Modelling light: Shooting from the hip for quick social media posts

In a previous post, we touched on the idea of using mobile phones to document in box reviews and how we can get decent results without worrying unduly about time to set up lights and the paraphernalia of tripods and supports.

The following shots are all hand held and rely on the phone camera’s sharpening stability algorithm. That said, there is no getting away from the fact that if we want totally pin sharp images then we have to bolt the camera to something sturdy.

Here’s the first attempt using an old iPhone SE and white card used as a clean background. We can see its a bit dull and uninteresting and the light just isn't reaching where it should.

The light source, time and location are the kitchen, north facing window mid- morning bright sunlight. It’s a bit dull, too contrasty and those shadows. . . not exactly inspiring and enough of a poor result to say I'm no good at this photography malarkey and I give up. But hang on a minute. . .

Shine a light!

Let’s try again, this time with a little reflected help to bounce some of that free daylight into the shadow areas:

Huge improvement, and all with the aid of some crumpled kitchen foil spray mounted to a bit of polystyrene packing (the standard white reverse side comes in handy for more diffuse bounced light situations). Crumple the foil and then smooth out but retain some texture otherwise we'll create a mirror. Experiment with the matt side and shiny side too.

The image can be further enhanced in the phone's basic image editing controls by pushing the white point and highlights sliders up a little and balancing this with the shadow and contrast slider. Get to know our phone camera controls to see how some simple tweaks can improve our shots quickly and easily. This one above is pretty much shot as is.

Also. . .We don't need to get all arts and crafts with the spray mount if we just want to experiment, attaching the reflector to a sheet of poly just makes it easier to manipulate and prop up while we get the camera angle just right.

The reason for not using artificial light in this very basic shoot is that smart phones (even the most expensive ones with three lenses) tend to work best in natural light scenarios and their little brains are wired to predominantly take shots with natural daylight. Of course they have multi settings and can adapt to a wide range of artificial light scenarios but natural is best and free.

We might notice that the image resolution above is a bit soft, showing some grain or texture. This is partly due to the poor resolution performance of the older phone camera and also being a hand held trial shot to illustrate the basic process of bouncing light. Plus the actual cockpit is around 4 times actual size in the shot, so all in all it's not too abysmal and can be improved upon with a bit of camera holding technique and practice.

And that’s all there is to it. We can use more than one bounce card to fill in shadows.

This technique is known as 'modelling' light. Obviously as with all photographic techniques, there's a lot more to it and various types of bounce cards and reflectors can be used to modify light. Different surface textures will diffuse light and scatter it to soften shadows while a gold reflector will warm up the subject. Gold is good for portraits, not so good for a scale model and will modify the camouflage colour.

Things called cutters which are essentially black card can also be used to reduce and absorb too much light and create shadows or high contrast shots. All this and more is covered in detail in my book.

Here’s the F1M2 airframe and lower wing in the trial fit stage as another before and after example. Same natural available light from a kitchen window around midday, white card and silver bounce reflector.

Remember to keep the camera at a reasonable distance from the subject to maximise depth of field.

If you want to get serious about using your phone and experiment further, you might want to invest in a little tripod.

Until next time, wherever you are in this strange and turned upside down world - stay safe and go well.

Kia kaha!


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