Tutorial: Lencarta product photography workshop part 1

studioSo, every now and again, when the mood takes me, I run a free lighting workshop at the Lencarta studio. The studio measures 50′ x 25′, with a high ceiling, so is pretty much ideal for any kind of subject.

The idea is to help photographers to learn their craft.
Sometimes, we hire a model, this time we decided to run a workshop on product photography and we simply asked people to bring along something that they would like photographed – a dangerous game because, unless we really know how to approach literally any lighting challenge, we could end up with egg on our face 🙂

But, it worked out OK.
A group of people came along from Yorkshire, London, Wales and just about everywhere else, very keen to learn, and they brought along a pair of shoes, a trombone, a crash helmet, a bottle of beer, some food, a table lamp and various other things. It was a good day.

So, time to go through the photography, one item at a time. This is the first of this series

76 Trombones led the big parade…

Lighting a Trombone seems, at first glance, to be a bit of a nightmare with all those different shiny bits, but in fact it’s a pretty simple job. I can’t remember photographing a trombone before but I’ve photographed a lot of rifles, and the challenges are very similar.

There are different possible approaches, I went for drama – but if this shot was required, say, for an auction catalogue, I would have gone for a much softer look, with much flatter lighting that wouldn’t leave any faults, dings, scratches etc in shadow. This trombone is far from new and so has its fair share of cosmetic marks, and it could also have done with a good polish – but there you go, we photograph what we have available.

00005_rednThe obvious tool of choice here is a pair of strip softboxes. Now, strip softboxes are ideal for this because they aren’t very wide, so don’t spread light where it isn’t wanted, and because they’re long enough to cover the length of the subject. 1 softbox goes each side of the subject, in much the same way as used here , in a very different type of shot (left).

And I use the same approach too, first I position the first one to give the required effect, and then I add the second one, I don’t start off with two because that would make it difficult to work out which light source is causing any problems that arise. The name of the game here is to always set one light, get the effect from that light right and then add the next light, repeating the process with as many lights as it takes – people who use a ‘standard’ 2, 3 or whatever lighting setup are using a bland approach that can never produce the best results.

Here’s my first attempt, which is predictably awful.trombone_1

I need to position the softbox so that it is square to the subject, creating diffused specular highlights that are as even as possible. Also, the softbox needs to be positioned to put the highlights in the right place – now, photographed against a white background, those highlights mustn’t go up to the very edge of the tubes because if they do, the lit bits will merge into the background. But, photographed against a black background, they MUST go up to the edges, otherwise there would be unlit bits merging into the background.

You can see the strip softbox on the right. It’s not far enough behind and because of this it is putting too much light on the front of each tube, and not lighting the edges of the tube. Also, it isn’t quite high enough and becuase of this the very top of the trombone isn’t lit.

trombone_2Here’s the next shot, both softboxes in use and this is really about as good as we’re going to get with this lighting approach, or at least in a few minutes. It wasn’t quite as quick as I’m making it sound, there was a fair bit of fiddling about involved to get the specular reflections exactly where I wanted them to be and to get some interesting light on the bell, which at the same time is showing the engraved maker’s name.

You can see that the first softbox, on the right, is higher than the one on the left – that’s because it needs to light the very top, and you’ll also see that it has been angled a bit, so that it creates the right shape of specular highlight on the bell.

The softbox on the left is dead square, this is to create straight and even highlights on all of the surfaces lit by it.

If I’d gone for a softer, less dramatic look then I would have added a 3rd light, as fill, to reduce the contrast and, being a fill light, it would have been on axis with the camera lens.

So, there you go. Here, in the edited version, I’ve done a minimal amount of PP work to remove the support stand, tidy up the background a bit and have also increased saturation just a bit, to show the yellow of the brass better. The PP work is far from perfect, but the idea of these tutorials is always to show what can be done and how to do it, and extensive PP work hides the faults that we actually want to show.