WAX ON GRASSHOPPER
Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of you. Some in passing, others more directly. I never thought my own journey through photography and sleepless perfectionism would have any sort of impact on people. To be able to communicate what’s in my heart, mind and soul is priceless. It’s something many cherish, and for me has blurred into daily life, going beyond what I post daily to ” The Gram. ”
I have a passion for horology, as do most of you here today. Everyday, I try to scale the same harmonic beauty that exists all around me into a drive for the ultimate watch photo. As in life, I found that photography is not always about the end result, but the path or journey you took to get there. Many photos will be great and some will be better than others, but it can be what you’ve learned along the way that’s important and the end point remains the same. Your passion for learning will equal the quality of your work.
After many, many sleepless nights, numerous classes and countless rabbit-holes.. I have learned a lot. I’m very humble, and appreciate all the outreach I’ve received. There are things I know, and still have so much to learn. With that being said, I can’t wait to pass along what I do know to hopefully save y’all some sleep, and provide everyone with a skill-stack I believe can truly set you free..
Those of you who already know me, know that I can talk endlessly. I promise to keep this lesson short, specific and on topic. I’m still in the process of getting quality video lessons together with a higher level of detailed, curated content that flows on a regular basis. I will be posting new lessons here for now. Thanks for joining me, lets begin..
A Product Shot With No Studio Lighting
Okay. I’ve lied right off the bat. I have 1 single LED light that mounts to the hot/cold shoe mounts of my camera, cage or tripod. its the size of your cellphone, and adjust’s in color temp. from 3000k – 5500k. It’s amazing, you all should have one.. It cost about $60 bucks on amazon. No links, keeping this short. Boom. Homework already..
I remembered for my GAW Giveaway I shot a Casio in chia seeds and it’s still one of my favorite pics, and apparently one of y’alls too. I had just found my red alligator strap from Barton Bands and put it on my white dial Orient Ranger because, awesome sauce.. It really pops. I had a flash memory from one of my fine art classes about doing series photographs and thought it could be fun and challenging to do one of my own. So, enter the same brand of jar, but different size and a chunky new coconut medium to accent the dial. I have an obsessive compulsion for opposing materials, and I love the dichotomy of things like fragile metal watches and crusty concrete, etc. I decided to go for the deep color of my painted brick fireplace again to match and oppose the white.
All this is happening in the time-span of about 15 minutes. nothing fancy. Wash the watch first, then straps.. Dig holes in the coconut, place the piece find the first spot on my brick overhang and that’s it. No moving around or readjusting. Set it and forget it. Tripods are a must, especially for this type of photography where you aren’t taking one shot and will need everything to line up later.
Que tripod, camera is angled almost 90 degrees downward about 3 feet above our product of choice. I’m shooting my 24-70 2.8 L mounted to my Canon M50 which uses the EF to M adapter. Great setup, I highly suggest this odd beast! I’m not using the 100mm which is my favorite for watch photos, because I need to be able to adjust exactly the distance to my liking. The 100 would be far too zoomed in at 3 feet, almost nearing macro distance.
This is all the boring part, it’s about to speed up I promise..
For this lesson, I’ll be working with Adobe Photoshop. All photos you see here I’ve already passed through Lightroom. ( You also want to open direct from Lightroom -> to Photoshop so there’s no loss in quality from exporting then importing. )
The goal here is to make up for the lack of any other lighting by taking some sort of reflector, in my case just some white paper, shooting several shots while circling the object and catching all the shadows with light. Then, in post we’ll come back and blend them all together into one master that is hopefully lit everywhere.
Here’s the nifty bit. You don’t need fancy light boxes, or soft boxes, or this or that studio gear to get high quality product photos. All you need is the know how, and it’s really quite simple. I have mounted my one LED light directly to the hot shoe so its pointing down-ward with the camera at the product. Set my white balance to auto because I felt like it would be fine for this shot. I ended up doing custom white balance in post and AWB gets me close enough when I want it to. These photos ended up getting shot at 2.8 , 100 ISO and 1/100th of a sec.
This is the first shot I took. As you can see the left side is already lit up by the paper, as is all of the downward light. This ended up being the one I used as the ” Master ” or background image, whatever you want to call it for now. The dial, coconut, everything about this shot remained untouched edit-wise except for the case and the bottom two corners where you can see the legs and piece of paper.
Not much to explain here, the paper moves, so does the light. Not much, but more of the bottom is lit. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you get paper or legs or where the hands are in any of these other shots because they’ll all be covered in LAYERS by the Master shot. In a perfect world, I’d have been able to get the legs out of the first shot but I couldn’t. so some Photoshop work in the end easily took them out.
Here you can easily see the top right lug pick up the light nicely, and possibly that crown as well. moving on..
Same thing here the last photo picked up the lug nicely, but not enough of the case so I moved back and tried to get more of the crown and right side.
Top Left lug and a bit of the top got used as well to blend that harsh spectral highlight from my LED with some light that came in a bit softer from another photo..
I came back for another lug shot on the Top right. I think one of these didn’t get used, this may have been it.
I believe this was the last photo taken.. As you figured by now, I likely needed yet more light on this bottom corner of the watch.
So what you’re not seeing this whole time, is with every photo that I’m importing into Photoshop, I’m then dragging it on top of our “Master” shot, or the first shot that we decided we really like and want to be the source for most our photo. Photoshop has this awesome feature called “Auto-Align” but it doesn’t always work. You select all your layers, go to I believe edit select auto align and it does all the work for you down to the pixel. Since it didn’t work this time, I had to go through layer by layer and turn down the opacity against my Master file, and pick something like this dot to zoom in on and line up the pixels myself. That’s what your seeing here, after Photoshop could not auto align them.
What you’re seeing here is actually the same two images stacked with the same opacity but I have aligned them myself. Then, went and did the same for the rest of my layers.
So how do we go from layers to this. I’ll break it down into steps to simplify.
1. Align pixels with auto align or perform manually by using opacity and spots as a guide
2. Remove unnecessary material from each layer so that the layers underneath will show what you want them to. This is a hard one to explain without more time or if you have not had prior Photoshop experience. It works with layers. This allows you to brush or erase away the top layer to expose the layer underneath which in our case has nicely lit watch case where there was shadow. Then just picture or imagine doing this several times over as we have around 5-7 layers of “light” to work with.
3. Gradually work your way around exposing as much light as possible from all your layers. Knowing your simple tools and quick keys will help immensely here.
4. Your basically done with the light process and you have close to a finished piece. Some clean-up can begin. I only had a few specs on the bottom band and that’s it. Apple or command or Alt J (Spot Healing tool ) is your best friend for clean up. So is Apple or command S (Clone Stamp)
5. I needed to get rid of the legs and clone stamp, command S with a large soft brush was easily able to grab the bottom corners and stamp out the legs.
6. I did have to do a little bit of special stamping to get rid of a glare on the right side that just wouldn’t go away, hopefully you can all catch that in the videos on Instagram under the Post Highlight section.
I’m trying to condense as much as possible here, so this is all the meat and potatoes if you will.
7. We’re basically at the point of flattening out our layers into one file, apple or command or alt J will duplicate the image. You always want a duplicate because this is all destructive editing and you will run out of history.
I do 4 things at this point.
1. Change the color assign profile from Lightroom’s ProPhoto to sRGB. Your image will lose a lot of color doing this and almost go sepia tone. We need to bring that back.
2. Duplicate the image like I said.
3. Create a selective color layer
4. Create a curves layer, put a point in the dead middle. I’ll Drag up the mid-tones slightly to match the ProPhoto duplicate I made before, so I could have my final working photo in sRGB. Doing this allows you to view them side by side. I’ve found this to be not only a critical time saver, but also the best way to get THE CLOSEST match to the original possible. These are the types of things the professionals might be doing if you were to say, send off your image to have it printed. They would “proof” it for their printer equipment, send you the file back to give the final QC and say okay, print.
*This part is a little long, but should not go without mention.
Those of you that follow me on Instagram, know that I’m on my own journey to Large format print. I have acquired a Canon Prograf 1000, and can’t wait to begin. One of my recent posts, viewable here , talks about sending things off to print on various mediums, this time being a High Quality suede throw pillow. By doing this process myself and converting everything to sRGB, and color-grading to my own specifications… The pillow came back exactly as I had sent the image in, even though it was an oddly foreign material. Lightroom’s ProPhoto GAMUT and Most DSLR’s Adobe Color 1998 options are both such a Large color GAMUT that your eyes can’t even see the full spectrum of light. What does this mean? You literally cant see parts of your photograph. Also, most if not all monitors won’t reproduce the full spectrum of ProPhoto light, and many have a hard enough time unless calibrated to even reproduce Adobe 1998 accurately. sRGB is a small color GAMUT. By grading the correct way you can easily bring the color back, and your eyes can only perceive what they can see anyways. Many Photographers use Adobe 1998 as its a bit larger and mostly compatible with today’s electronics. I may experiment with the new Prograf and see what it’s ICC Profiles ( Native Print CMYK Color grade ) recommend. This Canon printer is amazing.
about the CMYK print process, color GAMUT
and how it relates to sRGB
The next few minutes are just re-grading the color with my selective color layer to get it to match the ProPhoto version. I always make a duplicate copy before I change the color profile so I can have one to look at while I bring the color back. This took a few days to week or few of practice to really nail but now it all feels smooth as butter. Adjusting the curve layer ahead of time will help your colors match and be almost as bright as the original.
Only a few more steps to go. Next I select the duplicate layer once the color is matched and go to filter – sharpen – unsharp mask . I usually apply around 2% sharpening and then erase all of the areas that I don’t need to be sharpened.
The very last part is the export.
Instagram can only support 1080 pixels on its longest side for square crop, so If you just upload and image straight out of your camera or Lightroom, it will be about 26 inches big! Instagram will apply a large amount of compression to that and crush the quality of your hard work unless you do it first. We will reduce it by cropping it to 1080×1080 Pixels @ 300Dpi. This will be about 3.5 inches or so and perfect for Instagram already bypassing a large amount of compression. You can then avoid further compression by hitting the “sweet spot” and exporting at 72% quality JPEG. There is lots of YouTube info on this so I won’t go into it. Do some digging and you’ll easily find it.
That’s it Grasshoppers! You’ve Waxed on, now you are ready to Wax off and enjoy the fruits of your labor. All done with almost no budget or professional studio gear besides having Lightroom, Photoshop and a little bit of creative knowledge..
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