• Apr
    23

    Fast Studio Photography Techniques

     

    In this post we’re going to look at several techniques for studio photography. One very simple way of doing this is to have a black velvet cloth, a link remover and a simple table top. Even a card table will do the trick. We’re also going to look at flash techniques as well.

    Working with tabletop photography allows you control lighting in the scene and to craft photographs to your specifications. Be aware that the use of automatic exposure may be an obstacle here, as the meter can be fooled by the various light levels in a scene and can select an exposure that is too light or dark. In this case, exposure compensation is essential.

    Studio Backgrounds

    Another important consideration is the background, which is often crucial to the success of your shot. Ideally the background should help your subject move forward, rather than receding into the background. For example are the product shots that you see in many flyers.

    These often rely on white surfaces and a white backdrop of fabric or paper that curves near the floor, eliminating any hard edges or horizon lines. In addition, the subject is lit with soft lighting to reduce hard shadows.

    Gray or Black Backgrounds

    Other options are the use of a neutral gray or black background. For black backgrounds, “velveteen” is a good choice, but it needs to be well brushed to eliminate dust specks that could potentially reflect light, creating spots in your image. Also, it should be back far enough so it merges into a soft black in your exposures. Be aware though, that light or dark background will probably require exposure compensation to obtain the right result.

    Problems with Digital Camera Flash

    Many digital cameras have a built-in flash, which can be used whenever it is needed. Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks. One of these is the range, which is limited to around ten feet. Another issue is that the flash emits a hard light, which tends to flatten objects, reducing form and texture. Also, you cannot rotate the flash to bounce off walls or ceiling and the close proximity of the flash to the lens often causes problems with red-eye.

    Fortunately, other options exist in the form of external flash units. There are flash units that mount on the “hot shoe” of the camera, which links into the shutter release and automatic exposure system. These flash units can be rotated to bounce off the walls or ceiling, reducing the harsh glare of the flash.

    Note: Some digital cameras fire the flash in two steps, first, as a small burst make the person’s iris close, then the main flash goes off. A solution to this problem is to make sure people don’t look straight into the camera. But if your camera doesn’t have these features and red-eye is still a problem, you can remove it with software, such as Photoshop, but it makes more sense to solve the problem at the source.


    Studio Flash Techniques

    When in the studio, accurate lighting is of paramount concern. In this environment, Flash reigns supreme, offering a wide range of control for freezing movement, for depth of field, and for special effects. You can use several different types of flash units mounted on stands. The flash units can plug into the camera automatic control system or be used as a “slave.” A slave flash fires when it senses the burst from the camera flash.

    But as mentioned above, camera flash can flatten the scene, so it is important to be able to turn it off. If you choose to use the camera flash, many of these fire in two steps (the first burst sets the color balance). So you will need to adjust the slave units to fire when the second flash occurs.

    Studio flash units should have the ability to control flash intensity, an important issue where subjects are located at various distances from the camera. Subjects close up will be lighter than those at a distance. To direct light, Barn doors are important, as are snoots (which resemble a funnel), that focus light into small spots, when necessary. Another important component is the “key light,” used to create highlights on objects. The key light adds a third dimension to objects that would otherwise appear flat.

    Lighten Shadows with a Reflector

    To reduce the impact of hard light in a scene, you can use reflectors to direct light into the shadows. A reflector can be made of a variety of surfaces, such as foil (crumpling the foil before you use it create the best results), cardboard or a white foamcore. Make sure the reflector is positioned out of the frame and to direct the reflected light into the shadows.

    A white or neutrally colored material is best, to avoid adding a color cast to the scene. Fill flash is also a useful option here. In bright sunlight, the high contrast often creates shadows that show little detail, which can make the photograph appear too harsh. Firing a flash, “fills” the shadows, reducing the contrast.

    Use Scrims

    Scrims, (known as a “Silk” in the motion picture industry), are where you use a piece of translucent white fabric fastened to a frame, which is then mounted on a stand. Scrims are large diffusion devices that soften the light.

    Use a Light Tent

    A variation of the Scrim, a light tent is usually a simple affair, where you create a frame and position a translucent white fabric over it, with the lights outside, which creates a soft, even diffused light. This is an excellent choice for photographing highly reflective materials, such as coins or jewelry. It’s a simple matter to build the light tent out of wood strips or PVC pipe which can easily be taken apart for storage or transportation.

    © Nathan Segal

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