Saturday, December 12, 2009

Photo Illustration, Quick and Dirty

For the post I did on Friday on ExposureManager coupons, I decided after I started that some sort of photo illustration would be a nice addition. I quickly had an idea of what I wanted, a graphic shot with coupons arranged on top of a keyboard. Then I hit myself with a ton of questions as I tried to figure out the details:
  • Which lens to use? I don't have a macro lens. My 35-70 and 70-210 both have a macro feature, would that suffice? Might I be better off trying my non-macro 18-70 or 85?
  • Do I need to put the camera on a tripod?
  • How should I light it? Available light? One flash or two? Direct flash, diffusers, typing paper light tent, or umbrellas? Do I need to set up my lightstands? Do I need a lighting diagram?
  • Do I need a small table for the laptop, so I can position the lights and tripod around it? Maybe put the laptop on the floor? Do I use my new laptop (black keys) or my old laptop that #2 son inherited (light gray keys)?
I suddenly realized that I was pacing around the house, weighing the differenet options in my head. A lot of back-and-forth, trying to decide the best way to do this. The problem was, the picture weasn't getting done! I suddenly realized that I was suffering from a classic case of paralysis by analysis. Unfortunately it is something that happens to me too often. Instead of spending so much time thinking about the shoot, I needed to just start shooting!

Having given myself a mental kick-in-the-pants, I decided to go with simple and quick, which is my preferred mode of operation. I grabbed some coupons from the kitchen and put them on my keyboard. Put the 35-70 on my camera and put it in macro mode. Set the camera for F11. Hooked up my SB800 (with the diffuser dome) in TTL mode with an SC17 cable. Held the camera in one hand and the flash in the other, with the cable running over the back of my neck. I focused by moving the camera up and down until the focus indicator lit up. Seriously, it doesn't get any more "quick-and-dirty" than that, and it definitely isn't the sort of thing you would want to show in an instructional video.

But it worked... Surprising well, actually. I chimped the first shot, and found I had the right amount of magnification, the image was sharp, and the exposure was on the mark. So from a technical standpoint, I was all set. All I needed to do was play around with my composition (I didn't want to show the product names on the coupons) and the lighting angle. I ended up resting my hand with the flash against the top of my laptop screen. After a total of 9 shots, I had what I needed.

When you read posts from pros like David Hobby, Chase Jarvis, and so on, you get the impression that "the right way" is to plan everything out, and know what you're going to get before you even snap the shutter. That is certainly a valid approach, but you need to do what works best for you. And there is nothing wrong with trial-and-error. Chimping is one of the huge advantages of digital photography: shooting can be an iterative process. Converge towards a solution. Better to get started, shoot something quick, and then review it and adjust accordingly.

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