Jewelry photography

Ring test-118-EditJewelry photography is one of the most difficult technical photographic skills out there. Even after you get a handle on the lighting and setup, that is only 30% of the process. More than likely you’ll have to do focus stacking to get the maximum sharpness for an image, and that can be after using a tilt-shift lens. After getting all the photographs taken, there’s still  50% of the job to be done in post-processing to get the image even close to what a client wants.

Take for example the ring in the upper right hand image. It is 60 years old and has seen a lot of use. The piece is very dear to the client and they wanted the best image possible within a budget.

This was a tall order, as the rhodium plating has worn off in many spots and the casting of the ring shows a lot of pores. Getting the look just right for their use takes quite a bit of work. The bottom Ring test-051diamond has a big chip in it, the ruby has several inclusions and surface defects. Of course, all of these are invisible when the ring is worn. But when the client needs a photograph for it, all the defects become painfully apparent.

You can see how the image started with in the bottom right picture. The color is off. The depth of field is shallow, the background is not white, on and on. Click on the photo to see a larger version.

Some of the imperfections have been left, as the client did not want to make the ring “too perfect”. Just good enough for their use.

Fourth of July 2014

Fireworks Wort Hotel
Fireworks Wort Hotel

The Fourth of July, 2014, in Jackson Hole was a pleasant evening. The storm that blew through earlier in the day cleared out the air and made for perfect fireworks conditions.

Click on the picture at the right. It was taken from the Jackson Indian Arts Museum across the street from the Wort Hotel.

This is a single exposure, no Photoshop involved. Judicious use of exposure time, off-camera strobe, a Nikon D800, and a Nikon 35mm f/2D lens.

Happy Fourth America.

Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014

Jackson Hole Juggernauts

JH Juggernauts
JH Juggernauts

As a photographic sponsor of the Jackson Hole Juggernauts Roller Derby, I was out last night photographing them. They had a bout with the Magic City Rollers at the Snow King events arena. Although the home team lost, it was still a very good bout and enjoyable. Up to the 18 minute mark, the teams were tied, trading points and position back and forth. Then, out of nowhere, the Magic City Rollers rocketed past the Juggernauts and created an overwhelming deficit.

The sport of roller derby has come a long way since the 1970’s, when players bashed themselves up. Now, the rules are heavily enforced, get checks, no elbows, fists or otherwise. They really keep it interesting. Yes, there were many knock-downs. Many intentional. But I never see it as something where the players are trying to hurt each other, just take the opposing player out of play.

Turtle defense #1200
Turtle defense #1200

I had a lot of fun photographing this event, as this was the first time I was able to use my D800 to see how it would do in a sports situation with my Nikon 180mm f/2.8. The camera is not intended to be used for sports, as its repeat frame rate comes in at a paultry 4fps. But that’s not my shooting style. Instead of blasting away, I shoot selective shots, just like when I was shooting surfing. I have no desire to edit 3000 photos at the end of the night. I’d rather come back with a more useful 300. Granted, I can’t get the sequence shots that a D4s would give me, but that’s okay. The resolution advantage that the D800 gives me makes me happy. Besides, I’d be tempted to blast away with a D4s.

Stay down
Stay down

One of the things I did with this event was I was able to use my Nikon SB-800 Speedlights to light up the arena. I was blown away how much better they made the photos. The clarity popped right up. With the combination of the Pocketwizards and Speedlights, I was able to light up most of the rink without issue. Since I was running on 1/4 power, I was able to shoot at ISO 1250 and achieve a nice balance between the ugly green/yellow lighting of the arena and the nice polish of the flash. Once I got the 3rd light set up, I was having a good old time. I couldn’t believe how much better the shots were. It was like shooting in a professional arena with their huge lights. I would have prefered my strobes to be high on the ceiling, but that’s okay. I like the drama the shadows add.

Going for the knockout
Going for the knockout

There was another photographer there from Utah last night. He was using on-camera flash, but the light fall-off from his vantage point was so bad that the rest of the arena looked dark. In my class, I talk about how to achieve a nicer balance. If he would have boosted his ISO to 1600, he could have achieved a good balance between his on-camera flash and the arena lighting. Granted, the on-camera flash would have still been unflattering, but at least his shots wouldn’t look like they were shot in a cave. If you’re reading this, I have a DVD available for sale that would help you out!

I’ll have to try some rear-sync stopped motion at the next bout. That should give some even more interesting shots!

Portrait of a maltese

Mandy to maltese
Mandy to maltese

While I had all of my models bail today, I had to come up with something for posing. Granted, this little model wasn’t exactly going to be strutting down the runway, but she’ll be in the heart of her owner. Making portraits is enjoyable, but it does take a lot of work to make a good image of someone. Or, in this case, something, if a dog can be called that.

The toughest thing about this little maltese Mandy was that, for some reason, she liked to look away once the camera came out. She would only give me flirtatious looks for a second or two that I had to capitalize on.

Sometimes when shooting portraits, it is like that. You only get a second or two to make the shot, then you have to wait a long time to make the next one. And, sometimes, that shot never comes back. That is what’s both frustrating and satisfying about lighting and photographing people or animals. It’s the one split second you get with them where they allow you to try and capture their essence. I want to define them by their image, creating a lasting impression.

At least with people taking a portrait, there is the chance they might be cooperative, as they’re likely with me as a photographer because they want to be there. It’s not like I’m photographing someone at a Congressional hearing who has no desire to be in the hot seat. But with animals, if they don’t want to work with you, it takes a lot of effort and great patience to exact out a shot that might just work for their owner.

The nice thing about this little dog was, though she was a little shy about being photographed, she gave me a couple of opportunities to make the shot. She didn’t growl or make things difficult at all. It seemed like she accepted her fate to sit on the leather cushion and gave me what I needed when she wanted.

Pet photography is just like that some times.

Video on Amazon

Amazon screen capOur video titled Introduction to Off-Camera Strobe Flash Photography is now available on Amazon! It was very exciting to bring up the link and actually see the video for sale. Now photographers will be able to purchase the video, watch it, and develop their strobe photography skills. By watching this video, you will develop an understanding of how light works, how to manage modifiers, and how to improve your photography.

We are in a holding pattern to have the video available for the Amazon Video On Demand service. It will be available in June, as the lead time for loading videos has grown quite large. But you can purchase the DVD right now.

Also, you can purchase the DVD here at CreateSpace as well.

We’re excited to have this DVD out, as that means we’re already working on the next title. We hope to have several titles available by the end of the year.

Using the Nikon D800, we were able to shoot all of the in-studio material with a Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Recorder. This allowed us to record in Prores 422, meaning we were able to capture very high fidelity video right into the computer. This was better than having to run the HDMI signal to an external recorder, then download it to the computer. All of this boils down to being able to produce a video and get it to the retail market faster.

Strobe lighting zones

While working on images for my Strobe Photography: Technical and Artistic Control class, I have had to create quite a few

Lighting zones
Lighting zones

images to illustrate the point I am trying to make. Sometimes, I totally miss the point. But that’s another matter. In this particular image, I illustrated the four zones or areas of lighting in photography.

The four zones make up lighting in every image that I can think of. These areas of lighting allow for infinite control of the feeling, composition, texture rendition, and all the other variables that go into lighting a particular subject.

As I needed something that would highlight (pun intended) the four lighting zones, I chose an object that would sit happily with nary a negative comment. Casting around, I found what I was looking for. I would have prefered a perfectly smooth sphere, but this was the best I found in a pinch.

The first zone of lighting is the lit area. That is where the orange is receiving light from my flat panel light and scattering that light back to the camera. This large area is also called the diffused highlight  zone.

The second area is the transition area that goes from the first zone to the third zone. There is no special name for this area. People make up names but we’ll refer to it here as the highlight to shadow transition zone. The width of this zone is determined by the size the light source the subject sees. In this case, the orange. As you can see, the transition out of the diffused highlight area is fairly wide, indicating that the light source was large relative to what the subject, in this case the orange, saw. More posts on that later.

The third lighting zone has an original name. It’s, well, the shadow zone. This is the area of the subject that is not receiving any light from the key light source (name to be discussed in another blog entry). In this particular case, I added a secondary reflector to bring the orange’s shadow out of the mud. I don’t want people to think I can’t make a good photograph of an orange.

The fourth zone may not be so obvious. But once I point it out, you’ll say of course! The fourth lighting area is the specular highlight zone. That is the area in the upper right of the orange that bounces a direct reflection of the light source to the camera. If this orange were perfectly smooth, then the specular highlight would be a mirror reflection of the light source. Of course, the edges of the panel would be curved, as the orange is curved. This is all about lighting physics, which I will continue to cover in future posts, too.

When shooting, if you consider these four zones, you will be able to make technical and artistic decisions about how your image will look, what is important on your subject, what to pull your viewer’s eyes away from and so forth.

Orange setup
Orange setup

Bonus point to those who figure out how I created the muted reflection of the orange. And an additional bonus point for figuring out how I made the background, minus the reflection, completely black. There was no Photoshop done in this image, only a crop to remove the large area of black.

If you need to cheat, look at the setup image. You’ll see a piece of black granite sitting under the orange in a relatively precarious position. Why is the black granite totally black, even though it is receiving plenty of light from my light panel?

Stay tuned for more blog entries on that.

What did I used to create the orange shot you ask? I’ll try to remember to put the equipment list in each blog post, when appropriate:

Strobe flash introduction class

I enjoyed teaching the first class in my series on strobe flash photography techniques.  In this class, I’m

Aaron instructing strobe photography
Aaron instructing strobe photography

teaching the basics of getting the strobe (flash) off the camera and making some really interesting images with it.  It’s been a long time since I learned and it’s good to check my skills.  It’s fun to bring other photographers into the fold of managing their light and making far better images.

One of the students said:

I really wish I would have had this information last week.  I could have made much better images when I photographed the Wilson [Wyoming] snow sculptures last week.

It was good to know I was teaching very useful and timely information to these photographers.  As as in instructor, I always have to mindful that not everyone knows these techniques and that I have to be completely patient.  If the students aren’t understanding my explanations, it’s because I’m not explaining it properly.  The onus of understanding is on me, not the student.

Off-camera strobe teaser

Off-camera with fill

To get people excited for my two upcoming strobe photography classes at the Art Association of Jackson Hole, I’ve decided to post some samples to show what you can do with you get the strobe (flash) off the camera.

First, you need a strobe that can be triggered remotely, either wired or wirelessly.  There are a multitude of ways to do that.  We’ll cover that in the class.

The photo at the right shows the final image (click to see a larger version).  The background isn’t nice but that’s not the point.  Look at the texture of the trilobite I collected from the desert a few years back.

You can see depth, shape, texture.  How is this accomplished?

With shadows.

Once you get to a two-dimensional photograph, the only cue for texture is shadow.  You can kind of guess when there isn’t, but it’s pretty darned difficult.  I used one off-camera strobe and the on camera flash for fill.  More on that in a moment.

Direct flash
Direct flash

Now to the left, you can see a photo taken with just the on-camera flash of a Nikon D800.  Pretty ugly compared to the one above, right?  This is the type of photograph of something you’ll see on eBay.  Even some wedding “photographers” think their little pop-up flash will do a good job (and charge a lot for it).

We don’t want to do that.  We want to create convincing, dramatic photographs.  Does every shot have to be art?  No.

But it took me about 2 minutes of making adjustments to go from the shot on the left to the shot above.  Is the balance as perfect as I’d like?  No, but you get the point, it’s easy to see the trilobites are there, that they have depth and they are interesting.  The direct flash gives you none of that feeling.

It’s a dramatic change.

The next shot is done with purely off-camera flash.  It looks a little overly shadowed, right?

Off-camera only
Off-camera only

This is way too dramatic for this object.

That’s where the concept of fill-flash comes in handy.  Even though we’ve got the strobe off-camera, the shadows are so dark that they distract from the subject.  This is something we don’t want to do, either.  For this shot, I wanted to emphasize the subject and not the shadow.  In another blog entry, I’ll cover the shadows as negative space, an art concept.  Sometimes you want to draw attention to the shadows.

But not in this shot.  I wanted to show texture without making it look like a film-noir for ancient dead creatures.  There are plenty of b-movies with those.  For very flat objects, it does take a little work to get some drama out of them.  Even a piece of paper can be made to look interesting.  I’ll show that in another blog entry.

I was shooting perfectly flat petrified wood tables for By Nature Gallery and, with a little effort and off-camera strobes, I made the tables come alive.  Even though they’re perfectly smooth, the little crystals inside the petrified wood just pop with color.  Getting the strobe off-camera made those shots possible.  (note that the photos on their site are not mine, mine are in their brochure)

Getting texture out of seemingly flat things is just one of the concept that I will be teaching in my strobe (flash) photography class.

Click on any of the photos to see a higher resolution shot to see what I’m talking about.