Friday, March 4, 2011

Metal Photography

I received another assignment in class this week. We are to shoot metal and, of course, the instructor wants to challenge us with something more reflective. He knows that I've been shooting for a little while now, but I don't think I'd shown him a shoot I did about a year ago. At my university, we have optional courses called "topics." So, last spring semester I chose to do a three-hour topic with my adviser. I chose product photography. I should mention here that topics are self-guided. Of course I wanted to shoot products that were new and photogenic. It just so happened that my wife had ordered a new set of stainless steel cookware and a new set of cutlery, also stainless. I notified her that she was not allowed to use either set until I had shot them. She was a good sport, realizing the importance of new versus used in such photos. The knives arrived first, so I set them up thinking I had simple subjects. Perhaps this would have been the case with guidance other than my own. However, even on brushed stainless, it can be difficult to light so as to achieve a great photo. With much ado, I did get some acceptable results...and a browbeating due to the mess created by the equipment required to set up and shoot. Little did I know the worst was yet to come. For the next part of this story, allow me to tell you about my gear. I bought a pair of light tents and lights for occasions such as this. I also bought a set of studio lights and stands, complete with reflective umbrellas. They're not much compared to what the school supplies us, but I'm on a slightly tighter budget and mine work well for what they are. So, I was still a complete newb to lighting but I had all this stuff to make things better. Well...about that... I set up the tent and put the newly-arrived cookware inside and lit it up. I took a shot that would have looked good if I'd been shooting cast iron. But this was more like shooting a convex mirror. I could make out the seams of the tent, the camera, ME! Was I ever in for a treat! The tents had come with covers with a slit in the middle for the lens; now I was thinking! Oh, well, as the cliche goes, FAIL! So I (another cliche here) Googled it. I came across a blog that said something to the effect that you want to light the surroundings that you want reflected, not the actual item. I wish I could credit the exact blog but I honestly can't remember it and I'm sure there are several of them with the same advice. On with the story, I scrounged up some sheets or other large pieces of fabric and set up the cookware on a prep cart which, consequently, has a stainless top. I took a few shots, thinking I was making progress. Well, sort of. But, upon closer inspection of the photos, I noticed I could make out the hardwood floor in the frying pans. The reason is that not only are they round, they're also round...on the vertical axis. One more fix and I could be done. I merely slid the pans back so that the stainless top of the cart was reflected instead. If I recall correctly, I wrapped things up around 2 AM. Because I was my own teacher in the School of Hard Knocks, I can now share my knowledge with my classmates. I relayed some of this same information to a few of them the day we got the assignment. My instructor listened and seemed to appreciate my sharing as he usually does. I know now why he likes teaching.

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