Common photography problems I see

Discussion in 'Tutorials and Tips' started by john lucas, Nov 19, 2010.

  1. john lucas

    john lucas

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    I have a few minutes this morning before my first client arrives so I thought I would comment on the photography I see here and try to help.

    First of all. If your shooting something and having problems feel free to email me at Jlucas@tntech.edu. Send me a photo of your set up and a closer photo of the piece. I can usually make useful suggestions. There aren't any set rules for how to shoot artwork. You must be willing to move the lights and experiment.

    The most common problem is shooting with the camera flash on. This produces a hot spot right in the middle of the piece and a hard shadow around the piece. I see people using the flash even if they are using Quartz halogen lamps to light the piece. I know why they do. The front of the piece is still too dark so they are trying to add light. This light is a different color than the quartz lights so it shifts the color of the piece and of course it still produces that hot spot in the middle. The solution is to move your quartz lights around until one of the lights the front of the piece.

    Deer in the headlight look. I see this a lot. This is caused by using 2 lights space apart on each side. The lights are the same height and close to the same brightness. The solution is to move one light up quite high and aim it down. This produces a more natural lighting look because that's how our sun looks. Then take the second light and make it dimmer so there is a little bit of shadow on the side opposite the high light. This gives the piece more shape and changes appearance of the highlights.

    Remember, you don't necessarily have to point the lights right at the subject. The edge of the light pattern produced by that light will usually be dimmer and softer looking. If you point the light toward the camera be sure and shade the lens to reduce flare from that light. If you point the light at the background you may have to shade the background to change the look of the background.

    When I teach classes on shooting art work I use a photo booth made from pvc and white translucent fabric. One trick I teach is to simply move the piece around in the booth. It doesn't have to be in the center. For example lets say you put the one light up high to light the top and one side of the booth. Now the left side of the piece is too dark. Instead of adding another light which often cause other problems, just move the piece closer to the side wall on the dark side of the piece. This bounces more light back in and solves that problem.

    If the front of the piece is too dark simply move the piece deeper into the booth. Quite often if this doesn't work you can put a white reflector to the shadow side of the light and bounce light back into the front of the piece. You will have to play with the position of this reflector. I have pieces of 2x8's that I cut and glued some copper grounding wire into. I can set these on the floor and tape reflectors to them so the students can position these where ever they need. I also keep smaller 2x4 pieces with several holes drilled in the front and side. We cut up smaller pieces of the ground wire and taper reflectors to these to bounce light where it's needed. Don't forget you can use aluminum foil or mirrors to bounce light if a white card isn't enough.

    Color. If your camera has the option try setting the white balance to one of the other settings. Auto will often work but may change the color balance if your piece changes color. If you have tungsten or quartz lights use the tungsten white balance.

    Focus Look at your photos carefully before posting. There really isn't a good reason to post an out of focus photo. You should at least reshoot a piece if it's out of focus. Auto focus doesn't always work. It will focus on the front or back of a piece or even on the background. On a bowl you should be focusing on the front or about 1/3 of the way through the piece most of the time. Occasionally if the figure on the back wall of the bowl is outstanding focus there.

    Most modern cameras have focus lock. You push the shutter button down with the focus point where you want the focus. Hold the button down and shift the camera for better composition. Then finish pushing the button.
    If you have trouble getting it to focus where you want try putting something in the scene such as a white piece of paper with cross hatch black lines on it. In the bowl scenario I put the paper in the bowl about a third of the way back. Push the button down and let if focus. pull the paper out and finish the shot. Granted this might take really long arms or an assistant sometimes but it does work.

    Needless to say it all works better when the camera is on a tripod. Focus is easier to position. composition is better and you don't have camera movement to blur the image.

    If your shooting really really glossy pieces good luck. Seriously, all the above may help but you still may have really bad reflections. If that's the case send my an e-mail and I'll send you my article on shooting really glossy pieces. It's a step by step walk through showing the problems and how I worked around them using simply lighting. It is very challenging to shoot these things and what I've included in this is a little involved. However you do get to see the trouble shooting procedures and what I steps I took to try and solve them. Below is a sample photo I did on the glossy shoot. This piece was so glossy it reflected everything in the room. As you can see I solved those problems.

    Well I was going to add some more but a new photo assignment just came in and I have to hit the floor running. I also have a PDF on lighting tricks using a photo booth that might help some of you. Feel free to e-mail me for that.
     

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  2. Jason Silva

    Jason Silva

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    I've had the most luck taking pictures of my work on an overcast day with a white retractable window shade as the back drop.
     
  3. john lucas

    john lucas

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    The overcast day is what I'm trying to simulate with the photo booth. Overcast days unfortunately are too unpredictable. The color shift varies from morning to night and even how cloudy it is. If your shooting in your back yard the green trees can add a green cast to everything. Not to mention rain wind and cold weather.
    I've seen a youtube video recommending that you shoot paintings by placing them in the open rear end or your mini van. This simulates a cloudy day with no direct sunlight. Sounds silly but it works. It's not as good for shooting 3D pieces however and it's a lot more expensive to buy one of those than building my photo booth. :)
    Most problems encountered using the photo booth is simply having the lights too close If you can light the booth more evenly it simulates the cloudy day. In fact it may be too even and your pieces look flat. You need some shadow and some highlight to make a piece look 3D. If your pieces have a lot of texture (think Molly Winton's or John Jordan's) then you need harsher shadows or highlights to show off that texture.
     
  4. john lucas

    john lucas

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  5. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    Great suggestions, John. I would like to mention a few other tips.


    • I have seen many people get really close, like only one or two feet away from the subject because they have the lens set to the widest field of view possible. The problem here is that this creates perspective distortion, a.k.a. "fat nose". Instead, try this approach: zoom in to a moderate optical telephoto setting (do not use digital telephoto) and back away from the subject. It wold be ideal if you can get about 8 feet from the subject and still have it large enough in the frame. If your camera has an Av mode, then set it to a small aperture such as f/11 or f/16 to increase the depth of field. However, with P&S cameras, DOF is not nearly as significant an issue as it is with SLR and DSLR cameras. Also, use the lowest ISO speed so that the picture will not be "grainy". All of the above suggestions will necessitate putting the camera on a tripod because of the really slow resulting shutter speed, but that is a good idea anyway because many people flinch when they press the shutter which causes motion blur even though focus might be perfect.
    • You might really like your chartreuse beach towel, but save it for the beach and not as a background for photographing your favorite turning. Same thing normally goes for patterns or other "busy" backgrounds. They are just distractions. In fact, stay away from towels altogether.
    • Some people hover over their turning and shoot it nearly straight down so that it just looks like a disk that does not reveal much about the form of the turning. Instead, get down much lower -- start on the same horizontal plane as the turning and then raise the camera while still keeping it horizontal until you see a flattened oval for the top of the bowl or HF. This will typically be no more than about 20° elevation above the horizontal. Remember, try to avoid pointing the camera down at an angle or else perspective distortion might once again become an issue.
    • John mentioned white balancing. Many cameras now have the really useful ability to set a custom white balance with the lighting conditions that you will be using. Simply use a sheet of plain white cheap copier paper -- do not use the fancy bright white ink-jet paper because it has UV brighteners that screw up white balancing. Every type of light has its own color and everything that the light strikes in the vicinity of your subject will modify the color of the light to some extent. That is why it is normally (meaning always) best to have a neutral background so that colors are not distorted. Also, it is almost always bad news to use "mixed" lighting. The most offensive example is probably flash and fluorescent used at the same time.
    • If you properly white balance an image and avoid mixed lighting, it is possible to get a really nice exposure in outdoors open shade even when the open shade is being provided by a nice bright green tree. Open shade means that the lighting is being provided by the atmospheric glow of the sky and NOT from direct sunlight. In order to achieve this, you must have a clear open view of the sky above. Being underneath a carport or porch or awning that blocks the sky above does not qualify as open shade.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2010
  6. john lucas

    john lucas

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    Excellent suggestions Bill.
     
  7. Joe Greiner

    Joe Greiner

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    In addition to use of the tripod, use the camera's self-timer. After 10 seconds, any operator-induced jitter will be dissipated, especially with lowest "film" speed to allow long exposures.
     
  8. Jake Debski

    Jake Debski

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    Thanks John

    Thank you for offering to help those that are photo challenged, myself included. Giving ones time when, from my prospective you have very little to spare, is the hight of generosity.
     
  9. Gretch Flo

    Gretch Flo

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    Thanks

    John-you are so great as are others who take the lengthy time to "set us straight"!!!! I (we) am so appreciative. Gretch
     
  10. john lucas

    john lucas

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    Thanks. There are a lot of good photographers that visit here. What I would like to suggest is a sort of learning question. Post a photo of your work along with a photo of your shooting set up. I would be willing to critic the shot and offer suggestions and I'm sure you will get others involved.
    Why would you want better photography? Well it's simply fun to share what you are working on and it really helps us appreciate the effort going into a piece when you can see it clearly. I love to see work of all calibers. We get to watch people grow as turners and that's really cool. I remember Molly Winton and Andi Wolfe's early pieces as well as several others who are now the up and coming artists.
    It's also a great feeling to get a photo of your work published. Let me tell you the editors of all the magazines are hungry for good photos of good work. How many of you have ever sent a photo to one of the magazines. I know I often forget. Sometimes it takes a while to get it published. I remember one day opening up a magazine and seeing one of my pieces. It was over a year and I had forgotten I even sent that one. Sometimes your piece is just the perfect one to fill a space and editor will use it.
     
  11. john lucas

    john lucas

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    I don't know why I didn't try to post these this way instead of having to send them to you. I'll try to post the other 2 here as well.
     

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  12. john lucas

    john lucas

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  13. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    A couple of my images

    I will try to get a chance to get a shot of my set up in a few days, hopefully. In the meanwhile, here is a verbal description of what I use. My "table" is a B&D Workmate and for the background I use a Flotone Graduated Studio Gray paper (actually PVC plastic). I use gaffer's tape to fasten the top end to the wall and create a gentle sweep from top to bottom. The bottom edge is taped to the front of the Workmate. I have two light stands and use two 500W 4800K tungsten bulbs with focusing reflectors and shoot into two large umbrellas. The lights are placed on both sides of the table with one light fairly high and the other about the same elevation as the camera. I usually have the lights fairly close to the table.

    Occasionally I will use flags (sometimes also called "gobos") to reduce highlights. I have not tried using the light modifier cards that Jamie Donaldson demonstrated at SWAT last year, but I need to give it a try. I really enjoyed his program. He has a wealth of information to share. He also designed a really clever low cost lighting set up.

    I normally take a few shots of a WhiBal card to periodically get a white balance. I also sometimes keep the card at the edge of the FOV and later crop it out during post processing of the RAW files.

    My current camera is a Canon 7D and the lens that I use for photographing woodturnings is a Canon 70 -200 mm f/2.8 zoom. The lens has image stabilization, but I make sure that it is turned off for tripod shooting. I normally shoot from a distance of 8 to 10 feet with a focal length of about 100 to 140 mm depending on the size of the turning. I use an aperture of f/11 to f/16 depending on the DOF (depth of field) that I need. I focus at the mid point of the turning by setting a focus target at that distance. I also use the lowest ISO setting of 100 for the best quality images and finally I set the camera to save the RAW image files. There is actually no reason why I could not also get perfectly acceptable images from a P&S (point and shoot) camera with this lighting set up.

    One of the big problems with my set up is that I get big pinwheel shaped reflections of the umbrellas when shooting shiny turnings. I need to read your paper on ways to deal with those pesky reflections.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2010
  14. Joe Greiner

    Joe Greiner

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    I haven't digested the whole paper on glossy photography yet. It's an awkward problem: convey the reflectance, without reflecting everything.

    An old trick I'd heard about, but haven't tried, comes from photography of highly polished silverware, e.g. platters and bowls. The idea is to lightly dust the product with talcum powder. I suppose you can vary the amount of powder in various parts of the product, to produce the desired effect. But that could be almost as tedious as manipulating the lights, and then the product needs to be cleaned afterwards. Also, probably works best only with white, or near-white, products.
     
  15. john lucas

    john lucas

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    Joe I haven't tried talcum powder but have used a product called non-glare. I was always nervous about spraying anything because you done know what finish the artist is using and whether it will be difficult to get off. It also takes away all the gloss. I have masked off just the area where the highlight is and sprayed that but boy is that a pain.
    On wood one alternative is to shoot it before you get to the really glossy stage. I have a friend who makes very high end furniture with hand rubbed French polish. What he started doing was to rub it down with 4/0 steel wool, 600 or 1200 grit paper depending on how it reflects light and then we shoot it that way. It saved a huge amount of time in shooting the piece and made almost no difference in the photos at all. It also had the advantage of handling the piece to get it to the shoot was less problematic because he was going to go back and do the final finish and could rub out any handling marks.
     
  16. john lucas

    john lucas

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    proping up bowls and platters

    Nothing is worse for showing off bowls and platters than a stand of some sort. Not that they don't look good it's just that it takes your eyes away from the bowl. The object of good photography of artwork is to show off the artwork to its best. Below are two samples of things I've done to prop up work.
    I used paint cans for years simply because we have them around. I use everything from spray paint, and stacked quart cans to gallon cans depending on what I needed. If you look you will see the black gaffers tape on the bottom of the can. That's to help conceal it if you happen to see it behind the bottom of the piece. If proping the can directly against the piece won't work without showing the can then I put a dowel on the top so the can is further back. This usually works.
    This year I painted a bunch of bricks with a rubber black paint. I use these now more than I use the paint buckets. I can stack them in different ways to make them more rigid and can tape dowels to them to support the work.
    There is one more that I use on occasion but is only useful if you use seamless paper backdrops and don't mind cutting a hole in them. You use a longer dowel rod and hold it with some device or stand behind the backdrop. Then cut a hole in the backdrop and at the proper height to not show and poke the dowel through. Then tape it to the piece to hold it up.
    Sorry about the ugly platter. I couldn't find anything around the studio but a frisbee.
     

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  17. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    John, thanks for your great in-depth critique on the three images. I definitely see what you mean by the lighting being too flat on some of the images. I haven't really been fully aware of how much shadows can be used to bring an image to life until recently after soaking up some of the tutorial information on The Strobist site.

    I probably should get at least one shoot-through umbrella. I have a darker "Thunder Gray" graduated background that might help with the lighting on some of the turnings. I do have some strobes where the light output can be controlled without changing the color temperature, but have been hesitant to use them because adjusting the lights to get the shadows right seems to be too "fiddly" and I am not sure that they would have enough power output. I am not quite ready to fork out the money for the big boy strobes with modeling lights.
     
  18. john lucas

    john lucas

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    Bill I shot with hand held strobes for years. I was and still am a big fan of the older Vivitar 283 and Sunpack 433. Mostly because of the manual power ration adjustment. But even in automatic mode I use them very similar to the way I use our big lights.
    I would set up one light on a stand or even lay it on book cases or whatever aimed at the subject. I would pick an fstop, like F8 and set the flash to the f8 auto setting. That way I knew I would get f8's worth of power out of that light. Then I could adjust my camera to 5.6 if I wanted that light to be the brighter highlight kind of light or I would set the camera to f11 if I just wanted to use that light as a fill light. Then I would use my on camera flash and set it for either fill normal depending on what I wanted.
    In the studio with the big lights I set up the main light and decide whether it will be a highlight to give shape to the piece or if it will be the main exposure to show off the color of the piece. Once I have that set then I start working with ways to fill in the shadows either using bounce cards, mirrors or another light. I try to use as few lights as possible. More lights often mean more shadows or more reflections to deal with so if I can use fill cards I will because they cause less problems. Mirrors are kind of inbetween sometimes causing shadows or reflections and sometimes but they are worth playing with.
     
  19. Jamie Donaldson

    Jamie Donaldson

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    Anyone who has an older .......

    ...Vivitar 283 or other older strobes should not use flash sync directly connected to the camera, as excess trigger voltage could fry a circuit board. Most strobes made in the last 5 yrs. should be fine, and strobe slaves can make the older units useable without endangering digital cameras. Very interesting that John and I have exactly the same old Vivitars and Sunpacks, but I recently bought a newer Vivitar 285 HV for the times I need a flash to mount in the camera hot shoe for "quicky" flash shots.
     
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2010
  20. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    I have an old Vivitar 285 (at least 35 years old). Supposedly, my Canon 7D PC connector port is compatible with the high trigger voltage strobes, but when checking out the strobe recently, I discover that I had left some batteries in the unit for who knows how many years and they had made a mess of the battery holder contacts. If I ever get a "round tuit", I might see if I can get it back in working order. I probably also need to replace the big capacitor. I really liked that old flash -- it even made a POP sound like a flashbulb at full power.
     

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