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Discussion Starter #1
I'm a beginner and excited to have just gotten a macro lens. Also got a tripod and remote trigger.

Now I'm looking for advice on the least expensive lighting setup as well as tips on how to manage light in general.

I'm interested in shooting watches and movements. Thank you!

Cheers!!!


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This light tent rig was less $100. Cheap lights from the hardware store. I get pretty good results. I use a Canon G11 (used to use G10). It is easy to maneuver that smaller camera inside the light tent with short lens than using my SLR. Controlling reflections is one of the difficult factors. I use various blocking tools, all black, that I can hold anywhere I need to block light and reflections from various angles. Following are pics I took in the tent.









 

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Discussion Starter #4
This light tent rig was less $100. Cheap lights from the hardware store. I get pretty good results. I use a Canon G11 (used to use G10). It is easy to maneuver that smaller camera inside the light tent with short lens than using my SLR. Controlling reflections is one of the difficult factors. I use various blocking tools, all black, that I can hold anywhere I need to block light and reflections from various angles. Following are pics I took in the tent.









Looks excellent!

Would a ring flash help dealing with reflections??

Thanks for your reply both


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Depends what angle you shoot from. Light is still light and glass is still glass. A set up to create soft diffuse light like the one above will help with reflections. I often use two lights and umbrella/block the floods to create more 'ambient' light.

What a ring light does, especially in macro or portraits, is remove shadow. It gives nice even light straight on. The negative is it sometimes makes objects appear flat(ter).

Artificial lighting is a whole 'nother ball game; the more you do it, the better you get. I suggest reading about the specific type of lighting (portrait, copy work, macro, etc.) you are interested in. Each category has its own problems and solutions.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Depends what angle you shoot from. Light is still light and glass is still glass. A set up to create soft diffuse light like the one above will help with reflections. I often use two lights and umbrella/block the floods to create more 'ambient' light.

What a ring light does, especially in macro or portraits, is remove shadow. It gives nice even light straight on. The negative is it sometimes makes objects appear flat(ter).

Artificial lighting is a whole 'nother ball game; the more you do it, the better you get. I suggest reading about the specific type of lighting (portrait, copy work, macro, etc.) you are interested in. Each category has its own problems and solutions.
Thanks so much!

One more question: how much editing on the computer is it expected or normal to have vs getting your pics just right from the camera with minor tweaks in the computer?


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Thanks so much!

One more question: how much editing on the computer is it expected or normal to have vs getting your pics just right from the camera with minor tweaks in the computer?


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I shoot more film so getting it right in camera is more important to me.
I have LR and PS, but I may use three or four sliders only. I only use PS to goof around, mostly in ACR.
I may adjust exposure, contrast, white balance, and maybe highlights or shadow.
Whatever post I do, I usually limit myself to what I can do in the darkroom.
Purist, I know.
Really there are few reasons why one shouldn't be able to nail the shot in camera; too lazy or just don't care. I'm usually the former.

I always say that PS and LR is not for making a bad shot good, it's for making a great shot awesome. To each his own. Even I get lazy, especially with watch photos for I don't take them too seriously.
IF I did a lot of copy work, I'd probably use them more for you are striving for the perfect shot. And hopefully getting paid!

I think the better you get with a camera, the less you should rely on post processing. Again to each his own and it depends on what kind of photography you are doing.
 

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Quality of light is everything. That said, it need not be expensive.

Bouncing light is better than direct light. You can do this with white matte board or even cheap card stock.

The light tents are wonderful and cheap ways to get good quality light.

Semi clear plastic crates from home supply stores work well too. Play with blocking the light in certain areas. Play around with what the watch crystal and case are reflecting. I often shoot through a piece of black fabric or card stock (with a hole cut for the lens) to get clean reflection shots with nice contrast).
 

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Ex-commercial photographer here...

Keep it simple.

LIGHTING

Tracing paper and frosted acrylic make good diffusers. Be careful with hot light sources though... paper can burn and acrylic can warp.

For casual stuff at home I used to use reading desk lamps, diffused through tracing paper.

I'm not generally a big fan of light boxes, as I can usually tell when someone's used one. But that's because most of the time they've used it badly.

When you're starting out, lamps make better light sources than flash because you can immediately see the effect of any adjustments you make. One drawback with using these for macro photography is that you may end up creating shadows etc with your camera as you get closer to the subject matter (the camera gear gets in between the subject matter and the light source).

This will depend on how small the subject is, and how close you're getting.

MACRO

Generally speaking, when shooting macro you'll need relatively intense light sources since you'll be stopping down to achieve greater depth-of-field. You can use more intense lights, or bring them closer. But the trade-off is you may start to get unwanted shadows or reflections the closer your lights gets to the subject matter.

The suggestion of ring flashes is a good one, but won't work for everything. But the same can be said for diffusers.

You will need to be flexible and creative with your lighting, as well be able to problem-solve.

Shooting through cut-out cards etc is also a good suggestion, especially with reflective subject matter.

SUBTRACTING LIGHT

One thing a lot people don't realise is that not only do you need to add light, some times you may need to SUBTRACT light. Matt black cards, paper etc are useful for this. Black velvet fabric is useful for deep, inky black backgrounds (sucks light in like a black hole).

There's also specialist black photographer's foil (like aluminium baking foil, but matt black) but it can get pricey. The benefit of this is that you can shape it if you need to.

REFLECTIVE SURFACES

With reflective surfaces, it's all about the relative angles between the light sources, subject matter and camera.

Be aware that curved reflective surfaces can be problematic. They will bring in a lot more of the surrounding room and set-up than you realise. The only way to compensate for this is to use larger diffusers and/or backdrops.

Watch YouTube videos of studio car shoots. Car photographers face many of the same problems due to the large, curved reflective surfaces on cars (body panels, glass windows etc). You'll notice that they use massively oversized black and white fabric drops (much larger than the car itself) to be able to ensure clean reflections and highlights in all the reflective surfaces.

Same issues, different scale. But you'll see more clearly how to begin to approach lighting reflective surfaces.

However... this is a dying art because a lot of reflections and highlights are now actually added in post-production. They essentially "paint" them in using Photoshop. But the basis still has to be there, or else it becomes too expensive and time-consuming to fix stuff up.

WATCH CRYSTALS

With watch crystals, experiment with using white reflectors and black reflectors to get the effect you want. Depending on the situation, you may want either clear crystal, or a transitioning "fade" across the face of the crystal.

GENERAL HINTS

Perhaps most importantly, constantly analyse good-quality professional watch photography and try to reverse engineer the look. It's the best way to learn.

With fashion photography you can always tell how a model's been lit by looking at their eyes (it's true, go have a look). It can be a bit harder with product photography, but there are always clues. You just need to be able to spot them.

Also be able to spot when an image has been retouched to within an inch of its life in post-production, or is a blend of multiple images. Or, even worse, is a 3D render (which a lot of product images are these days). Because then you may end up trying to reproduce something unrealistic.

Just remember that people have been producing beautiful images a long time before digital photography, Photoshop, post-production etc. You just need to be able to figure out how to make what you have work for you.

It's a lot different from when I was starting out. Now you have the internet, YouTube, books etc. A lot of this stuff used to be passed down pretty much from word-of-mouth and just general trial and error.

Good luck.

(Apologies for the long post, but this is something I obviously feel very passionate about.)
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Quality of light is everything. That said, it need not be expensive.

Bouncing light is better than direct light. You can do this with white matte board or even cheap card stock.

The light tents are wonderful and cheap ways to get good quality light.

Semi clear plastic crates from home supply stores work well too. Play with blocking the light in certain areas. Play around with what the watch crystal and case are reflecting. I often shoot through a piece of black fabric or card stock (with a hole cut for the lens) to get clean reflection shots with nice contrast).
Great idea about shooting through black fabric!

Thank you.


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Discussion Starter #11
Ex-commercial photographer here...

Keep it simple.

LIGHTING

Tracing paper and frosted acrylic make good diffusers. Be careful with hot light sources though... paper can burn and acrylic can warp.

For casual stuff at home I used to use reading desk lamps, diffused through tracing paper.

I'm not generally a big fan of light boxes, as I can usually tell when someone's used one. But that's because most of the time they've used it badly.

When you're starting out, lamps make better light sources than flash because you can immediately see the effect of any adjustments you make. One drawback with using these for macro photography is that you may end up creating shadows etc with your camera as you get closer to the subject matter (the camera gear gets in between the subject matter and the light source).

This will depend on how small the subject is, and how close you're getting.

MACRO

Generally speaking, when shooting macro you'll need relatively intense light sources since you'll be stopping down to achieve greater depth-of-field. You can use more intense lights, or bring them closer. But the trade-off is you may start to get unwanted shadows or reflections the closer your lights gets to the subject matter.

The suggestion of ring flashes is a good one, but won't work for everything. But the same can be said for diffusers.

You will need to be flexible and creative with your lighting, as well be able to problem-solve.

Shooting through cut-out cards etc is also a good suggestion, especially with reflective subject matter.

SUBTRACTING LIGHT

One thing a lot people don't realise is that not only do you need to add light, some times you may need to SUBTRACT light. Matt black cards, paper etc are useful for this. Black velvet fabric is useful for deep, inky black backgrounds (sucks light in like a black hole).

There's also specialist black photographer's foil (like aluminium baking foil, but matt black) but it can get pricey. The benefit of this is that you can shape it if you need to.

REFLECTIVE SURFACES

With reflective surfaces, it's all about the relative angles between the light sources, subject matter and camera.

Be aware that curved reflective surfaces can be problematic. They will bring in a lot more of the surrounding room and set-up than you realise. The only way to compensate for this is to use larger diffusers and/or backdrops.

Watch YouTube videos of studio car shoots. Car photographers face many of the same problems due to the large, curved reflective surfaces on cars (body panels, glass windows etc). You'll notice that they use massively oversized black and white fabric drops (much larger than the car itself) to be able to ensure clean reflections and highlights in all the reflective surfaces.

Same issues, different scale. But you'll see more clearly how to begin to approach lighting reflective surfaces.

However... this is a dying art because a lot of reflections and highlights are now actually added in post-production. They essentially "paint" them in using Photoshop. But the basis still has to be there, or else it becomes too expensive and time-consuming to fix stuff up.

WATCH CRYSTALS

With watch crystals, experiment with using white reflectors and black reflectors to get the effect you want. Depending on the situation, you may want either clear crystal, or a transitioning "fade" across the face of the crystal.

GENERAL HINTS

Perhaps most importantly, constantly analyse good-quality professional watch photography and try to reverse engineer the look. It's the best way to learn.

With fashion photography you can always tell how a model's been lit by looking at their eyes (it's true, go have a look). It can be a bit harder with product photography, but there are always clues. You just need to be able to spot them.

Also be able to spot when an image has been retouched to within an inch of its life in post-production, or is a blend of multiple images. Or, even worse, is a 3D render (which a lot of product images are these days). Because then you may end up trying to reproduce something unrealistic.

Just remember that people have been producing beautiful images a long time before digital photography, Photoshop, post-production etc. You just need to be able to figure out how to make what you have work for you.

It's a lot different from when I was starting out. Now you have the internet, YouTube, books etc. A lot of this stuff used to be passed down pretty much from word-of-mouth and just general trial and error.

Good luck.

(Apologies for the long post, but this is something I obviously feel very passionate about.)
Wow! This is worth printing and putting in the photography binder!

I'll go digest all this great info. Thank you very much!




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Great post from PiningFTF.

Very amateur photographer here.

I find using constant lighting allowing instant modelling of the light effect to be essential - I struggle to judge what the effect of speedlights will be ahead of time (unless it's simple face on flat look you're going for)

Here in Ireland with our generous helping of cloud cover, putting the subject near a window gives a great primary ambient light source.
Some pieces of card from a stationery shop with white on one side and black on the other can fill or subtract shadows where necessary.
Some pieces of cloth (black, white, green, blue) as a background.

Another one I like is to take the pictures in a darkened room and just use a desklamp or torch to spotlight - you can put some tracing paper or coloured acetate in front to change the effect.

The light doesn't have to be too bright to get the effect you're looking for - a stable tripod and a longer exposure can correct for that.

One problem with these external light sources (compared to a macro ring flash) is that you need to leave enough room between camera and subject to let the light in. I have 100mm lens which I find fine allowing me a good 30cm gap to subject.

Re: crystal reflections - Don't fear them, embrace them! Some of the pictures I admire most on this forum are ones with creative use of reflections (rather than the flat, technically precise product shot look). Obviously for some macro shots you want an unobstructed view and so avoiding point light sources (and dark points) in your environment helps.

Re: post processing - I shoot RAW so can control what is done when converting to JPG. I use Lightroom mainly to tweak exposure/highlights/shadows/clarity. I found it very useful early on to teach me how to get exposure more correct (less incorrect? :) ) in camera.

Here's some recent amateur pictures using light bounced off Irish clouds (the best kind of clouds by the way ;-) ):

IMG_6853_WUS-2.jpg
IMG_6878_WUS.jpg
IMG_6828_WUS.jpg
 

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Great post from PiningFTF.

Here in Ireland with our generous helping of cloud cover, putting the subject near a window gives a great primary ambient light source.
Thanks Apollo83.

I love window light. I knew of one photographer who'd use only window light for commercial food shoots. And others who would mimic window light using flash (for control and repeatability).

You can shoot along the window (sideways) to get some modelling on objects. Or even facing towards the window to get some backlit, soft flare and blown highlights. You could spend a lifetime experimenting with flare and learning how to use it effectively (behaviour of different lenses, intensity, blocking etc).

Cloud cover... The thing with soft light is that you still need to make sure it has some directionality. Otherwise everything looks flat and dead. Shadows (whether hard and contrasty, or soft) are really necessary for our brains to process that an object has multiple dimensions and texture. It makes objects look more "real".

For example, all that lovely decoration on movements really "pop" with some directional light, even if it's soft.

Personally, I don't like bounced light because the light just looks like it's coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once (eg. light tents: good for catalogue shots, but no good aesthetically IMO). The only times in nature that we see flat, directionless light are overcast days, dawn and dusk... and the world tends to "flatten out" at those times, visually-speaking.

Here's an exercise that not many people have the discipline to do for any extended period of time: Grab a small object and sit next to a window with it in your hand. Move it around slowly and watch how the surfaces react. It's a really fascinating exercise, especially if you experiment with various shapes and surfaces (round, rectangular, matte, shiny, textured, smooth, curved, flat etc). Look for how the shadows fall and how the highlights catch on the surface.

Another version of this is to get an object and a small lamp, but moving the lamp around (changing distance, angle, height etc) while the object remains stationary.

Hope this helps.
 

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Here's an exercise that not many people have the discipline to do for any extended period of time: Grab a small object and sit next to a window with it in your hand. Move it around slowly and watch how the surfaces react. It's a really fascinating exercise, especially if you experiment with various shapes and surfaces (round, rectangular, matte, shiny, textured, smooth, curved, flat etc). Look for how the shadows fall and how the highlights catch on the surface.

Another version of this is to get an object and a small lamp, but moving the lamp around (changing distance, angle, height etc) while the object remains stationary.
Great exercise which we did in our photography club with objects and then each other's heads as we played with portrait lighting.

As for small objects...

My wife already thinks I'm weird for taking my watches off so much to look at the movements...
Maybe I'll go sit by the window and turn a watch round in the light and see what she makes of that ;-)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Really excellent photos!

Could you tell me more about adjusting RAW vs JPEG in Photoshop? I completely forgot about it until you brought it up. So far I've been able to adjust exposure on JPEG seemingly ok. How would RAW improve on it?

Thank you!
 

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Could you tell me more about adjusting RAW vs JPEG in Photoshop? I completely forgot about it until you brought it up. So far I've been able to adjust exposure on JPEG seemingly ok. How would RAW improve on it?
I don't use photoshop, I use Lightroom but the reason for using RAW is the same.
In simple terms RAW is the natural sensor data and JPG is that data passed through an algorithm to give a representation.
Net result is that some data is lost in JPG, so benefit of RAW is the ability to modify exposure and curves (highlights/shadows) over a higher dynamic range as well as change white balance and other settings after you have taken the shot.
Once you have the RAW looking good then you can export as a JPG for sharing. i.e. tweak your settings first then transform to JPG instead of transforming to JPG in camera and then tweaking your settings.

A good byproduct of tweaking your RAW is you get a feel for what you did wrong in exposing and it becomes a good feedback loop for improvement... so that eventually you're tweaking less.

Search the web for RAW vs JPG for plenty of discussion!
 

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Discussion Starter #18 (Edited)
I don't use photoshop, I use Lightroom but the reason for using RAW is the same.
In simple terms RAW is the natural sensor data and JPG is that data passed through an algorithm to give a representation.
Net result is that some data is lost in JPG, so benefit of RAW is the ability to modify exposure and curves (highlights/shadows) over a higher dynamic range as well as change white balance and other settings after you have taken the shot.
Once you have the RAW looking good then you can export as a JPG for sharing. i.e. tweak your settings first then transform to JPG instead of transforming to JPG in camera and then tweaking your settings.

A good byproduct of tweaking your RAW is you get a feel for what you did wrong in exposing and it becomes a good feedback loop for improvement... so that eventually you're tweaking less.

Search the web for RAW vs JPG for plenty of discussion!
Excellent summary. It make more sense to me now that I'm actually using it. When I read about raw va jpeg without applying the notions it would come in one eye and out the other

Thanks again.

I'm adding two of the pics I took this weekend. I will switch to raw as I expect the quality could improve quite a bit!





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Excellent summary. It make more sense to me now that I'm actually using it. When I read about raw va jpeg without applying the notions it would come in one eye and out the other

Thanks again.

I'm adding two of the pics I took this weekend. I will switch to raw as I expect the quality could improve quite a bit!





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Just my opinion: depth of field is the most abused photography trick. ever.

If you look at watch ads, the ones companies pay for, you will never ever see part of the watch blurred out.

Is depth of field an artistic tool? yes. is it a gimmick? yes. can you control it? yes.

Be very careful with DOF, especially in macro photography.

Again, just my very strong opinion: what separates the men from the boys is how and why you use DOF in the overall composition.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Just my opinion: depth of field is the most abused photography trick. ever.

If you look at watch ads, the ones companies pay for, you will never ever see part of the watch blurred out.

Is depth of field an artistic tool? yes. is it a gimmick? yes. can you control it? yes.

Be very careful with DOF, especially in macro photography.

Again, just my very strong opinion: what separates the men from the boys is how and why you use DOF in the overall composition.

Got it.
Makes sense and yes, now that you say it, all professional pics are sharp.
Now, you mention that we control DOF and I'm going to look into it. Is it a matter of not being that close to the subject and cropping as desired?
On the examples above I simply couldn't control it if I wanted that degree of detail. I fooled with changing aperture and other variables but it didn't make a difference that close.

Thanks for you input.

JG
 
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