Reader Spotlight: Paul Morton

To pull off this beautiful close-up shot of a guitar, reader Paul Morton, of Phoenix, AZ, had to solve several problems: The guitar was black, the chrome sees everything, and table had to separate from the body of the instrument.

Paul used a total of five speedlights, and a healthy dose of ingenuity. Take a moment to reverse engineer it before making the jump to see how he did it.

Says Paul:
"My girlfriend inherited this guitar. Well, actually, her sister did -- and I have had it for 3 months to shoot. Needles to say It's about time I give it back. So I have been playing with it. As it is black and the chrome is pretty much white, I noticed the colorful anchors to the strings. I love different, close-up angles like this and the colors were a bonus. I wanted the neck and strings in the shot so everyone would know it is a guitar and I liked how they appear to be moving due to the shallow depth of field."

He goes on: "It was fairly difficult to get the light on that chrome bar the strings are anchored in. I liked the gradient light in the top part, which came from an SB-26 firing into my ceiling, but the side facing the camera was black until I put a piece of foam-core around my lens and fired two strobes into it. It kind of worked out like a ring light, although it wasn't round. I also used a couple SB-26s at the other end to light the table and seperate the body. ..."

The trick to lighting chrome is to light what the chrome sees. The reflection creates your tone. Paul built his white wall of foam-core around the lens to give something nice and consistent for the chrome to reflect. This is a classic technique for shooting objects which are highly specular. And it doesn't get much more specular than chrome.

Paul continues:

"I setup a quasi-ring flash with the foam-core around the lens and an SB-26 and a 580EX on either side firing into it. Because there is no eye in the photo to show a catchlight, the square sheet worked fine. I added the other sheets on either side of that to further fill in the large chrome nuts on either end of the string mount."

"The sb-26 to the left with the big starburst is firing up into the ceiling to fill the top of the strong mount as well as the strings and neck further down. Two more SB-26s are fired into the table to light it up, because it was getting kind of dark down there. I put a gobo on the right flash because it was lighting up the neck and the chrome tuning knobs that are closest to the camera in this shot."

"I shot at 1/40th to 1/200th of a second and from F16 to F11. I also worked between ISO 100 and 200 -- it just depends on the shot. I would lower the shutter speed to bring in some ambient, and closed down the aperture to make the blacks go black. I put the camera on a tripod so I could play with light position and the camera settings until I got the light I wanted."

This is a classic example of building light a single zone at a time and solving the problems one-by-one. In the aggregate, this is a very tricky photo. But broken down into segments, it is very doable.

Nice shot, Paul. Makes me wanna play it. Tuned to an open chord, of course. 'Cause I pretty much suck at anything other than the easy slide stuff.

(Keith Richards, white courtesy phone, please...)

Many thanks to Paul for the great caption info and especially for the setup shot. When you add setup shots and good lighting info, it makes a huge difference for the people viewing your photos who want to learn.

If you guys get a chance, cruise over to Paul's photo and leave a comment.


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