Friday, April 27, 2007

The making of Lemonscape

Lemonscape was my submission for the third qualifying round of the Last Photographer Standing competition. The theme for this shot was Irregular so I decided to reveal the irregular surface of a lemon. To really highlight the texture of the surface I knew I was going to need a very hard light source. The plan I put together was to use extreme contrast as well and try to make the lemon look like a crescent moon.

The first problem to solve was how to get a hard enough source of light. When shooting near macro size, even a bare normal flash head covers too large of an angle to reveal small textural details in a monochromatic surface. To make the apparent size of the light even smaller I took a small block of MDF and drilled a 3/8" hole in it. Placing that in front of the flash gave me a quite small but still bright enough light source to support the aperture I was going to need.

The next problem to solve is to prevent the light from falling on the lens and causing flare. I was going to be shooting with lens only a few inches from lemon so I needed very good light control. The solution to this was a long box (originally used for shipping a light stand). I put the flash head in one end and the lemon near the other end. I was getting a lot from this box: it prevented both lens flare and light scatter around the room which might spill on the background. It also put some distance between the light and the lemon which further reduced the apparent size of the light and hardened the shadows even more.

The final setup was lemon and backdrop at one end of the box:

and flash and mask at the other end of the box:

When I was actually shooting the flash was pushed a little way inside the box giving me excellent light control. All in all it was very simple once I figured out what I needed to do. The flash was triggered using Canon's optical remote system with an ST-E2 trigger on the camera.

There were a couple of other hiccoughs along the road. The first was depth of field. The portion of the lemon that needed to be in focus was the lit section which was not perpendicular to the axis of the lens. To get sharp focus on all the visible areas of the lens I needed to use a tilt lens and a small aperture. The other issue was the specular reflection off the lemon was extremely bright. So you can see what I was dealing with I have included a copy of the shot exposed for the highlights.
Believe it or not even in this shot the highlights are blown in small areas despite the fact that I have underexposed for the diffuse reflections by more than 4 stops. The final image is actually a Photoshop blend of two exposures: one for the specular reflections and the other for the diffuse reflections.

In the end this shot did not fare very well in the competition. As a result of one of the comments I received after the competition was over I decided to crop it a bit tighter to give it a slightly more lively composition. While I hoped to evoke both a sense of seeing a lemon in space and also emphasize a face-like feature in the lemon, in the end I don't think this idea had a chance of rating more and more than "kinda cool" so it was not the best choice of entries. In retrospect, I might have been better off submitting an alternative shot, Out of Water, which I took before I started working with lemons.

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