Photography forum: Let's talk about a Basic Light Setup

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Name: Melissa
Memphis, TN (Zone 8a)
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shadytrake
Jan 6, 2016 7:40 PM CST
So I might be in a position to get some lighting gear. Before I submit the cost proposal, I wanted to get some ideas and suggestions.

I'm thinking a key light, back light, and fill light. What else do you suggest?

This will be primarily for taking orchid photos against a black backdrop. Do I want to get umbrellas or diffuser boxes (soft light box)?

I'm thinking umbrellas as they are economical, but the soft boxes sure do have some other options once you get the hang of it.
Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 7, 2016 5:03 AM CST
I'm not well versed in studio photography, but I'm not sure I would go for either of those options to start with. Unless the plants are very big or can't be moved the easiest solution would be a light tent and it would also probably produce better and more professional looking results as it can give an extremely soft, yet flexible light and that is exactly what you want to start out with, IMO. You could buy one, but why not try to build one yourself and see what you think? You can find directions here: http://strobist.blogspot.se/2006/07/how-to-diy-10-macro-phot...

If you haven't done so already I'd highly recommend you to also read this: http://strobist.blogspot.se/2006/03/lighting-101.html as although it's not directly about plant photography, it will give you the basics of light and a good foundation to stand on. In the end it comes down to what quality of light you are after... we all have different tastes and different looks require different methods Smiling .
Name: Melissa
Memphis, TN (Zone 8a)
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shadytrake
Jan 7, 2016 9:12 AM CST
Thanks @William, but that would be way too small. The size that I would need for all types of orchids, (hanging, in pots, on mounts) would not be portable.

I should have mentioned that it has to be portable and easy to set up/take down.

I'm really liking the shoot through umbrellas, but that is going to require a flash investment. More research needed there.

Thanks for the link on the lighting-101. I will read it. I tip my hat to you.
Name: Mika
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cliftoncat
Jan 7, 2016 9:41 AM CST
Thanks, William - great info and making your own light tent looks fun. I'm going to try it. Smiling
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 7, 2016 1:09 PM CST
Outstanding link!
Thank you William, I am loving lighting 101
It is opening up a whole new world for me and blowing my mind!

How often have you heard this, usually with a tone of superiority:
"I am a purist, I only shoot available light."

(Translation: I am scared shitless of flash.)

As an ambient light photographer, you only have one "correct" exposure. Maybe a little wiggle room if you are being interpretive.
But as a lighting photographer, we control everything in the frame, independently of the other areas, by how and where we expose and add light.


At its ultimate, it is a complete gamechanger
and at the very least, I am currently developing a new and improved understanding and appreciation of lighting Thumbs up
Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 7, 2016 5:36 PM CST
Melissa, I understood that you needed a portable solution as I'm aware that you want to shoot at exhibitions, but I was sort of hoping it was possible to move most of the plants, as its usually much easier to move one potted plant than to move a complete photographic setup one time for every plant. I only mention this because I know it can be a bit cumbersome moving a lot of equipment around. While I never have attached huge umbrellas I often use a couple of tripods as I need one to shoot from and often use a spare one for reflectors or diffused flash and such (and this is usually in my own garden with only small diffusers and reflectors, so relatively easy still) so I know what I'm talking about. Hopefully one or more umbrellas and perhaps some good sized reflectors will work for you and hopefully you will also have someone to assist you with setting all of this up. In the past I have had some thought about trying out umbrellas as a compliment to my flashes as they do look sort of fun and perhaps your interest will rub off on me, so that I finally give them a go, who knows?

Cliftoncat it sounds great that you are going to try the light tent solution Thumbs up

Dirt, really great that you enjoyed the links so much Smiling . I certainly enjoyed going back to Strobist again myself as it's been quite some time since I read him and only remembered now as I got to think about the light tent. There are so many ideas to take in and so much inspiration just in looking at how some manages to master light and reading the techniques behind it.
[Last edited by William - Jan 7, 2016 5:38 PM (+)]
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Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 7, 2016 8:53 PM CST
Asa made a light box!
He got some pretty neat shots out of it Smiling all macro
here is one of mine when I was playing around with it
Thumb of 2016-01-08/dirtdorphins/647903
I didn't like the stark white so much so I threw some asparagus fern in the back and had a green thing going on Hilarious!
It never occurred to me to try the box for some other things or make a bigger box, but now I'm thinking about it Smiling
and an umbrella!
and some simple reflectors and snoots, and, and, and Blinking
well, we'll see
my neighbors probably won't be too much more surprised/confused
Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 8, 2016 4:42 AM CST
Hilarious! Hilarious! Hilarious! I know exactly how it feels to bring out a lot of weird photo equipment into the garden!
Excellent results from using the asparagus fern / light box combination Thumbs up
Name: Melissa
Memphis, TN (Zone 8a)
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shadytrake
Jan 8, 2016 4:15 PM CST
William said:Melissa, I understood that you needed a portable solution as I'm aware that you want to shoot at exhibitions, but I was sort of hoping it was possible to move most of the plants, as its usually much easier to move one potted plant than to move a complete photographic setup one time for every plant.


Yeah, I have to move it from Memphis, TN to St. Louis, MO each month. At home, for sure I can move my plants around a bit, but when I go on the road to the judging center, it has to be portable yet big enough to get some of the monster sizes that people bring in.

One of the really good center photographers is going to Tamiami and said we could meet up to chat about his set up. Here is his blog. I'm excited to learn some new stuff.

http://angraecums.blogspot.com/

Name: Marilyn
Greenwood Village, CO (Zone 5b)
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CDsSister
Jan 8, 2016 4:19 PM CST
dirtdorphins said:Asa made a light box!
He got some pretty neat shots out of it Smiling all macro
here is one of mine when I was playing around with it
Thumb of 2016-01-08/dirtdorphins/647903
I didn't like the stark white so much so I threw some asparagus fern in the back and had a green thing going on Hilarious!
It never occurred to me to try the box for some other things or make a bigger box, but now I'm thinking about it Smiling
and an umbrella!
and some simple reflectors and snoots, and, and, and Blinking
well, we'll see
my neighbors probably won't be too much more surprised/confused


I normally do not like the ultra close-up/macro shots but this one is really pretty. Lovey dubby
Good Job Hurray!

You guys are tempting me to try some light box stuff. My attempts at macro outside shoots always turn out badly. No talent no patience
But I will keep trying.
[Last edited by CDsSister - Jan 8, 2016 4:22 PM (+)]
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Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 9, 2016 2:31 AM CST
shadytrake said:

Yeah, I have to move it from Memphis, TN to St. Louis, MO each month. At home, for sure I can move my plants around a bit, but when I go on the road to the judging center, it has to be portable yet big enough to get some of the monster sizes that people bring in.

One of the really good center photographers is going to Tamiami and said we could meet up to chat about his set up. Here is his blog. I'm excited to learn some new stuff.

http://angraecums.blogspot.com/



Melissa, I actually wasn't thinking about the transport issues as in to get them to the location, as you would only do that once and that would be the easy part, as pretty much everything folds up nicely. Rather I was thinking of the work(and more importantly time) moving all of your gear around for the individual plants once you got there. However I had a look at the link that you posted and it looks like the photographer uses a rather directional light in many of the images. If that is the look you desire, then you should have much less gear to worry about as the light sources wont need to be nearly so big in size as to compared to if you preferred a more soft light. This is why it is so important to know the look you are after, before discussing what gear you need to get there. Here is hoping you will both learn much and have great fun talking about the set up with the blogger/photographer Smiling .

Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 9, 2016 1:05 PM CST
Don't give up Marilyn!

Thanks again William--I just can't tell you how much I appreciate all of the links, inspiration, and encouragement that you provide!

My head is swimming with so many ideas now it is about to burst--about all I know is that there are so many (possibly infinite) possibilities to try--like now I know that I can do things, but I just don't quite know what all I can do or how to do it just yet Hilarious! wish that I could fast-forward thru the hard part (like reading and comprehending the operating manual for this super cool flash that I actually have and have never used Rolling my eyes. ) but I'll slog thru it when I get to it...

Meanwhile, we did some beginner experiments last night with a hibiscus flower (just to wrap my head around some basic concepts).
Interestingly, just the simple method of bouncing a daylight CFL bulb from a bendy desklamp (perched on a cat-tree) off of the ceiling produced a very pleasant result Smiling
We also did some off-camera, directional, focused with a cardboard snoot and diffused with tissue-paper, flash experiments. It was neat to see how some shadows are really horrendous and some are kinda compelling. The texture that showed up in the petals on some of them was cool though.

William said:
... it is so important to know the look you are after, before discussing what gear you need to get there.



How true!
And the other thing, apparently there is no single, right answer to the 'look'--
I must say that I love the whole spectrum.
If it was me, I'd go for a bunch of dramatic, artsy-fartsy orchid shots too, just because orchids are so very dramatic Hilarious!
But it is not me, and I recall that Melissa specified the parameters as being good/accurate focus and color, and I'm getting the impression that the aim is for rather 'clinical' images of the plants and their parts--yes?

Still, I'd have to vote for the goal of what I refer to as 'magical, soft-light' if I had to choose and could set it up--I think that would yield some really fantastic photos that could also serve the purpose of documenting the exhibition orchids.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Jan 9, 2016 1:09 PM CST
William, I promise I am not stalking you Smiling
I am so enamored of the light here Lovey dubby


please, tell me if you were so blessed with this as an ambient miracle or if you augmented the ambient to achieve this, and if so, how?
Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 9, 2016 2:54 PM CST
But of course Dirt, I'll be happy to share! I'm just hoping my memory doesn't fail me as it was shot in 2009! However I think I remember the important stuff. There should be no flash involved here, and I doubt if I used a reflector. If there was a reflector involved it probably was insignificant and only as a fill as the most important light here is the back light from the low sun and any fill would reduce this effect. The back light is what gives the translucent look that makes us able to get an appreciation and a hint for that which is hiding inside the closing bloom.

I also checked EXIF to be even more sure. This was shot 1/10, f/8 at iso 200 late in the afternoon, we can also see this on the bloom as it is in the process to close for the evening.

I have a special love for backlit evening or morning photographs for certain subjects as the light sometimes is of a very special quality. Directional, yet soft. If you want to reproduce this kind of light I recommend that you set up so you have a clear or almost clear sky on a still and calm evening and not too many objects obscuring the setting or rising sun as the light then could end up too soft (sometimes difficult here in the forest, with all trees!). Also for maximum effect you would need a plant with thin petals, the thinner the better. Try to shoot both well before sunset and after and note the differences to see what suits your tastes best. Don't be afraid for very long exposure times, several seconds isn't unusual for macro subjects in these circumstances. Pictures taken in these circumstances sometimes ends up with strong color casts and often benefit from a little bit of contrast boost as the light is so soft.

Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dirtdorphins
Jan 9, 2016 4:51 PM CST
I tip my hat to you. Outstanding
Thank you!

I see lots of neato backlit things, but they never turn out that great when I take their picture.
Thank you for the tip on the very thin and thus translucent petals--makes perfect sense Thumbs up
So the sun was setting camera left?

I think a large part of my problem, too, is that I'm at the wrong angle right into the setting/rising sun, so have no frontlight and a blownout background --doh! that, and I can't do hand-held for long exposures!
We all have our geographical bears! We often have great clear sunsets, but never still/calm because we are right at the mouth of a canyon and as soon as the sun starts to go down, the heat of the valley sucks the cooler air right out of the mountains. Great for the evening breeze Smiling but pretty lousy for pictures
Skåne, Sweden (Zone 7b)
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William
Jan 9, 2016 7:27 PM CST
Good eye, Dirt, it looks like the sun is a bit left as well Smiling

Definitely easier to leave the sky out of the frame and aim for some distant foliage or grass instead. The backlit effect will still be there, even at a slight angle.
I do sometimes include some sky in backlit images, but if so I usually wait until its pretty dark outside, after the sun has set or at least gone under the trees. I'll need two exposures, one for the sky and one for the subject and mixing these together will be so much easier if they are relatively similar from the start (and it will look more natural). Or actually, if possible I'd do two exposures from the same RAW, as this is easier as there will be no alignment issues when I mix the images. This is the same as many landscape photographers do today, instead of using a ND grad filter to even out the light difference between the ground and the sky. Of course one can recover some lost highlight and shadow detail with other post processing tools as well, but this rarely looks great if applied to the whole image as adjusting more than a little will make the image look very flat. In my opinion it's better to do this selectively. Other option is as you hint at, to use some frontal or fill light. In doing so one will loose some of the translucent effect, but a little is better than nothing!!!

Always having a breeze when the light is as best sounds difficult Sad Rather close to the coast here and we have a lot of wind here even with the sheltering forest, but the situation is opposite here as the wind often dies down after sunset. Sometimes it really pays to wait for those still moments in between winds as well. All of this reminds me of someone on a forum a long way back that had some thoughts about using a light tent or similar to provide some shelter from winds. I think he planned to remove the background in the light tent so that he could still use nature as a backdrop, just keeping the sides and the top. Sounded reasonable at the time, but not sure how well if it worked or not. Of course one could then also argue that he could pretty much shoot with reasonable results throughout the day, so wasn't really needing good natural light with that setup anyway, but he would have to be careful in choosing his out of focus backgrounds as they could easily appear to bright in comparison to the subject shaded in the light tent.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dirtdorphins
Jan 10, 2016 11:58 AM CST
Too funny!
I am going to try something like that--various variations on the theme, see if I can get any better results with all the blazing harsh light we have to work with.
Unfortunately, we don't get the magical light at sunrise either because by the time the sun comes up over the mountain range it is no longer low in the sky.

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