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Photography workshop - day 2

Discussion in 'Photography Workshop 2005 by Connie' started by connie, Jul 26, 2005.

  1. connie

    connie Alumni

    Hi again

    Here is day 2 of the Photography workshop. I'm posting this a bit early as I'm going to be out of the house for the rest of the morning. Feel free to post any questions and I'll answer them this afternoon when I get back.

    Today’s topic is setting up a studio. The first thing you should know is that you don’t need fancy studio to take good pictures. All you need is a blank wall or backdrop and some sort of lighting. I’m not rich and, living in small condo in the big city, I’ve become an expert on making do with what you’ve got. My studio is in an 11’x 11’ extra room. In this room I have two large sets of shelves to put my artwork and supplies. A work table and chair for doing my art. A large table and chair for my computer. A low set of bookshelves where my printer sits. A taboret, filing cabinet, mannequin and shipping supplies as well as plants, trash cans, etc. I keep my vintage clothes in the closet. In the middle of all this, I manage to take 99% of my pictures. Lest you don’t believe me, here are a few of shots of my space...

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/studio1.jpg>

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/studio2.jpg>

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/studio3.jpg>

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/studio4.jpg>

    I clip my backdrop on the shelves with the vampire piñata on top. You can see the clothes pins there. It can be done:

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/dresses/E606039.jpg>

    If you have a nice big blank wall, in a neutral color by all means, take advantage of it. You’ll have to be able to get at least 5 feet away from your subject though or a bit farther if you are shooting full length dresses. VFG member Denisebrain takes all here pictures this way and gets excellent results:

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2wallbg1.jpg>
    This was a particularly tricky shot as she was shooting a black item on a white background but she did a really good job with it.

    If you don’t have blank wall space, I problem I know all too well, then a backdrop is your best solution. You’ll probably want two, one in a neutal, medium grey or beige and one in black. I “personally” prefer black for backdrops. Black is a dark color and fades into the background naturally, letting the colors of you clothing pop out. Just like the old advice on wearing black on the parts of your body that you’d rather people overlook.

    This is especially true online. The thing to remember is that a computer screen isn’t like printed color. It is actually being lit from behind and projecting out at you. White, being the lightest of the colors will project out the strongest. Your eyes are very sensitive and will adjust to the bright light and your pupils will close a bit. This will make seeing the details of darker objects harder. All this being said, I’ve seen people do excellent work photographing on a white backgrounds. It just takes a little practice and knowhow. VFG member Contentmentfarmantiques (www.contentmentfarmantiques.com)does a beautiful job photographing her work. Here is an example of boots on a white background that is very nice:

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2whitebg1.jpg>

    Notice how in this photo the white of the background isn't stark white but looks soft grey. She also does a nice job with lighting. You can see both the light side and the details in the shadows. I'll get into that more later today when I talk about lighting.

    You can buy professional backdrops if you have the money. They are made out if either paper or fabric. If you have the space you can get large rolls of backdrop paper. They do get scuffed up though over time and might not last as long as fabric backdrops.

    Professional fabric backdrops are generally a mottled background on cotton. The mottled design helps hide wrinkles and is softly out of focus so your attention should stay on your subject. They should be washable - very convenient. The downside of professional backdrops is the cost.

    If you don’t have the money, you can do what I did and go to your local fabric store. If they have a section of already cut pieces then your in luck. You can generally get good fabric this way at a discount. I bought two pieces of a slinky jersy-ish polyester. I chose poly so I can wash it easily and it doesn’t wrinkle too much when I keep it folded.

    Another option is old curtains from your local thrift store. Get them in a heavy fabric and neutral color and you're set. I’d stay away from old sheets. They aren’t bad but tend to look lightweight and wrinkled. Heavier fabric will generally hang better.

    I have a lot more coming this afternoon. The focus will be on lighting so stay tuned...

  2. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    excellent connie - have to say this is the section i have been waiting for as i am still trying to decide on a permanent photography area in my already cramped home! and i love seeing that you can take photo's as good as yours and they aren't done in a huge expensive purpose built studio..you are giving me hope... ;)
  3. Thank you so much, Connie. I did buy a professional backdrop. I think I am happy with it but my lighting is what I need to concentrate on so I look forward to hearing more.

    I have an old leaflet that came with movie camera lights. It talks about having a light right by the camera, one overhead and one to side. It will be interesting to see what you prefer.
  4. connie

    connie Alumni

    The other half of a studio space is the lighting. You have three options here: natural light, hot lights and strobes. Unless you are a professional, you’re probably not going to want to go with strobes. Professional strobes are expensive and you need to know how to use them correctly or you’ll risk electrocuting yourself.

    Natural lighting is the easiest. If you have a large window, especially one face north, then your set. (Just a note, traditionally artists’ studios face north. This way they get soft, even light all day long. Perfect for spending hours painting the same picture.) For photographs, any large window with natrual light will work fine. If you have a west window though, don’t shoot near sunset or you’ll get orangey pictures. The same is true of an east window in the morning.

    The final option is hot lights. These are the lights you see with the silver cones coming out around them. You can find them at any decent photo store. Ebay should have lots of them as well. Others here might have other ideas of where to get them. You’ll want a pair if possible. If you want to make your life easier, buy stands to clip them on. You can then move them around to get the best lighting.

    When lighting a dress, there are two big no-nos. Don’t put the dress directly in front of window or all you’ll get is a silhouette. By the same token, don’t have your lightsource shining directly on the front of your dress. You’ll flatten out the color and you won’t be able to make out the details.
    Shadows are your friend in photography. They are what define the shape and texture of an item.

    If you have only one light source, you’ll generally want it to the front and side of your dress. If the shadows are too deep, you can use a reflector to bounce some of the light onto the dark side of the dress. There are professional reflectors you can buy or you can use the ancient starving artist trick and use a big piece of white mat board. Poster board will work in an emergency but is is a bit floppy and so harder to hold steady. You’ll need a helper if you do this or a stand to clip your board to.

    If you have two lights, you can put a second light on the dress to lighten the shadows. You’ll want to make sure that the second light is farther away than the first otherwise you’ll just negate the shadows of the first light. You can also use umbrellas to soften the light. In this case you attatch the umbrella to the front of the second light. You turn the light so it faces away from the dress. Now the light will bounce off the umbrella before it gets to your dress. This will make for much softer light. Actually, if you’re using hotlights, I recommend always using umbrellas for both your lights. It just makes for better photos. If you can’t afford photo umbrellas, you can use posterboard as a make-do reflector. This isn’t a good long term option though as hot lights live up to their name. You could accidentally light your poster board on fire if you get the lights to close to it.

    Some examples of the things I've been talking about will be coming up in a few minutes so don't go away. By the way, I'll be talking about taking pictures outdoors tomorrow so if that is how you work, I'll have some advice for you too.
  5. connie

    connie Alumni

    Well here are a few examples of some of the the techniques I've been talking about. Unfortunately, my hot lights are in storage so I haven't been able to show you everything that I'd like. 95% of my photos are done indoors with only natural light. This has its limitations at times as you'll see as the week goes on.

    Here is an example of an item taken with and without a reflector. This isn't the best example but at least you get the idea. The first picture is without a reflector and the second is with a reflector. In this case, I actually think the first picture is a little better but I was having a hard time getting the effect I wanted.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2woreflector.jpg>

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2wreflector.jpg>

    The "problem" I had is that besides having a nice big soft light source (a large window) the walls of my studio are white and reflect the light naturally. This makes it easy to take good pictures but hard for me to show you examples of what not to do. In any case, you'll notice on the first picture that the orange ribbon on the hat is dark and in the second it is lighter - more even with the color of the ribbon on the light side. The effect is subtle but can really help with those dark colored items. My reflector in this sample was a piece of white mat board that I had around.

    Here is an example of a picture that isn't bad but could use a little help.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/dresses/D721031F.jpg>
    This is a picture that would be improved with a reflector. It isn't too bad but notice how the light drops off at the bottom. If I had used a reflector, placed near the bottom of the dress it would have evened up the color all over. The other thing I would do if I were to take pictures of this dress over again would be to use a different backdrop. This one looks kind of wrinkled - not too nice. I'd probably use a slightly darker backdrop as well. This one gets too hot in the upper right corner.

    Some more examples coming in a few minutes...
  6. connie

    connie Alumni

    Next I'm going to show a few pictures taken with different lighting. All of the pictures are of a couple of black velvet dresses that I have. First, notice how, even with the same lighting, the different textures of the two dresses show up. The first dress is black rayon velvet. It is very soft and just soaks up the light.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2velvet1.jpg>

    This second dress is made of silk velvet. The lighting and placement of the dress is just the same but you easily see the very different texture of this dress compared to the first.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2velvet2.jpg>

    With very few exceptions (which I'll get into over the next couple of days) if you want professional looking pictures you should never use the pop-up flash on your camera. The light you'll get is just too harsh. Here is an example of the previous dress with my flash on.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2velvet44.jpg>

    Notice a couple of things here. First is that the dress now looks like it is made of satin not velvet. Very deceiving. The flash, coming from right in front of the dress, causes the light and shadows to be too harsh. You always want to see some detail in the shadows. If you can't, you need to change your lighting.

    Here is another example of the problems with pop-up flashes. The first picture is again the rayon velvet dress taken in natural light. Not too bad.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2woflash1.jpg>

    And here is what happened when I used my pop-up flash:

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/web-data/Components/photoworkshop/day2wflash1.jpg>

    Yikes! Again, the texture of the dress is totally off. It looks more like satin here. Also, my very white mannequin is showing through. This is a common problem with sheer fabrics. You still get it sometimes with natural light but shining a light right on it is just asking for problems.

    If I was going to take pictures of these dresses over again, I'd do one of two things. With just natural light, I'd make use of reflectors so that the dresses don't bleed into the backdrop. If I had hot lights, I'd make sure that they are placed more towards the sides of the items.

    I'll answer your lighting question in just a few, Linda.
  7. connie

    connie Alumni

    That was interesting what your book said, Linda. The thing to keep in mind is that your lighting needs will change depending on what you're lighting and the effect you want to have. I personally can't think of a time when a light right next to the camera is a good idea. In general, I'd avoid it as being just too harsh and flattening.

    An overhead light might be useful if you are trying to imitate sunlight. I don't think it will do a whole lot for clothing though.

    You should be able to do a fine job photographing items with no more than two lights. More than that and you'll start either flattening out the item or you'll have lots of confusing shadows. A good rule of thumb - for 2 lights- is to have your lights at 45º angles to the front of your item. You'll want one light source to be stronger that the other. If you are taking pictures of, say, paintings, two light sources at 45º angles in front of the item and at the same distance will work great. This is because a painting is flat and you want to eliminate any shadows and have the lighting even over the whole painting.

    With anything that is three dimensional though, you'll want to have those shadows. They are what define the shape and texture of your item. Unfortunately, I don't have some good and bad samples for you as I don't have my hot lights.

    This photo by VFG member Contentmentfarmantiques though is a good example of professional looking lighting.

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/day2shadowsample.jpg>

    You can see here that she has used at least two lighting sources in this picture. One is located above and to the front of the dress, lighting the front nicely. There is a second light source that is shining on the bustle. This allows you to see the details of the black back of the dress. The result is a softly lit, professional looking photo.

  8. I have taken my things outside when i am lucky enough to have sunlight.

    I really appreciate this information because i have taken photos in "perfect conditions" but right now i don't have them.

    If you have an area with inadequate sunlight, is it best to block it out completely and use artificial lighting or is it best to just all add it together or treat it as one light source of many. I find when using it in the second case, the light has a different quality than the artificial and doesn't always work as well when they are competing. it seems to me one or the other.

    what are your findings or am i not making sense?

  9. debutanteclothing

    debutanteclothing VFG Member

    After yesterday's section, I played with my sizing on my camera. I set it to PC instead of the lowest setting. My lighting is two 60 watt bulbs, 45 degrees from dress, but one with a clip on shop light dome. I think i definately need a reflector on the floor though. Please Critique!

    <img src="http://members.sparedollar.com/debutanteclothing/sequin-dress-front.jpg">

  10. connie

    connie Alumni


    The answer to your question is "it depends". Just what you wanted to hear, right.:rolleyes:
    You are probably better off using just one kind of lighting at a time. Like you said, when you use different types of lighting things can come out looking weird. Part of this has to do with the color temperature of the light. What that means in pracitical terms is that sunlight (during the day) is blue toned, hot lights are yellow toned. What you end up with when using both is a picture where one half is bluish and the other half yellowish. It's pretty tricky to deal with that well.

    Professional strobes are made to mimic the color temperature of natural sunlight which is one reason why photographs made with them look good. You can buy lightbulbs (for hotlights) that are the same color temperature as sunlight. This might help you a bit if you really need to do pictures in a mixed lighting situation.

  11. connie

    connie Alumni


    To critique your picture, I'd start off by saying that it is very good. It is certainly good enough to use to sell the dress. If we are going to get picky, I'd say there are a couple of things you could improve.

    First, as you noticed, the light drops off at the bottom of the picture. You can either move your lights down a bit or use a reflector. This is one of those things that it is easiest to play around a bit and see what seems to work best for you.

    The second thing that is less than ideal is the upper right corner of the picture is washed out. You'll probably want to move your light source a little farther away or use a soft box or reflector on that light.

    These are both really picky things though. What you have to consider when doing this is whether the amount of time you spend trying different lighting setups is worth it. If I'm selling an item for $25, I certainly don't want to spend a whole lot of time photographing (or rephotographing) it. I'll get it good enough and let it go at that. If I have a very expensive item, it might just be worth my time to put some extra effort into it.

    Personally, I think this photo is just fine as is. You can see color fine. There are shadows but you can still see the detail there. You can make out the texture of the dress and sequined trim. Nothing is so dark that it is a blob or so light that is looks like it is glowing out at you. If it were me, I'd be happy with this photo.

  12. Kelly

    Kelly Registered Guest

    I don't have much time to even read or ask questions, but THANK YOU for this!

    Much needed. I can't wait until day 4 and black/red issues.

    Thanks, Kelly
  13. debutanteclothing

    debutanteclothing VFG Member

    Because of my constraints, I can't move it farther back. but I can point the light downwards a little and a little farther to the right. I'll try that and see if that works.

    BTW, what is a soft box?

  14. connie

    connie Alumni

    Soft boxes are generally used on professional strobes. They are wire and fabric "box" (more of a tent really) that is placed over the light. The fabric softens the light, making it look more naturalistic.

    Here is a picture of a light on a stand with a softbox attached:
    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/softbox.jpg>

  15. Coutureallure

    Coutureallure Alumni


    Thank you for this great information! Can you post a couple of E-Bay auctions that show the type of hot lights you are talking about? I know you don't want to promote a particular seller, but it would really be helpful to me, as I feel I'm stumbling around in the dark here (no pun intended!). I am guilty of using the flash on my camera for everything. No wonder I go through so many batteries!

    I love Candy's (Contentment Farms) photos. Could you possibly edit her photo above and draw in where the light sources are and where they are pointing? That would be very helpful to me.

    I have a large sliding glass door in my office that faces South. This would be my only source of natural light. The only spot I could place my mannequin would be in a space about 6 feet wide between the glass door and a wall that is painted lilac. Should I be concerned about the lilac wall affecting the color of my garments when the sun hits it directly? I would still use my black fabric backdrop behind the mannequin. Am I making sense? The glass door would be on one side of the mannequin, the lilac wall on the other, and the black drape behind.

  16. Connie,

    Thanks so much for all the info, it's great! Your explanation on softening shadows was rather "enlightening". I never understood why I was doing what I do with my lighting just basically followed directions. It sure is helpful to understand the reasons why!

    Jody, if you want to come out for lunch some day you can take a look at what I have and we can play a little. Just not until I get home from the show!

    Thanks again Connie for all the great info!
  17. connie

    connie Alumni

    OK Jody, lets see here. You asked three different questions.

    First was about hot lights on ebay. I took a look around and they call them Continuous lighting. There are tons available in the photography section. Here is a good example of a basic set up.
    Notice the umbrella style reflectors on these lights. They do the same basic thing as the softbox I showed above.

    Next you asked about the lighting on the Contentmentfarms dress. I did a little photoshop magic as well as a drawing so you can see lighting placement. This is all an educated guess on my part though as I wasn't there when this photo was made. I'm going by where the light hits and how the shadows are placed. Maybe Candy can tell us if I'm right.

    First is how high up the lights appear to have been placed:

    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/lighting1.jpg>

    Second is a birds-eye view of the action showing how far forward/back the lights were:
    <img src=http://www.cosmiccatvintage.com/lighting2.jpg>

    Hope that helps you a bit.

    Finally you asked me about whether or not a lavender wall will effect the color of your items. Answer: probably not too much. As long as you don't have very dark or intensely colored walls you should be ok.

    To guarantee good results you should set the white balance on your camera. You'll have to check the specifics in your camera's manual but basically what you do is get a pure white item - a piece of white posterboard is great for this. Place the board right where you will be taking pictures with all the lighting you use as if you are taking the actual pictures. You then set and lock in that white balance in your camera. Now your camera is adjusted to the exact color temperature of your specific lighting situation.

    Back in the olden days, you had to use different film stocks for outdoors, incandescent and fluoresent lights. Either that or have a bunch of different colored filters to put on your camera for different lighting situations. Even with that you still had to do adjustments when you were printing. Ugg! Life is a lot easier with digital camera and the light balance feature.

  18. Coutureallure

    Coutureallure Alumni

    OK, one more question. I used to use a halogen work light for photography, but I found it gave a distinctive yellow cast to all my garments. Is a halogen light not a good idea? Or would setting the white balance take care of that problem?

  19. Hi Connie,

    Your diagram is pretty darn close to my set up. I do use a third light (I think they refer to it as a key light (?) does that sound right?). It just depends on where I need to deal with shadows.

    Jody, to help out on the questions, I think you may find a white balance setting on your camera for halogen, though it may go by a color temperature setting. Connie can correct me if I'm wrong, and I very easily could be. It will depend on your camera.

    Connie is absolutely right about setting the white balance properly. It's one of the things that made a huge difference for me!
  20. Coutureallure

    Coutureallure Alumni

    I checked out my camera instruction book and found out I do have a white balance function, although it only has factory settings for sun, clouds, incandescent, and flourescent lights. There is no manual function. I'll be experimenting with it this morning!


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