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BDC Studio

This has been another week of studio work for Mizuki's eBay business. We have experienced a spell of cold (for Phoenix) weather that has been a deterrent to playing golf (I confess I'm a fair weather golfer). So I thought I would write about my photography studio since several friends have asked about how I do the merchandise photos. Here it is.

Mini StudioMini Studio #2

The photo on the left shows where I actually take the pictures. It consists of a small table with two Lowel Ego lights. These are fluorescent lights that have a 5500° K color temperature which means that they produce light more like the sun than that produced by standard fluorescent lights which tend to have a greenish cast when photographed. They each have a plastic diffusion screen which spreads the light and reduces the bright reflections (called "hot spots") which are a special problem when photographing jewelry.

As part of the kit were two bounce reflectors which are placed opposite the light to provide smoother, more even lighting. You can see one of these to the left of the green paper — it just looks like a white area in the above photo. Sitting on top of the lights is a small bounce reflector to provide some reflected light from above.

The green paper also came with the kit along with 10 or so other colors — and is mounted on a support stand — and provides a smooth seamless backdrop. For any of my photography friends who are interested in these lights go to Lowel's website and/or Gary Regester's tips to learn more about them.

You can also see the WhiBal cards which provide white, black and two gray surfaces to help you lock in the correct colors for any subject. Especially for selling designer jewelry and accessories it is critical to get the colors right. You can imagine the problems if a customer bought a maroon purse (based on the photos) to discover it is really purple. So the WhiBal card is just one part of the color calibration system I use — the other major part being a Gretag-MacBeth Eye-One monitor calibration. So the colors I see on my monitor is very close to what your eye would see. Of course, we cannot control the monitor calibration of our customers' computers so we have a disclaimer on our eBay listings — "We use a calibrated monitor to check that our photos are true-to-life. Remember that your monitor may not be as accurate and unfortunately we cannot accept returns if you don't like the color".

The last item of note is the Nikon D100 camera which is mounted on a tripod with a three-axis head. Each of the axis adjustment controls allows you to move the camera a large or small amount to get the exact framing you want. The camera has a 60 mm. Micro lens which is used for close-ups (most manufacturers call it a "macro lens" but Nikon is different).

Most of you are familiar with cameras that record their images on film or a memory card. The D100 can also be connected to a computer (as you can see in the above right photo) — and record the images in the computer instead. Software on my laptop "talks" to the camera and sets the aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (I shoot in Manual Mode so both need to be set by the photographer, rather than letting the camera choose the settings). It can even trigger the shutter if you want. The only thing you have to do on the camera is framing — positioning the camera to capture the image you want. Well, optionally you can trigger the shutter — preferably with a cable shutter release so you don't move the camera at the moment the shutter is open.

Once I have captured the product shots on the laptop, I then transfer the files to my Photoshop computer via our wireless network.

WhiBal #1
Now, we're finally ready to take a picture. Almost. The first picture must be of the WhiBal card in the setting where the jewelry will be placed. The photo won't be published but it is critical for all the photos that will be. The image at right is not really all that good, is it? The color is off — partially because of reflected light from the green paper.
WhiBal #2
So I load the picture into Photoshop and use a Levels adjustment layer to work some magic. This control has eyedroppers, take the white eyedropper and touch the white portion of the WhiBal — then the black eyedropper to the black area — and finally the gray eyedropper to the gray area. And voilà, much better — the WhiBal card looks right. We'll use this adjustment layer for the actual product shots.
Watch RawLet's load a product shot. Not bad but we can make it better.
Watch w/LevelsLet's add the Levels adjustment layer (that we created with the WhiBal photo) and tweak it a little. Not bad, less dingy.
Watch After CurvesAdd an adjustment to the curves. This is subtle but it adds contrast in the middle part of the brightness spectrum for a bit of differentiation between the medium bright portion and the medium dark portion. Makes it pop a bit.
Watch After SaturationAdd an adjustment to the curves. This is subtle but it adds contrast in the middle part of the brightness spectrum for a bit of differentiation between the medium bright portion and the medium dark portion. Makes it pop a bit.
Watch After WhiteningOne last adjustment that will not impact this photo much — but I always use it — a color adjustment layer to whiten the light gray areas a bit.
Watch After MultiplyOh, it is a picture of a watch. And what is the most important part of the watch? The face, of course. But you can barely see it. Well, here is where some more Photoshop magic comes in. I will copy the raw image onto a second layer. (Layers are like the acetate sheets that Disney used to use for animated films. Each layer would have one part of the overall image and the camera would shoot all the layers together.) I then change its blending mode to Multiply (I won't elaborate here other than to say this is the magic part). Oops, now the picture is too dark.
Watch w/Face MaskNo fear — Photoshop is here. All I have to do is quickly create a mask for the watch face so that the above correction only applies to that area. Looks good enough. The final step is to crop the photo for best presentation (in this case, portrait orientation) and to sharpen it. Below are the starting point and the publication photo. A bit of difference, don't you think?

Watch Before Watch After

 Life is good.

 B. David