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Thread: Still Life indoor setup

  1. #1

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    Still Life indoor setup

    In my project 52 I have tried to do some indoor shots of still life (Pine cone). I am looking to improve on the results that I have got. Good advice has been given there in response to my effort. But, I am interested in any further advice that anybody can give.

    Basically, I have a very limited amount of resources. Namely, a fixed lens camera (Canon G2) with onboard flash. Only lighting is domestic lighting and a desktop light. I do have a head torch which could be used I guess? I don't have a tripod.

    I was just wondering with these limited resources what sort of advice can you give with regards to setting up, to give the best opportunities to get the best image?

    Cheers for now

    Gary

  2. #2
    FrankMi's Avatar
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    Re: Still Life indoor setup

    Quote Originally Posted by oldgreygary View Post
    I was just wondering with these limited resources what sort of advice can you give with regards to setting up, to give the best opportunities to get the best image?
    You have a lot going for you with the G2 including the ability to shoot RAW. Your best friend will be post processing which can bring out the most of a RAW image. Another benefit of a limited MP camera is that you can really take your time to perfect your composition skills which is perhaps the most influential aspect of any image. You can ignore a lot of expensive technical camera features when your image has an outstanding composition. If you are looking for examples, here is one I took with my old Sony DSC-42 with 3MP and no RAW mode.

    Still Life indoor setup

    For now, I would learn all I could about composition using available light (just your camera, your pony, and you) and most everything else will fall into place over time.
    Last edited by FrankMi; 17th March 2012 at 09:43 PM.

  3. #3

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    Re: Still Life indoor setup

    I would say that your next investment in the photo world, Gary, must be a tripod.

    When I was using a G2 I found it made all the difference for those shots which really needed a slow shutter; or when your depth of field is very shallow.

    Even a cheapie tripod will make a lot of difference.

    My first 'tripod' was cobbled together from an old discarded fishing rod rest. Failing even that, place the camera on a solid support. Some people use a bean bag or similar material.

  4. #4
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    Re: Still Life indoor setup

    Gary...

    A window light and a reflector can be quite an effective lighting setup...

    You can use an auto windshield sun shade as a reflector. Either a white or aluminum coloured one would work...

    White foam board or bristol board will also work as a reflector...

    Here is a link to a series of short videos which explain how to fabricate a DIY low cost lighting setup. Episode 1 might be especially interesting to you...

    http://www.prophotolife.com/video-library/

  5. #5
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    Re: Still Life indoor setup

    Hi Gary!

    Once you start searching for DIY solutions, and start seeing what can be used, I think you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

    I have searched flea markets, hobby stores, home improvement stores, etc.

    Some examples: Black velvet cloth pieces and old curtains found at flea markets, desk lamps, white/black/colored poster board makes for good seamless backdrops for still life, white bed sheets, (I always keep a set of these around), parchment or wax paper, stuff I have laying around the house, foam board, aluminum foil, its endless really. All these are very inexpensive or even free solutions.

    This shot was taken using a Coleman LED flashlight (um, hand torch) I found in my front yard and my Grandmother's Bible. Of course, the wedding rings have cost me through the nose over the years, but that's another story!

    Still Life indoor setup

    And this was taken using a piece of black poster board with a hole cut in it (to fit the glass), with a piece of parchment paper (used for cooking) under that, on a glass top coffee table I already owned, lit from underneath below the glass top, light covered with a white pillow case for diffusion, and some fill light from the top. Granted, they were speedlights, but the same effect could be done with other types of lights no problem.

    Still Life indoor setup

    Just be careful with cloth and hotlights!

    But definitely getting your camera on solid support will be a must.
    Last edited by Loose Canon; 18th March 2012 at 02:03 AM.

  6. #6
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    Velvet Shot

    Hello Gary,

    Pinned some velvet up against the wall, hand-held the camera on the table top. Two desk lamps with Sylvania 13W mini-craft CFLs and home-made diffusers (tracing paper) plus an overhead 40W fluorescent tube. No particular care taken (eBay shot).

    Still Life indoor setup

    Nikon D50, kit lens, 45mm, f/16, 1/2 sec. About 15" away. Happy accident with color diffraction in the glass.

    best regards,

    Ted

  7. #7

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Frank, Geoff, Richard, Terry and Ted,

    Thanks for your replies and opening up my eyes to the possibilities with DIY setups. Lots of the items needed are bits and pieces that lie around the home. So, I will be trying out some of suggestions and seeing how it goes!

    Cheers for now

    Gary

  8. #8

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    After paying around a bit, this is my effort of making an image using a DIY indoor setup. Basically, Workmate bench with hessain sack as the base. Desktop light with a tracing paper screen in front on one side and a piece of mdf painted white on the other. It came out a bit underexposed but sort of worked! Any further thoughts welcomed!

    Cheers for now

    Gary

    Still Life indoor setup

  9. #9

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Gary, that don't look too bad. I am in the process of making my light tent also. So far I have one of those clothes hamper frames made of PVC pipe. I'm going to cover it with white frosted shower curtain. I still need to get some lighting for it, but that's it for now. I like the sharpness in your photo, you can probably get it a little better in post. Good going, Gary.

  10. #10

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    That looks well focused and exposed, Gary.

    A bit on the under exposed side when shooting is certainly better than being over exposed. It's relatively easy to add extra brightness during normal editing.

    That shot seems a little on the yellow side which is probably due to your chief light source. Try experimenting with different white point balances. Creating a custom white balance is often helpful. Also shooting Raw gives you an easy opportunity to make alterations later.

    Also, try to find a daylight quality bulb. When the UK went entirely over to low energy bulbs I had a lot of trouble with my colour balance because the computer screen was giving totally different results depending on when I did my processing.

    I would get everything looking fine during the evening, but next morning, under real daylight, everything looked terrible. Eventually, a friend offered me a daylight quality low energy bulb which he bought but found to be too bright/white for domestic use.

    That changed everything for me.

  11. #11
    Loose Canon's Avatar
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    Re: Still Life indoor setup

    Hi Gary!

    Your pine cone looks pretty darned good! When I first saw it I wondered if a couple of handfuls of pine needles spread on the burlap, um hessain sack, would look nice. I would have to agree with Geoff regarding the white balance and daylight balanced bulbs. Plus, daylight fluorescents burn cool, so less worry about burning down the house!

    My first gray card was a very inexpensive cardboard model. This item will go a long way helping you set your white balance in post.

    I have a Theory on DIY. It is something every photographer should pursue. Aside from the obvious immediate benefits, down the line it could make the difference.

    Knowing and keeping in mind what “DIY” things can be used and how will come in handy when you need something and you need it now. It helps us to improvise, adapt, and overcome when we are shooting on the fly. It gets us thinking creatively and if push comes to shove we are more apt to come up with an immediate solution with whatever is at hand.

    It can mean the difference in getting the shot or not. It can even mean the difference between a good shot or a great shot.

    Not to mention the great war story about how you made it happen!

    Anyway, its just a Theory!

    Well done, Gary!

  12. #12
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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Quote Originally Posted by oldgreygary View Post
    After paying around a bit, this is my effort of making an image using a DIY indoor setup.
    Still Life indoor setup
    My goodness! You're making progress on all fronts! Loving it!

  13. #13

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Emmett, Geoff, Terry, Frank, Thanks for your replies.

    Will look into the daylight quality bulb. Also, agree about the DIY aspect does make you think differently. Rather than saying I can't do it. It makes you think well what can I achieve with what I have got? As Terry says it makes you think on your feet and use what is available at the time. I must admit, that my mindset was a bit closed in as 'I can't do that because I don't have XY or Z' but being changed by this forum, reading books and trying things.

    Interestingly, the link that Richard gave had some other videos as well as the DIY indoor setup. The one about histograms has started me thinking. But, at the moment I cannot quite get my head round it. Basically, the guy in the video took individual photos of a grey,white and black board. Each of those came out on a histogram as a midtone. But, when he put them together then he got a histogram which showed dark, midtone and highlights on the histogram. I tried do something similar. I took a picture of a grey folder, saved the settings, put down a white board, re-focused and took a shot. The histogram showed the image to be at the highlight end.
    I must admit that I don't quite get the significance of this at the moment. There's something missing from my understanding of what's going on. But, would welcome any enlightenment on this.

    Cheers for now

    Gary

  14. #14
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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Hi Gary,

    Lighting can be a daunting subject to become familiar with. I make it easy for myself by shooting indoors with daylight more or less excluded. Thus my lighting never changes and the shots are of products taken in artificial light with no requirement to make images that might be viewed in daylight, e.g. prints. I get good results from what is called "cool white" lighting and I use lamps that are reasonable in terms of being not too peaky in their light spectrum (yet another phrase to puzzle over). If you intend to use continuous lighting, i.e. not flash, then CFL's could fit your purpose together with appropriate home-made diffusers and reflectors. I would look for CFL's that have 5000K or more, up to 6500K, written on the package or the body somewhere. No findee writing, no buyee. Also look for something called CRI which should ideally be on the package and be more than 80 for general purpose product photography. Use at least two lamps. I also have a single LED adjustable focus flashlight handy for artificial highlighting (really good for watch dials).

    I find histograms more understandable by thinking about they are, rather than what they do in response to all those different kinds of pictures. The analogy to that thought is when someone plays different guitar chords to you it teaches you very little about about music theory per se. So, working from histogram to image:

    The horizontal axis represents brightness and is 256 screen pixels wide. Each screen pixel is at the bottom of a column that represents a quantity, i.e. total number of occurrences, of image pixels of exactly the same brightness, starting with 0 (black) on the left and ending at 255 (white) on the right. The histogram is actually showing how all of the image pixel values of 0 to 255 are distributed in your picture. The vertical axis is a bit harder to grasp because it has to cope with images having millions of pixels in them, down to thumbnail images with only a few hundred. For this reason, the vertical axis shows relative quantities and is self-scaling. It works if you think of it as a "normalized" graph where the area of the graph, i.e. distribution, represents 100% i.e. all of the pixels in your image.

    Read the above paragraph several times. If a glimmer of understanding appears, then it follows that:

    A perfectly gray scene should theoretically show up as a single vertical line one screen pixel wide at, say, the 128 position. A perfectly black scene as a line at the 0 position and, yes, perfectly white at 255. A perfect black and white chess board should show just two lines of equal height, one at 0 and one at 255. Add a perfectly gray border and you get three lines but not of equal height unless the border is exactly the same area as the black or white squares. Now we are approaching a real picture where the number of image pixels per each level of brightness varies.

    When you shot your gray card, lighting and tiny variations in the card's reflectance caused the camera sensor to record various levels of brightness - the average of which was (theoretically) mid-gray. So the histogram would have shown a peak more-or-less in the middle of the brightness range perhaps about 50 brightness values wide. With no blacks or whites in the image, you can guess that it will a) have very low contrast and b) be extremely boring. On the other hand, the afore-mentioned chess board showed pixels only at 0 and at 255 thus the histogram is telling you that the image a) has extremely high contrast and b) is still pretty boring.

    The histogram allows us to examine the scene's contrast, by seeing how the distribution approaches both ends of the brightness axis - the closer, the more contrast. Ideally, we should avoid any quantities at 0 or 255 because these likely represent blown highlights or missing shadow details. In practice, e.g. watch photography, blown highlights are hard to avoid. The shape of the distribution, i.e. peaky, smoothly curved, lop-sided is really representative of the scene content and cannot really be quantified in terms of good or bad. All we could say is that a distribution that looks like a burial mound and approaches each end without touching is likely to be from an image that is more pleasing to the eye.

    good luck!

    Ted
    Last edited by xpatUSA; 24th March 2012 at 05:49 PM.

  15. #15

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    Re: Velvet Shot

    Cheers Ted, thanks for taking the time to reply with the explanations. For me, it tends to work by feeding in lots of info. Then I have that Eureka moment when it clicks into place!

    Gary

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