Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Photographing Black on Black

Sony Mount Arax 35mm Tilt and Shift Lens

Its been some time since I switched to Nikon and I kept meaning to sell all of my Sony equipment but never quite got around to it until now. So this is a bit of a cheeky post to drum up some interest in my junkebay items and also a serious little tutorial on strobist style shooting for black on black.

So in this post you will learn the secret of black on black. What a specular reflection is, how to use led lights as modelling lights on small flash and how my slick and sexy looking Sony gear makes you want to switch brands and buy it all off me.

The secret to shooting black on black is in the highlights. Because there is no contrast between a black object and a black background you need to create that contrast with highlights. In this case I wanted to photograph my awesome shiny black Sony equipment on my equally shiny black coffee table. (not so shiny anymore)

Minolta 135mm f2.8Minolta Maxxum AF 50mm F1.4Olympus WCON 08B Wide angle converterSony/Minolta Mount Arax 35mm Tilt and Shift Lens

What I needed to do was to reflect some nice big light sources in my table to create a soft edged pool of light behind the equipment and add some shine to the equipment itself so that it looks clean and sharp.

For this shoot I used three light sources. Lets deal with the pool of light on the table first. For this I used a white shoot through umbrella directly behind the item I was photographing.  If you imagine that the table was a perfect mirror you could place the umbrella and the object on the table so that the object was sitting on top of the reflection of the umbrella. This kind of reflection is called a specular reflection. why? Because the latin for mirror is speculum and the people who make this shit up don't want just everyone to understand it.

Now the thing is that the table top is nothing like a perfect mirror, some of the light is reflected in all directions and this is called a diffuse reflection. So what you get is a sort of fuzzy out of focus image of the umbrella reflected on the table.  The umbrella is white, the reflection is white, but somehow our brains interpret it as black because we know the table is black. It doesnt look like a black table with a big grey smudge on it. (Well maybe it does now I've said that.)


One of the difficulties I had doing this, was shooting with flash, I couldn't see the reflection in the table. My little Nikon SB28 flashes don't have modelling lights. So what I did is clamp an 64-LED Video Camera Light next to the flashgun and turn the lights off in the room so I could see what the hell was going on. I was able to position the specular highlight in the right place on the table and then I adjusted the size of it by half closing the umbrella. I had a reasonable idea of where to place it because the angle between the camera and the item on the table should be the same  the between the item and the flash. After getting it approximately in position I used my eyeballs.

That was the background taken care of, but I also wanted some light reflected around the objects themselves. So I put two flashes in softboxes either side of the subject. This gave me some specular highlights on the sides of the subject in view of the camera.

I'll leave you with this setup shot of a bottle of  1969 port. I was trying to get a more subtle edge highlight by turning the softboxes out away from the bottle. But you can see how I closed up the umbrella and you can see the highlight on the table.

The bottle is now empty but the ebay items are still on sale until the 20th February