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In the Shooting with Wireless Flash series, award-winning photographer Jim Sugar demonstrates his approach to using off-camera flash in a variety of lighting scenarios, sharing practical tips along the way.
In this installment, Jim sets up and shoots a product shot. He demonstrates a variety of inexpensive lighting tools—clamps, gels, and other light modifiers—to light a product (in this course, a bicycle) in a way that accurately shows its color and other details. Next, he photographs the product using Adobe Lightroom's tethered shooting mode in order to be able to immediately assess his exposures on the computer screen. The course wraps up with a some tips that apply to product shots of all kinds. With its focus on lighting technique rather than specific strobe models and menu commands, these techniques are applicable to any brand of strobe and camera.
So our first task is to light the background. We're working in a beautiful new cove with a freshly painted floor, and in an unusual way, the most difficult task right now is to put the lights in place, so that we light the background evenly. And so what I want to do is I've taken these two strobes, and I've attached them to a Justin clamp, and they should each stand on the floor by themselves. Because I want to bring the light in from a very low angle, and point it up slightly, and bring them in from the side in such a way that I've lit the cove evenly.
And once I've got that in place then I'll pay attention to lighting the bicycle itself. So the first step is to come over here and if you notice that I've got these little booties on my feet part of that is because the cove is so freshly painted that we don't want to put any marks on the floor. And so we've done it, this is the way that we have chosen to do it. So I bring this back, and I put it in place, and I aim it at about 45? angle into the cove. And I can also angle it up just a little bit, but these two lights, once they put in place they have to be symmetrical in every way, because I want soft even distribution of light.
I want the background to appear to be endless: infinitely deep. So this light is already in place, and then let's put the other one in place and we'll do it the same way. So I come over to the other side of bike, and again I've got it attached to a Justin clamp. Usually, we would take the Justin clamp and we would physically attach it to something, but in this case, because it's such a nice device, and it works so easily, we can use it as a little mini light stand. So it's essentially a backlight, because that's how we're using it here.
So I look over there and I reference that light, and I try to set this one up in such a way that it's at the same angle. And I've already got a fairly good idea of where the edge of the frame is. So I want these two lights to be right out of the frame, but pointed into the cove in such a way that we have an even distribution of light all the way around. And if we do that, then it's quite fantastic. So we're looking at three things for the positioning of the strobes.
One: keeping it out of the edge of the frame, but just barely. Two: cranking the light up, and firing into the cove itself which is a white surface. So we want to make that to as bright as we possibly can. And three: we want the position of these two backlights to be symmetrical, so they're basically crossing each other or overlapping ever so slightly, and if we can make them overlap, then when you look at the photograph that background is going to be seamless or endless, and infinitely deep.
And if I can do that, then I know that I'm on target, I know that I'm on my way. And this is the picture that's in my head. So the bike is in place, that overhead light's in place, and what we're going to do now, is we're going to focus on the other lights. So come and take a look at this with me. And we've put this light, it's an SB-900, and we fired it into a fairly large umbrella. Now we're bouncing the light into the umbrella. And the umbrella is placed in such a way that if the two backlights are on the edge of the frame there, this umbrella is going to be on the edge of the vertical or horizontal axis at the top of the image.
So we're bouncing this very small origin of light, the strobe head, into an umbrella, and we're making it relatively large. And what's going to happen is the size of this arc of light coming out of the umbrella is going to be virtually the same size as the length of the bicycle. And I know from experience that if I can make the source of the light, in this case the umbrella, the same size as the object that I'm photographing, the bicycle, that the light is going to be very, very soft.
So we know that we've lit the background, and we've lit the top of the bicycle evenly, and now what we have to do is have an equivalent way of lighting the bottom of the bicycle because the tires, and the spokes, and the chain, and the crank, all of these elements are a major part of seeing what the bike looks like; what the shape of it is. So rather than take the light and put it on the ground, and firing it up directly into the light, we have the wonderful ability to use the floor as a source for bouncing the light.
So what we're going to do now is we're going to take a single light, we're going to start with just one, and it's also on this Justin clamp, and we're going to bounce it into the floor. So this is, again, this is the origin of the light, and the source of the light becomes the floor. So that the floor is going to do the same thing for the bottom of the bicycle as the umbrella does for the top of the bicycle. And if I've put the lights in place properly, I'm going to have -- sometimes photographers will refer to this as butterfly lighting, or over and under lighting -- so as opposed to doing portrait lighting, where you bring lights in from the side, which is fine, this time because of the nature of the object, we're going to use butterfly lighting and we've already got this light in place, and now we're going to bring another light in from down below.
So the position of that light, just for starters, and we'll see how it looks. We may have to tweak it, but we'll see how it looks. But for starters, we're going to put this light on the ground in the center position on the bicycle, and we're bouncing it intentionally off the floor. That's the reason I have the booties on: I don't want to mark up the floor in any way. So the next step is to shoot a picture, and we'll see how close we are to the picture that's already in my mind's eye. I'm trying to put the lights in place that in a way that's going to match that shot that's already in my head.
So I'm going to try to get this, and make it all work. Let's go back to the camera and the computer. We'll take a picture and we'll see how it all works.
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