Okay, so the last post and a few other conversations this week indicates that there’s a lot of you out there that would like to learn some camera tips and tricks, so I’m going to work on that.  Photography was a passion of mine before I got into sewing, and there’s actually a couple of awards kicking around the flat somewhere, so I shall dust off my back to basics skills for you.  In the meantime, you can all have a good laugh at some of the first photos I took on the product photography course, which shows that I probably won’t be getting hired by the Littlewoods catalogue any time soon…

This first shot was taken on an interesting set up.  The bears are sitting/standing on a light table, which has an opaque plastic surface with a light shining up from underneath.  There’s a white backdrop behind them, and a studio flash pointing head on to them.

The biggest problem I had with this is that the backdrop wasn’t really wide enough for these guys, so I had to clone in a bit on the left (and obviously didn’t do a very good job underneath Beech’s elbow).  Beech himself is kind of oddly lit – his feet and flippers are lit, and the top of his head is bright, but his middle is rather dark.  Edwood didn’t come off as badly, but you can see his bum is rather dark (for which he might be quite grateful)

These next two shots were a bit of fun on another setup, where a large piece of white card was laid on the table, propped up at the back, and a fixed light shone down from above.

Now these two guys are teeny, so fit on the setup without needing any background cloning, however the light from the top has left some slightly odd shadows as they spread outwards from the middle.  Also, the balance of light from head to toe isn’t the best, and considering this is only over 3 1/2″ or so, perhaps I should have moved the light around a bit more.

This next setup was done on a table in the ‘big studio’ where we had one of the very large backdrop stands with a white paper roll, two studio flash lights on the background and two studio flash lights with soft boxes on the subject.

I really struggled with this one.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be getting in (and I might have stopped to have a rather frustrated argument about this along the way).  The hat was obviously the main subject, but I really wasn’t sure of the protocol of how much of the fake head I should have been getting in.  I went too safe in the end, so for this to be useable, a lot of cropping would need to occur.  The other problem is that in order to get the light evenly spread under the brim, you needed someone on either side to stand with a reflector to reflect the flash light upwards, however might right hand reflector was slacking a bit as he was having a conversation with someone, so as you can see it’s a bit dark on the right hand side.

This next pair of shots were taken in a light tent.  You can get these pop up light tents (often called light cubes) on Amazon for less than £100, with the lights thrown in as well.  They fold down into small carry cases (like the disc reflectors if you’ve ever seen one of them) and are a bit alarming when they pop up!  They usually come with 4 different coloured ‘velvet’ backgrounds in white, black, bright red and royal blue.  They can be used both with off camera flash guns (which is the setup I had at home before this) or with fixed daylight lamps (which I now have).

As an aside, I inherited the set up in this photo from a previous photographer at this station, but it does happen to be one of my bags.  This was the point at which I understood that I wasn’t really going to be getting many useable photos of the bags from the point of view of trying to sell the product, as the photos were purely ‘record’ type shots instead of ‘in use’ type shots.  Now there’s nothing wrong with record shots if that’s what you’re selling in a magazine or something, but if I want to sell a pattern, I need several things, such as perspective (this bag is actually a mini 241 tote, at about 50%), and also to show the strap/handles at full stretch so that it’s obvious what they’re suitable for.  Record shots are needed at the step by step part of a pattern though, so don’t dismiss them.

The biggest challenge here is that with the black backdrop either you get the fabric at the correct colours and the background looks washed out (1st pic), or you make the background look truly black, and get over-saturated colours (2nd pic).

Next I moved back over to the table with the overhead light.  We played around a bit with this, setting the products onto a white perspex sheet (which will reflect the light up a bit) and moving the light around a bit.

The biggest issue here is that the products were in these incredibly shiny tubes and bottles.  Everything is reflected in them, and you can’t clearly read the names on them because bits of the text are lost to reflections.  I pity the poor guy that had to take photos of these for the real catalogues, because the pair of us that were playing around with this were having a nightmare.  The below is actually the best of the bunch…

Back in the big studio again, with the same light setup as before, but a much smaller hat.

This hat was a bit of a nightmare to photograph as it was made of particularly shiny ‘stuff’ (I have no idea what this is named, sorry!)  The hat was actually a dark navy, but the shine on it meant that it’s turned out considerably lighter in the photo.  I could probably have done a ton of post-processing work on this to try and rescue it, but really, you want to get everything right in camera, otherwise you will be chained to Photoshop for days after a shoot.

This next shot was back over in the light tent, with the same black background and fixed daylight lamps either side.

I tried to get some photos of the make up artist’s products here, but one of the biggest problems I had is that a lot of her makeup was already used, meaning it wasn’t really in tip top ‘new product’ condition.  I had set myself a bit of a challenge here, as practically everything was in a shiny container of some kind.  I think I failed on several points – firstly, I didn’t set the lights up well enough, so you get a very bright spot on the bronzer, while not really being able to see the thing at the back clearly (I don’t wear makeup, ‘thing’ is totally the technical term here).  Secondly the lights are lopsided balance wise – the left side is brighter than the right.  The problem with fixed lights like this is that you have to do a lot of manual manoeuvring, and I suspect my patience wasn’t really in this as I didn’t find it a terribly interesting subject.  I really also should have hid the label on the lip pencil at the bottom.

Back at the table with the overhead light again, and back on the perspex, this setup also involved using a reflector to try and bounce the light back in again from the bottom of the shot.

Again, there’s a number of issues with this – firstly I didn’t set it up in an entirely balance way, as the bottle on the left is a bit too far left, and then I didn’t actually centre myself in front of them.  Secondly the angle at which I took this has given me bending bottles.  Straightening them up in Photoshop actually made them look worse (trust me, I tried).  Also, in an effort to avoid having to crank the ISO up too highly, I went for a very large aperture, meaning that actually only the pump bottle writing is entirely legible.

It was definitely time for lunch after all that, and I’ll show you what happened then next Sunday.

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