Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Product Photo: Electronic Device with screen

Sometimes taking a photograph of a product just isn't enough. You have to show what the product actually does. In the case of an electronic device with a small screen, such as an mp3 player (in this case a Sandisk Sansa Express 2GB), the screen will not likely be very bright. Using flash to take a photograph of a device such as this therefore becomes a matter of balancing the flash light with the ambient light (the screen).

First, we need to see what exposure we need to get a decently bright looking screen. Just a matter of trial and error till you find it. In this case, I got an exposure of 1/15s @ f/5.6, ISO 400. This unfortunately means that the lights on the ceiling above are starting to come into play which normally isn't the case with flash product photography. You can see that the orange background I'm using has been lit darkly by the ceiling light.

This problem is swiftly dealt with by switching off the ceiling light so it doesn't mess with the exposure. Unfortunately this means working in low light with just the light from another room shining in so I can see what I'm doing.

Next step is to light the background. I decided before hand that I wanted to use the background to draw attention to the product, so I wanted a streak of light across the background right behind the product. To do this, I used a snoot on a flashgun and fired it across the background, such that it shines up the back of the paper.

Not quite where I want it, so I adjust the snooted flash a bit to the left so the streak appears higher in our image.

That's pretty well sorted for the background, so now it's a matter of lighting the actual product. I got a small gridded softbox that I've made and used in previous product photos I've posted here, and positioned it just to the left of the product shining across the front.

This proved a little heavy. You can see it's over-lighting the controls, and given we'll want to show up the screen, this isn't very helpful. Not only that, but the background shows a bit of a dark stripe where the light from the softbox is creeping in right at the bottom. To fix this, I moved the softbox further left and further back. This means the spill will be more evenly across the background, leaving the lower area a little touch brighter, and the product will show only the slightest hint of side lighting to pick up the shapes and contours of it.

This is starting to look the part, but you'll notice the product name and the lower edges of the controls are orange. This is because the softbox is lighting the orange paper below the player which is then reflecting up in the shiny edges. To sort this, I get some white reflectors. One goes underneath the player so rather than orange, the reflections become white. The second one is to add some fill to the edges on the right to bring out a little more of the depth of the control layout.

That's much better, and just about how I want it. The only thing left is to take a version of this shot which has the screen switched on. Having played with the player, I knew there was a menu option named "Music" which was kinda cool, and I thought was a good choice of screen to show.

With a bit of PS aided magic, the jack plug and clamp which support the mp3 player disappear, leaving the mp3 player floating. Now you start to see better why I opted for the stripe on the background.

Here's a couple of setup shots for you to look at

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Photographing a large paper sheet

Once in a while you get landed with the job of photographing something which would be better off scanned, but due to the size of it, or design of it, photographing it is far more practical. In this case, it was a rather large A1 plan. While I can't show you the actual plan due to the contents not being mine to pass on, I can show you how it was done.

So what do we need for a shot of the plan? Well, there are some fold marks on it, so the most important thing is to get these as flat as possible. Having done this, all you need is very flat, low contrast, non-directional light. Any directional light will show up as highlights or shadows at the creases.

I set up two diffusers to the top and bottom of the plan. You'll notice if you look at the following image that they are angled away from the plan. If they were angled over the plan, there'd be more chance of getting worse highlights on the creases. The diffuser in this case the white diffuser from a Portaflash 5 in 1 Reflector set, supported by a Portaflash 5 in 1 Reflector Support which attaches to any light stand. Because I like them, and they're inexpensive, I used a Portaflash Light Stand

A couple of flashes were then positioned on the outside of the diffusers. I guessed at 1/4 power on the 550EX (equivalent to Canon 580EX II) flashes, and was spot on for ISO 400 f/5.6. Because the plan was sitting vertically, I was using a relatively wide angle lens, and didn't really need too much depth of field. I stood to one side and leaned out over the image. The flash is exposing the image, so I wasn't too worried about shaking the camera provided I got a reasonably good framing.

The light wasn't just the diffusers either. Because of the positioning of the flashes, I was getting a lot of fill light from the ceiling, with the exception of the area blocked by me and the camera.

Having got the shot, I brought it into PS and did a slight adjustment to square up the plan in the frame, and that was the job done. The result was just about as good as a scan, except the resolution wasn't too hot. A1 paper is pretty large to photograph with a 10 megapixel dslr (I use a Canon EOS 40D). Given a dslr with 16-25 megapixel, this image would have been every bit the match of a scanner. Still, everything was readable with a 10 megapixel shot, so it did the job.

The other option for improvement would be to pin the plan up, light it the same way, but everything set relative to the plan hanging on the wall and use a longer lens. This would help reduce the slight distortion I saw with the wide angle lens. Not only that, but with a long lens, you could take two or three shots across the plan, and then join them as a panorama style image. This isn't great done with a wide angle as the distortion makes a mess of the joins.