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Notes on my First Cheapie Soft Box Photos

Last night I took what I would consider my first attempts at semi-decent planned photos. I took photographs of some golf shoes in the smaller soft box I'd constructed. There were several problems with the actual shoot:

  1. Three 60W bulbs - and a flash - are apparently not quite enough light, somehow. I suspect my implementation was inappropriate, but perhaps I just need stronger work lights.
  2. I didn't cover up enough of the wooden table. I think the brownish/reddish tint I got on the white parts of the shoe was due to the brownish/reddish tint of the table. Next time, use more poster board.
  3. I shot black and white shoes on a white background. I want white backgrounds (because the site they'll eventually be posted to is white), but perhaps for black and white golf shoes, a green or tan background would have been better.
  4. The sheets I bought are perhaps too thick - or again the lights way too dim. perhaps I should have picked up some tracing paper instead?

I messed around with both aperture and exposure time. Two shots worked at f/20 and 0.8s, two at f/7.1 and 0.1s, and the remaining two at f/11 and 0.125s. I shot in full manual mode so I could pretty easily control the aperture and shutter speed. I used the on-camera 430ex SpeedLite to provide some fill, though most of it hit the top of the soft box (and didn't enter). I even stuck to my new 50mm/f1.8 (a bargain at $70) lens.

But none of that was my biggest problem. In importing the images to Aperture (all RAW files), I stacked all the similar shots together so that I could later sort through them. Next, intending to go through the different stacks to choose good images (and mark some as rejects), I uncollapsed the first stack, selected the first image, hit option-O to enter "compare" mode, and began flipping through the stack.

I quickly found that cmd-[ promoted images and cmd-\ set an item to be the stack pick, but in doing so the comparison image (the left one) didn't switch to the new stack pick, making for an all-around frustrating process. The solution? Option-T is "Stack" mode. Duh. Next time this will save me some time.

At any rate, after some moderate adjustments in Aperture (mainly to correct the white balance, which again was too warm), I exported the images to JPEGs and messed with them in Photoshop. By "messed with" I followed a simple procedure to knock out the not-quite-white background:

  1. Loosely select the image using a combination of the PS CS3's new "auto-select" tool and the old wand.
  2. Create a new layer, invert the selection, and fill with white. Then gaussian blur (maintaining the selection so no blur covers up my image - just recedes from it). I used a 25 two or three times on images that I'd downsampled to about 900 x 500 at 72 dpi.
  3. Add a small gradient to each of the four sides, white to transparent, to make sure the edges were white.
  4. Trim off excess white edges, resize to 490px wide, and save as JPEG.

The final results? You can find them here, here, here, here, here, and here.

2 Responses to "Notes on my First Cheapie Soft Box Photos"

  1. Erik,
    Just a few thoughts from looking at the originals:

    1. The black spots are sensor dust. It's easy to clean your sensor, and I can point you in the right direction if you need a hand.
    2. There's something funky with whatever light is controlling the upper right area--it almost looks like there's either a shadow from another light up there? I'd play with that to get it more even.
    3. I think a custom white balance would help. I'm not sure if the Rebel supports that (basically you take a picture of something white, and the camera will use that to adjust the whatever shots you take with that white balance), but if not, yeah, just tweak it as you did.

    And yeah, it's sometimes a little weird working with Aperture's compare/stack modes. Sounds like you got the hang of it, though 🙂

    I'm also a bit surprised that your exposure settings were so slow. I'm not too familiar with multi-flash work, but with EOS and single flash, in manual mode, the flash will be your primary light source. Basically, you can dial in whatever settings you want (e.g. f/8 at 1/100 sec), and the flash will do its best to give you the correct illumination (+ your flash exposure compensation) for the subject. I know that the built-in meter fails with remote strobes, but I'm still not sure why you couldn't have faster exposures.

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