Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lighting Shiny Objects

Masonic Ring

Every once in a while its good to step out of your comfort zone and try something new, which is exactly what I did with the photo of this ring.  It proved to be a little more tricky than I would have previously imagined.

I don't often shoot macro photography simply because I don't really have an eye for it and my vision isn't that good in regards to really small objects.  Another reason is that I don't own a good macro lens so to do this shot, I had to borrow one from a friend.  I tried shooting this with several of my "regular" lenses but they just couldn't bring out the detail or I couldn't get close enough, leaving a huge field of space around the ring.  I ended up shooting this with the Nikon 105mm Micro lens which rendered incredible detail and is very sharp, which leads me to my next issue...

When shooting products like a shiny ring on glass with a macro lens, be prepared to do some significant editing to remove all of the blemishes, dust particles, smudges etc.  I cleaned the pane of glass the ring was sitting on at least three times, polished the ring several times and still had to spend 20 minutes or so in Photoshop to clean up the image.  The lens I used not only produced a very sharp image but it was also very highly detailed... meaning it shows up everything!  So, when doing these types of shots, much like shooting wine glasses or beer bottles, make sure your surface and your subject is as absolutely as clean as possible.

Another tip I discovered when shooting detailed, macro images like this is, you have to use manual focus.  I tried letting the camera focus this for me but it consistently missed the area I wanted to be the sharpest.  This could have simply been user error on my part but I found by manually focusing, I was able to get the sharpest part of the image where I wanted it.

On to the lighting.  Once I had my camera locked down on a tripod with the image framed and focused how I wanted it, I was ready to bring in the lights.  When shooting something like this, you are essentially photographing reflections.  The polished, stainless steel surface literally reflects everything that is around it back to the camera so a little diligence is needed to get the best image.  So instead of placing a light source to the side like I would normally do with other items, I placed a Nikon SB-910 in a Westcott Apollo strip box and boomed it directly overhead of the ring and slightly in front of the ring.  This gave me a nice highlight across the top and a good light source that I could reflect back in to the ring.  To get those white highlights (reflections) on the sides of the ring, I simply used pieces of regular white copy paper.  I folded the pieces in half so I could stand them up, then simply moved them around, while taking test photos, until I placed the highlights where I wanted them.  After getting these positioned where I needed them, another problem presented itself.

The Masonic emblem on the ring is an etching which is basically a light gray tone.  If I lit that part of the ring or reflected light back in to that area it washed it out where it was almost not noticeable.  So to bring out the detail in the emblem, I used an 8.5" by 11" piece of black foam core held directly above the lens which created the dark area around the emblem and made it stand out.  Problem solved.

So I took a few more test shots (all in all, it took about 15 shots before I ended up with a final image I was happy with) and started to notice another issue.  In every image in the dark area around the emblem I noticed a pink-ish highlight.  I had the overhead lights in the room turned off so I couldn't figure out where this highlight was coming from then it donned on me... that pink-ish highlight was the big, dumb photographer standing behind the camera!!  Now I could have easily taken this out in post but as always, I'm not happy until I can get as perfect of an image in camera as I can so I had to figure out how to conceal myself from reflecting in the ring.  This could have been done in a myriad of ways but my solution was to use another black card, this one was 2 feet by 3 feet, positioned in front of my tripod.  That was just enough to hide to me from reflecting in the ring.

I had the ring resting on a pane of glass because I wanted a nice reflection of it.  Sometimes a reflection can give an image a little sense of place as opposed to just floating in the composition.  Another reason I chose to light this on a pane of glass is that it enables me to light the ring and the background separately.  I had a gray background hanging on the wall behind the ring and simply placed an unmodified Nikon SB-800 on the ground, directly below the ring and pointed to the background.  I also zoomed the head of that flash because I wanted a spot of light behind the ring as opposed to even coverage.  In the image below you can see how much light this was contributing to the final image at the top of the post and how it doesn't effect the light on the ring itself (I had that light turned off).

One other tidbit of information for Nikon CLS users is that since I was using the pop-up flash to trigger the other two off camera flashes, the pop-up flash does emit a little pulse of light to trigger the others.  Normally, this pulse of light doesn't show up in images but when shooting something highly reflective, it most definitely will, so to conceal that light, I simply used the hand held piece of black foam core I was using to add the dark area around the Masonic emblem to also shield the pulse of light from the pop-up flash.  Since I was shooting indoors, I still had no problems getting that light to trigger the others, even with my main flash being buried inside of the strip box.

To the right is an iPhone image of my entire setup except for the smaller piece of black foam core I was hand holding above the lens.  Its a pretty simple layout really, but it took a little thought to get to that point.

I'd like to note this most definitely is not the only way to achieve the shot at the top of the post, its simply how I chose to do it with the gear I have.  I hope this helps if you have some shiny objects that you'd like to photograph and light, but if you have any questions, just sound off in the comments!

As always, you can click on any image for a larger view!