Lighting Reflective Surfaces

I’m a member of a new photo agency, where image requests from clients are posted, and contributors who have the content in their library already can post what they have for the client to peruse.  If you have the time, you can also create new content for the request, with the knowledge that there’s a chance it won’t be selected.  So, it’s good to only do this on themes where there’s a sales possibility elsewhere for the content.  This week there was a request I thought it would be fun to take on.

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The request was for a champagne bottle, wrapped in festive silver or gold paper, with several gifts behind the bottle.   There should be a tear in the paper revealing the glass below.  There should also be a reflection on the ground, and the composition should be a low angle shot – very “heroic”.  A reference drawing was provided.  I had a few hours, so to the store I went.

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Initially, I wanted gold paper, but since the Christmas stuff isn’t out yet, I couldn’t find any (and I didn’t feel like driving all the way to the party store).  I went with silver, since I could find the paper, bows, and ribbon I needed.  It took me a while to wrap the items.  The boxes were simple – I’ve done a lot of those over the years.  The bottle was harder.  I ended up wrapping it in two pieces, and would photoshop the seam area later.  Here’s the goods just dropped onto my “plexiglass over sheet metal” surface.

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Blah, right, I know.

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So, the important thing to remember when dealing with reflective surfaces, like this wrapping paper, is that you aren’t lighting the surface, you’re lighting the things the surface reflects.  In the above image, the harsh highlight is from where my light was, initially.  I had an AlienBee800 with a strip softbox off to the right of camera, up a little high.  I also had an AlienBee400 over and behind the bottle, aiming forward, to try and catch some highlights on the creased paper at the top of the bottle.  It had a 30 degree grid in it, keeping the light focused in the center.

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First step was to find some things to reflect in the paper.  Luckily, the paper wasn’t totally mirror-shiny.  It was a bit rough, so details in the items wouldn’t show.  Off camera right, I put a piece of whiteboard on a chair that covered everything I could see in the right box.  To the left, I leaned, against a lightstand, my giant 6 foot bank check on foamcore, plain white back facing towards the left box.

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The strip was moved around back a bit, to cast light onto both pieces of foamcare, and I experimented until I found a location that wouldn’t create any highlights on the subject matter.  Same with the foamcore and box angle.  A little time spent tweaking gave a pretty good result.

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While shooting slight variations, with and without a ribbon, with a different ribbon, with one box or two, I decided to move the overhead light forward to try and catch a little highlight action on the front of the bottle as well.

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Stock Photo

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The shots were coming out fine, but on the floor next to me, in a bag of Christmas props I had bought, was a bag of tinsel.  I added the tinsel in front of the bottle, and wallah (!) – my favorite image, and one I hope is chosen by the client.  If not, I can always license these at one of my other agencies.  It took a bit of Photoshopping to clean up the seam, the background, and some dust, but I think it fits the bill.

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Stock Photo: Champagne Bottle

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Speaking of festive holiday imagery, don’t forget to check out my large and growing gallery of holiday images at Stocksy United, featuring Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas content.  Thanks!

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