Finn O'Hara: Wayne Gretzky's First Skates


Toronto-based photographer Finn O'Hara was assigned to shoot The Great One's first skates for ESPN The Magazine, and his take included this shot on pure white.

O'Hara used light rather than a Photoshop cutout to get the pure white background in-camera. His blog post gives a good look at a textbook blow-away white setup on location for a three-dimensional object.

But O'Hara doesn't go into any how-and-why detail. So let's do that here.
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This is something we had to do on a weekly basis for Monday Morning, a small biz pub where I was a staffer in the '80's. As in pre-Photoshop. And honestly, I think the results are much better doing it this way than with even the best pixel-perfect Photoshop cutout.

Two apple boxes and a sheet of glass (or plexi) give you multiple planes on which to light both the subject and white background. Shooting straight down from a tall tripod makes gravity work for you. (You can do this with less height and on a tilt, but it can be a pain in the ass.)

The white paper beneath the subject is slightly over-lit with a couple of strip boxes, leaving what would be a pure silhouette if the skates were unlit. You have to overlight it to get pure white. But don't go too far or you will kill your contrast with internal reflections.

The black cards spread around the skates on the plexi serve a dual purpose. They gobo the strip boxes and excess white background blowback, which would otherwise kill contrast.

They also give a black specular to anything shiny along the edge of the subject, making it pop off of the white. Not such a big problem with the skates, but this is real handy for shooting white (or highly specular) objects on white.

You can see O'Hara's post with setup photo here. (Bonus MacGuyver points for the paper or garbage bag wrapped around the key light.)
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More Finn O'Hara posts on Strobist:

:: This Finn O'Hara Shoot Will Probably Not Fit in the Conference Room ::
:: Mixing Light with Finn O'Hara ::


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