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Help for absolute amateur to shoot stills

Discussion in 'Help Team' started by craptaxidermy, Feb 26, 2017.

  1. craptaxidermy

    craptaxidermy New Member

    Hi everyone,

    I need A LOT of help to start taking photos!! I'm a handbag designer with zero photography skill. I've read up on the basics: ISO, shutter speed, aperture and so on, and while I understand the general theory, every time I try and put it into practice my photos look AWFUL.
    I've uploaded a few images of what I'm trying to achieve- I'm using some really dark backdrops and experimenting with low lighting. While I've found loads of tips online of how to position and set up the lights (Ive yet to buy my much-needed accessories such as studio lights and diffusers etc, I realise this may be a big part of the problem) I haven't been able to get the right settings on my camera, and everything I shoot looks really really naff.

    I'm about to launch my first ever collection and really good quality photography will be the difference between great sales and crashing and burning so I need to up my game!!

    I'd really appreciate any guidance on how to do this kind of thing and any recommendations on what equipment might help! I'm using a Nikon D3300.

    Massive thanks in advance.

    Attached Files:

  2. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    Hello! Can you show us some examples of what you have done? That might make it easier to determine what advice would be most helpful to you!
  3. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    The highlights on the shoes are burned out in the example but otherwise these look very good. Where do you see the problem?
  4. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member

    I may be wrong but I think these are not the OP's images...these are what s/he's aspiring to. That's why I suggested that it would be helpful to see the images they're not happy with as a starting point.
  5. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Thanks Geren, I misread the post, sorry.

    To get that kind of result you need to get the exposure right - the camera by itself will make the results too bright. The lighting must be diffuse or you get shadows.
  6. craptaxidermy

    craptaxidermy New Member

    Hi Geren & PeteRob :) Thanks for coming back to me so fast! Yes that's right, I'm trying to create images like in the attachment from my earlier post. I've attached a few examples of what I got out of a little test shoot I did earlier (excuse the lack of any proper set-up or composition, I just wanted to get my camera settings sorted with an old vintage bag). I was playing around with the white balance and exposure but didn't feel with any combination that I was getting that close...are there any kind of 'golden rules' for achieving this kind of look?

    Thanks PeteRob, thats good advice! The camera itself kept warning me the subject was too dark...So do I need to make the subject brighter and edit the exposure in post? I should mention my photoshop skills are MUCH more advanced than my camera skills...


    Attached Files:

  7. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    The camera metering system is calibrated on the assumption that the subject has a standard reflectivity so if you photograph something black it will give you settings (aperture, exposure time) to reproduce it grey. It will similarly try to make a white subject grey. Modern cameras are a bit more clever than that and have been trained to recognise common patterns of light and dark across the frame so they tend to do a bit better. If you control the lighting in a reproducible way it is best to put the camera on a manual setting and reduce the exposure shown in the meter. Try one stop under the meter reading to start and then less in 1/3 stop intervals until the results look right. You'll need the camera on a tripod, ISO 200 or base ISO if different, try lens at F8 and control with exposure time (shutter speed). You have reflections of the light in your example. I'm not good at lighting. It suggests to me the source is too small and bright but others will know better.
  8. craptaxidermy

    craptaxidermy New Member

    PeteRob that's excellent advice, thank you so much!! Yes I will try everything mentioned, really good to get a better understanding of how the metering works :)
  9. 0lybacker

    0lybacker In the Stop Bath

    There's damage on the bag on what I would call its left flank that is rather obvious in photo bottom left and top right. Top & bottom left show the bag is too large for the backdrop but all things considered your first attempts are not bad. Bottom right is quite good but the clasp is cutting the frame edge and the carpet is obviously intruding.

    One of the tricks to learn with lighting is how to flag off little stray bits that distract the viewers eye. Learn how to create shadows with bits of card and diffusers. Other things to watch for is damage to the background - the crib sheet you posted showed that although the products & other items were lit well, the photographer there got so wrapped up in the lighting & subject that they forgot the background for the shots on the right hand side.
  10. Geren

    Geren Well-Known Member


    The first thing to note is that your reference shots are not without their own issues, and also that they haven't all been lit the same way so while I get that you're looking for some kind of dark on dark effect, you can't just generally say 'I want them to look like this' when 'this' shows a variety of possible approaches. The least successful of them all would seem to be the big black holdall. Look at the way it shows harsh, uneven reflections compared with some of the other shots. Look at the angle from which it has been shot. The more pleasing shots are either front on and the camera is level with the product, or entirely overhead. There's very little detail in the bottom of the bag and the background/floor are unevenly lit.

    Your own shots tell us that firstly your background is not nearly wide enough, that you're shooting on the floor which will eventually ruin your back, and that you have at least two light sources with different colour temperatures on the go there.

    Shooting on the floor might make an overhead shot easier but depending on the bag, that is unlikely to always be it's best angle so I'd really advise the use of a small table that you can move around a bit - closer or further away from the backdrop. It's easier to control the light if you can move both the table and the lights until you have the right angles.

    As a general rule I like to have my subject matter quite far away from the back drop so that I can light the two separately. If I really want something to loom out of the darkness that might mean NOT lighting the background, or preventing as much light as possible from reaching it. You can use large pieces of black cardboard or foam board painted black to block light from entering an area. If the subject is then too close to it, either it will also end up in the dim, or the light you use for the subject will spill onto the background. If there isn't room for that you need to consider the colour and texture of the background and make sure they work with the subject. Black paper doesn't often scream luxury - which is why I think the creased paper behind the right hand backpack is a deliberate attempt to create some texture that complements the leather.

    As far as the actual light goes, don't mix. It looks to me like you have the daylight coming in through the windows and then a rather yellow looking electric light as well. It's entirely possible to shoot using daylight and nothing else so long as you don't try to do the same product over different days when the weather has changed dramatically. Ideally you want a bright but flat northern light streaming in from a large window with nets over it! And use a reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows on the side away from the window - you'll get a similar effect as the images on the right of your reference shots.
    craptaxidermy likes this.
  11. craptaxidermy

    craptaxidermy New Member

    Hi all, I just wanted to say a massive thank you for your advice, I bought some new lights and did a little test shoot and I'm so pleased with the results! The colours could still use a bit of work to keep them consistent but with your guys advice I think its a big step forward so thank you all :)

    Attached Files:

    EightBitTony likes this.
  12. exspmr

    exspmr In the Stop Bath

    If the bags are predominantly black leather, using a gold lighting filter gel will give a warmer, richer gradation and tone down the reflections on the hardware.

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