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Still-life: Shooting glass


Glass can be a tricky subject to photograph well, but as Lee Frost demonstrates, a simple one-light technique can produce great images
Your first question on seeing this page will be, What the hecks a landscape photographer doing shooting studio still-lifes? And youd be right, I am more at home when working with daylight in the great outdoors than indoors with studioflash; but thats the point of this exercise. Far too many photographers give studio still-life photography a wide berth because it seems alien and complicated, so Im going to now show you how nothing could be further from the truth. Its been so long since I last used my old Jessops studioflash kit that I wasnt even sure where it was and when I did find it, I realised, in a state of panic, that the stands for the flashheads must still be in the loft of my old house, which I moved out of in June! Luckily, a roll of Gaffer tape and a spare tripod solved that problem. My chosen props were a wine glass and a bottle of red wine (yum!), which Id soaked in a bowl of warm water to remove the labels. My challenge was to create a simple rim-lighting effect, to highlight the curves of the glass objects. This meant that the glass and bottle had to be positioned against a black background while being lit from behind. As a glass and bottle are small in comparison to a 1x1m softbox, I decided that I could probably manage with just one light and keep the set-up nice and simple. To achieve this, a piece of black velvet was draped down the centre of the softbox, creating a narrow black background which effectively split the softbox in two, so that I was left with a narrow strip light either side of the velvet. I poured some wine into the glass, and then positioned both glass and bottle in front of the softbox, on a stool that had been draped with a sheet of black fabric. To check the lighting effect and exposure, I took a test shot with the camera set to manual exposure mode 1/125sec at f/8. The image on the preview screen told me several things the props were too close to the background, the wine glass needed a good clean and the exposure could be reduced. I also decided that a full wine bottle would look better than the half-full one that I was using. With a second bottle de-labelled, I moved the glass and bottle further away from the softbox they ended up about 12in in front of it. This gave me a better rim-lit effect. I varied the lens aperture between f/22 and f/4, and the wider I went, the more colour and detail I could see; while with smaller apertures, the image became more graphic, until a fine white outline around the props was the only thing visible. Experimenting with different compositions produced a range of stylish shots. I tried just the glass on its own, then the bottle, the glass and bottle next to each other and, finally, the bottle behind the glass. After a little Photoshop clean-up, I was happy with the results. I had created a series of stylish still-life images using just one light, a piece of black velvet, some simple props and a bit of imagination. Cheers!

Canon EO Canon S-1Ds MK III 2 Gitzo t 4-70mm Jessops ripod flash studio hea softbo d & black x velvet sheet bottle & wineof wine glass

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SETTING UP: The props are cleaned and put in position. The lighting set-up is deceptively simple but does the job, which is all that matters. The first test shot gives me a clear idea of what needs to be done in terms of composition, lighting and exposure. As the shoot progresses, I keep checking the cameras LCD screen, to see how the shots are coming out. Making small tweaks to lighting, aperture and exposure makes a big difference to the final shot.

FULL LENGTH SHOT: My first serious attempt shows a work in progress. The rim-lighting isnt fine enough, I need to use a full bottle to avoid the green colouring and the wine glass needs another clean.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: By reducing the aperture to f/16 and the flash head to half-power, the light wasnt intense enough to penetrate the wine inside the bottle so only the fine white outline recorded.

GRAPHIC GLASS: With the positioning, lighting and exposure sorted, the images look much better, so I experiment with different set-ups, starting with the glass on its own and moving in close.

FINAL IMAGE I felt that the most effective compositions were created when both bottle and glass were photographed together, to create a series of overlapping shapes and tones. Tweaks in Photoshop made sure the image was clean and simple, and the wine, just in case youre wondering, went down a treat!

58 Digital SLR Photography December 2008