Photographing Transparent and Semi-Opaque Products

Glass, clear acrylic and other transparent or semi-opaque materials often provide interesting challenges to photographers, especially when mixed with other elements that have conflicting lighting requirements. Here are some examples of different scenarios I commonly work with:

curved glass

Curved glass will generate reflections all over the shop if care is not taken with lighting angles. If the glass is empty reflections can sometimes be “Photoshopped”. When the glass contains solid objects with plenty of important detail I prefer to spend more time angling the lights to minimize or control the placement of reflections so that they are not distracting.

flat glass

Sometimes I need to remove reflections from a surface altogether whilst lighting the whole surface evenly, such as when photographing two-dimensional art framed with glass. Any light directly in front of the glass surface will likely create unwanted reflections / glare, so “copy lighting” utilizes two or more light sources on either side of the subject.

dark glass

Dark glass can look too opaque if only lit from the front, so some carefully directed back lighting helps demonstrate its transparency.

clear acrylic

White backgrounds dominate most e-commerce sites these days (with good reason) but sometimes a dark background combined with carefully placed reflections better show off a product, clearly defining its shape, volume and design.

semi-opaque plastic

The challenge with these semi-opaque storage boxes was ensuring they were light enough to avoid looking dirty, but no so light as to lose detail (especially at the edges) and a sense of volume.

cold drink

After all that work under the heat of the studio lights, a refreshing cold drink may be in order…

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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Fun With IT

Sometimes a client will ask me to create some light hearted images to promote their services. Such images still need to tell a story – communicate the products or services on offer – but taking a fun and creative helps engage with their audience, grabbing their attention.

web design

 

These composite images were created back in 2011 for Granite Computers. They wanted something a bit different, something amusing. They also wanted to communicate the fact that they were a small company that could take on big jobs.

search engine optimisation

A storyboard of ideas was developed during the course of a couple of meetings with Granite. We planned a banner image for each page of their new website, covering the various services they offered such as PC and laptop servicing, hosting, web design, SEO and so on. The theme that linked all the images was “playing with scale”.

 

service pc

Building giant sets was never an option, so the solution was to create composite images – two or more photos merged to create the final image. Shooting the raw material for the composites took place over 3 sessions:

  1. a location shoot at Granite’s premises to capture large objects such as server racks
  2. a still life shoot at my home studio for small objects such as laptops, motherboards and leads
  3. a model shoot at my home studio

Tim from Granite was our main “model”, but I also recruited a second model to add some variety to the images. Props such as the hard hat, virus safe and protective suit were begged, borrowed or stolen (ok, probably not stolen). For the “hosting” image (bottom of this post) I downloaded a stock image of traffic light trails, carefully selecting one that would interact well with the server rack I had photographed. The screen graphics were supplied by Granite themselves.

 

service laptop

Obviously a lot of Photoshopping goes into this kind of imagery, but the planning stage is really the key. You have to consider the angles and lighting that will help join subjects to backgrounds. The scenarios depicted are obviously not real, but as with a sci fi movie, you still need the viewer to “suspend disbelief”.

connecting a server

Granite could have looked for stock imagery to populate their website, but creating their own images allowed them to show their own liveried shirts and communicate their own unique identity.

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my creative advertising photography.

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An On-the-shelf Solution

Photography is a glamorous business – snapping beautiful models in exotic locations for glossy magazines… well those are the assignments togs like to boast about. Our bread-and-butter work is often somewhat more down-to-earth, but the challenges presented are no less interesting.

three drop shelf unit

I was recently commissioned by storage specialists Tufferman to photograph the type of shelving units commonly found in garages and warehouses. The shelving needed to be presented against a pure white background, but the photography was to take place on location. This was a primarily a logistic decision meaning the shelving could be constructed (and, where necessary, reconfigured) by the client on-site without having to worry about shipping and so on.

The shoot took place in the loft space at the client’s business premises on the outskirts of Chelmsford, Essex during one of the colder snaps in January this year. I can honestly say that was one of the chilliest environments I have shot in, although I had been briefed to wrap up warm, and the client kindly provided fingerless gloves and hot soup!

the set up

A white backdrop was erected in a space that was large enough to allow use of a reasonably long focal length (between 60-70mm) that still framed these large products in their entirety. A smaller space would have shortened the focal length, which would have exacerbated problems with converging verticals. This is an issue most commonly seen with images of tall buildings – where the walls appear to converge rather than being perpendicular to the ground.

converging verticals
This is how the shelving might have looked had care not been taken with focal length and camera height. The black lines have been drawn in to show divergence from the vertical.

A reasonable amount of space was also required around the shelving units, to facilitate even lighting where flash glare on the shiny surfaces was minimized.

Part of the brief was to shoot the various units at a consistent angle, this uniformity improving the appearance of web pages where multiple images would appear together. To achieve this we marked the positions of the shelves on the paper backdrop (which was going to be cut out anyway). We also organised the shoot such that similar items were photographed contiguously – minimizing the need to move the camera position between shots.

shelf detail
All those little holes in the shelving made outsourcing the cutting-out job a no-brainer

I normally undertake all digital cutting out of subjects from backgrounds myself, but, due to the intensive nature of the selections required to cut the shelving out, the job was outsourced to a specialist, who also added a drop shadow. I then retouched the cut-out images in preparation for web and print use.

single drop shelf unit

The Tufferman guys made me feel really welcome and part of the team throughout the shoot, and that is part of the reason why I love jobs like this just as much as the glamour assignments.

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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Optical Effect – Bespoke Website Imagery

When local optician Owen Aves decided to revamp their website they could have populated it entirely with images from stock libraries.

However, they did not want their new site to look too generic, prefering to feature their own unique brand identity.

designer sunglasses

This was really two or three mini-shoots rolled into one.

To begin with, some branded products were photographed in the studio.

contact lenses

Then I took the studio to Owen Aves’ premises in central Colchester.

signage

On site the shoot was further divided in two. Whilst the business remained open I shot the “still life” interiors and exteriors using the available light.

spectacles on display

Then at closing time the flash units were brought out to light the actions shots.

opticians at work

Part of the brief supplied by the grahic designer (Harvey from Harvey Lyon Design) was that each image would need to be supplied in two distinct crop ratios; square-ish images on the homepage would link in with banner images on categorised sub-pages. The images were also required to be supplied in both colour and monochrome.

OA Website page design requiring two different cropsRoughly four hours were spent shooting on site, during half of which the business remained open and fully operational.

eye examination

To chat about imagery that promotes your brand identity, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

A Biomass Brochure – Photography on Location

As spring breaks through and our East Anglian countryside blooms once more, it worth thinking about location photography to help sell your products or services. This case study features images from a commission undertaken for Colne Biomass last year.

 

spring in the air

 

The brief was to supply imagery for an aspirational new brochure showcasing the company’s diverse range of biomass boiler installations. The client arranged for us to visit a number of existing installations, and shooting took place over the course of about two weeks – 2 or 3 locations a day. Between 1 – 2 hours was spent at each site, with the client present to help art-direct the shoot.

 

boiler installation

 

As well as displaying examples of the bespoke solutions available, the images needed to show the scale of some of the properties being supplied by these boilers.

 

a grand property

 

Some of sites chosen were other respected local businesses, so their branding was worked into images where appropriate.

 

branding in frame

 

As well as the properties, the boiler installations themselves needed to be shown – in what were often less than glamorous settings. Locations such as workshops may not be pretty, but can offer a range of props to help tell the story.

 

boiler in workshop

 

In some instances space was so limited that the boiler had to be shot through a doorway. Care was taken with the lighting to ensure the boiler stood out from the background, and flash was used to suppliment the available ambient light.

 

shot through a doorway

 

Other spaces were more generously proportioned, and as much use as possible was made of natural light ; in the next image, for example, the massive biomass storage container was lit by the skylights in the barn.

 

biomass storage

 

Each site we visited provided a mini case study. Along with the property, images showed the exterior of the structure housing the boiler, the interior space, and some detail or action shots of the boiler itself.

 

case study

 

Finally, we shot the part of an installation everyone wants to see inside their home…

 

cosy biomass fire

 

To chat about your location photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my interior and exterior photography.

 

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Flower Power – Photography for Florists

Maybe it’s because I was born in the 1960s (just), but some of my favourite commissions have involved photographing flowers and floral installations for various Essex florists.

flower arrangement against off-white background

Weddings are a key component of any floristry business, and flowers for the big day can be displayed against a simple studio background or photographed on location.

wedding flowers in church

For competition floristry, I am happy to source models, make-up artists and hair stylists, or sometimes – as with the image below – the model is a friend of the client (actually, Mina of Minnie’s Henhouse fame is friends with both me and the client, Amy Curtis).

floral headdress on nude model

For e-commerce sites it is often best to keep it simple – a plain white background allows the flowers to do the talking. If you sell via 3rd party websites they will thank you for having professional imagery that readily fits in with their other product photography.

exotic flower in glass vase

If your gallery has capacity for multiple images of each product, getting in close can show off the beautiful detail of your floral creations.

detail of floral arrangement

Some designs even lend themselves to a more abstract approach.

artistic floral design for competition

The images above and below were created for Fusion Flowers international floristry competition a few years back. I photographed the designs of two florists (Amy Curtis and Amy Ford) for each of that year’s four categories. A good deal of planning and communication went into shoots that took us from studio to cottage interior to Alresford Creek and out into the middle of a field somewhere in East Anglia. Both Amys enjoyed successes in the competition.

floral art installation

Of course, sometimes you just need some simple studio shots of a lovely bunch of flowers…

bouquet of flowers against pure white background

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some more examples of my product photography.

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Restoring St Mary’s Church, Wivenhoe

Saxon in origin, the church that currently provides a hub (cultural as well as spiritual) in Wivenhoe is a primarily Victorian construction. Many photographers love snapping churches, and I was delighted when a representative of St Mary’s asked me to document some of the restoration work currently being undertaken there.

 

st marys Wivenhoe exterior colour

 

The main part of my work will involve before-and-after shots of exterior masonry, along with some wide angle contextualising shots. Most of the exterior restoration work is on the south and west sides of the building, and access to diagrams of the areas being restored allowed me to determine some of the more visually interesting sections to photograph. On the inside, it is sometimes quite obvious where some TLC is required, such as where the plaster work has fallen away below.

plaster missing from ceiling

 

The majority of shots here, however, simply show various areas of the church with the scaffolding erected. This is not a commercial commission, and there is some room for artistic licence above and beyond the documentary requirement.

 

stained glass window and ladder

 

One of the more obvious beauties of photographing church interiors is the light coming through the stained glass windows; I chose to rely entirely on ambient light to capture the interior scaffolding. Much of the window light was blocked out by the wooden boards that provided a platform for workinmg on the ceiling; a tripod enabled me to keep the ISO down to a relatively noise-free 400 by facilitating a slow shutter speed of around about half a second.

 

scaffolding near rafters inside church

 

Had this been a strictly documentary task, I may have used a bit of flash to brighten the interior of the church without blowing out the windows. However, with licence to play, I went for a high contrast look that relied on window light alone to really make the scaffolding stand out from the surroundings.

scaffolding and church pews

 

The tripod came in handy again when getting a view along the scaffolding,  level with the bottom of the window in the background. With the tripod fully extended and balancing on the pews a two second delay on the shutter release ensured there was no camera shake with the long-ish exposures still being employed.

 

scaffolding and window

 

I ended the afternoon with a bit of abstraction, contrasting the scaffolding with the stained glass. Removing the colour from a stained glass window may seem a little counter-intuitive, but it helped balance the elements in the shot.

 

scaffold and window abstract

 

To learn more about St Mary’s Church, including the ongoing restoration work, visit stmaryswivenhoe.org.

 

St Marys Wivenhoe exterior black and white

 

Some more examples of my location photography can be found here or to discuss your own unique requirements, just drop me a line.

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Property Photography: Real Beauty is on the Inside – Part 2

Many of the concepts I touched on in the previous case study (residential property interiors) apply to photographing commercial property. However, there can be some extra demands, and more diverse environments whose inner beauty, sometimes more elusive, still needs to be captured. This study actually encompasses 3 different cases, each with different challenges and requirements.

hotel reception area

 

Sometimes photographing a commercial property provides more scope for creative expression than residential properties. For example, I allowed the shot of a Hungarian hotel reception area above to remain much more dark and dramatic than I normally would when photographing a property for an estate agent. A brief burst of flash from an off-camera flashgun lit the foreground flowers without impacting the overall lighting.

The shot below – another room in the same hotel – might be too clinic or minimalist for residential imagery, but in the context of a spa hotel communicates cleanliness, simplicity and a sense of style.

colour coordinated spa reception area

 

Some locations I am asked to photograph are not quite so grand as the hotel above, but the tone of the imagery is still required to one of aspiration.

 

boiler in outhouse

 

A series of images I created for a local supplier and installer of biomass boilers took in a range of challenging locations from garden sheds, through dusty workshops, to barns and out-houses where the boiler took up almost all the space in the room.

 

boilers in outhouses

 

Where space is plentiful I could use props to help tell the story – such as the wheelbarrow of discarded pieces of wood that would be chipped to fuel the boiler – but sometimes the lack of space required shooting through a doorway just to get an angle on the main subject. In the latter example (image on right above) I placed a flashgun on a small tripod inside the room to provide ‘accent’ light on the front of the boiler housing. By firing the built-in flash on my camera at very low power I was able to trigger the flashgun without actually lighting the subject from the on-camera flash.

As with residential properties, a bit of flash is sometimes required to supplement the ambient window light.

 

showroom display

 

Although the high building opposite blocked some of the sunlight in the image above, I didn’t want the displays to be entirely back-lit, so a touch of flash bounced off the ceiling threw extra light into areas that might otherwise be too shadowy.

 

Small spaces can be tricky to capture in their entirety with a single shot – even with a wide angle lens. The image below captured a room in one Essex University’s iconic towers of residence. The bedrooms on one floor had received a period make-over as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations.

 

small room Panorama

 

Shooting through the doorway of this bijou dorm, it became evident that lens distortions from my favourite wide angle would be impossible to correct satisfactorily. Therefore I switched to a longer focal length lens (fewer distortions), put my camera on a tripod and shot two images – each taking in half the room, with a good amount of overlap. I later stitched these images into a panorama; there were still a few converging verticals (a very common distortion where walls appear to lean inwards), but they were much easier to deal with, and I was able to show three side of the room in a single image.

I also took a few ‘detail’ shots of the retro life-styling the students had undertaken in the rooms.

 

period university room

 

Other spaces, such as meeting or conference rooms, require a different compositional approach to the student dorms; key elements still need to appear in frame in order to ‘tell the story’ (i.e. show the facilities available in the room), but the overall feel will probably be much more formal.

 

meeting room

 

Sometimes, at the end of a long and demanding shoot, I get to enjoy some perks (no pun intended) of this fascinating and fabulous job, such as drinking the freshly created set dressing…

 

cup of coffee in cafe

 

Some more examples of my location photography can be found here or to discuss your own unique requirements, just drop me a line.

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Property Photography: Real Beauty is on the Inside – Part 1

I was originally planning to cover several cases in this study – including residential and commercial properties – but found there was more to say than I realised. So this first of two posts focuses on photographing residential property interiors for letting agents, estate agents and people renting out holiday accommodation.

lounge with wine and fire

Preparation begins long before any photographer turns up of course. If preparing holiday accommodation you might employ an interior designer. If preparing a flat for letting, you may refit kitchens and bathrooms or splash out on funky new furniture. But even if you are just preparing to sell one property as you move to another, a bit of ‘sprucing up’ will not go amiss:

  1. Keep it clean. Even ‘wide angle’ shots of rooms show up dust and grime.
  2. Keep it tidy. Clutter makes rooms look smaller, and is distracting and unattractive.
  3. Hide effects that are very personal (e.g. family photos) during the shoot.
  4. Consider a lick of paint if you haven’t redecorated for over five years.

twin attic bedroom

Most of the time it is desirable to make rooms feel bright and spacious (without distorting the reality of course). People assume wide angle lenses are used to make small rooms look spacious. This is true in the sense that wide angles capture more of a room than telephotos would.

bedroom with towels and lights

Another misconception is that photographers turn on room lights to brighten rooms that are too dark. Room lights do not generally light a room sufficiently for cameras to achieve an even exposure across the entire space. The same is true of window light – even large windows rarely light a room evenly. House lights are also not as powerful as window light (even on a cloudy day), so do not serve to create that bright airy look.

Besides, estate agents know that indiscriminate use of room lights may imply that a house is dark without them.

So, room lights are better off unless they are an attractive feature that deserves focus, or they help draw attention to another feature in the room. Our eyes are drawn to bright areas of images. With interiors, the brightest area is often a window; turning on a bedside lamp on the other side of the room won’t balance the light levels, but it can help lead the eye to that side of the image.

The simplest rooms to light are small windowless rooms that can be illuminated using just the ceiling light(s). A long exposure may be required to compensate for the relatively low power of household lighting, but with a tripod that is not a problem.

Most other rooms – that boast one or more windows on the world – are more complex – especially when the window is part of the scene being shot, as outside is invariably much brighter than inside. This often results in images where the room looks bright but the window area is ‘blown out’ (pure white), or where the window area is well exposed but much of the room (especially corners and ceiling) looks dark and dingy.

This is where flash can help. It brightens up areas the windows are not lighting adequately. At the correct settings you can achieve a perfect balance between the indoor and outdoor light levels (although I prefer to keep outdoor light a little brighter – it looks more natural).

window lit room

The flash built into most cameras is not suited to this purpose. Its light is harsh and unflattering, and can produce strong unnatural-looking shadows that distract the eye and ruin the image.

At the other end of the scale, if I were spending several hours getting shots of a single room for a high end property magazine, I might employ a number of portable studio flash units, each lighting a different part of the room or a different feature in the room.

That solution isn’t going to work for estate agents photographing a two-up two-down for their website. It might look fabulous, but few agents have hours to spend photographing a single room.

The compromise is ‘bouncing’ light from a flashgun off the walls and ceiling to supplement the ambient window light. Areas the window light doesn’t illuminate are brightened but because the flash is bounced you avoid the new (and harsh) shadows of direct flash.

It might be argued that this risks making a room look brighter than it really is, but in truth it is simply compensating for the fact that the camera is much more sensitive to varying light levels than are our eyes.

bathroom

Lenses – especially wide angles – are prone to geometric distortions, such as converging verticals where rooms can end up looking like a set from the 60’s Batman series – acute angles with sloping ceilings and walls. Some of these effects can be corrected with Photoshop, although it is not always possible to correct every distortion as correcting one can emphasise another. Sometimes you just have to make a call on which distortion is most innocuous.

The degree of lens distortion is effected by the shooting position; corners may provide the most expansive view of a room, but they also result in more distortion. Sometimes a central view is better – especially if there is something like a bed or dining table to provide a ‘centre piece’. I also keep the ‘horizon line’ level and avoid angling the camera towards floor or ceiling.

A final point on angles: shooting from a standing position may seem natural, but it will likely include more ceiling than floor in the shot. I prefer to shoot from around waist height; unless there is a particularly diverting feature high up, ceilings tend to be less interesting than what is beneath them.

dining room and lounge

Usually there are one or two rooms in a property that I want to make a bit more of a fuss over – the living area, kitchen or maybe a master bedroom. That fuss may take the form of a bit of life-styling such arranging books / magazines / flowers etc on a table or worktop. It may simply be taking some extra close-up shots of something like a roaring fire or quirky features like a built-in coffee maker. If a large screen television dominates a room I usually turn it on – preferable to a vast expanse of blank screen. Recently I even pulled out my macro lens to capture the details of a keyless front door, ingress through which was granted by finger-print identification.

keys - detail of property character

Where there are no ‘stand out’ features, a bit of light life-styling in the lounge or kitchen can help give an idea of a property’s character. And that, at the end of the day, is what most property photography is about. You are not simply showing the structure and space, you are inviting people to imagine what it would be like to stay or live in that property.

The next case study will focus on photographing commercial properties and few more unusual interiors.

Some more examples of my interior photography can be found here. However, due to the nature of the work I do not put many examples of residential interiors on my website; they may, however, be viewed on request.

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Baby Steps to e-Commerce Photography

Commissioning high quality product photography is neither affordable nor practical for small, independent businesses who trade on e-commerce sites like ebay, Not On The Highstreet, or Etsy.

So goes a common myth, but what is the reality?

unicorn wall plaque

This update features images created for Essex-based Fox’s Felts over the past couple of years, since they first started trading. Fox’s Felts create hand-made toys, decorations, clothing and accessories for babies and young children. As with all start-ups, they needed to budget for a whole range of up-front costs, but they knew that simple, attractive, professional photography would be crucial to their success in appealing to discerning mums and dads.

teether in gift box product shot

The first photo-shoot you ever commission can be daunting, especially when there is a lot of product to shoot. Regular communication with the client before shoot day enabled me to plan the lighting and set-ups for all the shots, and we were consequently able to shoot everything in one day. I never take the ‘throw it in a light tent and hope’ approach to photography; light tents are great for some surfaces, but each different product requires its own lighting set-up to make it ‘pop’.

product and packshot example images

For our first shoot I took a portable studio to Fox’s Felt’s premises. This allowed us to create classic ‘white background’ studio images of some products, as well as basic packshots.

The client could provide direct input to styling group shots, and relevant props were also close at hand, as the client was herself the mum of a toddler.

group shot and props

For example, we were able to utilize ready made ‘sets’ to show off products that needed more than the simple white background approach, such as the client’s range of fun mobiles.

owl mobile photographed with cot

After returning home to retouch the images, add drop-shadows, perform colour correction etc, images were sent for approval, before the final sets of web and print jpgs were delivered (all via Dropbox). I also adapted a graphic provided by Fox’s Felts for use as a watermark for their online imagery.

Since the launch shoot, I’ve returned to Fox’s Felts’ premises when they have large quantities of new product to photograph. When there are only a few new products, they post them to me along with a simple brief.

teether and bag product photograph

This simple, fuss-free solution doesn’t break the bank, and is made even more affordable by a special deal available to all my product photography clients. As with much product photography, the more you order, the lower the price of each image. I offer clients the chance to pre-ordered images, providing the advantage of bulk discount with the flexibility of having products shot as and when they become available.

Just as I was preparing this entry, Fox’s Felts phoned me to say that their mobiles recently featured in a ’10 Best Baby Mobiles’ article in The Independent newspaper. I love to hear client’s success stories!

To chat about your photography requirements, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

Or check out some different examples of my product photography, featuring different materials and backgrounds.

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