15 Nov 2010

Why do the simplest ideas take longest to drop?

I wonder sometimes why it is the very simplest of ideas that take the longest to sink home. Sometimes an idea comes to you that is so deliciously simple that you cannot comprehend why it hasn’t popped into your head beforehand.

This is how it was yesterday, whilst doing something entirely un-related and not even thinking about this, I had an idea that was so simple, I have no idea why it was so long in surfacing.

I’ve blogged here (see the archive to the right for various articles) and written at length about small item photography and shown my own personal lighting set up for my jewellery photographs. My ‘fat ball bucket’ diffuser, whilst a source of some amusement, works incredibly well, especially as I’ve gradually modified it over time to address assorted problems and to increase its versatility.

It’s a permanent fixture on my work bench, utilising the magnifier lamp with a daylight ring tube that I already use when working – and which was recently replaced when the one I’d had for some time just died on me.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

The diffuser bucket works well for most photographs and its integral background, when exposed correctly allows me to create ‘infinity sweep’ type photographs in a very confined space.

I use it daily and it makes my work much easier and its small size means that it’s always around for me to pop an item under to photograph without having to set anything up, which I might well find to be an even further deterrent to getting items photographed and offered on-line – a job I find sufficiently tedious that I don’t need anything more to put me off the process.

But whilst it works really well – in some ways it’s a tad too efficient. It uses only one light source yet gives me a good all round diffused and reflected light, which still maintains a little shadow detail to give items form. But occasionally the light is too flat and too well diffused. Some pieces need a bit more reflection and a bit shadow to bring out their form and show their details.

The texture and depth of this copper etching is rather lost in this well diffused image using my bucket diffuser. For some pieces you want to kill reflections, sometimes you need them, to show the piece accurately.

I’ve found this to be the case with the recent copper etched pieces that I’ve made. Because the etching is quite deep and oxidised to bring out the design, when photographed within my diffuser, it looks somewhat flat and the texture isn’t as evident as I’d like to see it. Some pieces featuring crystals etc. can sparkle quite a lot and the diffuser can also kill this too efficiently. I’m also aware that the elbow grease I’ve invested in my highly polished silver work sometimes isn’t obvious from photographs either.

Photographing highly polished silver is a perpetual battle. You don’t want the wrong reflections in the piece, but neither do you want to kill the hardp-worked shine you’ve given it. My habit is to give pieces my own reflections to give the impression of polish.

One of the features of my recently pimped fat ball bucket diffuser was to use the lid, lined with scrunched aluminium foil, as a further reflector. Placed over the top of the bucket, this lifts the light within the photo area by about a third of a stop and also helps diffuse the light further – it also solved the problem of items on shelves above my work area being reflected in shiny pieces through the hole in keep in the top (originally the base of the bucket) for taking overhead photographs.

The additional shine and shadow with using the diffuser and separate reflector is much better at showing dimensional detail like the soft edges (through polishing, they can be quite sharp otherwise) of this deep etching which looks rather flat when too well diffused.

So for pieces where the bucket diffuser isn’t the best solution, I’d got into the habit of removing the bucket and using this lid reflector to the left of my area facing the light and placing a piece of tracing paper stuck into a frame of mounting board to the right, in front of the light – this was actually a cheap photo mount (matt) that I’d picked up from a clearance bin.

This was the first piece I tried the new diffuser with – as the etch hasn’t yet been oxidised, I needed an oblique lighting angle to show the depth and detail of the etching and I also used the blank wall of light of the diffuser itself to reflect off the highly polished surface to remove all other unwanted reflections.

This set up worked quite well for larger items or where I needed more shadow, or where I wanted to hold the items for scale, hereby having much more space to get my hand in holding the item and take the photo with the other one.

With small earrings especially, I like to photograph them being held to give a sense of scale and this isn’t possible within the confines of my diffuser. This was taken using my tracing paper diffuser sheet and a scrunched foil reflector facing the light, and angled slightly downwards, to allow some of the limited light to be scattered back into the scene.

The frame itself was a little cumbersome and would occasionally fall over whilst taking photos due to the weight of the frame and its size. And the tracing paper within the frame would crinkle after extended use with being close to the warmth of the light and from being handled etc., so needed replacing periodically. My idea yesterday was to laminate a piece of tracing paper – making it lightweight and more robust for use.

So using a couple of A4 laminating pouches, I laminated a piece of good weight tracing paper that I usually use for pencil illustration work (so therefore slightly heavier than you’re likely to get in a tracing pad from a stationers) and a piece of very white looking tissue paper that I’d kept aside for such a use that already looked quite translucent.

Using my laminated tracing paper diffuser I still had good even light over the piece, but a little more contrast allowed the texture and polished surface of this copper etching to be illustrated rather better.

The tracing paper laminated well and is pretty consistently toned over the sheet as it was smooth (new off the roll) to start with – and this is slightly more opaque. The tissue, which had already been creased up and smoothed out, does show a few trapped creases, but considering the quality of the original, has smoothed out incredibly well, but went noticeably more translucent as it laminated. This now gives me two versions of the diffuser depending on how much light I want to allow through.

It’s worth noting here that the further your diffuser is from the light, the more diffuse the light will be. So if your diffuser is close to your light source, you’ll still see some shadow detail, but as you move the diffuser further from your light and closer to your subject, the softer the shadows will become. So knowing this gives you a little more creative freedom too.

The new diffusers are lightweight and easy to prop up with a clip or two and as I always work atop my pile of A4 backing papers, the two new diffusers will just stack in the pile and be available whenever needed.