Monday, January 19, 2015

The Cutting Edge for Macro and Tabletop Photography

Everybody seems to spread light these days. So let´s cut some instead!

You can tell from the shadows that there was some sort of gobo involved here. The main light is to the right (it´s a LED torch). It passes through a slit between two black flags, each standing up being held by a super clamp on the floor. I also added a shaving mirror from the left, reflecting my only light source.

The main reason why the shadows are so well-defined is that the light source is relatively far away and the cutting flags are relatively close.  It´s like your own shadow on a sunny day: hard and clearly defined. It is almost a projection of your outline.

What else we can do? Let´s move to the window-lit kitchen and again apply the LED torch.

Here, I used the cutters to highlight a certain word in the classifieds of a local newspaper. The bright white room offers a lot of fill here. Back in the dark (my aisle), you´d have much more contrast. I´d shoot it like this if I were assigned for a newspaper job and I´d probably shoot the high-contrast version if I wanted to do art. All to taste.

Here´s the setup. Note the ULTRA-PROFESSIONAL AVENGER BLACK FLAGS and SUPER CLAMPS! HA HA! Whoa, there´s even a sheet of TRACING PAPER thrown over the torch!

No, seriously: this here will do the exact same job and costs nothing:

Also, look at how deliberately the flags are placed in the first example. All I need is the desired gradient in the shadows. Let´s turn them around and try to highlight another word. You see that I can get as small and precise as I want with my slit

Here´s the setup for this. The edges of the flags are closer to the subject, thus projecting a punchier shadow. Again, fill is provided by window light spreading across the room (finally, it pays off that one wall in my kitchen is painted neutral grey!)

Like to get harder? Let´s remove the tracing paper and readjust the flags a little:

Let´s go back to the dark. Now, with the hard light source and a pair of flags you can go wild beyond taste! (Illustrative purposes only; also, mirror added from the left).

Of course, you can  also use the flags to cut off any unwanted light spill (I´m sorry I forgot to photograph the spill, but believe me: there IS some and it HAS been cut)

If you want to copy this look, please note that the background for all dark shots is a board of styrofoam painted black. The subject is raised on a small pole so that I can keep the light from hitting the background and have everything nice and dark. In fact, in the first picture (the one with the lens) you can see a bit of spill on the background if your monitor is setup accordingly. No problem with Photoshop. Would disappear in print. Actually, I like it as it adds a hint of dynamic feeling. But you see, there´s a reason to use continuous lighting or studio strobes when shooting tabletop photography. You have to adjusts the lights millimeter-wise, cut and reflect, cut again, diffuse and cut again, spend the day waving white cards and then, you check and check and check again. Not exactly a job for speedlights.

Here´s an edit of the first picture so you can see the effect of the spill:

That´s it for today. Thank you for your kind attention.

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