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mandomaniac
Apr-03-2009, 12:32pm
Recently, a forum member, PanaDP, graciously offered me some guidance on how to take better still pictures of instruments. I found his brief tutorial extremely helpful and feel it will make a major difference in my photos. I am a novice at best with a camera, and have been frustrated when the photo just does not show what I see. Simply doing the instrument justice, let alone complimenting it, seemed pretty tough all to often.
For those out there that are in the same boat.....he has generously agreed to let me post his notes to me with the hope that others can benefit as well. This section seemed the appropriate place for this thread....so here goes.....

My hat is off to him.....

"You can do a lot with very, very little equipment. Everything I'm going to tell you is totally independent of equipment. Any camera will do OK. For all of these setups, you'll want to be on the daylight white balance of the camera. If you don't have one or don't know where it is, it's probably automatically done and you'll still be fine.


For some good body shots and details of the body, this is what I would do: Get a large black blanket, or a piece of nice-looking black cloth. A couple of yards will be plenty. You could also use a blanket, a sheet, whatever, as long as it's black. The importance of this is that black will reflect minimally in your nice shiny finish. Part of the reason why photographing an instrument is hard is because it reflects everything. The more stuff reflected in the surface, the less we get to see the actual color. So what you do is you go outside to the north side of your house. We want the north because all of that skylight, without direct sunlight, is perfect for what we need. Tape the towel onto the wide of the house so that about half of it is laying on the ground and the other half runs up the side of the house. It will form kind of a rounded corner we call a cyc(lorama) in the business. That will be your background. If you want a background some other color than black, you just lay the mandolin on that background but still tape the black cloth vertically. We still need that black reflected in the shiny finish. The other color background can go a little bit up the wall but not more than 2 or 3 inches higher than the body or we'll see the edge of it.

Polish the instrument up really, really nice and get rid of the fingerprints. We'll do some paying down first so lay the instrument flat. You can dress it up nicely and place the strap just-so and put a pick in the strings, whatever you want to do. Now when you look at the surface of the mandolin, you'll be seeing the black cloth reflected in it, which will show the deep luster of the finish and the color you've put into it. You can shoot that to your heart's content. Feel free to reposition the mandolin rather than move the camera. You always want the vertical part of that black cloth to be across from you.

This same setup can be replicated in the house for the winter. Just set up right next to the biggest window you have. The window will be directly to your left or right and the black cloth can go up the back of a chair directly in front of you.


If you want to do some really nice full shots of the instrument outside, you can do a similar thing with the black cloth so you can have a nice background while still seeing the true color of your work. Bring the cloth along as well as something you can drape the cloth over the get a little expanse of black. A person helping you is great because they can get nice and tall and spread the cloth out well. We have specialized tools called "flags" for this but they are mysteriously very expensive. What you would do for that is again find a bit of shade. Dappled shade under a tree looks nice for this, or even lean the instrument up against the shady side of the tree trunk. Find the shot you want and place the black cloth so you see it reflected in the instrument. Remember high school science in that the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. If you see the edges of the black cloth, move it closer so you can't see the edges, just the nice clean lines of your instrument. Back up and zoom in if you want the background out of focus. It will focus attention on the instrument more.

If you really want to get fancy, you can do this exact same setup out of the shade with the sun about 45 degrees out in front of you. It will edge light one side of the mandolin which looks pretty striking. You may get lens flare. If you do, just use your hand to shade the lens, while trying to keep it out of the frame. Unless the sun is actually in frame, this will be possible, although perhaps tricky.

I thought you took rather nice photos anyway, so this little lesson on light control should put them right up into awesome territory. Since we're cutting out some of the light, you may have to use the exposure compensation feature of your camera to get a tiny bit brighter picture, but autoexposure should mostly take care of it.

That should get you started with a minimum of muss and fuss. Some of that is tough to explain but when you get out and try it, it's pretty logical when you're actually looking at it.

I forgot to clarify one thing. Since mandolins are built of convex surfaces, the black cloth will have to be much larger than the instrument itself. You'll probably use most of a couple of yards of cloth that is 72" wide. "

Once again....THANKS PanaDP :mandosmiley:

Hans
Apr-03-2009, 12:41pm
Only if you like those mando-on-velvet pix. :)) Daylight WB won't work indoors, and the best advice I'd give is shoot at F5.6-8 and use a tripod. Set your timer to at least 2 seconds.

mandomaniac
Apr-03-2009, 1:55pm
Hans,
I was warned staring at those 'Playgirls on velvet' would warp my brain....

They were RIGHT!!!!!! :)):)):))

Chris Keth
Apr-03-2009, 5:39pm
Only if you like those mando-on-velvet pix. :)) Daylight WB won't work indoors, and the best advice I'd give is shoot at F5.6-8 and use a tripod. Set your timer to at least 2 seconds.

Well I wasn't writing a book on it.;) I've taken yearlong classes in product photography and I didn't really want to try and regurgitate it all there. It's just a simple primer with the only assumed equipment being a basic point and shoot camera. Besides, I do explain how to get true colors without wonky reflections with a background other than that black cloth.

mandomaniac
Apr-03-2009, 6:27pm
I might add....PanaDP was kind enough to get this thread started. Quite frankly, plenty there to digest.

This thread is more than open to any and all helpful tips on techniques/methods/tricks that will aid folks on the track of better instrument photos. That was the intent.

You happen to have something that works for you?....please share!
That's the beauty of a forum.
Thanks in advance!

PaulO
Apr-03-2009, 6:50pm
Hans really knows how to show an instrument. I'd take things nice and slow and use his guidance. Shooting an mando is not really too difficult. It's all about the details, and fortunately digital photography allows you to experiment. Thanks for your pointers, they are great.

sunburst
Apr-03-2009, 7:02pm
Shooting an mando is not really too difficult.

With over 30 years of 35mm and medium format amateur photography behind me and close to 10 years of digital experimentation on-going, I find carved mandolins to be about the most difficult subject I've ever shot. I'm all ears!

Chris Keth
Apr-03-2009, 8:09pm
With over 30 years of 35mm and medium format amateur photography behind me and close to 10 years of digital experimentation on-going, I find carved mandolins to be about the most difficult subject I've ever shot. I'm all ears!

I'm glad someone else knows. It doesn't get much tougher than shiny with convex surfaces.

Ivan Kelsall
Apr-03-2009, 11:29pm
On my 'old' Canon EOS roll-film camera,the shutter release button has a screwed threaded insert to take a cable release to prevent 'camera shake'.This is so that when using the camera with a tri-pod,you don't touch the camera at all,the cable is a sort of 'remote' shutter release button. Modern digital cameras don't seem to have one of these,at least i haven't found one with a cable release facility,yet digital cameras are just as prone to 'camera shake' as non-digital ones.
I've found that if i use the 'flash' facility on my camera,even hand held,i can usually get a pretty decent photo.under most circumstances,
Saska
PS - Lebeda headstock / daylight / Auto setting / hand held.
Lebeda back /Auto setting /hand held / flash.

mandozilla
Apr-03-2009, 11:55pm
Thanks PanaDP and Hans...I've only recently tried to photograph some mandolins and have been vexed by the reflection issues...this info will come in handy because I know zilch about photography. :))

:mandosmiley:

sunburst
Apr-04-2009, 12:14am
On my 'old' Canon EOS roll-film camera,the shutter release button has a screwed threaded insert to take a cable release to prevent 'camera shake'.

One of my "old" Cannon EOS 35mm cameras has a battery powered remote shutter control. I wanted to use my even older cable release but had to spend the extra money for the remote instead. Now, with digital cameras, I'm stuck with using the self timer to control camera shake on the tripod.

Chris Keth
Apr-04-2009, 1:02am
I don't know about the EOS line but my 5D has an electronic remote shutter release that plugs in. I have a generic brand release and it was $10-$15, about the same as a mechanical release.

raulb
Apr-04-2009, 1:46am
One of my "old" Cannon EOS 35mm cameras has a battery powered remote shutter control. I wanted to use my even older cable release but had to spend the extra money for the remote instead. Now, with digital cameras, I'm stuck with using the self timer to control camera shake on the tripod.

I recently purchased a digital Canon EOS and lamented the lack of a cable release being readily available. Worse, I was told that the Canon release that allowed remote exposure was beaucoup bucks.

Then I found the Satechi WR-100. It is a really fairly inexpensive (but a lot more than an old fashioned cable release) electronic release. It gives you the option of single shot or continuous. It even gives you the possibility to take pictures without sitting by the camera (e.g. for wildlife). It works exactly as advertised. So far I like it.

I bought it off Amazon but it can be purchased from the Satechi website too for the exact same amount (around $30). It is just a little more than half the price of the regular Canon release (and over five hundred bucks less than the Canon remote release).

I was impressed by the fact that the device arrived actually a day earlier than I was told. But then I live in LA and it was shipped from Satechi, in San Diego.

BTW, I have no connection whatsoever with Satechi or Amazon--except that I own the Satechi release.

Hans
Apr-04-2009, 6:47am
Pana, not meant to dismiss your thoughts on shooting instruments, just saying that not everyone likes Elvis-on-velvet photos. Personally, I prefer still life. Outdoors, trees and flowers are good, and there is nothing like a good ole barn door. Outdoors, overcast days are my favorite.
If you really want to do WB right, you need an Expodisc, or use a top from a Pringles can. Cup it over the lens and set your custom WB.
You don't need to buy a shutter release or remote. Most modern digital cameras have a timer. Set it and you will avoid tripod, camera shake and mirror slap. As I said, 2 seconds works well.
There is really nothing wrong with a little reflection. It shows depth. The problem is avoiding excessive amounts of it and using it creatively. If you insist on not having reflections, a polarizing filter may help.
If you have a RAW converter and an app like Photoshop, shoot RAW. You can do most anything to fix a bad shot.
Most important is to take your time. I know, many times I'm in a rush too. Be prepared to trash all the photos you have taken and do it again. You just don't push the button...you have to thimk! The best advice is to remember that good photographers toss hundreds of shots to get one.

trevor
Apr-04-2009, 7:32am
I've been working hard on the Elvis on velvet style recently.. I'm not sure that what I've learned will help those shooting at home on a budget. I paid a professional for 4 hours to advise me on what to buy and how to use it. My aim is the get the best quality photos I can within a reasonable time (currently 30 mins to an hour per instrument tho' sometimes a lot more). I use a Cannon EOS 450D camera, a Bowens GM250 lamp and a piece of black cloth.
I am not sure I can offer much advice... I still take lots of shots, using different angles and different light settings, and chose the best ones..

sunburst
Apr-04-2009, 8:25am
In the old days, you shot rolls of film, made a proof sheet, and kept or discarded negatives. That usually meant I'd shoot a roll or two, maybe 80 shots max, before seeing what I had. Now, all you have to do is press "delete" if you don't like the shot, and with the virtually unlimited capacity of "flash memory" in the camera, sometimes I have to weed through hundreds! One of the hazards of digital photography is the temptation to shoot lots of images and then have to spend lots of time in front of the computer sorting it all out. Sometimes the time is better spent setting up the shot for better results.

One thing I've been saving up for is a lap top to use as a monitor while shooting. The little LCD on the back of the camera is good quality, I can enlarge the images to see the details of light and focus and such, but it's no substitute for being able to see the full size image. I've shot dozens of images in a session that looked fine in the camera only to trash them all after downloading them to the computer and seeing them full size. All the time could have been by being able to view the images full size while shooting.

JEStanek
Apr-04-2009, 8:28am
Hans is spot on. I've been shooting film since I was 17 (23 years now) and digital for the past 8. In the good old film days I would shoot a roll of 36 to get 2-3 decent shots and maybe 1 really good one. The beauty of digital is you're not limited to 36 shots but by the memory card. I can shoot hundreds of frames in a day to get those good ones.

Here's an older thread with many ideas on instrument photography (http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/showthread.php?t=43765&highlight=photography).

Jamie

Magnus Geijer
Apr-04-2009, 8:38am
I don't claim to have ever achieved the results of some others here, but I'm pretty happy with the pictures I have taken, considering they're from a $100 point-and-shoot. Natural light, tripod and timed release, in that order has been the key for me. Taking pictures on a bright but overcast day gives me the best light without too much glare. Tripods are useful no matter what lighting conditions are, but unless you're outside they're a must.

I'm not sure if I'm missing something as far as the remote release issue, but to me the easiest way is to use the timed release. When the subject is alive (and potentially moving) and timing is an issue, the remote is crucial, but my mandolins generally stay stationary, so the timer works great for me for removing the trigger dip.

/Magnus

tree
Apr-04-2009, 3:32pm
. . . One of the hazards of digital photography is the temptation to shoot lots of images and then have to spend lots of time in front of the computer sorting it all out. Sometimes the time is better spent setting up the shot for better results.

One thing I've been saving up for is a lap top to use as a monitor while shooting. The little LCD on the back of the camera is good quality, I can enlarge the images to see the details of light and focus and such, but it's no substitute for being able to see the full size image. I've shot dozens of images in a session that looked fine in the camera only to trash them all after downloading them to the computer and seeing them full size. All the time could have been by being able to view the images full size while shooting.

Bingo! I spend too much time in front of the monitor weeding out the junk. My eyeballs are just getting older and sorrier, so the laptop idea is brilliant!

ShaneJ
Apr-04-2009, 7:51pm
tree, those brook trout are hard to photograph without reflections too, huh? :) Beautiful fish. Love the avatar.

mandozilla
Apr-05-2009, 5:12am
Shane said;


Beautiful fish.

Yah! Mighty good eatin' too. :)):)):))

But seriously tree, that is a cool avatar. :cool:

:mandosmiley:

tree
Apr-05-2009, 6:54am
They are indeed beautiful fish. They also live in some of the most beautiful places on this earth, IMO. In the NC mountains, you have to be above about 3,500 feet before these natives become prevalent in the streams. The oldtimers call them "speckled trout" or just "specs". I have eaten them, and they are indeed tasty, but anymore I turn them back as unharmed as possible. Their habitat is so specific and their populations so dependent on it that I don't want to risk damaging either. There are plenty of rainbows and browns downstream if I want to eat fish.

If I do this right, hopefully I'll post the whole photo. This one was caught and displayed by one of my boys a couple of years ago.

Hans
Apr-05-2009, 8:29am
Sigh...
I remember many years ago stopping at the tail end of a deep pool on a tiny spring "crick" in Wisc. and seeing several hundred of the lovelies. I slowly went through and caught 70-80 of them on dries. Crept back to the tail and went through again and caught another 30-40. Returned all of course.
My piscatorial pal and I had one on another creek that was about 2-1/2#. We used to visit quite often, and had him on 3 times and caught once. Sadly, one day we spied someone coming up the creek with him. He proudly told us he'd caught him on a cray. :(

amowry
Apr-05-2009, 10:09pm
Hey John (and others), if you have a laptop connected to the camera to monitor the photos while you're shooting, you may also be able to use the laptop as a remote shutter release, and also to control the exposure and all the other controls on the camera. The software that came with my Canon allows me to do this (though I don't use it, because I don't have a laptop).

bonny
Apr-05-2009, 11:16pm
I always watch these threads with interest as I keep meaning to learn more about lenses and apertures but my inherent fear of mathematics has kept me intimidated about these things.

I don't pretend to be a even a good photographer but working as a grip on movies I know a little about manipulating light. The kind of cheapo digital photo I usually take of an instrument is for documentation and I don't want it to be noticed that there was any conscious effort to light it....no artsy shadows, no glare or hot spots. What works for me is filtering 75w or 100w incandescent bulbs through a diffusing filter like 1/4 grid cloth or a gel filter like Rosco 250. The small quantities of these materials required to cover a couple of clip lights are scraps you can get for free if you're ever around a movie set. The other simple thing that works well to create diffused light is to bounce it off a white surface like styrofoam...a piece about the size of what you're shooting. This kind of heavily diffused and indirect lighting tends to make things look warm but kinda flat. Adding unfiltered or lightly diffused direct lighting can add depth that makes for a more interesting picture.

Chris Keth
Apr-05-2009, 11:43pm
...but working as a grip on movies I know a little about manipulating light.

Small world. I work as a camera assistant. How's Vancouver lately? Is the whole SAG thing a problem there?

bonny
Apr-06-2009, 12:37am
Small world. I work as a camera assistant. How's Vancouver lately? Is the whole SAG thing a problem there?

Wet.
Been dead slow last three months but not because of the SAG thing. If anything it's made this year ultra busy. Apparently there's a loophole up here whereby if a contract was signed before the strike the actors could work that show through a strike...lotta shows got scheduled waaaaay in advance. I'm starting a feature in a few days and the IA hall will be empty by the end of June.

What's doin' down there? I'm a US citizen thinking of relocating to a warmer dryer climate more friendly to my poor ol' busted up body.

Chris Keth
Apr-06-2009, 12:54am
Wet.
Been dead slow last three months but not because of the SAG thing. If anything it's made this year ultra busy. Apparently there's a loophole up here whereby if a contract was signed before the strike the actors could work that show through a strike...lotta shows got scheduled waaaaay in advance. I'm starting a feature in a few days and the IA hall will be empty by the end of June.

What's doin' down there? I'm a US citizen thinking of relocating to a warmer dryer climate more friendly to my poor ol' busted up body.

Well, it's just slow this time of year anyway. The SAG thing is making it worse. I've only been working a year and a half so I'm probably feeling it a bit more than guys who are more solidly situated. A lot of TV pilots that would otherwise be SAG shows are working under AFTRA contracts this year. I don't really know what all that entails, though I do know that part of it stipulates that they can't shoot film, of all weird things.

I have a meeting tomorrow and will hopefully be doing a show in Baltimore for a couple of months. I'm also going to the 600 hall and (finally, oficially) joining tomorrow.

Timbofood
Apr-06-2009, 9:27am
But Hans, your mandolins look so fast, how do you get them to stay still for 2+ seconds?

ShaneJ
Apr-06-2009, 9:29pm
I found these remotes on eBay a while back, and they are GREAT. I've seen several different Chinese sellers offering them with various brand names and looks, but they're all pretty much the same. Radio frequency remotes with a 300' effective range - in any direction. They truly work flawlessly. I've had two, and several of my friends are using them as well with good results.

They are MUCH better than the Canon brand IR (infrared) release that I had before, and they're cheaper. The IR remotes only work when the remote is in line of sight of the IR receiver on the front of the camera, and they work just a few feet away. The RF remotes will work through walls and in any direction (like behind the camera). NICE!

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/454521939_qYynC-L.jpg


tree and Hans, here's a little brookie my son caught on a fly last summer on Slumgullion Pass near Lake City, CO. He was released as well. We did keep enough for one supper - brookies, browns, and rainbows. The brook trout are the best eating though - pink meat and TASTY, almost like salmon.

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/334757403_cAr8b-L.jpg

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/334753110_9vYwm-L.jpg


...and the sun sets over Uncompaghre Peak.... :)

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/342872297_qr7Yg-L.jpg

tree
Apr-07-2009, 8:53am
Sweet!

sunburst
Apr-07-2009, 10:30am
The IR remotes only work when the remote is in line of sight of the IR receiver on the front of the camera

Not exactly true.
When I bought my Cannon remote I had the camera sitting on the counter in the camera store pointing toward the sales guys behind the counter and I said "Can you bounce the beam?". Both sales guys said "no", but I pointed the remote at one of them, pushed the button, and the camera shutter dutifully clicked. The sales guys looked at each other and at me and realized they had learned something! I almost always bounced the remote beam when I used it.

Timbofood
Apr-08-2009, 7:51am
Don't forget, sometimes you can "bounce" the remote for your TV off the opposite wall too.

Hans
Apr-08-2009, 9:23am
But Hans, your mandolins look so fast, how do you get them to stay still for 2+ seconds?

Salt on their tailpiece! :grin:

ShaneJ
Apr-08-2009, 5:14pm
Not exactly true.
When I bought my Cannon remote I had the camera sitting on the counter in the camera store pointing toward the sales guys behind the counter and I said "Can you bounce the beam?". Both sales guys said "no", but I pointed the remote at one of them, pushed the button, and the camera shutter dutifully clicked. The sales guys looked at each other and at me and realized they had learned something! I almost always bounced the remote beam when I used it.


That's pretty cool, John. I didn't know that either. I guess I never had anything close enough to bounce it off of when I wanted to be behind the camera. Usually in those cases, I'm taking pics of sunsets, stars, fireworks and such where I'm using long exposure times of distant subjects.

ShaneJ
Apr-08-2009, 5:29pm
Here's my old IR remote in action (in my right hand with the thumb on the button). Works fine close range in front of the camera - even if you don't know how to bounce it. Camera was sitting on my Suburban-pod (back bumper). :))

Headwaters of the Rio Grande...

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/334734441_tnHbq-L.jpg


We'd had a good day of a little of this....

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/415769334_8cgjs-L.jpg


...and a little of that....Talk about a curvy, shiny object to photograph. :))

http://shanejennings.smugmug.com/photos/334738712_Z5t8N-L-1.jpg

sunburst
Apr-08-2009, 5:46pm
Reminds me of the salmon river in Idaho!
Ahh...the open spaces of western US are so photogenic...