Lighting on location is a matter of taste

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On Location Photography & Lighting

As a commercial photography service working in some pretty specialised industrial sectors, we get asked to photograph some pretty interesting, sophisticated and often difficult to light objects (they're my favourite).

This particular job involved photographing an industrial crisp flavouring machine a (tna intelli-flavOMS 5) to be precise. This machine is engineered for the flavouring of snacks and as such all the surfaces are made from easy wipe down brushed stainless steel. Ordinarily, we'd like to get a object like this into a controlled lighting environment (studio). However as with most of our work, the client required us to shoot it 'on location' at their manufacturing headquarters in Birmingham. TNA have a large warehouse facility, but we still had to find a location that would give us the best opportunity to extract the background away. Complicated backgrounds are a pain to cut out, and this one wasn't going to be easy as you'll see later.

Problems - (opportunities to shine)

If you've ever tried to photograph anything like polished or brushed steel you'll know that putting direct light (even small amounts) causes reflections and hotspots that easily blows the highlights and you lose that smooth steely look. Experience dictates that the only way to minimise this effect and have a hope of achieving an all round even lighting was to make a light tent. Wall to wall light, highly diffuse and super soft. However, building a light tent around a machine of this size, in a busy work environment is very tricky and was highly labour intensive. Now, we're not shy of hard work, but we like to pick our battles and this one was going to difficult to win. We needed a plan B.

Plan B

After a little experimentation with a few lighting techniques and a good strong cup of tea, We'd hatched a plan. We decided to use the largest and most diffuse light modifier in our lighting arsenal, a 6x7 Lastolite Hi-Lite. This is designed primarily to be used as a background for portraits, but it's still a light source and a massive diffuse one at that. Loaded up with 2 Elinchrom Quadra heads and positioned it at about 30 degrees to the object, we tried it. As expected this caused a major hotspot on the side immediately closest to the light source, but the side furthest away looked great, smooth and natural. This gave us the solution we were after.

Positioning & Shooting

A quick scout around the factory yielded a reasonably large white walled area running through a thoroughfare, we had the area cleared and the machine carefully moved into position. Once in position we used some plain white boards to flag off any background artefacts, this was so it would provide a good edge to work with when we came to extracting the background. With the camera on a tripod we hit both sides with the lighting set up described earlier, swapping the lighting around to the opposite side and talking a few extra shots to build shape and improve constant. Boom! 2 good sides and 2 bad sides. All we had to do now was to splice the 2 good sides together and volia!, one good crisping stainless steel machine.


Above is a cameraphone shot - showing positioning and artefacts
Extraction and Retouching

In post we comp'd the images together in Photoshop, the resultant file was flattened, retouched and then extracted from its background ready to be dropped into TNA's marketing brochures and other product literature.



Working with light challenging situations on location can be pretty un-nerving, but by having a clear understanding of your lighting set-ups and post-production capabilities really allows you to shoot more freely. Being able to free think the problem on location  is essential, sometimes accidents work out better than the planned approach, but you've always gotta have a plan first. We'd love to hear about your on-location experiences and how you overcame them, so feel free to drop a comment in the box below.

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