Sunday, 23 September 2007

Off-Camera Lighting for Fall Colours (With a Twist)

Fall LeavesFall leaves have always reminded me of rubies, emeralds, and topaz gemstones. This year, I wanted to try to shoot leaves in a way that communicates a gem-like quality. In planning my shoot, I inventoried the various tools at my disposal and decided to try some radical “off camera” techniques. I have not finished experimenting with these yet. However, with a short window of opportunity for such shots, I thought I’d blog what I’ve learned so far in case others want to try this out.

The Light Table

Fall Gem (4)I thought my old mini light table might produce some interesting back lighting and I was not disappointed. I shot with both my Nikon D70s and my wife’s Canon G7. After shooting only a few frames with the D70s, I switched to the G7 and never looked back. The macro ability is awesome, especially when you have full manual exposure control.

I thought this technique produced a quality of shot that came close to matching that gem-like feeling. I was able to produce a collage of different leaves in the green-yellow-red gradient typical of the fall.

Fall Gems

Also, I loved the way I could move the camera around to compose shots that accented the shape and structure of leaves. I think there is a lot more to explore here, as well as shooting flowers and other “thicker” shapes (i.e., objects that do not lie as flat as leaves).

Fall Flower

Canon G7 Light Table GoboThe leaf went under a piece of glass and onto the light table. The G7 went on to my tripod. I put a toilet-paper roll gobo around the lens and composed the shot. Exposure was manually set, and I found I was usually 1.5 to 2 stops over exposing to what the meter was telling me to shoot. I always shot using the G7’s self-timer, since the shutter speeds were slow. Here are some tips from what I learned:

- Let the light table warm up. Fluorescent tubes take a while to hit their final white balance. My table usually took about 20 minutes to warm up to a point where I did not notice a change from one minute to the next.

- I used glass from a picture frame to hold the leaf flat. You will need to keep the glass clean, as little bits of plant and leave material look ugly in a close up shot.

- Likewise, you need to keep the light bed clean. Plants and leaves produce powerful stain-making agents, as anyone who has ever tried to get grass stains out of kids’ clothes knows! Wipe off the light bed regularly.

- The glass will reflect the ambient light, so you will need a round gobo to go over the lens. I am not sure Canon engineers designed the G7 with this in mind, but I found that the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper did the job quite nicely.

- You need to shoot the leaves within a day of plucking them off the tree, or about a half day of finding them on the ground. I did not realize the drying process was so quick!

- If you want to shoot a thicker object, you can supplement the back light with a flash and a reflector, giving you some front fill.

Light Table set up

A Simulated Light Table

Back Lighted Diffuser SetupMy light table is small, so I wondered how I would shoot a larger collection of leaves. My solution was to use a flash (SB26 on 1/16 power) and a diffuser to provide the light, and to sandwich the leaves between two pieces of glass. I used my N D70s in this case, as I did not need the macro feature and I could trigger the camera remotely. I am sure the G7 would have been just as good using the self-timer. I used my bottle of glass cleaner to pre-focus on a spot, which is where I then held the glass-leaf sandwich. F8 has enough depth of field that the results were still okay even if I was off my mark a bit in placing the glass.

The results were similar to those of the light table, although a lot of the frame was wasted because I manually held the glass in front of the diffuser. I think that if I constructed a way of holding the glass sandwich in place, I could zoom in and use the full frame. I did not shoot much using this technique, as I found the light table so much easier to use.

Diffuser Shot

Diffuser Shot Crop

A Scanner

Fall Leaves (5)What is a scanner if it is not an odd sort of light table with a built in camera? My set up here was simple. Place the leaf or plant on the glass, close the cover, and scan! This technique did not produce the same translucent type shot as the light table, but rather resulted in a solid shot. This was no surprise as the image captured is coming from the reflection off the leaf. This leads to a decision as to which side of the leaf to shoot. The “front” of the leaf produces a colourful type shot. The “back” of the leaf produces a more monochrome shot, but has a lot more texture. Both types of shots lend themselves to using the leaves as objects in Photoshop that you can manipulate to produce interesting compositions. You will need to make sure that the leaf is held flat, which I was able to do by putting a heavy book on top of the scanner.

Large objects produced some interesting results here as well, which will take a bit more time to explore.

Fall Flower (3)

For a slide show of some of the more interesting shots from this experiment, go here.


Bonnie said...


Jesus, your work is getting better with each post. I'm loving the leaves and the flower stamens there, like a little forest.

Grand, b'y, grand.


Sue said...

Amazing pictures that stamens there, like a little forest.Great work.

chanapong said...

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