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If you've read the "Model Car" photo lesson on this CD, you know that sometimes you can set up a simple lighting solution to make your detail and overall shots look professionally lit. With larger products, a simple lighting solution doesn't always work, and you must be prepared to modify or change your lighting for different surface textures or colors of your subject matter. This lesson illustrates some examples of how to light and photograph a guitar.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

EQUIPMENT USED

Figure 1

Figure 1

First, we took a shot of the guitar with the built-in flash of the camera activated to demonstrate how most people take pictures of products. As you can see, this type of lighting is not so effective, as it renders the guitar dimensionally flat and creates a harsh reflection off of the body. This reflection is by the flash that reflects straight back into the lens. You can eliminate this harsh lighting by deactivating the flash and setting up a lighting unit independent of your camera (figure 1).

Here, we hung a 9-foot roll of black seamless paper, placed the guitar on a black-draped sawhorse and set up a Small Photoflex Starlite kit to the left of the guitar. We chose black for the drape and background because we wanted to keep the focus on the details of the guitar instead of the background (figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

For the overall shot, we set the camera on a tripod aiming slightly down so as to get an interesting perspective of the guitar. To ensure that the whole guitar would stay in focus, we set the aperture to f/10 to create a long depth of field, dialed in a shutter speed to accommodate a good exposure, and took a shot (figure 3).

As expected, the guitar is in sharp focus from front to back. At this point we liked the overall composition, yet we noticed that the front of the guitar was not well lit due to the size of the soft box we were using. To increase the spread of light, we replaced the Small SilverDome (16x24") with a Medium SilverDome (24x32") and took another shot at the same camera settings (figures 4 & 5).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

Notice the improvement of the result, as the color and grain are now visible in the bottom curve of the guitar. This "wrap-around" effect is due to the larger face of the SilverDome.

To fill in the shadow side of the guitar, we set up a Photoflex 39x72" LitePanel frame with gold fabric to serve as a large reflector. Instead of using the White side of the fabric, we decided to use Gold because we wanted to accentuate the warm tones of the guitar. Had we used white, it would have washed out the color somewhat. Without changing the camera settings, we took another shot (figures 6 & 7).

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 7

The result is an evenly-lit product shot that could now be used for a poster, counter card, or advertising layout. We left space at the top of the frame for a headline and type, similar to what was done in the "Jewelry Lesson" on this CD. Now that we've captured the overall shot, let's examine some approaches for detail shots of the guitar.

BUSINESS TIP

As we discussed in the "Model Car" lesson on this CD, most people write copy about the features, or details, of their products and then hope that their customers will "get" what they are trying to say. Well, it's much easier and far more effective to show details rather than talk about them. Creating detail shots allows your customers to appreciate the quality of your product.

THE DETAILS

For this first shot, we came in closer on the guitar and adjusted the camera angle by tilting the tripod head to produce an interesting perspective. We set up the small Starlite kit to light a specific area of the guitar. And since we wanted the viewer to focus on that area of the composition, we decided to set the aperture to f/2.4 to create a short depth of field. We focused on the front of the guitar to throw the back out of focus, adjusted the shutter speed and took a shot (figures 8 & 9).

Figure 8

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 9

The results came out as we planned. The background is dark and out of focus and the front reveals the details of the edging and fine grain of the wood.

For the next detail shot, we chose the head of the guitar. This is a good example of a shot that most people have difficulty with because the head consists of dark wood and highly reflective tuning knobs. But as you will see, the lighting solution is not a hard as you may think.

We set the camera to a lower angle and placed the Small SilverDome/Starlite on a Photoflex Boom to light the product from overhead. As with the previous shot, we wanted to light just the detail area and have the background fall off to black. We adjusted the tuning pegs so that the overhead soft box reflected in exactly half of the face of each peg, left the aperture to f/2.4 for a limited depth of field, and took another shot (figures 10 & 11).

Figure 10

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 11

As you can see from the result, the head of the guitar is well lit and nicely illustrated. You could stop here and have a great photograph. However, since the background and bottom half of the pegs in this shot are both black, it is difficult to make out the overall shape of the pegs. We decided to outline the edge by setting a white reflective foam core under the guitar and leaning it against the tripod. This foam core caught the light from the soft box overhead and bounced it back up to the metal edges of the tuning pegs. We also decided to increase the depth of field somewhat, so we set the aperture to f/10 and took another shot (figures 12 & 13).

Figure 12

Figure 12

Figure 13

Figure 13

Now the tuning pegs have a full and interesting shape and the body of the guitar is more recognizable.

Even though we used three different lighting set-ups for the overall and detail shots, all of them were simple and quick to set up. The resulting images tell a far more interesting story of this guitar than that of the original built-in flash shot.

If you are photographing products for your business collateral, or for Internet auction sites, you will get significantly improved results if you take the time to practice with the depth of field capabilities of your camera. And try some easy lighting set-ups to more effectively show your customers what your product looks like. Have Fun!

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