Thursday, June 30, 2011

Come Over to the Dark Side...

final image, with three lights, a touch of detailing in Adobe Lightroom

I have to tip my hat to David Hobby straight off. For any of the photographers out there reading this, if you don't read David Hobby's Strobist Blog, you need to. Even if you only shoot with available light...READ this guy's blog.

I had a chance to see the FlashBus extravaganza when it came through Buffalo back in May. During David's talk, he spent a good chunk of time explaining how he created the layers of light he uses in his images. The key thing he said, which blew my mind, was that light is additive. Meaning: you start from the darkest shadows that you need to create depth and form and line, and slowly bring light into play, bit by bit, filling in with subtle washes of light or strong highlights, whatever... but only after you've established your blackest blacks. And the way you do that is by controlling your ambient light in the space with your aperture.

In the first image (1), this illustrates my ambient exposure, no strobes going off. Dark eh?
Image 2 has my main light (medium softbox) sweeping in from the left side. Image #3 has some fill light provided by a Nikon sb-700 speedlight just off to camera left, triggered via slave. In the fourth image there is a snooted and gridded strobe pointing down from camera right, straight onto the slip draped over the suitcase.

I think the fourth image is a little too hot and is starting to blow out some of the texture in the silk slip. I am also not seeing much detail in the pink cowboy boots.

This is what the scene looked like with no strobes, just ambient light, and all my settings on AUTO. No depth, no drama, just kinda blah. Bear in mind, there is NO strobe flash happening here... just a slow shutter speed in near-total darkness. We're talking f/10 at over half a second exposure, ISO 200.

With the final image, I can see the detailing in the boots, the shimmering of the fabric of the silk dress and slip, but I can also see the texture of the satin lining of the suitcase. This makes the whole image tie together for me.

The sad part for me is that once we had figured this piece out, we realized that we had other more pressing work that needed to be photographed, so we had to tear everything down and move onto work that pays the bills. Hopefully, after this holiday weekend, we'll be able to get back into this experimentation with light, texture and form!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Packing It In

Some days, you just want to pack your stuff in a box and hit the road. After a week like this past one, I would be happy just to find myself with busfare in my pocket and shoes on my feet. Somewhere between Monday morning and today, I promised Nancy that I would do make some images of her vintage suitcase collection. I figured a still-life photo session was just what the doctor ordered. I never would have guessed it to be even the slightest bit difficult.

What I found was that for all of my product photography, most of what I have done has been fairly small, usually under 14" tall. That's not too big. By taking up most of my shooting table, and stacking these suitcases three and four high, I found myself with new issues that I'd never faced before.

The biggest issue was running out of light to throw at the scene. Never had that issue before. Mind you, these strobes aren't underpowered but the way I normally shoot with them is to have them dialed WAY down.

After looking at the images I made yesterday I was very disappointed. I wanted to see more detail, more texture... more punch. So, rather than try to fight it with bigger harder light, I went to bed. Yep, I figured that sleep would give me better answers than arguing with my strobes. Woke up and thought about what David Hobby had to say about setting up a scene. His suggestion was to start by determining the influence you want the ambient light to play in the image, then slowly add one light just a bit at a time. I dont think he could have given me more pertinent advice!

After all was said and done, I'm not leaving home and joining the circus. Heck, the lions are at the gate and the ponies run wild through our living room. Nope, I am going to keep playing with these lights and enjoying the little surprises they send my way. Thanks David!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Woodfiring at Julie Crosby's studio

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to get to photograph Julie Crosby and her crew as they unloaded the pots from their latest firing. Julie tends to fire with just a few potters (lucky folks!!), and everyone contributes pots, everyone fires, everyone unloads, and EVERYONE helps cleanup. Makes for lots of pots, and very short work at cleanup time.

These are just a few of the mugs and tumblers that Julie had come out of this firing. Amazing colors and decoration. This week I am doing some studio photography of a few of these mug sets. I can't wait to see how great those images turn out!

Cary had a seriously wicked twinkle in his eye when this vase came out of the kiln. He knew straight away, it was a keeper!

These are just a few of Cary Joseph's pots that came out of this firing. Usually, during a woodfiring, pots get so hammered by the heat, the flame and the ash that lids stick, handles twist, and spouts clog with ash. Teapots are one of the least successful forms to expect from a woodfiring,... and Cary pulled quite a few out of Julie's kiln last month. Very impressive!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Tide is High...

This past Friday and Saturday, Leon Ginenthal at Der Rosenmeister Nursery, hosted an open house. He's doing it again this coming weekend, both Friday and Saturday (see his website or blog or facebook page for times!). If you weren't able to get down there this past weekend, you MUST go see it this coming weekend. The rose tide is at high peak and the colors are out of this world!

It rained quite hard last evening (and throughout the day on Saturday) which left the roses covered in water this morning. Under overcast skies and with a nice gentle breeze on the air, it was a perfect morning for photographing roses. While I was getting gear ready in the back of the vehicle, Lee was attending to a customer who had filled her station wagon with roses.

I wish I could remember all the names of the roses from today's shoot. So many stories, and so much history. If that weren't enough, the fragrance, fresh from the rain, was intoxicating.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Seeing the Light (Experiments with Flash)

A few months ago, my friend and life-coach Lydia sent me home with this amazing carved stone of hers. The texture in this stone is downright hypnotic. After I took it out of its fabric bag, it was probably a good half hour before I put it down again.

When Lydia originally suggested I take it home, the assumption was that it would be a fun subject to photograph. The play of light and shadow would give me ample opportunities for exploration. That was the plan.

Surprisingly, it was one of the hardest things I have ever shot. It fits in the palm of my hand. So right off the bat, the scale is considerably smaller than most of my subjects. My lights are correspondingly huge in comparison. Trying to get a delicate touch of light when you're using strobes that could light a hockey arena is tough.

After experimenting for an hour and change, I realized that I needed to approach the question differently. Slowly I started looking at ways to cut the amount of light hitting the object. First with gobos held in hand during longish exposures. When that didn't impress me, I tried changing the softbox so that only a small slice of light came through the baffle. I think the resulting images (the last two here) gave it more personality. Overall, it definitely made me rethink my lighting setup. I have since added a small grid-spot to one of my flashes and a snoot to another one. Thanks to Strobist, I have another cheapo gridspot in the making (out of coroplast leftover from the election campaign signs!). I should have that gridspot ready for next week! All in all, it was a fun process. Trying new ideas and learning through the process is always exciting.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cary Joseph's woodfired pots

This week started off with a very exciting product shoot featuring Cary Joseph's latest woodfired pots to come out of Julie Crosby's firing last week. After I finish up my next product shoot tomorrow, I aim to post more images from Julie's firing. There were some amazing pots to turn out from that firing! Cary asked if I could turn these around in 3 days so he could submit the images to a show whose deadline was almost immediate. We did it and got everything through post-production well within his timeframe. Normally, it takes longer. Lots of jobs fill the queue but when you have a very real deadline, my goal is to meet that deadline and to take the worry out of the hurry.

I think the thing that makes Cary Joseph's work stand out from the crowd is that he combines a very tight, precise throwing style and decoration, with the massive unpredicability of woodfiring. The resultant flows of ash and the searing licks of the flame's path really demonstrate how the kiln kisses each pot in a very unique way. Given the fickle nature of the woodfiring process, I was floored that Cary was able to get fifteen teapots out of this last firing. Absolutely amazing! So, now's the time to jump on over to Cary's studio. Teapots don't tend stick around the studio shelves for very long, so hustle!