On Assignment: Nest Egg

For my shot at the most recent Lighting 102 assignment, I went with financial planning as my theme. Specifically, riffing on the idea of a nest egg having great value. (Click the pic to see it bigger.)

I had my light all planned out in advance, and I thought it would be quick and easy. I was wrong.

More after the jump.

I chose financial planning as my theme. I was looking to create a photo that would be generically useful, in a variety of ways, for my friend and fellow blogger J.D. Roth, who publishes Get Rich Slowly.

I read the blog. And I am, in fact, getting rich slowly.

Very slowly. Excruciatingly slowly. So slow that my net worth may at times appear (to the untrained eye) to actually be shrinking. But in reality, I am getting rich. Slowly. I will be ready to retire at, say, age 152.

So I wanted to create something for J.D. that was simple, textural and versatile. My initial idea was to do it with a ring light, and reflect the ring light back on an angle to edge light the next.

Problem: Golden Eggs do not like ring lights.

So, one quick test shot into the shoot, my idea falls apart. Clearly, I would need a large light source to paint the kind of specular highlight that would make a spray painted 24-carat, solid gold egg look the way I wanted.

Takeaway: If something is not gonna work, you can see why, and it cannot be changed, then bail. Go for plan "B" instead of knocking your head against the wall to fix a flawed plan "A".

So I threw up some light stands around a nest which was created by my prop department (avian division) last spring. I placed it on an old cutting board to help carry the warm tones I wanted for the photo. Then I taped some paper to the stands to make a nice diffuser. Could have done it with a big cardboard box, too. Any support in a storm.

Firing a bare SB-800 through that, my specular started to look a lot better. But it was all on one side of the egg.

No prob -- that's an easy fix. Remembering that the egg will "see" and reflect everything around it, I continued around the top and other side with more white paper. The top and right side paper is illuminated by the lit paper on the left and makes a quasi-light tent that creams out the egg nicely.

My light stand for the SB-800 was the arm of a couch. I used the couch because the kids weren't home from school yet. Thus, no voice-activated light stands. (Hey, they work cheap.)

You can see a hole in the top of the paper, too. I first thought I might like to shoot from directly overhead. But that was too symmetrical. So I bailed on that idea real quick. (Persistance, apparently, took the day off...)

At least the egg is now solved. But the nest is dark on the shadow side, even though the paper was filling it from camera right. So I built a little aluminum foil reflector which I tucked in on the bottom camera right side to fill the right front of the nest. You can see it in the setup shot if you click through.

The camera right foil-fill keeps the texture flowing nicely all around the nest, making the light as symmetrical as the composition.

It's a simple photo, built on color and texture. I wanted the color and texture to be the theme of the photo, rather than over-the-top light. But the use of soft-fill reflectors all around the top were still important, even if they do not scream, "HEY, PEOPLE! LOOKIT MY LIGHT!"

Ditto the little piece of foil. It is subtle, but it needs to be there. If the egg is seeing a highlight everywhere, the nest would look weird if it were dark on the right.

For the gear-wonks, I shot it with a Nikon D300 and a Tamron 17-50/2.8. Light was from a single SB-800 speedlight, as mentioned above. It was on full power, which got me the aperture I needed to carry focus on the nest, even though working in close.

So, J.D. there's a photo, appropriately, for you to stick away and use later when you need it on your website. If you want it for the cover of your sure-to-be bestselling financial planning book, tell Random House to call me for, uh, details...

IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING THE LIGHTING 102 THREAD, NEXT: L102: 6.1 - Gelling for Fluorescent



Related Links:

:: Original Assignment ::
:: Get Rich Slowly ::
:: Lighting 102 - Specular Highlights ::


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
Have a passport? Join me in Hanoi: X-Peditions Location Workshops