Request For Critique & Questions

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by brad_trostad, Jun 14, 2015.

  1. Hi,
    I received a great deal of help on my last post (thanks to all responded!). Since then I have taken two more batches of 4x5 photos. I did pretty bad on the 1st batch with only 3/8 being decent and the rest operator mistakes leading to blown out exposures. I know what I did wrong and learned from it. My next batch I was 8/8 - glad I didn't give up. So I think its time for a critique and I also some questions to keep me moving.
    Critique Request:
    I tried an example studio product shot (below). I could really use feedback both from a general photography perspective and especially from a Large Format film and camera point of view. If a scenario helps any for this shot, lets say a hypothetical client wanted to make large posters (say 5ft tall) and they requested 4x5 B&W negatives with this general composition.
    Photo Details: Calumet 4x5, Schneider 210mm lens @ f22 near max bellows extension, Ilford HP5 developed by a lab and using 2 fixed LED lights so I could see what I was doing.
    A link to a larger version (about 5MB):
    Self Critique (In Order)
    1. Use pristine products (too many pits, blemishes, etc - lots of PS work to correct)
    2. Lighting (should be #1 but bad samples will still be very obvious)
    3. B&W Tonality (this should be really, really luscious and isn't there)
    4. Sharpness (the high resolution scan seems to lack sharpness)
    5. Place products on a more reflective surface (like glass)
    6. Try to bring out more of the small bottles reflection on the larger bottle.
    7. Composition (sure - what the "hypothetical" client wanted but kinda boring)
    8. Backdrop (I just had a thin sheet of dark paper, need something more uniform)
    And Some Questions If You Don't Mind:
    1. What film and developer would you use for this type of shot? The perfume bottle is dark blue with a gold top and gold label. The cologne bottle is black with a dark gray top and white writing.
    2. What lens would you use?
    3. If the hypothetical client said to try some other similar compositions where would you place the two bottles and what lens movements would you use?
    4. I've worked some with lighting (up to 4 lights) but any advice would be appreciated.
  2. I can only comment from a generic perspective, as I'm only shooting a miniscule format myself :)
    First of all, I think your self critique hits the vital points, but I would split them out to identify where to take actions, so to speak: Lighting (pts. 2,5,6), Compostion (7,8 1),Technical issues (3, 4).
    Given this is a test shot, I wouldn't fret too much over what I mark as 'Composition'; for sure it's one of the most important points in general, but for this shot it isn't the main thing to take away from it.
    Point 'Lighting' is all important; mainly learning how to control the reflections as those are for me the main problem in this photo. For professional product photography, to me this would be the biggest issue by far. It also affects the 'boring-ness' of the composition you mention - with nicer lighting, this set-up could be made to work, despite being just two bottles (don't ask me how, because I'm a disaster at it, but Light: Science and Magic is trying to get me over that speedbump).
    Technique: probably it is very worth it to develop yourself, as with a lab, there are too many variables you do not control. Sharpness, contrast and tonality depend a lot on the development in B&W photography. A lab can never know what you exactly expect, so they'll do what generically works good enough. I think for work like this, you really would need to control the whole process, end to end.
  3. This is really more of a lighting question. Dig around the archives of the lighting forum. The moderators (Brooks Short and Garry Edwards) posted some excellent tutorials during the mid-2000s under the "Lighting Theme" heading. Here's one on controlling specular highlights.
  4. Thank You Wouter!
    I really appreciate the feedback. I am still a relative film newbie, starting with medium format film only last year and now dipping my toe in the water with a Large Format camera, lens and film. These 4x5 sheets contain so much resolution but what good is it if I use the wrong film, don't develop it properly. So to one of your points, I do need to develop my own film. Since I've never done it before I am reluctant - but now is the time.
    I know when I set up this hypothetical product shot I was cutting corners on lighting. I do indeed own Light, Science and Magic. I have shot several glassware shots using this book. I often prefer the setup with a large softbox behind and a black sheet over the softbox covering just enough so that the camera's field of view only sees the dark background. This technique yields very nice sharp edges to the glass. Then I like to reflect some of the backlight back at the front to light up the label.
    However, with the view camera I really wanted to see what I was doing so I cut corners and used fixed lighting and worked more on focus, exposure and camera operation. And since I was paying for lab development (spendy) I figured play it safe on this set.
    I wish the lighting wasn't the first obvious problem. I think it distracts from gathering other Large Format film specific feedback. On the flip side, if the lighting is the main issue then perhaps I wasn't so far off on the camera operation, lens selection, exposure, etc.
  5. I don`t see issues with sharpness and lens choice. Focus is right, don`t know exposure... I`d say it looks fine, too, but it is a scanned film so slight mistakes can be easily masked. Maybe a bit on the contrasty side. A longer lens could provide more working space, although with a different perspective.
    But as mentioned, the difficult thing here is about illumination. You need to know which one and how to use it to precisely get the image you could have on mind.
  6. Your lighting is much too harsh. Practice with small reflecting panels and large soft lights.
  7. Re: Jose
    Thanks for you feedback and especially thanks for your comments w/r to LF film, camera operation and lens. I don't know enough yet about development so perhaps getting good at that will help address the "contrasty" part. Regarding the longer lens, I wish I had one as the 210 brings in a lot of background. I have done shots very similar to this using a DSLR and nicer lighting and usually use a 85mm or 100mm macro.
    Lighting - yeah clearly I was to harsh - but it sure was nice to be able to see the ground glass image! Not sure when I'll do this shot again, but next time I do anything similar I will probably still use the LED lights to assist with focus and then hit it with strobes for the final shot..
  8. Why would you want to focus and compose with a different light set up then you would expose with? Learn how to master
    the light you will shoot with. And get some lights that are designed to do what you want to do. That includes ones with
    good modeling lights.
  9. Remake this image using a very large white foam core panel a few feet off to the right as a fill.
    The light source, already termed way too harsh, can be easily modified with two cloth panels of white nylon or even cotton. The source should be a few feet off to the left with the first panel in far enough that the light pattern nearly or completely covers that panel. That will soften the light and modify the speculars to a degree, but then place the second panel between the first one and the subject just out of camera range to further soften the light and it's contrast and to really smooth out the speculars.
    I think you will like the results immensely better.
  10. The negative may be okay. With better scanning, the tones you want might be available. Use the manual pre-scan adjustments with curves to get all the tonal range so that neither blacks or highlights are clipped. No sharpening either before scanning. Have the scanner save as 16 bit TIFF files. For a 5 feet tall print, that's 60 inches times 300 dpi. You'll need about an 18,000 pixel image from the scanner. That is a 3600 dpi scan resolution.
    Then open the TIFF file and spot the blemishes with your software of choice. Then make curves adjustments to get the contrast and tones you want. Then sharpen.
  11. If the contrast of your example shot is typical of what you're getting Brad - change your lab, because they're clearly over developing the film. Or develop your own.
    Shadow detail is lacking as well, so you might want to rate the film a bit lower in ISO. In fact there's no need to be using a high-speed film like HP5 for still life work at all. FP4+ has much better tonality and a more controllable contrast IMHO. Followed by good ole D-76/ID-11 for developing. Its tonal range takes a lot of beating, and with 5x4 film you don't need the artificial sharpening of a high-acutance developer.
    Reflective subjects like glass and silver are one of the most difficult subjects to light. They need to be defined by their reflections; meaning you have to pay attention to the surrounding of the subject and forget about directly lighting it. You have the beginnings of a defining reflection in the LH side of the glass containers, but it needs to continue down to their base. A striplight box or simple lit reflector would do the trick. The whole shot needs some gentle fill to give the full tonal range you're after. A large reflector at the camera position would be a start.
    A nice exercise for lighting glass is to take a simple brown/green wine bottle with the label washed off and light it against a dark background. You have to get the lighting right for the bottle to stand out from the BG and look like a bottle. Striplighting (or tall reflectors) left and right are a good start, and you'll easily see if they're correctly positioned by the reflections in the bottle. The bottle's shape should be clearly defined by the light. You don't even need a camera, just your eyes.
    Work on refinements like scrupulous preparation of products after you get the lighting right. Good lighting will take the edge off dust and small surface imperfections anyway. Hard, specular lighting such as you've used is very unforgiving.
    You're probably not going to want to hear this, but film is a very bad learning medium. There's too much delay between making adjustments to lighting and exposure and seeing the end result. There are also too many variables to juggle - like exposure, development and scanning or printing. A mistake in any part of the chain is difficult to pin down and rectify. A digital camera is an ideal learning tool; it costs nothing to make mistakes and feedback is almost instant.
  12. Re: David,
    Thanks for your feedback, especially regarding the scanning! Right now I am on the cheap and using a Canon 8800 with a home made holder and since the backlight is maxed out for 120 film, I scan twice and stitch. The critique image was about 13000 pixels on the long side so clearly to go to the hypothetical 5ft I would need high scanning resolution ($$$$) or a larger negative. I do scan with Vuescan and the scanner indicates 16-bit but no dice. I zoom way in (800x) and switch to 8-bit and don't see a single pixel change so the 16-bit might not be available (and has several online discussion indicating the same).
    That's okay (at least for me) as I'm trying concentrate on just operating the camera with little or no mistakes and then move on to the next step. My general plan has been as follows:
    1.) Get 1 box (25ct) of Ilford 400 speed film and try various shots indoors and outside and use a lab - Done!. If LF wasn't for me I would have bailed at this point and just sell the camera and not be stuck with extra lenses, darkroom gear, chemistry, better tripod, more powerful lighting, etc.
    2.) Starting developing my own film. I have just finished researching this and will starting purchasing everything. I have never developed film before so I am going to try the BTZS tubes approach. Looks pretty easy, I can do more work with lights on and have much quicker feedback than the lab (2wks+ each time).
    3.) Provided step 2 isn't too bad then I will probably look for a wide angle lens. I already tried a 90mm and it wasn't wide enough for me so I will look for something a bit wider. I kept the recessed lens board and bag bellows though.
    4.) If I am still into it then I will probably look for a used V700 or V750 and be able to scan at 16-bit.
    5.) If I really, really like it I might purchase some studio lights as right now I just have speed lights and trying to take studio setting shots with apertures of f32 and speed lights seems like futility - plus I would at least like a nice powered modeling light to see shadows, etc. I can borrow two from a friend but I think I need to stick to my plan and learn to develop next.
  13. Re: Rodeo Joe
    Once again thanks for all your help! You were very helpful in my first LF post too. Believe it or not I have shot a lot of wine & liquor bottles with my 5D2 and using LS&M. I enjoy the challenge and I have a few favorite lighting styles for glass. Often I do multiple exposures and blend in post to bring out labels, etc.
    The mistake I made in this Critique request was to use this type of shot for a first LF critique when I was mainly searching for comments on general camera operation and film look but the lighting was so harsh (because I wanted to see something clearly in the ground glass) that light was clearly the biggest issue with the photo.
    I really appreciate that you also looked past that and called me out again on the contrast and the lab. That is now what I am working on (purchasing equipment soon) as the lighting issues can wait. I first and foremost need quicker feedback and more control of the negative.
    If I were going to be serious about LF studio pictures of products like the one in this example, I would actually get some better lighting and first use my FF DSLR to really dial in. In the process of doing that I suspect I would get a keeper or two. And then to switch out the camera and take a few LF shots being much less work and cost. In this critique request I purposely didn't use the DSLR as I was wondering if I would even get a useable image with leaning on anything digital other than the scanner.
    Thanks again Joe!

Share This Page