Lighting a Dungeon (Without a Fire Breathing Dragon)

There is only one Joe McNally and only Joe gets the BIG jobs like this. The rest of us? We get a wee bit more modest jobs…

Had some fun Friday shooting a pretty cool computer controlled coordinate measuring machine (CMM) made by none other than Zeiss, a name very familiar to most photographers. I wanted to get a few close-up shots of the probe that does the actual measuring as well as an environmental portrait of the machine and operator in action.

I walked into the 10′ x 20′ room housing the CMM and took a few snaps with my G10 to see what the room’s fluorescent lighting looked like. As in most manufacturing plants, the dark floor and walls seemed to suck up the available light like a sponge. And as luck would have it, the CMM’s base was a giant block of black granite and Miguel, the operator, was wearing a grey shirt and black pants. (Butterflies in the stomach…)

I decided to get the easy shots out of the way and began with a few closeups of the measuring probe as it zoomed all around the part it was measuring. I shot these using a softbox on the left and a shoot-through umbrella on the right at 45 deg. I chose a fairly wide aperture to throw the cluttered background out of focus. My 580EX II’s were on manual around 1/4th power controlled wirelessly using the PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 units. My biggest issues were the specular highlights (that’s a David Hobby term for a blinding reflection) coming off the (very Terminator looking) probe. These shots contains a few small areas that are almost completely blown out but hey, that’s life.

CMM Closeup 1

CMM Close Up – Houston, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 180mm, f/5.6 for 1/50th of a second at ISO 400. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

CMM Closeup 2

CMM Close Up – Houston, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 135mm, f/7.1 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 400. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta. Click on the image above for a larger version.

With the easy “product shots” out of the way, now I had to figure some way to light this dark room, the big shiny machine and Miguel, the operator. All with three Canon 580 EX II strobes, a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox Hotshoe (softbox) and a 43″ Westcott shoot-through umbrella. (Panic begins to set in…)

Miguel was extremely patient while I tried several different lighting positions attempting to light the machine evenly without leaving him in the dark. I settled upon the layout shown below by pure luck, using the softbox pointed at Miguel through the arch of the CMM, as the key and using the shoot-through umbrella as the fill. I also bounced another 580EX II against the white ceiling to add some additional fill behind the CMM to soften the shadows. I pumped up all three strobes to 1/1 power to fill this dark room with as much soft light as possible.

CMM Lighting Diagram

Shooting at ISO 400 with the Canon 5D Mark II really makes this a snap due to the almost nonexistent noise at ISO 200 – 800. The 580EX II’s worked perfectly with their external battery packs and new PocketWizard MiniTT1 and FlexTT5 radio triggers. Post capture processing was simple using Miguel’s shirt to set a custom white balance in Lightroom. I spent less than 10 minutes retouching these shots in Photoshop so my entire “labor” for this shoot was under four hours.

My next shoot is a bunch of big green machines under sodium vapor lamps on the factory floor, so wish me luck!

CMM Operator

Hard at Work – Houston, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on manual (M) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/6.3 for 1/80th of a second at ISO 400. All post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3 Beta and in Photoshop CS4. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Gear Friday: Sanyo Eneloop Batteries

I’ve been using small strobes (Speedlites) for my product photography work for some time now and one problem that continues to dog me is inconsistent battery life. I love the flexibility my Canon 580EX II’s provide me but these little buggers will drain a set of NiMH rechargeable batteries fairly quickly so I’m recharging sixteen to twenty batteries almost every night.

The other problem with typical NiMH batteries is predictability. I never seem to get the same number of shots from any two sets of freshly charged batteries. Since I shoot with three strobes this means one or two always seem to give out just as I get things rolling. I also hate the fact that NiMH batteries seem to self-discharge rapidly when NOT being used. This means that I always have to recharge the batteries right before a shoot.

A few weeks ago a friend suggested I look at Sanyo’s eneloop batteries, which he said “solved the self-discharge and consistency” issues I’d been facing. So I bought a set of four, along with a charger and set out to see if he was right. Man, was I in for a few pleasant surprises!

  • Sanyo eneloop batteries come pre-charged just like alkaline batteries and can be used right out of the box.
  • Sanyo eneloop batteries seem to last MUCH longer than NiMH batteries AND alkaline batteries in my Canon 580Ex II’s.
  • Sanyo eneloop batteries actually cost slightly less than conventional NiMH batteries.

Today I use Sanyo eneloop batteries in all my Canon 580EX II’s and my CP-4E battery packs. I can shoot hundreds of product shots in a day without having one or more strobes give out in the middle of a shoot. I’m not constantly changing out batteries and using every outlet in sight to recharge batteries right before a shoot.

I know this may seem trivial on the surface, but it’s one of these little things that has always annoyed the hell out of me. Now I can concentrate on getting the shot rather than fiddling with batteries all day long.

For more information on how the Sanyo eneloop batteries work please visit Sanyo’s eneloop web site. Most of what I read went right over my head but you might have better luck. BTW, Sanyo does not sponsor Serious Amateur Photography or myself and all opinions discussed in this editorial review are my personal views based upon my personal experiences. As always, your mileage may vary.

Product Photography Using Small Strobes

If you recall from my post a few weeks ago, I’m involved in a corporate facility / product shoot that will be going on for the next several months. Not having a lot of experience with small strobes like the Canon Speedlites I decided to start out doing some product photography in my office / studio at home. I spent the better part of a week doing online research, watching Joe McNally‘s lighting videos on Kelby Training and getting to know my Canon 580EX II Speedlites a little better.

Small Products Single Light

I also bought a 24″ Lastolite CubeLite, some clear Plexiglas (Perspex for UK readers or acrylic sheet) and some background materials. I wanted to create a high-key lighting scheme using a white background and the CubeLite makes this really simple. The CubeLite is made from the same material that Lastolite makes their TriGrip diffusers out of so it does a great job of diffusing the light from a small strobe. A reflector is included with the CubeLite to add fill. I used the PlexiGlas sheet as a base on which to set the products I’m shooting.

Single Light Product Shot

Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 85mm, f/9.5 for 8 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The lighting for this shot was very simple. One 580EX II Speedlite was positioned to the right of the CubeLite facing the subject. A single reflector directly left of the subject was used to add fill where needed. I used the Canon ST-E2 SpeedLite Transmitter on the camera’s hot-shoe to wirelessly control the 580EX II Speedlite directly from the camera’s LCD. I set everything to E-TTL and took a few test exposures, adjusting the FEC (Flash Exposure Compensation) from my 50D’s LCD screen until the histogram looked good.

As you can see in the image above, this basic single light product setup does a fairly good job lighting my Canon 60mm macro lens but the image looks a little flat and the clear PlexiGlas is creating two reflections of the lens. Not too bad for a first attempt but not quite the look I wanted.

I really like using the PlexiGlas to create the reflection (a technique that Scott Kelby suggests in his digital photography books) but the double-reflection issue really had me stumped until another photographer suggested sanding down the back side of the acrylic sheet to prevent the second reflection from forming. The dull, flat look to the image was also pretty easy to correct by adding another 580EX II Speedlite as a top light. This added a little “punch” (directional light) to my lighting scheme and really made the subject stand out from the background.

Small Product Lighting

Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 73mm, f/11 for 0.3 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

The final result is shown in the image above. The lighting is even, diffuse and pleasing to the eye. The subject looks really nice with its deep reflection. I decided to use a lens as my test subject since there are lots of really great product shots of lenses on the Internet and I could use these to benchmark my results. I also found that this basic one or two light setup works great with a variety of small products like those shown below.

Machined Steel Parts

Machined Metal Parts
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 60mm, f/16 for 1 second at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Viveza. Click on the image above for a larger version.

Learning Canon’s Flash System

I need to get this one out of the way before we begin. When you bought your Canon 580EX II Speedlite (or any other Canon Speedlite for that matter) it came with this beautiful little 57 page manual written in English, French and Spanish. I suspect it was originally written by a little old Japanese lady and translated into these three languages which goes a long way to explaining why its mostly incomprehensible to photographers. Its that left brain, right brain thing.

Never the less, you really should start your journey to Speedlite nirvana by reading the manual for each flash you plan on using. You never know. You might even learn how to say “Auto FP High Speed Sync” without it sounding like “Auto Frak’ng Hay Seed Stink”.

Read the Manuals


Read the Manuals
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 70mm, f/11 for 6 seconds at ISO 100 on Lexar Professional digital film. The lighting setup was fairly simple. One off-camera 580EX II Speedlite shot through a softbox with a small reflector adding fill light. All exposure magic was done wirelessly using Canon’s E-TTL II sorcery. Post capture processing was done in Lightroom 2 using Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro filters. Click on the image above for a larger version.

By the way. Once you’re done reading these little gems, you really should take a peek at my four favorite books on using small strobes.