Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taking pictures of shiny things

When I hold a lottery, I often get questions about how I get good pictures of the horses even though they are shiny. The trick is using a light box. The box diffuses the light from the photo lamps, which helps to cut down on glare from the glaze.

Because most of what I am photographing is small, I normally use a collapsing light cube.

This one is a 16" x 16". I like it because it collapses flat, so it stores easily in the cabinet below my work table. It's only real flaw is that lip along the bottom edge. Horse sculptures are best photographed by angling the camera slightly upwards to the area just above the elbow, since this mimics the angle we view real horses. (Nothing will spoil the illusion that this is really a horse like taking picture from above the sculpture!) That lip makes it impossible to get that correct angle. That's why there is a book on the floor of the cube. It raises the horse high enough to get the right angle. The book also helps stabilize the cube, which can rock a little when the table is bumped.

Here is the cube in use. The blue background is just a sheet of colored paper suspended from small plastic clips at the top of the cube. The other end of the paper has been taped to the surface of the book, and the horse is placed on top of it. This gives a continuous one-color background with no horizon line.

The cube has worked well, and it's really convenient, even if it has some design issues. But it only worked for really small models. My new Stormwatch was never going to fit inside it. I decided to make a larger do-it-yourself light box.

You can find plans for these all over the internet. Some of them are quite fancy, but since I was making it (my always-engineering husband was in Ireland) it was going to be really simple. The poles are all 1/2" PVC piping cut to length by the nice folks at the hardware store. The square "top" is held together with T-joints, while the legs are attached with elbows. I used stoppers on the bottoms of the legs to protect my wooden tabletop from the cut edge of the PVC, but they aren't really necessary. I believe the supplies all cost me less than $8. (And they would have cost me less still, if I hadn't mistakenly bought threaded joints on the first trip. You want the smooth kind!)

And here is the frame all assembled with the blue paper backdrop. I've just suspended the paper from the frame with low-tack masking tape. There's also a loop of tape under the paper holding it in place on the table.

Here I've added my photo lamps. I actually had to cut the top pieces of the PVC shorter, so my frame wasn't so long. I hadn't taken into account the length of my table, and the room I would need for the lamps. Oops! It could still be narrower to give my lamps more space.

And here is the box in use. This time I just draped two yards of white cotton broadcloth over the top and three sides. Eventually I will make nice velcro-tabbed panels from the white fabric, but I wanted to use the box for a while to see if I wanted to adjust the dimensions before I did that. Certainly the box works well enough with just the drape, even if it isn't the most elegant solution.

And here is a photo of my Stormy from the same shoot as the one above. In this particular shot, I pulled one of the lights around a little to get slightly more dramatic shadows on the piece. This sculpture has a lot of neat detail, and I wanted to highlight it. I find that while the light box is helpful for eliminating the worst of the glare, it's still necessary to play around with the placement of the lights to get the best effect.

Oh, and if you pick up a few extra T-joints and elbows, there will be enough left over PVC to make two Marshmellow Shooters. They aren't particularly useful for getting horses photographed, but they are a great way to get boys out of the house so you can take pictures without interruption!


~Jenn Danza~ said...

(smacks head) YEs! PVC pipe!!! That is such a great idea Lesli! I wish I would have thought of PVC piping before I spent a chunk on the big light box that ALWAYS flops over on me! Thank you for sharing!

Mchilly said...

Wonderful idea...

bassgirl said...

Excellent suggestions and great information. Nice, compact way to get exceptional results. Thanks!