Using a Black Background

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Sylvanite

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I've seen several pen photos lately with the pen laid against a black background. While that does tend to make the blank stand out, and colors pop, it also introduces a problem. The reflective metal parts and the sides of the blank often appear black as well. They don't have enough contrast to stand out and get lost in the background. In other words, the photo lacks good edge definition.

How do you solve that? Well, it takes some attention to detail, and it isn't always easy. Here's a case in point. This picture was my entry to the Pen Photo Contest this year:

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It isn't perfect, but most of the pen and blank (and reflection) shows good edge definition. I'm going to try to explain how I managed that.

The trick is to place white (at least light) surfaces around the pen just out of view that will provide illumination for the metal (and the blank) to reflect back to the camera. Here is an illustration:

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I placed the pen on a mirror, and draped a piece of black velour fabric where it would reflect off the mirror to become the background. I surrounded the pen with pieces of white matboard (white paper would work also). The camera sees only the pen and the wavy black background, but the curved metal pen components reflect light from the matboard as well. That illuminates the edges of the pen and blank.

Some of the metal faces forward, though, and I have to light it too. Therefore, I also enclosed the front:

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I built a wall of matboard in front of the camera (the inside surfaces are white) and cut a hole in a piece of white paper just big enough for the camera lens. Now the only black reflection from the front will be the lens itself (which I can't hide).

There were some hot spots in the lighting. One was the top of the cap. When I had the lights arranged well for the rest of the pen, I had a bright white glare on the cap. I solved that by blocking the light reaching that part of the pen:

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That solved the glare problem, but in retrospect I think it dimmed the reflection too much. If I were to take this photo again, I'd use something more translucent than matboard. Then the cap would appear silver rather than gray. You'll also notice all the little bits of folded paper around the edge of the diffuser. I had another problem that the black rim was visible in the pen hardware. So, I covered it with pieces of copier paper folded in half and taped in place. If you look at the reflection of the finial in the mirror, you can see that I missed one. I didn't notice that when I took the photo and was too tired to fix it and re-shoot. I would have edited the stripe out with PhotoShop, but the contest rules prohibited that.

I also think that the underside of the grip section is too bright. In hindsight, I should have used gray (rather than white) matboard to light that reflection.

Here is a shot of the full enclosure that I built to take this picture:

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I hope that is helpful,
Eric
 

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plantman

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fANTASTIC PHOTO ERIC !! Thank you for the explaination of how this was done and the photos of the process. As you say, black is a vey tricky backround to work with. Jim S
 

jttheclockman

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Feb 22, 2005
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Man that is alot of equipment there to take a photo of a pen. I personally do not like the reflection in a mirror when posting a pen photo. It is too distracting to me. Just an opinion. Nice pen though.
 

Sylvanite

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Man that is alot of equipment there to take a photo of a pen.
Don't get hung up on the number of stands. The message here is that you need to provide complete angular lighting for curved reflective metal surfaces (pen kits). When you use a black background, that requires extra attention.

There are only three CFL lights (one of which is only illuminating the black velour fabric), two diffusers (which could be replaced by a light tent), and one camera. Ignore the large backdrop. It isn't used but I did not move it out of the way.
 

Tom T

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Sanford Florida
That is a great explanation. Thank you. I saw your pen in the photo contest and still think it's awesome photography. and a wonderful pen.
 
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