Shooting the Bike – Intro to Product Photography

Its amazing what you can do with some simple household items in the photography world. Product photography is a great avenue to explore the usefulness of these items. With product photography, you subject matter can be set up in a controlled environment; the ideal place to try out new lighting techniques and gear.


Finished bike photograph.

Today we’ll discuss what went in to producing a shot of my old mountain bike. In addition to the final shot you’ll see a lighting setup shot that you may refer to as you read through the article. To start things out, take a basic assessment of your shooting environment. In this case I was utilizing my living room. Any room with enough space for you to work can be made to function as a makeshift studio.

I also knew that I would be achieving the shot with artificial light from camera flashes; this saves me from having to spend time worrying about the amount/quality of the ambient light. With a space picked out you can begin to set up your shooting environment. The key to this shot lies in a common household item: bedsheets. There are two in this shot. First is a plain black sheet anchored to the bookshelf behind the bike and allowed to gently slope down to the floor. A second plain white sheet was anchored to the ceiling and stretched out above the black background anchored to a pair of lightstands. This white sheet forms a sort of awning over the area where our subject will be placed.

3837639041_2277e46a05_bThe purpose of this white sheet is diffusion. The white fabric will transmit light through it, but it the process it will spread out, or diffuse, the light we use. Diffused light equals soft light. Soft light equals flattering light that will illuminate our subject evenly and avoid bright reflective hotspots on the metal bike frame. As far as the camera is concerned, the sheet becomes one giant light source even though we may actually be firing multiple lights through it.

Our sheet set up, two softboxed Alienbees strobes go up on stands. Placed up high and angled down, these two lights pass through the large white sheet to illuminate the bike below. You might ask why use the softboxes if the bedsheet is diffusing the light for us? Double diffusion baby. The softboxes give the light some direction to keep from shooting unwanted spill everywhere, but they also provide their own soft light which will make the final output through the sheet even better for our subject.

Lights up, its time to bring the subject in. With the bike positioned on our black background, position your big lights where you think appropriate and shoot some test shots. Play with aperture and power levels of your strobes to get the desired amount of light on the subject. The final lighting issue on the bicycle was the seat. The black seat on a black background disappeared into nothing. To solved it I placed a small hotshoe camera flash with a narrow grid on it directly above and behind the bike (but below the big white diffusing sheet). The flash provides a little kiss of light to the top edge of the bike seat and the spot grid prevents the light from spilling to other areas.

The final problem with this shot was the limitation of space in my room. My black bedsheet background was almost too small to accommodate the bike on it and when shot with a wide angle lens, I was left with a lot of distracting background elements in the completed picture. In photoshop I painted out the unwanted background images leaving me with a simple, clean, black environment for my finished bicycle shot.

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