Saturday, March 20, 2010

10 Great Photography Projects – Setting Up a Home Studio

Give yourself a perfect project by setting up a ‘Home Studio’.
To many people, this expression probably connotes settings up the traditional studio to photograph people for family portraits. But why not set a studio where you can bring the outdoors inside and then you have the ability to control the weather and lighting.

A studio is really a place where the photographer can control the weather and keep it dry or do the opposite and more importantly, have control of the lighting. Except for serendipitous moments, most great photography is all about lighting. Any subject might perform well if the right lighting is brought to bear.

Difficulty: Easier if you buy and harder if you are more inclined to be a DIY hands-on person but a lot more fun, which that tends to be my approach.

There is no way a big landscape scene is going to work at home unless I build a good diorama and even if I did, it would be through the photographs of the original scene I would be using.

But the smaller items will work fine. These can be flowers both bought and picked fresh, even weeds are wonderful. Everyday objects around the house or found through scavenger hunts at garage sales, flea markets and antique curio stores.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm Nikon VR II, ISO 200, @200mm, 1/500sec, f5.7

Light. The intensity, direction, reflections and even absence of, is what helps to make photographs dramatic. The home studio allows you to control all these variables.

It helps you see ‘light’, how it touches and seems to curve around some objects. How it hides and then again resurfaces as reflected light.

You will be amazed that after you study light in a controlled setting like your home studio, venturing outside will enable you to see light as a shaper of objects and not just a time and place that a photograph was taken.

The Basic setup
While I will be discussing the indoor setup there is nothing wrong being outdoors, such as with the 3 photos of birds I show in this article. These were accomplished with aid of a bird feeder, a nice sunny day, a chair just a few feet away and a cup full of patience to wait it out. Next time I am going to use the brighter Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR lens.

I keep the viewfinder in one eye and the other open to observe the wider field of view. When a bird starts to fly towards the feeder, they are fast, I just press the rapid fire button at 6 fps and hope for the best.

The first prerequisite to setting up is that of a location. Any location will do, suitable being very subjective and amazing people have done amazing things in small places.

An area of open floor space is ideal, preferably without a rug. If using floor reflectors, then the uneven rug surface makes it harder to place correctly.

The kitchen table is also a perfect starting place with a large surface and being somewhat portable. Easily moved towards a window light.

The size of object(s) and minimum focal length of setup shoot determine best height. I have set up on a table and then realized that to photograph the way I wanted meant I would have to paste myself to the ceiling. Adjust and set up on floor.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm Nikon VR II, ISO 200, @200mm, 1/1000sec, f5.7

The Light
The next is light. Natural light being good sized and available on several walls is a great start. Direct sunlight is not the best unless you want photos with extreme contrast. Modify the light through a white sheet or any colour over a window and you have a perfect soft box.

Electric lights from tabletop or stand lights ranging from incandescent to halogen for subject highlighting, and in some situations, can become the main lights which are needed for dramatic images. The big problem with house lights is that they come in many types and each has their own colour spectrum.

Try and stick to one type so as not to have different colour casts in image unless that is what was desired. When using florescent try and select a balanced daylight version.

One problem with always-on lighting is that when there are too many, they can get very hot. Having a master power bar near you makes it easy to turn on/off for short periods without having to walk around to each.

The external flash is a very good light as it best matches natural daylight, very portable, and low heat. The disadvantage at first is there is a learning curve to be able to control the light power needs and it is hard to see effect during setup unless you have a modeling button. Once you are comfortable with flash these are excellent sources for very controlled lighting effects. Good links below:

Up to now, if you where lucky there has been no additional costs for the above items. Reflectors can range from being readily available such as mirrors or white panels, or home made from hardware or artist supply items, up to professional photographic reflectors.

The photographing I do is not time sensitive nor profit oriented, therefore making my own is the best answer. I tend to use 4X4 sheets of mat board used for photographs and paintings. Easy to cut, light and only a few dollars each. There is no need to get the archival quality material as cheap is the best. A hot glue gun and a few backing pieces will get them to stand up perfectly at any angle you choose.

Nikon D300, 18-200mm Nikon VR II, ISO 200, @200mm, 1/800sec, f5.7

Backdrops and Materiel
For a lot of studio photography there are only 2 backdrop colors needed, black and white. Maybe a mid-gray and a blue-green colour not found in nature for the background extraction.

For white, almost any material will work as bright white is by nature very reflective and therefore shinier materiel such as thin cotton, polyesters, and canvas work well. Black is different and the best I found is to use a thick felt type materiel which is almost mat in reflectance and there does not tend to show any light spilling onto it.

A couple of spring mounted extension poles that reach the ceiling and now you have an easy method hanging backdrop materiel.

Light Diffusers and Modifiers
These can range from as simple as a white bed sheet for windows to:

Coloured transparent wrapping paper are inexpensive tinting sheets for colourizing light.

Coroplast is wonderful corrugated rectangular plastic tubing made into sheets. If you get the semi-clear sheet these make great diffusers. They can also be cut and shaped and glued into any form. I have also used these outdoors and a diffuser and wind break when photographing flowers and things. Two heavy gauge metal wires are used as stakes, through each end of the tubing row, to hold panel in place.

Mirror-like black plexiglass adds a deep richness when you need to have dark reflections.

Opaque Mylar provides for very soft diffusion and I use sheets of these with a cut-out box made of the coroplast above. This give me a grid structure, which is opaque for a make your own tent.

Cones and Grids can change the light from a wrap-around to more of a spot for highlighting parts.
Remember that if the light is hot then don't use any materiel that will burn or melt or only use for brief durations.

Miscellaneous Resources
There are several excellent web resources for DIY setups and photography how-to, which can be found on the links below.

Niels Henriksen

Tip Note:
In the above photographs they were captured as fast motion and therefore slightly blurry. I therefore need to enhance the structural elements of the birds such as the feather outlines. This was accomplished using HIRALOAM sharpening method. Hi Radius and Low Amount also referred to as Reverse USM creates broad sharpening bands and not just edge sharpening. I used a sharpen setting of 150 for amount and a radius of 10. I duplicated this sharpened layer and set one layer to lighten mode and the other to darken mode and then masked in the desired parts.

There is no one setting that works for each image but I normally start with an amount set to 250 and radius to 50. I then adjust the radius setting until I see bands (over-sharpened areas) that best match the effect I want and then dial back on the amount. It still looks very overdone but when set to the other blend modes it now has a better result. The adjust opacity to taste.

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