still life

DIY Black Reflections by Neil Alexander

Plum and lime Chrysanthemum arrangement (Click for larger)

 Inspired by this post from the Cheap Shot man, Larry Becker, I decided to try and throw my own slant on the process and see where I ended up. So I swung by B&Q, grabbed this Rust-oleum direct to plastic paint, and a large sheet of clear perspex. I think I spent around £25 in total. Spraying the perspex was straight forward enough though it did take 3 coats to come even close to making it completely opaque. And before you ask, the shoes on the right are not mine and were black before I started - they were the first "paper weights" I put my hands on once I'd finished spraying.....

Spraying clear perspex black

Once I was satisifed with the finish I brought the perspex inside and placed it on a table. I hung a black cloth up for a backdrop and, for the flower shot above, set up a couple of shoot-through umbrellas either side. Gauging an exposure that would completely kill all the ambient light (1/125 @ F5.6 ISO200), I then began adding light via a couple of SB900s. I brought the umbrellas in as close as I could to the flowers to light them with as soft a light as possible.

Chrysanthemum set up with blackened perspex

I applied a similar technique to the wine bottle shot below, but just used one umbrella and a grid on the other strobe to give me a more controlled and concentrated light in order to better pick out the lines of the bottle and the glass.

Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir red wine with wine glass (Click to view larger)

Quite an interesting experiment and I learnt quite a lot about shadow in the process and controlling the strength of the reflection in the painted perspex. Definitely a technique that I could use in the future so the perspex is now safely tucked away behind the sofa in my office.

As usual, feel free to post in the comments if you've got any questions.

A couple of good friends.... by Neil Alexander

Up until now, pretty much everything I've done with off-camera flash has been done in full manual mode on the flashes and on the camera using Pocket Wizard Multimaxs. The reasoning behind this is that I wanted to fully grasp the concept of off-camera lighting and how ratios between the flashes and the ambient can affect the overall lighting of a given scene, and to at least begin to try to understand this behemoth of a topic before venturing into semi-automatic use using Nikon's CLS system. So the other night I decided to try and give Nikon's TTL flash system a whirl.

Actually getting the damn flashes to fire was quite a bit tricker than I'd anticipated. I knew that I had to switch the SU4 mode off, but I still couldn't get both SB900s to fire. So I eventually reset both strobes, changed the channel on the D300 and TaDa!

So my two lucky subjects for this shoot, were two Brahma beer bottles that I'd had chilling in the freezer for the last couple of hours.  I was particularly parched and this pair looked rather tasty - so I had to work quickly before my subjects vanished. Firstly I set the camera up on a tripod and composed my frame. I then dialed in an exposure that would completely eliminate all the ambient light (1/60 at F8 ISO200 if memory serves). I then set up a shoot through umbrella up to camera left pointing down onto the bottles, aimed slightly in front of them. As the edge of the umbrella was probably about 2 to 3 feet away from the bottles  (I couldn't get it any closer because of the edge of the table), I had to dial this one up to +3 stops.

This gave me a nice soft light cast over both bottles. I then felt that I needed a little kicker light off to the other side. So I attached my longest grid to another SB900, dialed this down to -1 stop and directed it at the necks of the bottles producing the little highlight that you see down the necks of the bottles.

All in all, quite an interesting experiment and the Nikon CLS system is definitely very easy to use, though I am glad that I invested all that time over the last few months in full manual as it made deciding on my exposures and flash levels much easier. And more importantly it meant that I could pop the top of one of those bottles much quicker than if I'd been using the Wizards and doing!!