Photography Shopping

Looking for photography equipment? What is your intended purpose with the photographs?

Understanding the equipment and what it will do for you is an important part of shopping. rebel_xTiBuying the best piece of equipment on the market will not do you any good if its capabilities do not exceed your expectations. Each manufacturer has technical and general specifics on each camera they make for your convenience in research.

Do you want sharpness in each photo?

Looking for large format ability?

Want to shoot great photos in low-lit surroundings?

It is important to know what you will do with your equipment. The key to sharp images is good “glass” (or lenses in other words). Good “glass” meaning the quality and design of the lens and its parts. Research is important, especially for lenses because the manufacturer will not put these lenses on the market for no cost. All of that time in material gathering and manufacturing a lens does not come cheap so your equipment cost is going to grow. There is no good way of compromising on price for a lens of this quality. So I suggest that you do not go cheap on your lens for sharp images.

The large format issue begins a new line of questions; “How large is your project?” The smaller SLR camera image sensors can handle image sizes up to 20 x 30 inches. If you want to screen print vehicle window clings or prints for the full side of vehicles, you are looking for camera with a very large image sensor. Now you will be looking at spending the same amount of money on a camera as the lens spoken of above.

Shooting in low-lit situations means you will be looking for camera that does not create a lot of “digital noise” when the ISO is raised above 100.

I hope these “bench marks” are helpful to you as you search for the right camera and lens for you. Enjoy and do not feel obligated to buy from a store. The customer service employees are paid to help you find the right product, so ask them for advice and take their “sales pitch” with a grain of salt. Enjoy!

Simplicity – Made Complicated…

I am just kidding about simplicity being made complicated.

My goal as a photographer is to capture images that make a clear statement. My integrity, character, skill, morality and intent respectively should not/cannot be with-held or disguised. This is not a case for a lack of discretion but rather the purpose of clarifying our visual communication.

Visual communication is vital to many areas of life, like business, self-preservation and interaction (both personal and professional). Communication by hand signs is called Sign-language. Sign-language combines motions or gestures that give intuitive and definitive meaning as well as a visual alphabet. These signs are simple and distinct from any other sign making its meaning clear.

This is purpose we want to have in photography, so several things should be brought to its least complicated form to communicate well.

Glass trinket box

First, what is my object or subject? What about my object or subject am I communicating? What draws out the subject? What clarifies my point of communication? What distracts from my subject? What obscures my point of communication? These questions seem tedious and a waste of time, however I can assure you that as soon as these questions become sub-conscious and your actions to correcting these issues are instinctive your image quality will rise with all haste.

The picture above of a glass trinket container is an example of keeping the setting simple. This image communicates the object is the glass container and that the design is important because of the glass clarity.  The surrounding set-up is designed to support the showcasing of the glass container and its design. The lighting of the object is important or there would be no exposure to see the container or its design.

A simple surrounding, focus on the object, light the object well and if necessary add intriguing lines. Enjoy!

Reflections – Surface

So you want reflections, but under instead of on your object?

Mirrors – Shoot into or on mirrors is an amazing technique which not only gives reflection but adds more light to the scene.

Plexiglass – Being reflective yet it is not as strong a reflector as the silvering coat of a mirror. So while providing a great reflection, it will not add light to the scene as would a mirror.

Besides plexiglass comes in various colors. Take a minute to search the options manufacturers offer in plexiglass color.

Plexiglass can also add a density to shadow and reflection unlike other translucent materials. It is one of the most versatile materials I know of within the uses of photography.

Glass – A great reflector as the mirror and not as direct in adding light to the scene as plexiglass, glass itself in a great surface for reflections. One drawback to using glass is that it is fragile. That is only a drawback if you intend that your pane of glass remain intact throughout your photo shoot. Some photographers will use reflections in broken glass which brings up a whole new realm of ideas.

Water – Perhaps one of the most powerful, difficult and predictable substances on the earth, is also one of the cheapest and most accessible substances to capture reflections.

Considering the weather and time of year when planning a photo session is a good idea, even if only to verify that your annual day of rain is not schedule in the same day.

Possibilities are only as limited as my imagination! I love the study of light! Have fun as you learn and grow!

A parting thought: “We only have this moment once to enjoy, so I choose to enjoy it with this foundation; faith, on which to build the structure of physics as I soar into the realm of freedom, liberty and true creativity!”

Reflection – Part 4

Reflections are not always  a display of  the room and what is in it. Sometimes reflections are not as much reflection as projection. A projection is a whole new world to explore and will give you a riddle for a challenge.

Remember the glass trophy I wrote of in “Reflection – Part 3” as a story on myself? That trophy was actually giving a projection not reflecting. While it really happened to me, it is a great illustration of what I am writing about.

Blocking reflections should follow the same pattern as other forms of troubleshooting. Work from the basic to the most advanced issue.

Friends of mine who work in the IT field can tell me story after story of how they worked on a problem for hours only to find out something as simple as a power outage was caused by an unplugged power cable.

I find myself often embarrassed by asking for help only for the person coming to my aid, see my difficulty to be a basic one. This is not to say that you should never ask for help. The most productive people I know choose to ask multiple times a day for help! I have found the best time to ask is after covering the basics.

Projection is one of those difficulties that we discover is not reflection after we have eliminated all possible reflections. There was something in the glass trophy I thought was a reflection but it would not go away no matter where I put a fill card! That was when I began asking the question “What is this glass trophy showing me?” instead of “Where is this reflection coming from!”

My answer came after I stopped assuming it was a reflection. Unfortunately this glass trophy was a solid piece so I could not open it and stop the projection shown in the edges of the trophy, but I did learn more about what I should watch for next photo shoot.

Asking a question that matches the right answer is very helpful! Keep asking questions!

Reflection – Part 3

– Troubleshooting the reflections –

Reflections can be very difficult to “diagnose”, though remembering that the reflections in the photograph can only be fixed if they are fixed from the viewing perspective of the camera.

Reflections may be fixed from your perspective separate from the camera and I am sorry to say ‘it may not fix what the camera sees.’ The best way to be sure the reflection is fixed or blocked is to view the scene through the camera with software or directly through the camera.

Most professional line of cameras carry with them access to software for seeing the current camera view. If that is not an option, tripods or other mounting options will guarantee the least amount of movement possible. This will enable you to check the camera view and leave to fix the unwanted reflections.

Reflections will come in different ways. I will not have time or space in this post to help you troubleshoot them, but I will list those I have more recently met.

Round shiny objects, like Christmas ornaments, drinking glasses.

Flat reflective surfaces, mirrors, glass doors, heavily polished wood.

Liquids.

It takes a good head/eye for details to catch it early and a time or two of being caught with reflections in a photo to bring the point home, or paranoia. Okay, that  crack about paranoia was a joke.

I would caution that if you are taking portraits and your subject is wearing shiny jewelry or sunglasses which can give your reflection, be ready with alternate shooting angles and poses.

I wish I could give you draw illustrations of how reflections are made, but you are intelligent and very capable of learning this process or searching for other resources that will teach you in the way you learn best!

A quick story on myself before closing: “I was shooting a glass trophy that has an etched design in the center and an arched top. I was stumped how half of the arched trophy top was not block-able no matter what I put around it. Then I took the time to look closely at what detail I could see of the reflection and I realized, ‘I am seeing the etched inside!'”

No matter how you avoid some reflections, some will just have to be featured. Enjoy!

Back Lighting – Part 4

Lighting is an art all of its own. I think I have mentioned this in several ways previous in this series, however I want to impress you with the value of lighting well placed. “Good lighting” is not always “good enough”. I do not mean to make this a diatribe, just a way to help us break out of our routine lighting techniques and learn something more which will add to our photography value.

There are some unique uses of lighting and techniques equally as creative. One of these techniques is included in the category of Back Lighting, but it takes an odd form. In this illustration to the right, this set-up uses only reflected light. The advantage of using only reflected light from this set-up is this: Reducing the harsh lighting on the surface of the glass, or surfaces like it, provides the illumination required to see the glass as well as giving a wonderful view of the drink in the glass.

I have a fantastic imagination with which I can rationalize answers to pictures or illustrations. However, I want to explain some things which I know I have imagined: I have little experience with flashes, but I have imagined my light source in this illustration as a flash. I have other lights positioned in my mind to add light to the shot, but every other light is a non-flash studio light. Next, since I basically drew this illustration, I was not sure how to illustrate the opaque density of the background Styrofoam board, so instead I will tell you, this technique is based partly on the fact that no light will come through the Styrofoam background and relying on the side lighting from the reflectors.

Just because my illustration has only one light source, does not mean this technique is not valid with more. Have fun with this technique, learning from it and increase its versatility.

Photographing Jewelry

I do not want to sound as if I were driven by spontaneity or a business owner who makes impulsive decisions, because that would not be accurate; however I will say that when it comes to writing blog posts my plans do change. When planning the possible topics for the blog, I sometimes form a temporary schedule for publishing which take on new priorities after some time away giving me time to reconsider their publishing order. So let me tell you why I think this post is better published today versus Friday: This post will inform you of many different ways for setting up the lighting for your photographic subject.

The photo you see below is one that I took as I found some good techniques on my own with the equipment I had available.

I will list here some of the best techniques to be used in the jewelry section of photography.

The best lighting set-ups:

  • Back Lighting
  • Diffused and Direct Lighting
  • Direct and Reflected Lighting

Shooting techniques:

  • High Aperture / Long Exposure (Larger Focal Plane)
  • Moderate Aperture / Short Exposure (Moderate Focal Plane)
  • Low Aperture / Fast Shutter Speed (Small Focal Plane)

Setting additions:

  • Wax to hold pieces in place.
  • Glass or Lexan (surface for reflection)
  • Modeling Services

Of course there is always the option of hiring me and my services. *Grin* Okay, enough of that. Get ready for the specifics on the lighting set-ups in the subsequent posts!

A studio set-up

Creating a studio background sweep for that “all professional” look is not that difficult. Your attention should be drawn to the object or subject of interest and not the lighting or set-up of the shot. In other words be sure that you lights are pointed directly at your subject and not slightly off to any one side.

Setting up your own studio does not have to be complex or involved! The basics can get confusing if they are not properly explained. I will post some pictures of my studio set-up with unusual equipment so that you can get a visual understanding of how it can work and improvise with your own set-up.

Equipment list:

2 lengths of 12.5 feet of paracord, 1 pane of 8″ x 10″ glass, fabric background sweep, Prop for glass and jewelry (cleaning pen cap and a 2 inch ring box), over head structure (Be certain it is sturdy! I used 2 securely installed ceiling light fixtures), tripod, remote shutter release, 2 soft light diffusers, 2 lights, camera and a good macro lens (as well as the obvious batteries and memory card).

I began my studio construction with an over head structure that would hold my background sweep and a light.

I began by taking a length of paracord, tying an overhand knot in the end and inserting it between the wood of the light fixture (pictured on the left) and it’s diffuser. Thus with the pull of gravity and the light weight pull of hanging objects it will be caught in a “pinching” hold.

I used this same technique for each time I made a contact point with the light fixture. For knots that were not at the ends of the paracord I used the overhand knot on a bight.

Be creative while playing around with methods of friction because friction properly applied is your best help and not destructive!

Friction, as illustrated on the left, is holding the light in one place along the paracord. The paracord is looped around the open end of the stand making it easily adjustable along the support line and providing way to  adjust the placement of light on the object.

It rarely is a good idea to have hard light shining directly on the object or subject, so I removed the reflective outside of photo reflectors and used the white fabric of the reflector disk as a diffuser. Again I used the convenient open end of the stand from which to hang the reflector disk. The reflector disk must be pulled back so that it covers the “shooting area” where the object or subject is placed. I used a straight pin to gather the reflector disk fabric around the power cord, nicely covering the shooting area of the background sweep.

A note of caution: Be careful of hanging anything heavy on the line. The weakest part of the over head structure in this set-up is the diffuser.

We have discussed how one of our lights is set-up, but there is another light that needs to be set-up at a lower angle and portable to figure out the best position to illuminate the facets of the piece or person in focus.

Let me introduce the “chair mount”. If you are familiar with lashing techniques I used the square lash to secure the light to a chair back making sure that the power cord for the light was long enough to reach any place the light may need to be positioned.

Having extra paracord from lashing the light to the back of the chair, it conveniently became the securing point for the reflector disk.

Now that the studio is ready for some of the smaller details, an 8×10 inch piece of glass (clean from dust and dirt) is a nice addition to reflect an object. Bring in you camera, tripod and objects to photograph and begin to play with object position and camera perspectives. Take your time with the first piece being sure you have properly set your cameras white balance, ISO and shutter speed to properly show off the beauty of your photo’s focus.

Have fun and  be creative, because fun and creativity will make a better statement than perfect professional rigidity.