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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 have the camera, into a USB cable, into a MacBook Pro, and we are going to shoot our first picture, and we are going to see how good we were in terms of putting these lights in place. So the amazing thing about the software with Lightroom3, with this new feature Tethered mode: I go File>Tethered Capture, and so I am now in Tethered Capture. And the camera, and the computer talk to each other, and the computer sees the fact that it's a Nikon D3S. And all I have to do is press this single button and it fires the camera. And the camera in turns fires all the strobes. And the only wire in the whole process is this little wire here that connects the camera to the computer.
So I now get a chance to see this image, and my first reaction of looking at the image is that number one, it's a pretty good start, it's not bad at all. The background is evenly lit, and the bike looks pretty good, but the ratio between the exposure on the bike and the exposure on the background is wrong. The bike is too dark and too gray, and the background isn't bright enough. So I want to make two changes. We are now going to tweak it. And this ability, or this requirement, to be able to look at the photograph on the fly is really important.
In the upper right-hand corner of Lightroom, there's a device here called a Histogram, and the Histogram is essentially my electronic strobe meter, so it's telling me that I am already in the ballpark. Now I want to tweak it a little bit, and get it better. Although I'm in the ballpark, you can see there's very little information on the right-hand side of the Histogram. That, and my eyes, are telling me the image is not bright enough. And I not only have to make sure that the bicycle is right, but I also have to make sure that the background is lit properly. And I have to make sure that the ratio between the bicycle and the background is about three stops different.
I want the background to be significantly brighter than the bike, because I want it to both stand alone as an image, but I also want to be able to create a knockout to be able to drop it into a catalogue for, in this case the bicycle manufacturer. So the amazing thing about this technique is that I can now change the strobe settings directly from the camera, and I know that the image is going to be reflected back on the screen in just a second.
So I go into the SU800, and I crank up the exposure. There are three channels on here, and I increase the exposure on all three of them. You'll see that on the Nikon strobes, the display shows EV, which stands for Exposure Value, and refers to the light output. And then I press Select to confirm it. So I'm using the camera in Manual mode, and I'm adjusting the exposure in what's called TTL mode or Through The Lens mode, and this is going to set the strobes for me, in this case 4-strobes.
And I am going to adjust both the shutter speed, and the F-Stop manually. So I want to make sure that I have a fairly high shutter speed, in this case about a 60th to a 90th of a second. I need the strobes to overpower the bright video lights in the studio. So I've got this setup in such a way. I have now cranked it up more. I have got more like bouncing off the floor into the bicycle. I've also got more light bouncing off the cove, and it should light that up evenly.
And now what I have to do, is I can now take another picture. So with just making an adjustment, with just seconds, and I didn't even have to go back to the strobes at all, but by going back here and making another exposure, I should see if these adjustments have been done properly. So all I do is I press the button. My camera fires, and not only does the camera fire, but the strobes fire. And within seconds, I have got this confirming image, and I can see that the bike is darker forest green.
I can see that the background is a lot brighter than it was on the previous one. Let me just show you the previous one briefly, so you can see the difference. So that was the first shot and here's the second shot. So I know from experience that I'm awfully close, because I can now see the definition on the top of the bike. If I go into Lightroom, and I increase it, I can see that there's really nice definition on the top of the bicycle on this top bar, and I can look at the seat and there is really nice definition on the top of the seat, sometimes called the saddle.
And then when I come back, and I look at the top of the tire, the top of the tire is really well lit. Well this is a convex surface, a round tire, and yet despite that the top light over the bicycle was in such a way that it gave me a nice diffused shape. And again now when I look at the bottom of the tire, the tire here is a nice diffused shape and I've got a couple of catch lights in the wheel. And then if I come over and look at the front, I can see that this tire is also nicely lit, and it's lit identically to the front one. So I have good balance from the front of the bike to the back. It wouldn't work very well if the front light were too light or too dark, or the back light were too light or too dark.
The light on the wheels has to be even. Think of it this way: in doing the picture like this, we are essentially building a tent of light around the object. So we've surrounded the bike with light and we have done it by large diffused light sources. Not tiny, little, pointy light sources, but large, diffused light sources. We started with the small origin of light, the strobe heads, and we have bounced it in multiple ways, and now we have large, diffused light sources.
And we take this really complicated shape called a bicycle, and we've lit it in such a way that it looks even and natural, and we can see into the details of the bike. Because it's really important to me as a potential bike buyer that I know what I crank is made of, or maybe what kind of tires are on it, or what kind of wheels are on it. And the advantage of doing it like this is that I can see these details. So if I go back again, I would like to try this one more time, and I would like to see if I can make it brighter just once more.
So this is the last exposure, and as much as I increased it from the first one to the second one, I'd like to try it one more time. I may go slightly overboard with it, but that's okay, that's part of the tweaking process. But I want to make sure that I have done it as well as I can, and that all these shapes are defined, and that the exposure on the bicycle is separate from the exposure on the background. So let's try it one more time, just once more. So I come back to the camera, and I go back to the SU800, this is the only thing that I need to switch.
So the lights that I am changing now are the two lights on the floor bouncing into the cove, and the third light on the floor bouncing into the floor. The top light into the umbrella is staying the same. And that's a good thing because this particular strobe controller unit only allows me to do three channels at once. So I've got it set up, so I have got one, two, three lights that are being controlled directly by this. I haven't touched the light in the umbrella, the overhead top light, I have left that alone.
So now I've got it set, and we are going to shoot one more picture, and I may have overdone it and that's fine. But what I want to do is to take it as far as I can take it and see what it looks like. So now I go back to Lightroom. I hit the Capture button, one click, it fires the camera. The cameras fire 4 strobes. I wait 10 seconds, and there it is.
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