Monday, September 5, 2011

Learning from Other's Work and Experimenting

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I mean how may photographers have tried to find Ansel Adams' tri-pod indents at Half Dome? When you see an image that you really like, do you study it to figure out how they did it? How they composed it? What direction the light was coming from? How was the set-up done? I find myself doing this sometimes, and also thinking about how to recreate it. It's not so much about copying someone else's work, but rather a good way to challenge my photography skills and hopefully learn something new.

I remember a product shot that Scott Kelby did a couple of years ago for a pair of sunglasses that I thought was extremely cool. It was cool because the sunglasses were floating in the frame. Now, your first thought is probably that this was all Photoshop trickery, but in reality it wasn't. The sunglasses were rigged up to hang from a couple of light stands with fishing wire to get the floating effect. Then Photoshop was used in post production to remove the fishing line and clean up the overall image. I love this approach because it focuses on setting up the shot first, and using Photoshop, as a tool, to finish the image instead of relying on Photoshop to do all the work. The great thing about Scott Kelby is that he's a teacher through and through and in this case give you all the steps required to try this. Same with the entire team at NAPP and Kelby Training. You can see his original post about this from a few years back here.

(Nikon D300, 70-200 f2.8, SU800 commander unit, 2 SB900 flash units)

At that time I didn't have the gear or the ability to event attempt this. But now, with a little more gear, and a little more confidence, I thought I would give it go. Above is my original production shot of how I went about the set-up. A few years ago I made a light box out of PVC pipe (which was really easy and cheap) and used that to hang the sunglasses. That's a Lastolite Ezbox on the right with shoot through umbrella coming down from the top left. The rig was sitting on a sliver reflector so I could get a little splash of light underneath. Below is the RAW image right out of the camera (with thread and bad softbox glare).

It took a lot of little tweaks here and there between the camera level, focus, as well as adjusting the sunglasses so they were level. Again, I could have adjusted this is Photoshop to even it out after the fact, but there's still something satisfying about getting it right the first time, in camera. After a little post work and cleanup I ended up with the final image that you see at the top of this post. I also went an extra step and decided to see how it would look with a little reflection. This is the creative part of photography where you get to decide what the final output is going to be.

This was a great learning experience for me. So consider something like this the next time you're looking to challenge your skills. A little inspiration and some trial and error (and error and perhaps some more get the point, right?).



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