is even older (older than the camera, not older than me)…

And that’s not good, because product photography needs perfect products as well as perfect lighting, and the more dramatic the lighting, the more the faults in the product will spring to life… But it will do for this exercise.

I chose a camera simply because I had it available, the same principles apply to just about any subject. And I chose, once again, to use a blackglass product base – my old smoked glass table top – because I think that a partial reflection of black on black looks OK. Of course, a lot of people add fake reflections in Photoshop, but doing it camera is better as well as being easier and a lot quicker.

The camera is a Nikon D700. Ask Mr. Google to show you some more pictures of the D700, you’ll generally find that even on the manufacturer’s website the lighting is pretty flat and boring, and I even found some on a review site that had reflections of umbrellas showing in the lens – horrible!

As with all my lighting tutorials, the photos you see here are completely unretouched, and the only thing I’ve done to them is to re-size them.

Anyway, as always I started with a ‘blank sheet of paper’ a room with no lighting present so I wasn’t tempted to use whatever lighting happened to be there. Then I followed my normal procedure:
1. Clean the product and the glass product base
2. Arrange the product at the right angle (for a real product shot, I would take shots at various different angles of course)
3. Arrange an overhead light on a boom, to get those diffused specular highlights.

Softbox fairly high

I then took a meter reading from the subject, with the meter pointing towards the camera. After adjusting the power of the flash I ended up with f/13 (f/11 decimal 4 on the meter). That may change later but I set f/13 on the camera anyway, so that I could get a correct exposure of the specular highlight. Well, this is my first shot (click on any photo to see an enlarged version) and you can see that we’ve got the diffused specular highlights more or less OK, but a couple of things jump out and and hit us.
Firstly, the specular highlight on top of the pentaprism is a bit too bright, and secondly ALL that we have is a lit top – there is of course absolutely no detail anywhere else (the tiny little bit of light on the lens is coming from the very bright Quadlites used for the video).

We only ever try to deal with one problem at a time, because trying to correct more than one problem is bound to

Softbox lowered as far as possible

cause new problems, not solve existing ones.

So I went for the problem of the over-bright specular highlight, and the video shows this being lowered to the point where it’s just out of shot. That’s about the best we can do.

Now, I’ve used a pretty big softbox and a pretty small subject, but that’s essential when photographing something with complex shapes like this camera. A lot of people underestimate the size of the light source needed. The minimum size of softbox (or silk) is 3x the subject size if the subject itself is straightforward, but if the subject has either convex or complex shapes then it needs to be much bigger.

Now we’re left with the obvious problem of no detail showing on the front of the subject at all, because we haven’t put any light there.

What is clearly needed here is another light, pointing straight at the front of the subject. It needs to be right next to the camera, on the right hand side, because of the angle that I’ve placed the subject at.  The problem with doing that

With honeycombed light added to front

of course is that the light is going to go everywhere, not  just where I want it to go, so I fitted a 10 degree honeycomb to the standard reflector, knowing that this would concentrate the light into just the area that it needed to be. I put the flash head onto a backlight stand, to get the height right. This is important, because the flash head needed to be at the same height as the subject, not tilted downwards. That backlight stand has to be my favourite low-cost studio accessory of all time!

That’s done the job, we might want to adjust the power a bit. It really wants to read about f/11 on the meter (but leaving the camera aperture on f/13) so that the bright bits are a tad overexposed.

You can now see the partial reflection of the subject in the blackglass too.  The reflection will become stronger when I turn the power of the frontal light up a bit, as you can see below.

Right, what’s next? Well, it can be left as it is if you like – a simple shot using just two lights, after increasing the power of the frontal light by a half stop.
Or we can stick another light behind the subject, lighting the back, so that we get some separation between the background and the subject, as in this shot.  As you can see in the video, the actual background is a white wall but of course it photographs as black because I haven’t put any light on it. As you can see in the video, I simply placed another flash head square to the subject and pointing straight at it’s back. Because the light is square to the subject and because the subject is at an angle to the camera, the light doesn’t get in the shot. Actually that light’s a bit too bright for my taste, but I settled for that level to demonstrate the effect.

Again, I used a 10 degree honeycomb, and there are two reasons for that – firstly, as before, using the honeycomb concentrates the light into the area where it’s wanted and nowhere else, and  if a 10 degree  honeycombed light is pointing towards the camera at an angle of greater than 10 degrees, there will be no lens flare created by the backlight.   10 degree honeycombs are popular with still life photographers because they do an excellent job of controlling both light spread and flare. If the spread of light from a 10 degree honeycomb is too much, just restrict it by putting a piece of Cinefoil over the top and cutting a hole of the right size/shape in it – simple. Another way of doing it is to use a focussing spotlight, this is really the ideal solution when the light is coming from the front because it’s both precise and versatile, I didn’t use one for this shot because they cost more than honeycombs! If you don’t put a honeycomb over the light you’ll get terrible flare, like this horrible shot on the right.

So, does anything else need to be done with this shot? Well, maybe.

There are some odd reflections in the front of the lens itself, caused by the honeycombed light from the front. That’s inevitable and natural and those reflections serve a purpose and don’t look too bad – but the professional approach is really to light the lens separately.
Now, that’s all very well in theory but the way to do it is to use a large silk (for soft lighting) and to create a controlled, graduated  hotspot with a honeycombed light, but it simply can’t be done in the same shot because lighting it in this way would put unwanted light on the rest of the subject.

Because of that, the only way of doing it well is photograph the lens separately and then graft the shot onto the main shot. The shot on the left is of a different lens, but it shows the effect pretty well.

Maybe I should show how it’s done in a future tutorial…