Splitting the Atom
This is another of my product shots. This one was needed urgently for a reader competition in Advanced Photographer, so I did it as quickly and simply as I could. And, to save time, I shot against an almost-white background because there wasn’t enough time to cut the subject out of the background, which I normally prefer to do because I don’t like unwanted light from the white background interfering with my lighting. So, I compromised by lighting the product shooting table from behind and beneath, but only at a fairly low level. The horrible, light polluted effect shown on the right results from shooting against a white background.
As always, the first job is to think about the subject, and exactly what it is that we need to show people.
The Atom is a powerful portable flash system, with barebulb capability. It has a lot of important features such as high power, fast recycling, sophisticated slave triggering, remote control, massive battery life etc – but by far the most important one is the fact that it can be used (for example in a softbox) without the reflector fitted, and because of this we need to show the Atom without the reflector fitted.
But we need to include the reflector in the shot as well, it’s an important part of the kit.
And we need to include the battery PowerPack too. It’s normally clipped onto the belt, or hung from a shoulder or put into a pocket. We need to include it to show that it’s small and manageable, but it’s secondary to the actual flashgun, so for this shot I’ve split the Atom by creating a space between the two main parts. This space also shows the lead that connects the two.
We now move onto the next ingredient, camera height. Often, I shoot products from a heroic viewpoint (looking up at the subject) or dead level, to make that product look heroic and important. But for this shot, the camera needed to look down a bit.
The reason for this is that we need to show the depth of the top of both the flashgun and the PowerPack, and to also show the battery indicator lights on the top of the PowerPack. A few years ago the camera for this job would have been a 5″x4″ monorail, using the front shift to allow the camera to look down whilst still keeping the verticals vertical, but we don’t do that anymore and although, in theory, Edit>transform>distort can get around this problem, in reality it isn’t great so I don’t look down on the subject any more than I absolutely have to.
My first light here is a large octa softbox, overhead and fairly close to the subject, on a heavy duty boom arm. As you can see from the setup shot, it’s big enough to produce a little bit of light on the front elevations of the product components, but I’ve tilted it slightly forward to minimise this, so that I can light those areas separately. What this overhead softbox is doing is to light the top of each element, and to create a diffused specular highlight in each area, as you can see in the photo on the right. The physical area of the highlight on the reflector is smaller because it has a convex shape.
The next job is to light the right hand side/lower areas, and I chose a large (70cm) beauty dish for this – I wanted a bit more “punch” than a softbox would provide. You’ll see that I used a backlight stand to support this light, this allowed part of the beauty dish to be below the surface of the shooting table, pushing some light onto its ‘floor’ and also lighting the lower areas. The beauty dish is level, it’s pointing neither up nor down.The beauty dish is positioned as close as possible to the subject, and because it’s fairly large, it again produced diffused specular highlights, as you can see from the photo on the right. The positioning was critical because light had to catch the reflector, the right hand side of the flashgun and also get past the flashgun, which was partially blocking the PowerPack, and reach the right hand side of the PowerPack.
The effect of the beauty dish on a product is similar to when used on a model’s face – it helps to define the shape, emphasise the qualities and bring it to life, but it also shows up any defects and exaggerates any defects that may exist.
You’ll notice that the left hand side of the PowerPack also has a diffused specular highlight – this came from the reflector on the left of the shooting table, I didn’t remember to get a separate shot without it.
So, what’s left?
There’s a backlit display on the back of the flashgun. I set the power to the minimum, 1/128th, to show the range of adjustment but of course the power of my flash totally overwhelms this backlit display and leaves it looking blank. The method of dealing with this is to take a shot without flash, and then adjust the shutter speed on the camera until the display (and the battery condition lights on the top of the PowerPack) look about right. This tells me which shutter speed to set on the camera, which I set at 1/10th second.
And finally, I lit the shooting table from behind, to create an almost white background. I used a SmartFlash 2 head, fitted with a background reflector, for this, and to get the height right I again used a backlight stand. You can see the result below.
All the photos above are as shot, straight out of camera except of course for cropping/resizing. Finally, I went into Image>adjustments>selective color to lighten the background a bit, so that I ended up with a white background but still retained the shadows beneath the products.
The techie bit:
Nikon D700 fitted with a 200mm lens, which is long enough to allow a good working distance and also avoid perspective distortion. I took the shot at f/16, to produce enough depth of field without any risk of also creating diffraction limitation, which results from using too small an aperture.
The flash heads used here were a SmartFlash 2, to light the product table from behind, and both the overhead and front/right flash heads are the SuperFast 300 – these happened to be the flash heads that were nearest at the time, I would have been just as happy with ElitePro or UltraPro flash heads.
It’s going to get a bit more complicated
That’s this job jobbed and the finished photo was sent to Advanced Photographer within half an hour of starting the shoot. My next job was to substitute the Atom 360 for the 180, so that I have a similar shot of the more powerful model, that’s a simple change.
That shot is below, and here I’ve lightened the background a bit in PS, using selective color. Other than that, there is no retouching