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Commercial Ceramics Photography

Commercial Ceramics Photography

Commercial Ceramics Photography – Creating Gradients Of Light On Curved Surfaces

Apparently you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I totally disagree, and shooting lots of white ceramic products this week, has forced me out of my comfort zone, and pushed me to do some more studying.

Commercial Ceramics Photography by Randell John PhotographyIf you’ve visited my website before, then you’re probably aware that I’m predominantly a wedding and portrait photographer, lighting and photographing people are my bread and butter and something I never tire of.
Shooting inanimate products is not something I do on a regular basis and after the past few days I know exactly why.

You see, a face is a face. It generally has a structure and texture that is common to all. Well, at least that’s true for the folks of South Wales. I can’t speak about the rest of you out there 🙂

Product photography is totally different beast to get to grips with. You just don’t know what you’re going to come up against. Varying textures, reflectivity, shape, form, colour and size can change with each item that has to be photographed. Sounds obvious doesn’t it.

I thought so as well, but the last couple of days, has really driven home one of the first lessons I learned in photography, and one I seemed to have forgotten.

We photograph the light reflecting off an object. It doesn’t matter if that light reflects off a face, or a gravy boat, as in the image above.
It’s all reflected light.
Learning to control, shape, direct and colour that light are some of the skills that must be  honed, but once mastered can be applied to any subject.

Now I consider myself to be a pretty competent photographer, I’m not the greatest, but I’m no slouch, especially when it comes to lighting. So why have I struggled so much over the last few days?

Commercial Ceramics Photography by Randell John Photography

I can put it down to a couple of things. The first being, practice. I just don’t practice photographing objects. The second is, I forgot the first lesson of photography. I’d become complacent, because I’m used to dealing with subjects of similar reflectivity and shape i.e faces.
My major problems, were that I just couldn’t get the light to look the way I wanted it to be portrayed in the reflections of the highly glazed items, and the matt objects I photographed just looked too shiny.

I trolled the internet looking for answers, and although I found some useful information on David Hobby’s Strobist site, and more good information from Alex Koloskov Photogy  YouTube Channel.  After a day of trial and error, I was still making a mess of things. It was so frustrating, I felt like pulling my hair out.

Ceramics Photography, White Ceramic Chop Stick Stands by Bridgend Wedding Photographer, Randell John

In the end I turned to ‘My Bible’. (No not that one), I mean ‘The photographers bible’.
I’d put my copy away on a bookshelf a few years ago, and it had been sitting there gathering dust ever since.
Fil Hunter’s ‘Light Science and Magic‘ is ‘the’ comprehensive guide to lighting for photography and is a must read for anyone wanting to get the most out of their camera.

Why I didn’t go straight to this book in the first place is a mystery, because within minutes I’d found the answers to my dilemma. A full description on using double diffusion, and the family of angles.

Fils instruction reminded me that to get a gradient or fall off light from one side of an object to the centre, then I must light a reflector or diffused material from one side with my strobe, and that fall off of light will then be reflected back to my camera lens from the surface of the subject I’m photographing.

The greater the reflectivity of the object’s surface, then the more defined that reflection will be in the final image.

Commercial Ceramics Photography by Randell John Photography Here’s a basic diagram of my lighting set up, although I did use a second strobe fitted with barn doors to light a second reflector on the objects right side, rather than using a reflector as pictured, but the basic principle is exactly the same. The barn doors just helped to control any light spill from directly hitting the subject.
Commercial Ceramics Photography by Randell John PhotographyBy varying the angle of the strobe to the diffusion panel I was able to change the shape of the gradient and subsequently the fall off of light being reflected back to my lens. Additionally, by changing the distance and angle of the reflector controlled the amount of front fill, and the gradient of light on the object’s right side.

Moving the diffusion material and strobe further away from the subject controlled the specularity of the reflection, making them crisper and more defined the further away I moved them. (A change of the strobes power output was made to maintain a constant exposure).
The main point to remember though is that the larger the light source is, relative to the subject being photographed, then the softer the transitions will be between the shadows and the highlights, and this combined with the angle of the strobe and diffusion material will give an infinite amount of control and subtlety in the shadows, highlights and transitions between both.

My final camera settings for this shoot never changed. I set my aperture @ f22 my shutter speed at 1/160th of a second and my ISO to 100, and I used a Canon 100mm f2.8L Macro lens for all the images.

My strobe was a Bowen’s 500W/S Gemini, and the diffusion panel and reflectors were approximately 2 x 3 feet in size.

I also experimented with using different modifiers fitted to my strobe. I tried a standard 6 inch reflector, a 3 x 4 foot soft-box and my a 1 x 3 foot strip bank, which I really liked and used more than anything else.

I hope reading about my trials and tribulations have been informative and I encourage you to have a go at shooting some product photography. It’s been a great re-learning experience, and I soon forgot about my earlier frustration once I started getting the results I envisaged.

I’ll be shooting a lot more commercial ceramics photography over the next few weeks, keep a look out for future posts and any more tips I pick up on the way. Thanks for reading.

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