Last week I talked about f stops, shutter speeds, and ISO settings. While all of these are needed to created a balanced photo, the most important thing was left out: light. Photography is painting with light and different conditions can give you vastly different looks. For the sake of our series, I will be talking about creating photos that show off yarn and knits (your product) in a more accurate way as opposed to a purely artistic way. (Silhouettes are wonderful to use artistically, but typically do not show off products well.) This week's model is a skein of Canon Hand Dyes in the Fall Leaves colorway, Charles base.
Frequently, the biggest no-no that you'll hear about in product photography is not to use direct light. There is nothing wrong with using direct light, but it is more difficult to achieve good results. There are more factors to take into account such as where shadows are going to fall. It is also quite easy to over or under expose parts of the picture. This is especially true if you are using a model. Skin is notoriously difficult to get an even exposure in direct sun. It can compete heavily with trying to get a correct exposure of your product. The background you choose for your product will also factor in how difficult it is to get an even exposure.
It is, however, not impossible to get a good picture in direct sun. It is simply more difficult. You can do quite a bit to influence your lighting. One option would be to wait for, or move into the shade. There are no harsh shadows to compete with. The trade off is that there is less light, so you may need a tripod if you need a longer exposure time. If you need to shoot in direct sun but don't want to deal with the difficulty in getting an even exposure, you can use a diffuser. The one I invested in also has options that make it a reflector as well. But just about any semi-opaque object can work as a diffuser, such as a white sheet. In the diffuser image below, you'll notice that there is still a shadow. It is just less harsh than in the direct sun. Your last option is to wait for a cloudy day. Clouds are nature's diffuser.
I'd like to note that all four images were taken with the same f stop. I only changed the shutter speed to accommodate the changes in lighting.
If you are shooting in direct light, using a reflector can do a lot to help create a well exposed image. The reflector I have has four different reflector options along with the diffuser. The color options are white, silver, black, and gold.
In the following images, I chose to leave the camera settings all the same. This means that some images are over or under exposed. But I wanted you all to see what a reflector can do.
In the image with no reflector, you can see that the yarn is both over and under exposed. The image with the diffuser being used is simply under exposed. And now the magic begins. With the exact same lighting conditions, a reflector can even out the light and save some otherwise unsalvageable images. The gold reflector can warm up an image whereas the silver reflector can cool the image down. White is used to fill in light in a neutral tone. And black can be used to help absorb light and reduce glare. Although I find myself using the black reflector the least, it can be quite useful when shooting near reflective surfaces, such as a lake or glass building. And keep in mind that you can use fabric, paper, or any other material to bounce light like a reflector. In a pinch, I have had someone who was wearing a white t-shirt position themselves to reflect light. A reflector is just a little easier to transport than poster board or yards of fabric.
1. Take two pictures of the same object in a spot gets direct sun and shade. Take one image in direct sun and one in shadow.
Bonus: When the object is in direct sun, see if you can reflect some light into the shadows and get a more even exposure.
2. Using backlight, take three pictures of the same object. One with no reflector, one using something white (like a piece of paper) to reflect the light into the shadows, and one using something metallic (like a toaster or cookie sheet) to reflect light.
Bonus picture: Use something colored, like a green shirt or towel, to reflect light.
I think that is enough about light for now. In the coming weeks, I plan to start talking about composition. The next photo post will cover some basic composition rules.