Friday, June 29, 2012
Controlling Reflections in Impossibly Reflective Objects
- LitePanel Fabric Translucent 39 x 72 inch
- LitePanel 39 x 72 inch Aluminum Frame
- LiteStand: extra large
- LiteStand: large
- StarLite®: medium digital kit
As most product photographers know, lighting and photographing highly reflective objects can be somewhat challenging. However, once you have the right lighting tools and have experimented a little with some basic lighting and camera techniques, you'll be surprised with how many different ways you can go about creating professional-looking images, and with how easy the whole process can be.
Bookmark and Share
(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)
- Deciding on a Background
- Using a Built-in Flash
- Modifying Reflections with a Soft Box
- Double-Diffusing with LitePanels
- Adjusting the Tonal Gradation and Contrast of the Shot
- 4x4' sheet of black Plexiglas
- 4x2' sheet of plywood
- 2 sawhorses
- 30x40" sheet of black foam core
BUILDING THE SET
As with any product shot, it is important to take some time to consider what type of background you want to use, as this can make a big difference in your final result. Since the turtle we were shooting here was highly reflective, we thought it would work well to accentuate this attribute by using a reflective background surface. And since the turtle's silver finish was light in tone, we decided to use a black reflective background to create a tonally rich, dynamic look.
Our set was fairly simple and quick to put together. We set up two sawhorses in the corner of a small home office, placed a 4x2' sheet of plywood on top of the sawhorses for support, and placed a 4x4' sheet of Plexiglas over the plywood to serve as our background. We then mounted a digital camera to a tripod, placed the turtle on the Plexiglas and framed up the shot.
BUILT-IN FLASH LIGHTING
To demonstrate how most people would go about shooting an object like this, we set the camera to the Program (fully automatic) mode, activated the built-in flash and took a shot (figures 1 & 2).
As you can see, this snapshot result is not much too look at. Although the overall shot is too dark, the main problem with this type of built-in flash lighting is that it renders its subjects flatly. By flat, we mean there is a limited sense of dimension to the object. And since the flash is such a small light source, it often creates high contrast results with harsh, unnatural-looking shadows. Here, you can see the small reflection of the flash in the turtle, but the rest of the turtle is dark and shapeless.
To remedy this lighting of the shot, we deactivated the built-in flash, set up a Photoflex Starlite Medium Digital Kit on a Boom and started out by placing it about 2 feet directly above the turtle. We made sure that the White Balance setting in the camera was set to Tungsten (Light Bulb icon/3000K) to match the color temperature of the Tungsten-based Starlite Kit and took a shot (Figures 3 & 4).
As you can see from this result, the lighting is dramatically different from that of the first result. You can make out the reflection of the soft box in the center of the shell of the turtle and see that the reflection in the Plexiglas is much more defined. Still, there are several areas of the turtle that are too dark to make out clearly, including the head and the rest of the shell.
To increase the amount of light reflecting into the top of the turtle, we simply lowered the soft box to within 6 inches of the Plexiglas and checked through the viewfinder to see the effect. The top of the turtle was now completely reflecting back the overhead soft box and the overall shape was much more defined. Once everything was in position, we took another shot (figures 5 & 6).
The result was greatly improved over the previous shot and had a very clean, graphic look to it. To see how to achieve even more detail and dimension for this object, read on!
To increase the sense of dimension and detail of the shot, we decided to diffuse the overhead light even more by placing a Photoflex 39x72" LitePanel Frame in-between the turtle and the soft box. We placed one end of the frame on the back end of the Plexiglas and used a 2218 LiteStand and a Main & T Clamp to support the front end of the frame at about a 20-degree angle. We then positioned the soft box at the same angle as the LitePanel and placed it over the rear section of the frame to illuminate the LitePanel Fabric (figures 7 & 8). This brightened the reflection off the Plexiglas.
Once everything was in position, we took another shot (figure 9).
Notice now how the background has become a neutral gray. This gray section is actually the reflection of illuminated LitePanel Fabric overhead, and it allows us to make out the shape of the turtle more clearly. Additionally, it softens the edges of the reflections in the shell because the light cast onto the LitePanel has a smooth gradation to it.
The only part of the shot that was still too dark was the underside of the head of the turtle. Rather than adding a second light to the shot, we chose simply to place the soft box over the front end of the LitePanel in order to throw some light underneath the turtle (figures 10 & 11).
Once this last adjustment was made, we took our final shot (figure 12).
The final result reveals additional detail in the underside of the turtle's head and overall the shot is tonally well balanced. The background has darkened somewhat due to the repositioning of the overhead soft box, but this only helps to make the turtle stand out from the background. Also notice that gradation of light in the LitePanel Fabric is reflected nicely into the shell of the turtle, giving it a better sense of dimension.
As you can see from these various lighting set-ups, there are many ways you can go about lighting and double-diffusing reflective objects. By experimenting with your lights, you will be better able to achieve the look you're after.