The Dark Room
I noticed that almost every time that there's a thread with a nice photo of a knife or some food in it, people start asking about the camera gear or the technique. Often times there are comments about "man I should finally get a decent camera, what should I get to take pictures like that."
Soooo, I thought that I kick of a dedicated photography thread and see where it goes.
I've been into photography for about 17 years now and I'm constantly learning new things. I think that knives and food are also 2 of the trickiest things that I've shot so there's certainly no shortage of stuff to discuss.
I guess to start this off perhaps the 2 most frequent areas of discussion would be new camera / gear buying and lighting selection / setup.
So who wants to go first? Come share your wisdom and ask your questions!
I sold my Leica M2 last year and my Hasselblad earlier this year and I'm now camera-less. I'd love to get back out and shoot but I simply lost the desire to process and print myself and I'm too lazy and scared to bother learning digital/Photoshop. Now that I think about it it's really kinda said that I haven't shot a frame in months considering that for years you'd never see me without a camera on me.
I think we had a thread about knife photography before, but it's a never-ending topic. I am actually planning to take pics of all my knives once I have fixed a small issue on one of them, so this is a timely thread.
I am using a Panasonic GH2 which is a relatively new micro 4/3 format. The quality is at about the level of an entry level DSLR, but the video is better than almost any other (not that I really care that much...), and the cameras are usually less than half the size and weight of a DSLR - which means I actually take i with me. What makes this fun for me is that you can adapt almost every lens ever made to that format, and I had a lot of fun playing around with many old lenses, some of them movie camera lenses from the 30s and 40s.
As for knife photography, I am still struggling with reflections on the blades and the handles. I have a small light tent which is just a touch smaller than I'd like, so I may build something myself the next time. But even with the light tent, I sometimes find it tricky to position the lights in a way that it doesn't reflect too much. I read that one can work with white/silver or black cards to direct the light, but that's at least one level above my experience. As far as lenses are concerned, I have taken some pics of my handles with a Leica Macro Elmarit 60/2.8 - one of the top choices in macro photography. The problem is, I sometimes hate the pics because this lens is so sharp that one can see every little piece of dust - and every flaw that the normal view doesn't even detect... I will have to play around more with different lenses here.
I am also wondering about good backgrounds. What do people like to see? I have seen nice pics of knives on wood pieces or elk horn etc, I am just not sure whether they add or distract. I tried one series on a cutting board, adding some color with veggies or fruit, but that's similar. On the other hand, you get a sense of knife size that way. And you have stuff you can cook with after the shoot When I tried different colored fabrics, I get the reflection problem again - on a nice blue fabric background, the knives look icy cold with the bluish reflections, not the way I see them myself. Black velvet seems like a great option, I want to try that out next - it seems to absorb some of the light and really make the knife the center of attention. I tried some crushing shiny velvet, but that looks a bit cheesy. Any thoughts?
I know, a lot can probably be done with poat processing. But I like the photo challenge, and I would love to do as much as I can do get good pics out of the camera and minimize the post processing. After all, I like photography to get away from the computer occasionally, not to spend more time a it.
Just rambling some thoughts to stimulate the discussion, so please join in!
Hey Stefan, great to see you here!
I'm also excited to hear that you've got a micro 4/3 camera! I've been hearing a lot of buzz about them, but you're the first person that I've met with 1st hand experience. The point that you mentioned about flexibility when it comes to adapting old manual and video lenses to them is what really got me interested when I first read about them. Also, the new, "native" 4/3 lenses are also much cheeper than their full frame 35mm equivalents. I'm actually considering buying a 4/3 body JUST to be able to use this lens: http://noktor.com/products.php. -the combo of body and lens woundnt be that much more than a new canon 50mm 1.2L (I've got a canon 7D, an aps-c censor camera that's in-between 4/3 and full frame in size).
I'll have to check out that 60mm macro that you have -sounds pretty sweet!
As for lighting: I feel your frustration, I've been dealing with te same questions. Here's the thing to remember about light diffusion: it increased both with the distance of the bulb/ light source from the difuser and the distance of the difuser from the subject. Because you're using a tent, you can't move to subject further away, but you can try moving the lights. Another thing to try is making a softbox or 2. There are lots of plans online for homemade softboxes using thoes cheapo clip-on work lights.
Yet another cheap option to play around with is just getting a big sheet of drafting velum(high quality tracing paper) or a big sheet of fabric w/ similar propeties (ripstop nylon is like $3/ yard at a fabric store) and then stringing it up between you subject and light sources.
I still haven't figured out what combination of diffusers I like best, but there's alot to play with.
One last important note is to keep in mind that light intensity always degcreased as diffusion increases, so a tripod and slow shutter speed are your friends.
As for backgrounds, I'm with you in that I think too much color or jazz always ends up looking goofy. I really like the simple black that Marko uses. Simple wood or bamboo I think also works and gives a bit of reference for compaison to the handle wood color. However, I've also had problem with contrast if the subject colors are too similar to the background. I've seen some people use leather backgrounds before (I think that Pierre has) and I think that looks pretty good too. Having a few sheets (light, med, dark) of leather might be handy.
For 4/3 I've heard that the Voigtlander 25/0.95 is an absolutely stellar lens. I've had multiple Voigtlander lenses for my old M mount Leica rangefinders and they're always great bargains for whay they offer. I'd go with the Voigtlander if you want ultimate speed, just my $0.02.
I'm also a fan of the 4/3 format for this reason. When I sold cameras, I would stress to customers that they were not buying ___ camera body that will be obsolete in a year or two, they were buying into a camera system including lenses and flash etc. I'd compare the prices of lenses based on equivalent focal length and aperture, and the 4/3 lenses come out on top pretty much every time. Now with the micro 4/3 everything is even smaller while still retaining excellent quality. I nearly bought a GH1 myself, but panasonic sold out before I had the money. Now I have to wait for a GH2 to fall into my price range. My intention is actually more video oriented...
Originally Posted by Justin0505
The Voigtlander 25/0.95 looks amazing too, but I don't think it would really be a good choice for knife pictures. I think it really shines for video use, and any sort of available light photography.
I've had some ideas in mind for some time now regarding a "take better knife pictures" thread. Justin already hit a lot of the high points. The main things I'd add for now are -
1. Take a ton of pictures! You can always throw away what doesn't work.
2. Very subtle changes have a huge effect when photographing something as difficult as a knife. Rather than a different angle, just slightly tweak a few times before you change things completely.
3. There is a whole lot you can do in post processing for much better results. You could take two different images and combine them together to get a nearly impossible image that looks perfectly natural. For example it's tremendously difficult to balance lighting for a great looking handle, and a great looking blade. With the camera on a tripod and the knife in the same spot, you can take a picture of the knife with great lighting on the handle, and then slightly change the lighting and exposure for the blade, then combine the two images together. It's probably easier than it sounds.
Adjusting white balance, tint, contrast, saturation and sharpness can help a great deal too. I always take my photos in RAW and fine tune them with photoshop.
from what I read, noktor IS or was Voigtlander but after some type of ownership or branding changes. I agree w/ the other comments that f0.9 lens is not really going to be much use for "traditional" studio product photography, but I just love available light photography and shallow DOF. I think this would make a great setup for shooting sans-flash inside restaurants. ...and it's gotta be darn sexy for video too.
Originally Posted by Kyle
Wow! Are you serious? Thoes are 2 cameras that I always drooled over in my early days of learning photography. Owning that pair is like having an original Shelby Cobra AND a vintage Rolls Royce phantom.
Originally Posted by Kyle
Did you also sell all of you leica lens? If you still have any they work real nice with a new 4/3 body.... Or leica also makes the digital m9 -which is what I'd buy if I had more money / fewer hobbies.
Having such a strong foundation in film photography you're going to be able to jump way out ahead when you do make the switch to digital. Learning what buttons to push is easy, it's learning the therory and training your eye, and gaining the disciplined approach that takes the real time (and I think that alot of people just never do it in the digital age).
But oh man, once you get the hang of the digital process you're gonna love it! It's so liberating to be able to hit the shutter release without seeing dollar signs and hours in the darkroom tick by.
This is really the golden age of digital: the quality is finally up to 35mm levels, the cost of entry is way down, and the cameras and software are more powerful and user-friendly then ever.
Seriously, whenever you're ready to jump in, just post here or send me a
PM and I'll walk you through the whole process from click to print.
Great tips, guys. Just to clear this up: The 25/.95 Nokton that Kyle linked it the stellar fast lens for the m4/3 system. Voigtlander is a high level traditional German brand - but now owned by Minolta, I think. The 50/.95 'Noktor' is an attempt to enter the market with a relatively cheap CCTV lens that was modified to work with m4/3 and then sold way over what it's worth. As far as I know, the company folded, or better, was taken over by a Chinese company who now produces 'toy lenses' for the system that are cheap but really more for fun than serious photography. There are two issues with the excellent Nokton lens: it's hardly available, they can't produce it fast enough, and while regular price is $999 (I think) it has gone up to almost $1400 for a while because it is so hard to find (although I think this has relaxed a little bit). I happen to have a 25/0.95 c-mount Angenieux lens from the sixties that was used for movies at the time, and while not quite as sharp wide open and with a little bit of vignetting (it was made for 16mm film), it has a beautiful character. However, as you guys already said, it is a highly specialized lens at 25/.95 and I am seriously considering selling it - $1,200 for a lens that I use a few times a year under very low light conditions doesn't seem a good investment if I need the funds somewhere else (paying rent for a wood shop, for example...). I may also sell the Leica macro, I just have way too much stuff...
Ah thanks for clearing that up, I guess I was getting NoktoN mixed up with NoktoR. Funny the difference that one letter makes! (sneeky Chinese Noktor). - and I know what you mean about
the availability: theyve been "temporarily unavailable" on B&H pretty much permanently.
If only I had a camera that would fit thoes lenses of yours I could be more enthusiastic in encourage you to get rid of "stuff."
Maybe I should get more serious about an m9...*checks going rates for organs on the black market*