Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tabletop Photography – Butterfly Crystal Hair Accessory

More Fun with Tabletop Photography
Today we dive into tabletop again. Though the subject is not the most exciting, each type of item presents its own challenges that are worth documenting for discussion. Some items can be downright difficult, but I thought that we would start with something relatively straight forward, so let's get going.

The Initial Lighting Setup
This is the initial setup used for the butterfly crystal. A single softbox, Photoflex Q39 (large) overhead at about 32” from the table supplies the light. The white table surface offers some diffuse reflection. The softbox was metered at f/11. Considering the size of our subject, this softbox is giant and offers very soft, almost shadowless light.

Initial shot of the butterfly crystal. As you can see, we get a decent exposure with very light shadows. However, the lighting is weak at the far edges of the subject, so some additional light is needed for the sides.

The Improved Lighting Setup
This is the improved lighting setup. This time I've added two 32” silver reflectors, one camera left and another camera right. Softbox is metered at f/11. I used the modeling light to determine optimum positioning for the reflectors. It may not look like it in this photo, but the reflectors are reasonably symmetrical, with each positioned at the front corner facing at a complementary angle to reflect onto the subject.

Now things are looking much better. The exposure is good, shadows are soft and faint, and the lighting is very even. All is well except, well, it's kind of boring. Since this piece has crystal inserts, we should try to get them to pop (diamonds would be more fun, but unless someone wants to loan out from their collection, I'll stick with what's available).

Lighting to Make It Pop
To finish off the lighting, I've now added a gridded light just above and slightly to the right of the camera. The goal is to get the gridded light close to on-axis so as to cause direct reflection, especially from the crystal insets. As before, a single large softbox (Photoflex Q39 large) hangs overhead about 32” from the table. 32” silver reflectors remain unchanged at the left and right corners. The Gridded light is using a standard 7” reflector fitted with a 10° grid. The softbox was metered at f/11 and the gridded light is metered at f/5.6.

As you can see, we are now getting a bit more attention from the crystal insets. There is also a slight boost to the center of the piece due to the gridded light, but the edges are still well lit, so the effect is acceptable, as it is not over cooked. The center accent tends to draw viewer attention to the body of the piece. The reflecting crystals then draw the eye away and toward the wings for more exploration. Unfortunately, the dead centering is somewhat static, which is kind of boring and discourages visual exploration.

Here is a shot I took with just the gridded light at f/11 so you can see how it lays shadow behind and essentially out of view. You also see how the reflections fall from the gridded light.

For this shot I simply moved the piece to a pleasant angle, which breaks up the static alignment and improves the visual dynamics. Note that the reflections near the center are now increased compared to the more straight on view. My notes say that the gridded light is still at f/5.6. However, I think the brighter highlights are telling us that I had the gridded light at either f/8 or more likely f/11 (used with the prior shot).

This is the back side lit with the same setup, overhead softbox at f/11, gridded light at f/5.6

Here is a side view lit the same as the back.

This is the back view lit with just the gridded light so you can see how little it contributes. Without direct reflection, shiny metal just doesn't return very much light. This is why we generally light shiny metal with a very large light source, to fill the mostly reflective surface with light.

And lastly, the back view with the overhead light turned back on. There is a big difference when dealing with direct reflection. The overhead light is large enough to ensure some light will be in the family of angles to cause direct reflection, but the gridded light has a very narrow angle of projection, so it can't contribute much of anything, as the angles are all wrong
Coming Next
I have another post or two to share from this tabletop adventure, so we'll be doing some small things for a little while longer.

Until then...


1 comment:

  1. Thanx for this post Gene. Like your description of the technique and the setup photos.


Your comments are greatly appreciated, but please be kind. Kudos are always welcome! Please note that due to comment spamming, all comments are moderated, so it may take a little while before yours appears on the page.