Cool colour

I shot some demo product shots with my student Merav today, and I thought I would share them here to underline the importance of colour.

Here’s one, a simple one. Lit by a softbox on the leeft, an umbrella on the right, and against a grey backdrop. That gives us this:

Bit boring? Yes it is. So I add a gridded, “egg-yolk yellow” gelled speedlight aiming at the background. (I use the excellent Honl Photo grids, gels, and other small flash modifiers):

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Much better. Then we added another light – a green-blue gelled speedlight shining in from the left:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Then we reversed the gel colours:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Then, tried another background colour, rose purple:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

And finally got to a background coloured Just Blue, which had been Merav’s idea all along:

Product Shot (Photo: Michael Willems)

Which one did you prefer? Can you see how different they all are?

To shoot this I used this setup:

Product Shot Setup (Photo: Michael Willems)

This works as follows:

  1. Put the bottle on a table, with white paper underneath
  2. Put up a grey backdrop, far from the bottle so it does not get any light
  3. Get the main lights right – use a light meter to set them to your desired values (I used f/9 and 1/125th second at 200 ISO). Main strobe is fired with Pocketwizard; secondary strobe by its cell.
  4. Add a background light: a small flash also fired by a Pocketwizard, through a Flashzebra cable. Set to 1.4 power. Equipped with a 1/4″ Honl grid and a gel.
  5. Add a side light: a small flash also fired by a Pocketwizard, through a Flashzebra cable. Set to 1/4 power. Equipped with a gel.

Simple. Once you know!

Why the rum? It was the only bottle I had in the house. Amazingly, for the first time I can remember, I had not a single bottle of beer or wine or anything else available in the house. Time to hit the liqor store!

 

 

The Importance of being colourful

Colour is an interesting thing. It can help or hinder your pictures. It helps if you are using it where it is wanted; it hinders if you use it when it is not, or if you fail to use it when it is.

The Caribbean is all about colour. People are happy, the sun is hot, and everyone uses wonderful bright colours. So a scene like Philipsburg, Sint Maarten, needs colour:

Philipsburg (Photo: Michael Willems)

Technique needed:

  • Flash: I needed to use my Canon 580EX flash for this sign.
  • Exposure: I made the colours vibrant by exposing the rest of the image down a little: 1/200th at f/13 at 100 ISO.

In the following image, I needed no flash – or rather, it would not have done anything:

Sint Maarten (Photo: Michael Willems)

In the next example, I needed the flash just to light the plants that make up the roof, or they would have been black:

Sint Maarten (Photo: Michael Willems)

And one more, where I used the flash:

Sint Maarten (Photo: Michael Willems)

One more – a street grab:

Philipsburg vendor (Photo: Michael Willems)

And one more, again showing wonderful Caribbean colour:

Philipsburg (Photo: Michael Willems)

I suppose this all boils down to a few simple rules:

  1. Decide if color is needed; is it an important part of the image?
  2. If so, expose well – underexposing ever so slightly will make colours more. saturated; overexposing leads to washing out. (Note: you are allowed to “expose to the right and fix in post – you get better quality).
  3. Use a flash if needed to light up areas that need lighting up.
  4. Use the right white balance.
  5. Consider a polarizer on sunny days.
  6. Add a little saturation in post if you have to.

 

All very logical once you think about it.

 

Set it yourself

Each light type has its own colour temperature (the redness or blueness of the light, where redder is “warmer”, and more blue is “colder”, in photographers’ terms). This colour is expressed as a temperature, which is measured in degrees Kelvin (after Lord Kelvin). Physicists and engineers know this.

Our cameras need to adjust to the light’s colour temperature. In the film days we used to do this by selecting the right film, which is sensitive to match the colour temperature of the light used (Tungsten film for incandecsent light bulbs, daylight film for daylight).

On digital cameras we use the White Balance setting. Set it to “Tungsten”, “Fluorescent”, and so on. Or we can set it ourselves, and that is today’s tip of the day.

On many cameras you have a “K” setting. You can now adjust the white balance by setting it to the colour temperature of the light used:

  • Blue sky: 10,000K
  • Shade from blue sky: 7,500K
  • Daylight shade: 6,600K
  • Summer daylight: 5,500K
  • Flash: 5,500K
  • Mid afternoon daylight: 4,500
  • Evening sunlight: 3,500K
  • Tungsten light: 3,200K
  • Sunset 2,500K
  • Candle light: 1,600K

So setting those white balances makes light look white. Is that what you want? Then set that white balance to match the light. That is the simple method: to get white to look white, select the colour temperature of the light illuminating your subject. And by using the Kelvin scale, you can make this pretty exact. So if a light is too red for you, adjust K until you are happy.

But there is another method: If you do not want white, then set the white balance to a different value from the value of the light hitting your subject. I.e. you can shift white balance. So if I set my white balance to 5,500 on a sunset evening, I get not white, but red  – which presumably is exactly what I want for a sunset.

Yes, you can do this on your computer if you shoot RAW, but I still recommend getting it right in camera.

And that was today’s tip!

 

About colour in photos

In my series of “travel tips”, here’s a thought or two about colour.

Colour is often nice when used very deliberately. And the good news: there are tricks to doing that.

Like using single colours. Whenever you see a strong primary colour dominate, consider whether this might contain a picture:

Blue Vegas

Or when you see opposite colours – like blue and yellow together:

Speed Humps!

(Can you see the use of flash in that image?)

Warm colours are good too – think about a sunset. Think of adding a little CTO filterin front of your flash (a gel – I use the Honl gels, which like the rest of the Honl range of modifiers, has made my life much easier).

And I especially like the combination of all three main primary colours, red, green and blue, all in the same image:

Sedona Afternoon View

You will see this in many of my images: here’s another one, an on-request snap of a couple of tourists in Sedona, AZ (can you see I used a long lens for this? Why?)

Sedona Tourists

Finally, candy colours can be fun too: we look at them, our eye is drawn to them:

Candy Cane Colours

So my lesson for today is: think about colour: how are you using it? Are you getting the best out of it?

Foot note: I mentioned David Honl above. Dave is coming to Toronto – he is my special guest in a three-hour course on “Event Photography and Creative Light”, on Saturday, 19 March 2011. The location is to be announced but it will be in, or right next to, Toronto. Let me know right now if you want to reserve your space.