February 2016 Theme: Tabletop Photography / by Craig Roberts

Blue Light Leica

Our recent monthly theme for the local camera club was tabletop photography; I actually began my digital photography path cutting my teeth on a small 2ft square table set up in a utility room, amongst the furnace, hot water tank and various stored boxes, making images for my online auctions. Back then my setup consisted of a 24" x 36" piece of gray poster board that I fashioned into a sweep against one wall, two drafting lamps with articulating arms on either side, which allowed me to move them around for the best positioning of the shadows and my 3megapixel Kodak point and shoot positioned on the tripod.

Fast forward to this and the setup wasn't much more high-tech; since I no longer had any strobes, softboxes or even flashes available to use, I improvised with a combination of long exposures and LED lights to "paint" the subject camera. The base is simply a storage trunk I made use of while my background, again, was no more than a piece of black art board, this time swept against a roll of white seamless hung from a mini boom arm on a c-stand.

The first image file, with exposure lightened considerably and set to monochrome to illustrate the basic setup. Each subsequent layer was masked & painted in to strengthen areas of sharpness, color and focus. 

The first image file, with exposure lightened considerably and set to monochrome to illustrate the basic setup. Each subsequent layer was masked & painted in to strengthen areas of sharpness, color and focus. 

My idea for this image was to have the camera back-lit, and I had 4 acrylic ice cubes with blue LEDs that I lit and placed behind the model camera, to create the enveloping glow. I made a handful of images moving the cubes into different positions to broaden the glow, then used them in a couple of files to pain the front of the camera. Finally I used a small white LED light-pen to paint the front of the camera and focus highlight some specific areas. All in all, it took 15 minutes tops to set up and shoot. 

Once I had all of my files in Lightroom I exported them out as layers to Photoshop, then proceeded to adjust the individual exposure, mask each layer and then selectively apply them back to the base image. This allowed my to choose areas that had been selectively light-painted to create a stronger cohesive image. Some final adjustments to contrast and color gave me the completed image, however I noticed that when I printed the first time, the overall look was darker than I was looking for - two subsequent printings later, each incrementally lighter (and brighter) gave me the final printed image I was looking for.