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Lightbox Shooting, Part Deux

Not satisfied with one lightbox, i set out to make another today (on leave, so i had time on my hands). Learning from the lessons of the box i made the day before, i decided to make this one bigger and to use different materials. Scrounging a Scotts tissue paper box from the local hypermarket, i also picked up some cheap tracing paper for the walls and a white manila sheet to act as the background. All very easily replaceable/interchangeable should the need arise.

It only took 20 minutes to hammer everything together with gaffer tape (this stuff is really amazing). Much happier with this box -- it was larger, sturdier and less messy with tape. Time for a test run.

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I grabbed whatever small trinkets i had lying around me at the time and put it into the box to start shooting. Flash setup was a simple 45 degrees vertical config, shooting down into the box through the paper roof. The light diffused gorgeously and did all sorts of fun bouncing movements inside the box, making shadows a non-issue mostly.

Easy, fun and useful.

Click through each image for the full size on Flickr.

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A home made lightbox

I must admit, i suck at DIY projects. Barely survived my secondary school workshop classes! It's not that i don't like banging together a few planks with nails, or putting a coat of pant on a wall. It's just that it never comes out exactly the way i envision it in my head. And so it was when i decided to create my own lightbox (what a real lightbox is supposed to look like)

But i was determined, and i wouldn't let me lack of a dexterity stop me. So i cobbled together a lightbox using an old cardboard box, a few strips of cotton to make the sides, and prodigious use of gaffer tape. 

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The theory behind the light box is that it does a few things at the same time. By placing the flash outside the box shooting into box through the porous cloth (or you can use tracing paper), it diffuses the light so that i goes everywhere within the box. And by having the walls made out of white cloth (or paper), any light inside the box will bounce around the box, again adding to an even distribution of light inside the box. 

This works great for product shots, and in my case, macro photography for my cigars. The main problem i've had with macro shooting of cigars has been light hotspots on the cigar when exposed to a flash. That and a ton of shadows all over the place, just makes for a less than idea photograph. This limitation forces me to take creative liberties with the shot itself such as the one below (shot a few weeks ago).

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It's not a bad photograph, but it doesn't do much about saying anything really moving about the cigar. There isn't much cigar to begin with in the frame! Ditto with this next photo.

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At the time when i took the shots, i didn't think they were half bad. In a way, ignorance is bliss. Haha.

After putting the lightbox together, it was time to test it. So i popped the cigars right in, and then manually metered the amount of light required, and took a few test snaps. The initial shots weren't very good, either too much light, or too little, or burnt out selected hotspots. Using a combination of techniques, stopping down further and/or slowing the shutter speed by a pinch and/or going down or up a third of a stop of light on the flash, then allowed me to start getting some pretty lovely results.

In the months to come, i'll probably think these are crap too, but for now, i'm happy. There is a definite mood and presence about the cigar now, appropriate considering the mystique that surrounds Cuban cigars. Stopped down, the shadows, instead of being restrictive in the earlier photos seen above, have become complimentary to the frame. 

What do you think?

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I have a new passion: Light

It almost seems counter-intuitive -- being a serious enthusiast photographer for nearly a year now, and only just beginning to appreciate how important it is to be in complete control of light. Light is to photography as water is to the human body. Both make up an integral part of what you get. Shaping it gives you much more control over the outcome. 

In fact, photographers might as well be called lightcrafters. 

So, i'ver embarked on a new area, previously uncharted for me. I've set up a simple home studio, single strobe, single umbrella. As budget permits, i hope to grow that a bit. I've collected all the materials i need to create a DIY lightbox, it's a matter of nailing it all together now. 

This is going to be fun.

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More shots from the Olympus 75mm f1.8

Spend a bit more time processing photos from my recent walkabout with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 75mm f1.8. It truly is a glorious lens. Incredibly sharp wide open, all across the frame. Delicious bokeh that allows for very distinct subject separation; that "3D effect" is effortlessly achieved.

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Playing with light

I spent the whole day today watching a DVD set i bought online, "Lighting in Layers". The best RM320 i've spent so far in my pursuit of being a better photographer. David Hobby, the person in the video, is the blogger for Strobist, perhaps THE go-to blog if you are interested in lighting in photography. Artificial light (i.e. flash/strobes) as compared to available light, being able to control it can make a huge difference in how your photographs turn out.

I've always thought of photography as a the control of light, first and foremost. Yes, composition is a huge part of the art, but what's the point if you don't get the light right? The best composition will still turn out dull and flat or dark and ineligible. Having said that, i've always been "afraid" of artificial light, mostly because i have no idea how to control it. Generally relying on luck to pull me through on the rare occasions when i have used it, the fear factor has led me to be far more comfortable with available light photography. The downside to this, of course, is that light is not always available. And even when it is, it doesn't always do what you want it to do. Hence the value in artificial light, and the control that you have over it.

"Lighting in Layers" has helped me understand quite a bit of what i didn't before, about artificial light. I'm still internalizing most of what i've learned, but i just couldn't help myself. I strapped on my flash and took a shot.

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Lit with a Canon 580EXII at 1/32 power.

Geartalk: Olympus Zuiko Digital 75mm f1.8

Easily one of the most anticipated lenses of the year for the Micro Four Thirds system, the Olympus Zuiko Digital 75mm f1.8 has already had a lot said about it, including a great review by Ming Thein, a professional photographer who puts this lens on par with some of the current greats -- the Nikon 24s, Leica 35s and 50s. I'm no pro, but i'll share with you what i thought about the lens after a couple of hours with it, courtesy of Olympus Malaysia. 

Olympus in Malaysia has been going great guns lately. Heavily promoting the OM-D EM-5 and now putting together a walkabout with their customers for the new 75mm lens. Kudos to them for putting in the effort! Not only did the organize for each of the 6 groups in attendance that lovely Saturday to have a guide and a copy of the lens attached to an OM-D EM-5, but a model was also on hand to make the shooting experience all the more interesting. Amanda Qian Ru was our model, and though inexperienced, she provided lovely angles for the group.

Check out Robin Wong's blog for more details about the Olympus event itself, lots of great pictures to give you an idea of how well attended it was.

Back to the lens. It's quite a monster as far as micro four third lenses go. On a naked OM-D EM-5 body, it throws the balance of the heft out a bit, definitely requiring a steadying hand to keep it on an even keel. No one handed shooting with this lens attached. However, if the EM-5 has the optional grip attached, then the lens balances quite well. Solidly built, all aluminium by the feel of it, it's a real hunk of glass. 

Shooting with it took a few moments to figure out, because the 150mm equivalent was certainly quite unusual. To get full body shots of the model, i was standing about 30 feet away. And shooting at the same distance as with a 45mm f1.8 lens delivered larger than intended closeups. So a few steps back was required. Not really a big deal, the adjustment, however, it's still something that needs to be practiced on to get used to.

The lens itself produces magnificent images, as other reviews have noted. One thing that i notice about this lens is that it's one of the few lenses where the technical reviews and usability reviews are in complete agreement. While being unequipped to know whether the technical reviews are accurate or not, i can say that the usability reviews are spot on -- it's easy to use (after a short period of adjustment), focuses incredibly fast and accurately with a nice snappiness to it, is sharp wide open, doesn't get noticeably sharper stopped down, has great micro-contrast (notice how the images below pop out at you), produces bokehlicious creaminess and leaves you with very little to do in post-processing. 

It's so good, it's almost boring. With my Panasonic 14mm f2.5, i know vignetting and soft edges are an issue, but i consciously work around these limitations. With the Olympus 45mm f1.8, i try to shoot at f2.0 - f2.8 because i know that half a stop or so does wonders for it. But with the 75mm? Just plug it on, slam it wide open, and shoot to your heart's content. Chances are you're going to nail it. Again. And again and again.

I heard the lens is available for RM3000 street price. That's a steal, considering what you're getting. 

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