Hi, this is Jay P. Morgan. You know what, when you’re doing product photography soft boxes are not always the solution. There’s a technique that product photographers have been using for years that gives them beautiful highlights. Highlights they can scale to what they’re photographing. And the ability to really create things in tight spaces. It’s called, just a roll of tracing paper. Let’s see how we use it. Let’s see how you can make great highlights and get excellent product photography. Let’s get right into it. Let’s get started.
“Tracing paper,” you might think to yourself, “well, I guess that’s a solution that you’re going to make a compromise if you have to use it because it’s cheap.” Not at all. A good friend of mine Kathryn Russell, she’s a product shooter, does great work. She has used tracing paper her entire career. She uses it to be able to scale highlights. To give you long running highlights, to wrap them around something that’s metal or a great highlight overhead. You can use different sizes of it. So it gives you the ability to make your highlights larger or softer. It also gives you the ability to, in this case like right here our ceiling is so low, we couldn’t get a soft box above our setup here. But we can push that tracing paper up and put our FJ400 head just right above it. And it gives us a nice light on the subject below us.
I love Mondriaan. I love his work. He is part of the De Stijl movement, a Dutch movement, that just really meant breaking everything down into solid blocks of color. So that’s really our idea here.
We’ve got two great shoes from Nike. They have different colors in them. We want to create this kind of Mondriaan background in different colors. But we want them to match the shoes. In order to get a paint color that is going to match our shoes, you can go to Home Depot and start looking at samples it’s just so hard to do. We used a Datacolor ColorReader EZ. This is a great tool because you simply lay it on the shoe on the color you want to sample. It attaches to an app on your phone. When you click it, it gives you a reading. It shows the color. And with Home Depot colors or other stores, they will give you the exact color swatch you need to pick up. So we just simply did that. We sampled several places on the shoes to decide what color palette is going to give us the nice background. Because we want the different colors. We want those colors to match the shoes, to tie into the shoes.
Then we painted all those boards. Then we cut small boards to be able to move around and be able to fashion them into that Mondriaan look in the background. Super excited with the results. And really it’s made it so easy to accomplish it because of the ColorReader EZ. And that really made it easy to find the colors and to give us the blocks of color in the background.
I tell my students when I talk to them about do product photography, doing people photography, anything that you have to put a tremendous amount of effort, thought and pre-vision into your background and your foreground. Most people just show up and they think the background and foreground are going to solve themselves. No, we completely sketched this out. We sampled the colors, we painted the blocks, we moved them around and looked at them. And then we were able to set them up to get the shot we wanted.
So let’s break the lighting down here. The first thing we did was we just simply put the tracing paper above our scene. This is where that tracing paper became very useful for us because the ceiling is too low. I couldn’t get a soft box up there if I wanted to because the ceiling is too low in this room. But the tracing paper underneath a single head gives me a diffusion that’s going to really be soft in the middle, but a little warmer or hotter in the middle. And it’s going to taper off a little bit on the outside sides. We put a seven inch reflector on it. So we can really turn that reflector towards the camera. Turning that towards the camera is going to keep the light off in the background. I don’t want the light to bleed over the top of the tracing paper and hit the background. I want it to go through the tracing paper and illuminate the background with just a nice soft light back there.
Why don’t I just tape this diffusion material onto the head? I mean, that would work. It doesn’t really work. Basically you’re shoving the diffusion right against the head. It makes the light hard again, because all the light comes out from one spot. It doesn’t allow it to wrap. Wrapping and that soft transition from highlight to shadow is because the surface is looking into the shadow area. So when you drop it down lower, make it long and large, it hits in the middle and then it really rolls off on the sides and you get some open shadow on the sides. It just looks much prettier. So you want to get it down and the head up. I did tilt that head away from the background because I didn’t want the highlight to be on the background. I want it to fall off of the background slightly. So it’s favoring forward but it is lighting the background at the same time. So that’s our foundation, keeping the light off the background with a nice highlight above the shoes. Now we just have to start working with that. A single light, you can do so much with a single light with just fill cards. I use these little cards. These are like $1.30 at the dollar store. I know Dollar Store, $1.30. So I just have a whole stack of these things and for $15 you can light a lot of stuff with those.
Now that we’ve got the overhead tracing paper in place, we’ve got to do a lot of work to this yet. First off, we’re going to take and put a fill card on the camera left side and that’s going to open up the side of the shoe and give us just a little bit of a fill on the front of the shoe on the top.And now we’ve got to do something for the shoe on the bottom. It’s a little dark as well. So we’re going to shove a card in really close. It’s going to open up the yellow shoe on the bottom and on the side. And that card is going to bounce that light right back into the shoe. Just open up that shoe and make it look much nicer.
Okay, last of all, we’ve got the background. The background, because we have the tracing paper on top, we’ve got a highlight that is brighter on the top of the background and goes darker towards the bottom. So the first thing, I’m looking at it that and I’m going, we can shine a light on that. Another light, I hate having to use another light if we don’t have to. So we just took two of those inexpensive cards, taped them together, put boxes on stools and shoved that underneath that background. And now that bounces light back up onto those two squares. It lightens those two squares up and makes them feel much more cohesive to the rest of the set. And just feels much stronger in there. So there’s our final shot. With all the fill cards in place, including the background bounce light.
When you shoot something like this, and you want the colors to look the way you pre-visualize them, I use the SpyderCheckr 24. It’s just a simple way for me to put this in. It’s going to give me a rendition of the color exactly the way I did it. You can just sample this in Photoshop. You can either use this side, or you can use this side and go from the 18% gray. And this gives you a look at the color. This is very simple because it just gives you a large area to click on. I just set that in and get a shot in there at the beginning. So I have that as a reference. I can click on that and I can color match. And that just gets my color right where I want to have it. So this is a super important source if you’re doing any kind of product work. And a lot of times with shoes and those kinds of things you need the colors to look right. They need to be the colors of the shoes. That’s very important to the manufacturer. You can’t just have them be kind of off. This is going to help you get it right on.
So there you have it, a way to get quality professional looking product shots with a $15-$20 roll of tracing paper. When I say that it’s not even a solution that is a compromise. A lot of professionals are using that exact solution to get great looking product shoots. When you combine that with a ColorReader EZ you are able to get great color. Not just great color, the exact colors you want. Then use a SpyderCheckr to be able to keep that color process consistent through the entire workflow process until you get to your final print.
This was just a great fun shoot to do. A lot of fun, De Stijl and De Stijl is for you. So keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’.