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#1 Usernameistaken

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Posted 07 September 2016 - 20:36

Hello, 

 

 

I recently found this forum and posted for the first time asking about a pen I had that was very special to me, which, unfortunately, I lost mere weeks later, after having it in my pocket every day for over 20 years (still reeling).

 

 

Anyway, this community has been very kind and insightful to me, and since I am the furthest thing from a pen expert here, I want to offer whatever expertise I can to support the community.

 

 

I am a professional studio photographer, specializing in high-end watch photography, as well as jewelry, pens, and other pricey objects (I have also worked around the world on commercial and editorial sets with notable personalities, and just about every style of photography you can imagine). So, I intimately know the difficulties most people encounter when photographing their favorite items, whether for sale or personal gratification. I recently rebuilt the studio for my watch retailer client, and am shooing 20-30 watches per day, which all feature difficulties like domed crystals, mother of pearl, facets, angles, curves, different finishes, moving parts etc. - meaning nothing even the most complex pen can throw at me can trip me up. 

 

 

So, anyone here who has questions about photography, or other photography dilemmas, should please feel free to contact me directly or post your queries in this thread, and I'll gladly offer my expertise.  I can virtually guarantee that my advice and techniques would improve your photography more than any expensive equipment purchase would (equipment is the trap many amateur photographers fall into). I can help perfect your technique, identify your problems, interpret your light, whatever you need.

 

 

Next time you are photographing your pens and are struggling to capture the images you want, please just ask, 

 

 

If you'd like see a very small sampling of my work, you can visit my website at: 

http://www.jamesburger.com.

 

 

 

I hope to be of help.

 

 

Best,

 

James


Edited by Usernameistaken, 08 September 2016 - 02:35.


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#2 usk15

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Posted 07 September 2016 - 22:40

Hi James,

 

 

I'm a amateur photographer, usually going for landscapes, cars, architecture and small objects. I'm using a Panasonic FZ38 6 years old and a tripod Hama.

 

Now, for take good close up pictures of pens usually I'm using natural day light in a shade, not direct sunlight, around midday. I have try a home-made light-box once, but I'm still not very convinced about that, beside I don't have any lamps around... Sometimes I get a pretty good photos of nibs (my personal opinion...) and other details, but sometimes not, I'm guessing is about patient and try to be calm, relaxed. Also I realize a big factor is actually the lighting and angles to capture the moment.

 

Have a look on my Flickr photos and tell me how can I improve my details photography please.

 

https://www.flickr.c...157655593646316

https://www.flickr.c...157644927544321

https://www.flickr.c...157637052508375

https://www.flickr.c...157647530171904

https://www.flickr.c...157645241369403

 

 

 

I went through you website and your work is impressive!

 

 

Thank you,

Nick



#3 FOUR X FOUR

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Posted 07 September 2016 - 23:08

Both of you are very good. I appreciate good photography. My skills are limited to what my iPhone 6s+ will do

#4 pen2paper

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Posted 07 September 2016 - 23:30

Welcome James,

 

Thanks for sharing your (Ditto) impressive work. Loved the clever rubber ducky how-to video.

 

Sorry about the loss of your go-to pen. Some daily tools become trusted personal assistants.  I have a small leather cross-body bag that's been to local leatherworker for repair since it's The One that works for me. Once you've made enough posts to include photos, you might include its photo under your signature as "Wanted Poster".  

 

Alternately, there are expert pen turners here who could work with you to create something special that would fit your hand.

 

...sort of scuffing my foot embarrassed to ask, but if you have suggestions for better small object photos using i-phone, please do 



emoticon-animal-007.gif~Hi! fountain pen enthusiast here~


#5 Usernameistaken

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Posted 08 September 2016 - 01:55

Hi Nick,

 

I looked at your photos and you have a good eye for composition, so you're on the right track. Just a basic understanding of how light acts will definitely enhance your images.

 

I'm flooded with ideas I want to tell you, so let me just ramble and I'll try to keep it on track (Nick, if you're already familiar with the principles of photography, you should skip to paragraph 9, where I started writing to you directly.):

 

First off, a very basic lesson for anyone who doesn't already understand the fundamentals of photography: the only thing you need to know about photography before getting started is that light is recorded from pure black to pure white, and the camera's meter's job is to suggest what exposure will give you an average 50% gray. Since you know that your image will not be just a middle gray rectangle, it is up to you to determine how you want to balance the dark and light areas of your scene. The way you adjust exposure in a manual camera is by manipulating any of three features, the sum of which will be determined by the total amount of light available.

 

1. ISO: This is sensitivity of your film (or sensor). A lower ISO, like 50 or 100 features much fine grains of emulsion, so relatively much more surface area, which means it absorbs light relatively slowly. A faster ISO, like 800 or 3200 has larger grains of emulsion, so, with less surface area it absorb light much more quickly. Each doubling of ISO rating, for example, 400 to 800, represents twice as much light that can be absorbed in a given duration. In the case of pens, which are motionless, I suggest the lowest ISO possible. The drawback of higher ISO's is a grainer or nosier image (though this is changing with technological advancements).

 

2. Shutter Speed: This is how quickly your shutter opens and closes. If you are shooting with a low ISO, you will need a relatively slower shutter speed, to allow enough time for the light to be absorbed by your media. Each doubling of shutter speed, for example, a half second to one second, represents twice as much light that may pass through the lens.

 

3. Aperture: This is the opening in your lens that allows light to pass to the sensor. A large aperture (or f/stop) allows more light to pass through, allowing you to lower your ISO and/or increase your shutter speed. This results in a very sharp focal point and then a rapid falloff of sharpness to points further away (think soft background portrait). A smaller aperture allows less light to pass, so may require a slower shutter speed and/or a higher ISO, and will result in a deeper depth of field, so a sharper image from the focal point outwards. Aperture is expressed in numbers like 2.8, 5.6, 6.3, 8.0, 11, 16, 22, 32, etc. The lower the number the wider the aperture. Doubling an aperture, for example from 2.8 to 5.6, halves the amount of light that can pass through the lens.

 

For anyone who likes imperfect metaphors, let's think about your kitchen sink for  minute. Imagine your faucet is a lens, the sink is your camera body, and a sponge directly below the faucet is your film or sensor. Our objective is to halfway saturate a  sponge, and how we do that will depend on a few factors. How long we keep the faucet open, how wide is the faucet's opening, and how absorbent is the sponge?

For example, if we want to wet the sponge quickly, but our faucet's opening is narrow, we'll need a more absorbent sponge and/or we'll need to run the faucet for longer. Changing any one of those three factors will affect the sponge's exposure to the water, and thus may require an adjustment of either or both other factors.

 

Pens, being inanimate, will often benefit from a low ISO, slow shutter speed, and small aperture. If the wind is blowing and your pen is likely to move, then a shorter shutter speed may be required, and you can make up the difference with either an aperture or and ISO adjustment in the opposite direction.

 

That is photography in a nutshell.

 

Nick, one recommendation I have is to make what photographers call V-flats. These are assemblies of two boards bound with a spine of tape, much like book covers without pages between. (Note, Europeans also refer to these as "bookends" or sometimes just "flats.")

 

The height and width of the v-flats is dependant on the subject matter, but in the case of pens, a flat that is 24" square should suffice in most cases.

 

V-flats are possibly one of the cheapest and most useful pieces of equipment in any photo studio. They can act as light sources, flags (to block light), reflectors, supports, and more.  With enough V flats (3-4) you can easily make a tent, if that is the style of shooting you choose.

 

As a side note, since you mentioned tents, they are both wonderful and total garbage depending on the situation. They are sort of a 65% solution, but they are totally expendable in light of several alternative and preferred techniques.

 

Below are three snapshots of a small v-flat. In portraiture, we use V-flats that are made from foam core boards, black on one side, white on the other, that measure 4 feet by 8 feet and are 1/2 inch thick. The thickness gives it stability and durability, and the duotone give it flexibility of purpose. The only real trick to building small flats is that when you tape the edges, you should use a flexible tape, like gaffers tape, and you should not tape too tightly, otherwise they will not open and close without resistance. The standard board photographers use is very difficult to find (there is basically one place in NYC to get it), but you can also use smaller boards from the art supply store. I recommend buying both black and white in this case, so rather than flipping a duo tone board, you just have an option of two separate boards. Use 1/4" thick boards of you can find them. The 1/8" boards won't last long. the beautiful thing about V-flats is that they are cheap, replaceable, customizable, and there is basically no wrong way to use them.

 

V-flats.jpg

 

I could write an essay about making V-flats, but I won't - instead I'll explain some of the ways they are used.

 

Let's say you are shooting in the sun. There is only one sun, but you want light from more than one angle. If the sun is to the right, use the white side of the v flat to reflect from the left. This will fill/brighten the shadows cast off that side.

 

If the sun is behind your subject, you can use two v-flats in front, one on either side of your subject, to allow the direct sunlight to act as a backlight or rim light, and the reflected light to act as a front light or "key light."

 

If the sun is shining directly on the subject in a harsh manner, use the edge of a v-flat to feather a shadow across the blown reflection.

 

Often the best placement for a V-flat is just outside the edge of your field of view.

 

Note that with highly reflective subjects, like polished gold, you are essentially photographing a mirror, so you will see anything that you allow to reflect on the surface. V-flats can offer a uniform reflection that follows the contours of your subject. Therefore, you might need to move your V-flats very close or construct large ones in order that your reflection covers the entire area you want to fill.

 

When thinking about reflections, realize that the size of the subject doesn't matter nearly as much as its shape/contours. A foot-long gold rectangle will reflect a much smaller area than an inch-wide gold sphere. The contours of a reflective object will determine the size of the light source you need.

 

Also realize that what you can achieve with a larger light source you can also essentially be achieved by moving your small light source closer to the subject, and vice versa.

 

The size of your light source will determine the edges of your shadows. So, if you want very soft shadows, you need a very large light. The unobstructed sun, being very far away, acts as a very small light source. When the weather is overcast, the sunlight is being diffused through the cloud cover, and become much larger, creating much softer shadows.

 

It is important to control your highlights (whites) and shadows (blacks) to make sure neither is really pure white or pure black, unless you intend it to be so. Once your camera records pure white or black, you cannot recover those pixels. For our purposes, there are 254 gradations of gray between black (represented digitally as 0) and white (represented digitally as 255). If you can avoid capturing pixels with a brightness value of either 0 or 255, then you will be able to do virtually anything to your pixels in post-production. This is one of the reasons why controlling light is so essential. (for example, https://www.flickr.c...57655593646316/ - in my opinion, this very nice image would be improved by toning down the blown highlight across the center of the pen. It's distracts from the beauty of the nib, which could have also been lightened just a tad. Am I correct that the highlight is a reflection of a long window that turns a corner? It could be toned down with a translucent shade, or you could bring some sort of diffusion material closer to the pen, just above your camera, to darken it a bit., or you could shoot a darker exposure to lower those white, and simultaneously add light into the other parts... or... so many ways to do it!)

 

I noticed you use Legos to support your subjects sometimes. You might instead gather some little bits and bobs that you can hide entirely. Tiny acrylic cubes can support and add to a composition. A small wood finishing nail or toothpick can often be hidden behind a pen or tucked under a curve to stabilize it and prevent it from rolling. TopStick brand tape is an industry secret I might get in trouble for revealing... it is a highly workable  double-sided tape made for scalps, so it will not mar precious and delicate surfaces when handled gently, but it sticks with almost no pressure and is easy to cut into small enough pieces to hide. Very fine fishing line can be used to suspend or stabilize your subject, and can either be removed in retouching or, better yet, lit in a way that makes it disappear in camera.

 

Don't be afraid to try lights other than the sun. You don't need anything special. The most important thing is that all your lights are the same color temperature. So, I don't recommend mixing the sun with LED flashlights. But your results using 3-5 LED flashlights with some V-flats might blow your mind.

 

There is a lot more to say, but I need to get back to work, so please allow me to leave it there for now. I know this might have raised more questions than it answers, so please feel free to ask anything.

 

Meantime, keep up the good work.

 

James


Edited by Usernameistaken, 08 September 2016 - 02:37.


#6 Usernameistaken

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Posted 08 September 2016 - 01:58

Hello 4x4 and Pen2Paper,

 

Thanks for your kind words.

 

Except for the ability to change camera settings, everything I've written applies to iPhones (and even Android phones!). Using V-flats and reflectors is an amazing way to enhance your phone snaps. All the basic principles are exactly the same, regardless of the camera type. Let me know if you have questions.

 

There's a old adage in photography that amateurs are concerned with equipment, professionals are concerned with time, and masters are concerned with light.

 

james



#7 usk15

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Posted 08 September 2016 - 07:08

Hi James,

 

 

Thank you for your time and explanations! The example with the kitchen is perfect to understand and make more sense now to understand how light is captured through lenses!

 

I have using a sort of V-flat cardboard (home-made) when shooting indoor, have only one big window as light source, but it was a small and too thin for the purposes. Now, I will have to check some art and craft stores for a better V-flats blocks! Basically now I can use these V-flats to create a sort of light-box to block the direct light exposure, a big Thank you!!!

I did understood completely your explanation about mirror surface, and how to protect that. Is very important when shooting nibs and reflecting metallic surfaces.

 

In these photo I have used a V-flat cardboard, covering the windows light exposure:

 

e8mxbt.jpg

 

 

Using the Lego parts I thought is fun by adding something else to balance the serious pen image. Otherwise I'm using Blue-tack to support my pens. Actually you can see it on the side of the Faber-Castell and Parker pen (I was a bit sloppy...)

 

16715230585_1228fe182f_b.jpg

 

As for my software post-production I'm using PhotScape to edit balance, contrast, darkness, luminance curve, back light and film effect. Sometimes I'm using too much of these effects and figure that out after I have post the photo online...: You can see the areas around the horse and around the car:

 

20839984263_e09d657dd2_b.jpg

 

Of course I will keep an eye on all your comments and explanation.

 

Thank you very much,

Nick



#8 Usernameistaken

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Posted 08 September 2016 - 23:41

Hi Nick,

 

Overall, you do a good job with your photography. I think enhancing your lighting and learning some techniques would really up the ante for you.

 

Glad that you are familiar with the concept of the flats. Making some perfect variations of them will really enhance your toolkit. Yes, you can put one on either side and the one across the top for a basic tent. Make it just a tad wider and taller than your image frame. You can also add one or two more from the front as a camera shield, reflectors, etc. We refer to this as tenting, even though most photographers hate actual light tents. But we'll throw everything in there at some point or another, from tea kettles to celebrities. It's essentially the same idea of using open shade in the outdoors, where you can achieve a complete separation between the foreground and background brightness values.

 

Blue tack is definitely present in a lot of photo studios. Use the minimal amount you can, like half or less than the amount you show in that photo. I personally like the TopStick tape better, because it is easier to hide, flatter but can be stacked (folded) for more body, easy to cut, and is safe for many precious/delicate surfaces.

 

I don't know PhotoScape, you taught me something. I'm sure it's not entirely different from Photoshop and other software I use. I see it handles RAW files. Do you shoot in RAW format? If not, you should seriously consider doing so, because it will allow you a much wider range of adjustments making fine tuning more satisfying. That's a whole other discussion, but if you have questions, of course, ask.

 

James



#9 Usernameistaken

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Posted 15 September 2016 - 23:21

CORRECTION:  My brain just caught up with my writing and I realized I slipped a factual error into my essay from 07 September 2016 - 21:55

 

I wrote, "... camera's meter's job is to suggest what exposure will give you an average 50% gray."

 

I should have written, "...camera's meter's job is to suggest what exposure will give you an middle gray, which averages about 18% of light being reflected ."

 

Apologies for any confusion

 

jb



#10 Innes Cate

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 02:23

Hi James

 

I am less than an amateur photographer and have a Panasonic Lumix LX5 which I shoot my pens on macro and iA, so I'm really a point & shot person.    I usually shoot the pen on a 30cm square white board sitting on the kitchen table near the window for light. Sometimes I get a pretty good photo and sometimes rubbish.    

 

My main problem is light reflections on the pen itself and my camera reflection appearing in the photograph of the nib or the gold caps and barrels.   To overcome this I am looking at purchasing a 40cm light tent or box.  

 

Would you be able to advise which is the better option:

a)  The folding light box made of the hard body material with the led strip lighting at the upper front, or

B)  The folding tent made of soft fabric to produce light difusion evenly, using light stands either side

 

I am still experimenting with using the marco with the tele lens to take the camera further away from the subject, but not have a great deal of success.

 

Appreciation in advance

 

Innes



#11 Usernameistaken

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 20:23

Hi Innes,

 

If I had to choose between the two, I would opt for the more flexible version. I wouldn't want to have a light fixed in position anywhere, unless I were photographing the same item repeatedly, because the different properties of your different subjects will require modifications of technique.

 

Sometimes the difference between unacceptable and amazing photographs is just a matter of millimeters in a lighting adjustment.

 

Really look at your reflections and determine exactly what is being reflected. When controlling reflections, if you are seeing something you don't want to see, that means light is hitting the undesired artifact and bouncing to your pen and then to the lens. Therefore light must either be eliminated from that place or something more pleasing must be reflected from between that place and the subject. If it is a light source, modify it by moving your light or diffusing it to a sufficient degree. If it is something outside your set, like a couch, more the couch, cover it on black, eliminate the light hitting the couch, or place a large board in front of the couch to block it.  If it is your white t-shirt, wear a black one (seriously, that is the idea).

 

It really doesn't matter what kind of camera you're using. The camera is just there to capture the subject that you have carefully cleaned, propped, and lit. Even an iPhone will produce a stunning photo if it is pointed to a beautifully composed and lit scene. So forget completely about your camera model's limitations and focus solely on the thing it will capture.

 

Putting your lens closer to your subject will actually ease your struggle with reflections because you can reducing the range of angles from which light can reflect directly into your lens. It will also mean you have to pay closer attention to your light placement, though, because reflections may appear more prominent.

 

One alternative to a light tent are light panels that you can move around - basically frames with diffusion over the opening, completely independent of your set and lights.  You can use picture frames or window screen frames and place any type of diffusion you like on them. A lot of actual "scrims" used on cinematic and photographic lights have traditionally been various gauges of window screening, so you can experiment with that too - this won't soften light, but it cuts light pretty effectively and can be used to shield an entire or portion light source.

 

A light tent is a fairly easy solution, but it doesn't work all the time (or, even most of the time for the uninitiated) and it does require some practice. It's not a Magic Bullet, and there are several reasons they are not really standard equipment in higher-end photo studios. In my opinion, their biggest flaw is that the nylon is too dense, so it tends to kill any sculpting of light I'd want to do. That said, they are relatively inexpensive and can be helpful in learning light. You might benefit from trying one out, but once you've mastered it, you'll might want to try more controlled situations.

 

I'd recommend a larger size than a 40cm tent, like 2-3 times that size. Remember that it's not the size of your pen that will determine its reflective properties, as much as it is its shape/contours. Small tents often fail because the seams where they are sewn together (corners, edges, and front panel) are placed so close to the subject that you start to have problems with them reflecting. I personally wouldn't use the smallest size tents except for in the case of really truly macro photography like insects or earrings.

 

Going to a larger size will also allow you more room to play with modifying the light on either side of the scrim. I recently replaced the light tent at the watch studio I've been shooting for with a sort of Lucite box that I can attach any type of diffusion to. It's bigger and bulkier, but very easy to use, and it appears virtually seamless in all highly reflective surfaces. Something like that can be customized completely for your particular needs, but expect to spend about $200-300 getting it right for you. It's not a boxed product on a shelf.

 

Remember that you can shoot light in from the top and bottom of a light tent, so it's good to have a transparent table. Once you put a tent between your window light and subject, you might also need to really slow down your shutter speed, so keep an eye on vibrations, etc. I'd suggest getting some basic lights, which will really help your learning curve. There are probably better options than what comes in a kit with a tent, but that's whole other train of thought.

 

With this type of Photography, you might want to start with just one top and one bottom light spaced fairly evenly with the subject between them. Then just use white cards or other reflectors to bounce that vertical beams towards your subject. Often, you will find that that casts a pleasing lighting pattern for you. Since the bottom of a tent is fabric, you'd benefit from a quarter-inch sheet of Lucite on the inside bottom, as your surface. This would be much more stable surface on which to build your set.

 

With Plexiglass, I like to use totally clear pieces, rather than frosted, and then modify them by fixing any number of types of diffusion materials over them. I've been using 3M repositionable adhesive recently to adhere my diffusion to the plastic. The reason I do this instead of using a frosted pieces of plastic, is that it gives me much more control and consistent color temperatures.

 

Independent of the tent, I'd also recommend a larger background than your 30 cm. This will allow you a lot more flexibility in camera angle and placement of your subject. Give yourself a lot more breathing room than that. I could write two more pages of reason why, but I'll hope you just trust me enough to see for yourself.

 

I know that's a lot longer than the answer you hoped for, but I hope it's clear enough to help a bit. Follow-up questions and requests for clarification are free-of-charge.

 

jb



#12 Innes Cate

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 21:09

Hi James

 

Many thanks for your advise which has helped me immensely in understanding the different light tent options and more in how the light works in conjunction with the subject being photographed.

 

Good thing I made this inquiry with you as I thought the 40cm would be ideal being closer to the item but now understand your reasoning for the larger size.

 

I am looking at a 60cm fabric light tent with camera stand and a couple of lights which is rather inexpensive should it not prove ideal.   

 

Cheers

Innes



#13 Usernameistaken

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Posted 16 September 2016 - 22:59

Very good, start with that and check back when you have questions.



#14 da vinci

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 08:50

Usernameistaken thank you for this thread. It is a kind and generous offer.

My challenge is that I want to post acceptable pen and handwriting photos but I don't have the time, energy or inclination to set up each shot using tents and boards and tripods. Realistically I will be using an iPad mini or an iPhone camera.

I appreciate that the quality of my photos will reflect the effort I put in but Are there any quick and dirty tips/tricks that you can provide that might help me get a half decent photo?

Thanks in anticipation.

#15 Usernameistaken

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 21:26

Hi Da Vinci,

 

The best advice I can give would be to dedicate a space to the activity and work in the beginning to set up the best general lighting scenario you can, so that all you have to do it put your pen on set and take the picture.

 

I am planning to post a brief tutorial with photos on essentially how to do this, but I've got a lot on my plate so not exactly sure how soon.  If you have a window light, put a table in front of it and get yourself some of the cards I recommend above, that will be enough to capture your shots as long as the day ls bright enough.  Once you get the hang of it, it's remarkably simple to get pleasing results with just that natural back lighting and a fairly easy to move free-standing bounce cards.

 

Remember that the more you know about the light you're capturing, the more it will seem like an easy task. But there is a learning curve, so just do it when you have time and don't feel rushed.

 

Also, try to set up your phone or ipad on some support (tripod, pile of books, etc.) so that your composition is stable and predetermined when you're placing your pen on set. This will help you concentrate on the lighting and propping and then the photography will basically take care of itself.

 

Good luck and let me know if you have questions.

 

Best,

James



#16 da vinci

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 21:33

Hi Da Vinci,
 
The best advice I can give would be to dedicate a space to the activity and work in the beginning to set up the best general lighting scenario you can, so that all you have to do it put your pen on set and take the picture.
 
I am planning to post a brief tutorial with photos on essentially how to do this, but I've got a lot on my plate so not exactly sure how soon.  If you have a window light, put a table in front of it and get yourself some of the cards I recommend above, that will be enough to capture your shots as long as the day ls bright enough.  Once you get the hang of it, it's remarkably simple to get pleasing results with just that natural back lighting and a fairly easy to move free-standing bounce cards.
 
Remember that the more you know about the light you're capturing, the more it will seem like an easy task. But there is a learning curve, so just do it when you have time and don't feel rushed.
 
Also, try to set up your phone or ipad on some support (tripod, pile of books, etc.) so that your composition is stable and predetermined when you're placing your pen on set. This will help you concentrate on the lighting and propping and then the photography will basically take care of itself.
 
Good luck and let me know if you have questions.
 
Best,
James


Thanks for the reply. I will give it ago :)

#17 ethernautrix

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Posted 17 September 2016 - 22:18

James,

What a generous gift of your time and expertise. Thank you!

Lisa

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#18 Usernameistaken

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Posted 19 September 2016 - 00:01

Here's a brief illustration of a very simple shoot I set up for you while I'm preparing to do some related work.

 

Below you'll see some snapshots of my modest studio which has been set up for a very basic pen photograph. I was lucky enough to find a pen with very similar properties to the one I'm searching for and will be using it to make reference photos, in case I decide to pursue a custom turned replacement.

 

Note that the photos of the pen are not intended to be production quality shots. The pen is dirty and the photography took about five minutes, but you should be able to see how, with a basic lighting pattern and strategic reflections, you can begin to increase the clarity and drama in your own photos. These photos are straight from the camera, so no post-processing has been done.

 

Lastly, there are a thousand ways to tackle every detail involved in taking a photo, so don't think of this as a how-to guide, as much as a way to see how one can begin to read reflections and wrangle them into aesthetically pleasing places. This is also not a complete lesson, but I will try to do more of these if people think it's helpful.

 

 

#1: Surface: I wanted to shoot with a simple two light set-up, like I described in a response above. One light on top and one light below requires a non-opaque shooting surface. My preference is to use glass and some diffusion material.

 

1.jpg

 

 

 

#2: I place one light directly below and try to make its beam focus evenly across the surface above without too much spill beyond the edges.

 

2.jpg

 

 

 

#3: I've set up a top light and placed the pen on set. The first pen photo below was taken using an exposure suitable for the ambient light in my studio (the overheads, etc) This makes it easy to understand how the reflective surfaces of the pen can "see" everything surrounding the set, including the photographer. In reality, I am using flashes that will overpower the ambient studio light, so I can kill most of those reflections that way, but you can see in the second pen picture, shot with the two flashes, that while two intentional lights are better than none, the photo still leaves a lot to be desired with its large back reflections. 

 

3.jpg

 

 

#4: I've placed a V-flat, like I described in an earlier post, to the camera-left side of the pen. It is large enough to reflect evenly across some of the more extreme curves of the pen, but not so large to block or otherwise hinder my other lighting. You can see in the resulting pen photo that the end cap, the clip, and the middle ring have all picked up that board, which is being lit reflectively by the bottom and top lights.

 

 4.jpg

 

 

#5: I placed a board to the camera-right side of the pen, doing effectively the same thing as above. Note that the two boards are not placed symmetrically. They are placed very deliberately in line with the reflective contours of the pen. 

 

5.jpg

 

 

 

Given more time I would proceed to sculpt the light a bit more carefully (making the bottom edge less fuzzy, maybe adding a highlight to the top edge, and sculpting the gold to really illustrate its shape, and placing a white shield in front of the camera to fill some of the middle ring), but first, I'd prop the pen perfectly straight and clean it spotless

 

I hope this progression of images will give you ideas for your own shooting. You do not need fancy equipment - I have some because this is my job and I need to make sure it works very reliably on mission critical assignments, but really, any light and camera can do the trick with a bit of creativity and ingenuity.



#19 Usernameistaken

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Posted 19 September 2016 - 05:08

Before I took that pen off set I decided to go one step further in lighting refinement, which will possibly clarify the subject even more.

 

#6: Here I switched to a slight smaller pair of V-flats so I could really bring the light flush with the top of the set, encasing the pen in white. You can see that doing so completely eliminated all shadows, except for the black specs you'll see at the tip of the clip and in the middle of the ring, which are both reflections of the camera. Except for changing the angle of the subject or camera (sometimes imperceptibly), there is not much you can do to eliminate your camera reflection from many subjects, so often, even after working to perfect your light, a bit of post-processing is in order, if such reflections bother you. There are some tricks, but they won't be easily implemented for the purpose of our discussion. If you look carefully at the middle ring on the pen, you'll also notice I added a tall narrow card to the front of the camera (It's that little sliver directly beneath the brightest highlight on the pen photos below, and you'll see it in the last shot of the set below).

 

6.jpg

 

 

 

 

#7: I wanted to add some shadow to the top edge, bring back some of the drama on the metal, and make my bottom edge a bit sharper, so I opened up the back of the V-flat box and propped a long black card behind the pen, which cancelled some of the light around the edges and reflected a nice shadow across the top of the pen. I also turned down the power of my bottom light just a bit to reduce the flare on the bottom edge.

 

7.jpg

 

Note that the pen did droop from its position just a bit, so some of the reflection along the clip not featured more of the table surface than the V-flat as it did in earlier photos. I didn't expect to come back to this after dinner, but this is why, when you prop your pens, if you really want to lock them in and take the time to refine the lighting fully, it's important to prop them securely (but still gently). If I had been doing an animation with these, or any type of series that required total consistency, I'd have probably needed to start over.

 

Of course, there are still improvements that could be made to these, but there nearly always will be...



#20 usk15

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Posted 19 September 2016 - 05:16

Great tutorial James! Thank you!







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