Tuesday, July 03, 2012
The First Studio LiteIgloo
The idea of a shooting enclosure is not a new one; it’s been around a while. In the past their cost, assembly, and size have not made them popular with the entry level or amateur photographers. In 2004 Photoflex introduced the LiteRoom, a professional's shooting enclosure for product photography, and LiteRoom Kits with great results. However, many entry level and hobbyist photographers were asking for a more affordable solution for their product shooting needs.
For those of you that shoot product, or want to, the LiteIgloo is a great place to start. The same technology that goes into the frames of our LiteDisc reflectors is in the LiteIgloo, making it collapsible and very durable. In fact the small LiteIgloo can fit in your pocket when it’s collapsed and the large one (large enough for shooting an average sized tower computer) can be easily stowed away in your camera case.
In this introductory lesson, we will focus on using the medium size LiteIgloo. We also will show examples of product or subjects we shot in the other two sizes. The medium LiteIgloo is also available in a complete kit with two of our new FirstStar reflector lights and LiteStands.
(Click on any thumbnail image below for an enlarged view.)
- The pitfalls of the on-camera flash
- Using 6-inch reflectors
- Using the Medium LiteIgloo and 6-inch reflector lights
- Comparing the results
- Using the Large LiteIgloo
- Using the Small LiteIgloo
- Shooting on a light table
- Shooting for background knockouts
The Pitfalls of the On-Camera Flash
To get started we set up our sawhorses and set a desktop surface on them; this will serve as our shooting table. We arranged it so we can shoot down from the narrow end so later when we add lights we won’t have to rearrange the set.
We set the subject, an old table clock, at a slight angle so that we can see some of the dimension of the object. Once we had the camera attached to our tripod we installed the on-camera flash and set everything to the auto settings on both the camera and the flash (figures 1 and 2).
We made adjustments to the tripod and the tripod head to frame our shot, then made an exposure (figure 3).
Our results are not very flattering. We have out of control contrast, ugly reflections and shadows, and a flat looking shot.
Using 6-inch Reflectors
For the next step, we took the flash off the camera and set up the first of our studio flash units to the right of the camera at about 45 degrees relative to the clock and about three feet away (figure 4).
We set the power of flash unit to 1/16 power and took a light meter reading to calculate our exposure. From the meter readings we set the camera to manual, then set the shutter speed to 1/60 and the aperture to f/16.5. Lastly we connected the camera and the flash with the sync cord and shot a photo (figure 5).
Again our results don’t do our subject justice, we still have too much contrast and blown out highlights. On the positive side we are starting to see some dimension to the subject because we have moved the light off the camera.
Next we moved the light around to the side of the subject to try and get the reflection off the face of the clock. We positioned the light at about 90 degrees to the right and at the same distance (figure 6).
We are still seeing a lot of contrast but we have a better handle on the highlights (figure 7). One of the drawbacks of using light at hard or raking angles is that it will show every nick and spec of dust. At this point we can use a LiteDisc reflector to fill in the clock and help control the contrast.
Note: For more details on using LiteDisc reflectors, click here.
For our next step we added a second studio flash unit to the left side of the set. We set the light far to the side at about 90 degrees to match the first light in height and distance from the subject. Since we are treating this light as a fill we will set the power to about ½ a stop less the first light. Doing this allows the second light to fill in the shadows, reducing the contrast while still giving the image depth (figure 8).
With the second light in place, we checked the camera and made an exposure (figure 9).
Using these tools, this is what you can expect for your results; not too bad. Even though I spent time cleaning the clock and putting some wood polish on it, we still see a lot of nicks and dust that we did not see through the lens. And the overall shot is still very contrasty or moody but we can clearly see the clock. So we could call it mission accomplished - or not.
Using the Medium LiteIgloo and 6-inch Reflector Lights
Next we set up the Medium LiteIgloo and installed the included white sweep to the Velcro tabs sewn into both products. We set the LiteIgloo on a piece of white foam board so that the color of the table would not contaminate the shot (figures 10 and 11).
Tip: When choosing the size of LiteIgloo you will need for the subjects you want to photograph, follow these basic rules. The products you choose should roughly be about ½ the size of the LiteIgloo. So for the Small (12 inch cubed) your subject should about 6-8 inches or less, for the Medium (19.75 inches cubed) your items should be 10-12 inches and for the Large (31.5 inches cubed) your products should be 16-22 inches. In other words the Small is ideal for jewelry, watches and the like. The Medium works well for items the size of a shoebox and the Large for items like a tower computer or a stereo receiver.
Using the same lights in much the same positions we can really improve on the results. To start we set the clock into the LiteIgloo at the same angle but this time we will take advantage of one of the features of the LiteIgloo. The access door on the front of the LiteIgloo is like a double door; it is two separate pieces. This means you have no restrictions on the camera placement as many of the other enclosure products have. To take full advantage we will lower the camera almost to the level of the table top so we can look up at the clock giving a much more dramatic look, then seal the doors around the lens (figures 12 and 13).
Next we placed the flash head to camera right at 90 degrees from the subject in the same position we had placed it before we set up the LiteIgloo (figure 14).
We took a light meter reading and found the we had lost about ½ a stop of light, so we made adjustments to the power level of the studio flash unit. Once we had the light dialed in we shot our next picture (figure 15).
Our results show a much more interesting angle and much better contrast control. The key light needs to be repositioned to reduce the hot highlight on the clock face. This is because the walls of the LiteIgloo have softened and spread the light out so we have too much hitting the face of the clock.
Next we raised up the first light about 2 feet to about 6 feet and moved it back so that is was at about 45 degrees from the back of the subject (figure 16).
Since we moved the light we took another light meter reading and made our adjustment to the light's power output. Once we had the exposure set we shot the next image (figure 17).
We can see how the highlights on the clock face and glass have come under control by allowing the light to soften on the side panel of the LiteIgloo. We can see all the detail and have a pleasing overall contrast level.
Our last step is to add the second studio flash unit to the shot. Again we will start by placing in the same spot as we did in the first set up. The light set at about 90 degrees from the subject from the left side (figure 18).
With the second light in place we checked out camera and shot the final image (figure 19).
Now we can say mission accomplished with no doubt. With simple lighting and with a dramatic camera position, we have given this clock a make over.
Whether you place your images in a catalog or on your web site, your images can make a better impact than the average shot.
Comparing the Results
Below is the line up of the results we achieved to get to the final image. We can clearly see how the LiteIgloo can easily improve the look of your work and increase your production.
While we had the studio set up we pulled some more items from our prop room and arranged them in the LiteIgloo. In the next example we show a pair of boots, made of soft suede, to illustrate the quality of light on a non-reflective surface. In the following figures we show the final lighting set and the results we got with it (figure 25 and 26).
Using the Large LiteIgloo
In our next examples we put away the Medium LiteIgloo and set up the Large LiteIgloo and installed the white sweep. We set a vase with some gerbera daisies on the sweep in the LiteIgloo. We set the key light to the right side of the camera at about 45 degrees and our fill light to left side at 45 degrees from the back (figures 27 and 28).
For an example of a reflective subject we chose this very cool electric violin. For our key light this time we set it the left of the set at about 90 degrees and added and small HalfDome soft box on to our studio flash unit. This will broaden and soften the highlights on our subject. For our fill light, we set the 6-inch reflector light to the right at 90 degrees (figure 29 and 30).
To illustrate another feature of the LiteIgloo we will use the Velcro tabs on the side of the LiteIgloo to keep the door open, turning the LiteIgloo into a mini cyclorama. By doing this we can move the camera back and use a long lens to reduce any distortion we would get by using a wide lens on this tall subject (figures 31 and 32).
With our long lens attached and our subject framed, we shot an image of the violin (figure 33).
Using the Small LiteIgloo
For our last examples we put away the large LiteIgloo and set up the small LiteIgloo.
To add some interest to the shots we placed a polished slice of rock on the floor of the LiteIgloo and then set a ring on the rock. We placed the key light to the right at 90 degrees and about even with the side of the LiteIgloo. Our fill was set to the left at 90 degrees and raised up to light the top as well as the side (figures 34 and 35).
Once we had our ring framed and lit we shot a few images, figure 36 is the keeper.
For our next example we chose an old watch and a new set of polished slices of rock. This time we stacked the background rocks and placed the watch on the front surface. Our key light was set to the right side at 90 degrees and raised up high to light the top of the LiteIgloo. The fill was set to the left at 90 degrees and lowered to about the height of the LiteIgloo (figures 37 and 38).
With the light set and the watch framed up, we shot our last shot of the afternoon (figure 39).
Shooting on a Light Table
Another option you can employ is to set the LiteIgloo on a light table, and have a light source come from under the subject.
To create a simple light table we removed the desktop from the sawhorses and turned them 90 degrees. We then set a 32”X32” piece of clear Plexiglas on top of the sawhorses. You can use frosted Plexiglas if you wish, but it will absorb about a ½ a stop of light (figure 40).
We grabbed one of our super clamps (available at most pro photo stores) and clamped to the leg of one of the sawhorses. Then we attached one of our studio flash units to the mounting stud on the super clamp centering the light under the glass (figure 41).
Since we will be using a reflector light, we placed a white sheet over the glass to soften the light a little, then we placed the Medium LiteIgloo on the set (figure 42).
The subject for this image is a pitcher of iced tea. Because we are using real ice, we won’t have much time to shoot. So we set the prop in the LiteIgloo to pre-light and set up the subject.
With the light under the LiteIgloo on we took a light meter reading to get our exposure, set the camera and made an exposure (figures 43 and 44).
Our result shows an interesting image but we are losing separation on the top of the pitcher, and the image is very contrasty.
Next we set the second studio flash unit around the back of the set, raised it up to about 5 feet and aimed it down to focus the light on the top of the LiteIgloo. Then we took a light meter reading and adjusted the light to match the first light we set. Then we checked our focus and shot an image (figures 45 and 46).
The addition of the top light has added diffusion to the top of the pitcher and reduced our contrast to a good level. We are now ready to pour the iced tea in the pitcher and shoot the final shot (figure 47).
The shot looks great, but we wanted to see what would happen if we replaced the reflector on the bottom light with a soft box. So we put the tea in the freezer and reset the shot with a medium LiteDome under the subject. Because the soft box will soften the light very evenly, we do not need the sheet under the LiteIgloo (figure 48).
With the soft box in place, we reset the LiteIgloo in place, reset the top light and placed the iced tea on the set. We took a quick meter reading and found we needed to adjust the light power up ½ a stop, we set the camera and shot our next image (figure 49).
Using the soft box under the LiteIgloo adds the final touch; we have a much cleaner and more even background. Because the soft box has softened and spread out the light, the highlights and the detail in the pitcher is much better. In figures 50 and 51, we show a side-by-side comparison of the shots.
Shooting for Background Knockouts
A chromakey blue sweep is included with each size of the new LiteIgloo. This can be used to shoot individual items on, then using a masking program on the computer, the background of the image is removed. The object is then isolated for compositing into an image with other objects or on another background.
Although you can install this sweep as we did the white sweep, we chose to show another way to use the LiteIgloo for this example.
When we turn the LiteIgloo over so that the door is facing up, we can use it to shoot objects from above.
So that we could get the set lower, we removed the sawhorses and set up a large box we found in the studio in their place. Then we spread the white cloth over the box to help cover up and the graphics on the box (figure 52).
We placed the LiteIgloo on the box with the door facing up. Then the chromakey sweep was folded in thirds as you would a letter (figures 53 and 54).
We then placed the folded sweep in the bottom of the LiteIgloo (figures 55 and 56).
For our prop in this example we choose to shoot a wine bottle, which presents a challenge for most photographers. With the LiteIgloo it’s a snap. We placed our prop on the bottom of the LiteIgloo (figure 57).
To set up our camera we took advantage of a cool feature of our tripod. By removing the bottom cap on the center column we can pull out the column and slide it in horizontally. This allows the camera to be placed directly over the subject. Because we have moved the camera off center, as a precaution we attached a sand bag to the opposite leg to counter balance the tripod (figures 58 and 59).
We set our first light at 90 degrees to the right and at about the same height as the LiteIgloo with the light centered on the right panel (figure 60).
We then sealed up the doors, set the camera, and shot an image.
Figure 61 shows that our seal is not blocking out the ambient light in the studio. To fix this we placed the white sweep around the lens to cover the gaps (figure 62).
Now with the LiteIgloo sealed we shot a second result image (figure 63).
This result shows a very nice clean highlight running down the length of the bottle and good detail on the label giving the bottle a good felling of roundness.
The second light was placed on the rear, right side of the set at the same height as the first light. But we placed it so that it was focused on the back and the right side panels. We then moved the first light toward the camera so that its light centered on the bottom edge of the right panel (figure 64).
We checked our camera and focus and shot the next image (figure 65).
In figures 66 and 67 we can compare how the addition of the second light has helped carry the highlight better down the length of the bottle. And we still have a very nice shape plus detail in the subject.
Using a masking program on the computer, we can extract the bottle and place it by itself or in a group shot. And because we shot all the subjects in the same light setup, the look is very consistent and professional (figures 68 and 69).
All in a Day's Work
Figures 70 and 71 are our finals for the Large LiteIgloo.
Figures 72 - 77 are the finals from the Medium LiteIgloo.
Figures 78 and 79 represent what we shot in the Small LiteIgloo.