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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 we're here in the studio and our task is to shoot a really wonderful product shot of this beautiful new trek bicycle. And we're working in a cove, a really fantastic space that has a freshly painted white floor and we're going to take advantage of all the things that we can use today to make a great photograph of this bike. We want the photograph not only to be a really nice stand-alone image, but we also want to be able to remove the background using Adobe Photoshop and create what's called a knockout so that we can take this picture and create a mask of the bicycle and then put that into another background. But the first task is to make as good a picture of this bike showing all the details, all the features, all the shapes, all the relative sizes as we possibly can.
So the first step was to take the bicycle and to hang it from the series of Matthew's arms and suspend the bike from these booms using fishing line. Monofilament line, which is what this is. And we've already got this in place. Plus, we've prepped the bike. It's virtually a brand new bike. We've cleaned it, we've shined it up, so the bike itself is perfect lying here right now. The other detail that we did was we suspended a light from a boom pole into an umbrella.
So what we're going to do here is we're taking this really small light source, in this case it's a Nikon SB-900 strobe, and we're bouncing it into this umbrella, and the umbrella becomes the source of the light. The strobe head is the origin of the light. We've made it appear bigger to the object, and the object in this case is the bicycle, and we're going to diffuse this light by bouncing it over the entire length of the bicycle. So what we're going to do now is we're going to get some of the other lights, and we're going to put them in place.
So we have here a total of five Nikon strobes from the Nikon Creative Lighting System. We have three Nikon SB-800s, and two Nikon SB-900s, and they're attached to a device called a Justin Clamp, which is what this is. And so we can use these clamps in a variety of ways to stand up the strobes, or to attach them to something else, and we've already got a pretty good idea of how we want to light that bicycle.
So even though we haven't shot a frame yet, we've worked through a lot of the concepts in terms of what we want to do, how we want to shoot it, most importantly, how we want to light it. So this is a Nikon D3S. The device on the top for triggering all this is called an Nikon slave unit 800. And so this camera and this SU-800 will talk wirelessly to the five strobes that we have, and will fire them, and will give the proper exposure for each one of these strobes. So the drill is to make sure that we place the light in such a way that we define the shape of the bicycle as beautifully as we possibly can, not only to make a really good picture of the bike, but also to be able to drop out the background, and to take the image of the bike, and put it into potentially a location shot, because we know that this is a trek bike, and we might want to put it on a road, on a beach, in someone's hands, but we'll be able to take this and modify it in a variety of ways.
So we're going to add one more element to this photo which is going to make it work really well and help us to judge the quality of the photos as we shoot them and make sure that the image is the picture that's frankly, that's already playing in my mind. So I've got a really good clear sense of what I want. By attaching this camera to a Macintosh 15-inch MacBook Pro by this wire, I'm going to be able to fire the camera from the computer and I'm going to see the image come up on the screen, and I'm going to see it in a much, much larger size than the tiny little LED that's on the back of the camera.
This is often referred to a shooting in tethered mode and it's really fantastic. And so by just hitting one key on the computer, I'm able to fire the camera, the camera in turn is going to fire all the strobes, and one person working alone is going to be able to do a tremendous amount of work easily, efficiently, and quickly. So let's get started and put the strobes in place, and I'll show you where I put the lights, and then we'll test it on the computer and make sure that we're doing the right thing.
And we'll be able to critique the placement of the lights, and the strength of the lights, and the distance of the lights all at the same time. So let's get started and put the lights in place.
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