A Short Course Book
Digital Desktop Studio Photography
The Complete Guide To Lighting and Photographing Small Objects with your Digital Camera

Case Study—The Road Runner

 
 
The Road Runner photographed with the camera's built-in flash looks like it's floating in space with a distracting black shadow behind it.
 
 
Without the rim light behind the subject, you don't see as much separation between the toy and the background,and the background isn't graduated.
Many of the things you may want to photograph are small 3D objects. In this case study, the subject is a nonreflective vintage Road Runner toy based on the character made popular in all of those wonderful Chuck Jones Warner Brothers cartoons—beep, beep.

The Assignment

The assignment is to photograph a vintage toy so a small image can be placed on an on-line auction. The goal is to show both the true colors of the toy, and the rich 3D details in the face, tail, and legs.

1. Composition

Since we want to show all parts of the toy, it is arranged parallel to the camera. The camera is set to shoot down on the toy at a slight angle so you can see the top of the head, feet, and body as well as the sides, adding depth.

2. Lighting

The main light is placed to the side so its light sweeps across the surface of the toy, bringing out the detail and surface modeling. A diffuser placed between the main light and the toy softens the light so it wraps around the subject, eliminating any hard black shadows. A rim light is placed behind the toy and facing forward to light the toy's edges and help separate them from the background. This same light also lights the background. Since it is aimed forward, the brightest illumination falls at the feet of the toy, creating a background that gradually fades away to black.

3. Camera Settings

For this shot, the on-camera flash is turned off and white balance is set to auto. Since the toy has very little depth, depth-of-field isn't a major concern so exposure is set to automatic.

The setup has the room lights turned off and two lights are used along with a diffuser.

The lighting setup captures the subject with good edge lighting so it stands out from the background. All of the details we wanted to show stand out. Look at the feathers on the head and tail and the small wings. There are just enough specular highlights to give you a feeling for what the surface texture is.

The lighting setup captures the subject with good edge lighting so it stands out from the background. All of the details we wanted to show stand out. Look at the feathers on the head and tail and the small wings. There are just enough specular highlights to give you a feeling for what the surface texture is.


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