Quite often we shoot macro, and even more often we shoot it on a white background. In most cases this means that at the end client will receive images of the subject on a pure, (0xFFFFFF) background.
Such requirement leaves photographer with only one way (to make it easier on the post-production): shoot on as bright as possible background. But bright back light is an enemy for a product photographer, especially if the subject is too close to it, as it may get overexposed.
So, the simplest and most obvious solution is to have the subject completely separated from a background. Easy, right?
Let me show you about how we handled one of our recent shots for Endochoice, a fast growing supplier of medical products and our very good long-term customer. This time we did a small endoscope cleaning brushes, like this one:
The image about is a non-processed camera RAW converted product. The only thing I did is dialed clarity to +30. This is in, no more adjustments were made. As you see, the background is almost pure white (few more adjustments and it will be 100% white), while the brush hair, semi-transparent by its nature is completely visible.
That was done by positioning this small (about 15mm long) brush about a feet away from a background, (that was a large 79”x49” Manfrotto shooting table). It has very smooth matte white Plexiglas surface, but any other matte (it should be completely glare-free background) will work as well: white paper is a good example.
The lighting setup looked like this:
It is very important to have background light (#3 through a BD) to highlight only background, there should be no spills on our subject. I’ve used a Manfrotto articulated arm with Super Clamp (BTW, very inexpensive and VERY useful thing in the studio) connected to a heavy-duty flex arm, the end of it is from some (probably) background holder keeping the brush wire on a place.
For the subject I had 2 light sources: strong sharp light from the left (#1 through 10º honeycomb grid) and stripbox (#2) on top. I never measure the ratio between lights when shoot small stuff like this, so you have to play yourself to find the right one. can only say that background should be at least 2 stops brighter (it is also depends from the surface material), so it will be completely overexposed. Do not overexpose it too much though, as it will be killing the edges of the subject, especially if this is something like a brush hair.
BTW, I have an image of the same brush without light #2, check it out:
As you see, brush is too dark, and even a left bottom corner of the background did not get enough light, due to the way I highlight it. But its cool to see how we can get almost dark subject on a very bright background. This image has no adjustments as well, only +30 clarity in the RAW converter.
Now, let me show you the wrong way to do such shoot. At the end of the shoot I spent 5 minutes to shoot it for the article: I’ve placed one of the brushes on the table and was trying to shoot it this way.
It has the similar setup, but all the light sources were pointing at one spot where brush was placed.
This one has the same background brightness as was on the very first image:
100% crop from the image above:
The brush hair is not visible, which makes the image completely useless.
On this one I’ve tried to dial down the lights, at least enough to get subject exposed correctly:
100% crop from above:
It looks a little better, and this image can be used in production after hard work on Photoshop: the brush hair reflects more light than the background under it, and retoucher would have to fix it manually… too bad.
Here is how that first image 100% crop looks like:
See? This is how you shoot when you are in love with your retoucher:-)
One more example of the same green brush done right way, this time the final version:
So, this is what we do if have relatively bright subject and/or need to get almost post-production free shots on a white background: we fix or hang subject in the air instead of placing it on the table! Simple:-)
Update: if you are not sure how to easy check if the background is 100% white, there is a quick post on our retoucher’s blog: Is the white background really white?
Update: There is a setup for larger object whihc can’t be easily hanged. So, we can place item on a glass and have white background behind the glass, lit separatelly from the object:
Hope it was interesting. If you like my articles, get up and subscribe to the blog updates through our RSS feed.
- Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III DSLR
- Canon 180mm F3.5 L Macro lens
- Canon 100mm F2.8L IS Macro lens
- Manfrotto 454 Micrometric focusing rails (yes, I use them in a regular, non-macro shots: easy to do mini adjustments to a camera position)
- Canon Remote Switch (you do not need to shake the camera when trigger)
Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:
- Paul C. Buff Lighting: 3×640WS,
- AlienBees/White Lighting reflector and strip boxes
- Paul C. Buff Cyber Commander 16 channels remote control with CSR+ receivers
- Adobe Lightroom 3 and Canon EOS Utility as a remote capture solution for tethered shooting
- 79”x49” Manfrotto shooting table
- Manfrotto articulated arm
- Photoshop CS5 Extended
Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F18, ISO 100