(Dale Roth is one half of the photography duo, Roth and Ramberg. As writing is not his strong suit, he has asked his teenage son to correct his lack of punctuation and when possible, add in big words. However, Dale does know how to do a perfect scheimpflug.)
Although we are not known for our still life photos, we do enjoy taking them when the occasion arises. Back in school we loved playing in the studio for hours, adjusting the lighting by a few millimetres to get the perfect reflection or highlight. We had a kit of white cards, black cards and mirrors in order to add or take away light from a scene. Painting with light, which involved taking a photo in complete darkness and using a flashlight or penlight to add light to a scene, was big back then. You would literally paint with the light as you moved it around the subject. There was even a professional product called the Hosemaster, which if you had the money, allowed you to change the light from a pinpoint to a triangle or whatever shape you desired using special attachments.
A big part of photography is playing with light and using it to your advantage. In the studio you are in control. Back in the days of film there was no photoshop, so the object had to be lit perfectly. If there was a highlight that needed to be removed, you had to physically change that light. Whether it was moving it to a different angle or blocking it with some foam core, the process took significantly more time than it does today. I’m glad we learned photography when we did, as we came to truly understand lighting. If we weren’t playing with light in the studio, we were watching and studying it every moment of our daily lives. Even as I’m writing this, I’m watching the sun come through my window and light one of the cameras on the shelf. It’s at the perfect angle, lighting the lens and reflecting off its glass.
Glass and shiny surfaces are tough subjects to photograph. This meant things such as liquor bottles, glassware, silverware and even cars required special attention and technique to photograph. In order to properly photograph a car you needed to surround it with white. A lot of times a photo studio, or rental studio would have a cove, which is a wall with no corners that comes down from the ceiling and has a curve built into it so it curves onto the floor. You did not want corners or they would show, depending on the angle that is. If you had a white wall you could also get what’s known as seamless paper, which are 9 foot rolls of whatever colour paper you want that you tape to the white wall with white tape and use to form a natural curve. That only covered the background. I remember buying numerous rolls of white paper and putting them next to each other side by side. If there was a gap in between the rolls, then the gap would have to line up with the line of the car door or the back of the car to make a dark line. If it wasn’t white, then it would show as a dark reflection on the car. At times we even poked a whole big enough to fit the camera lens inside while the rest of the scene was surrounded in white. Adding some lights above and on the inside, and sometimes through the paper was enough to make all the white light up and the car would have perfect highlights.
Car photography was a job in itself at one point until CGI came along and took over. A few years back we did a job for Honda and shot a car on location. Using a big white scrim (12 foot by 12 foot white material), we walked around the car and took numerous photos of the it making highlight reflections. It was the same principle as surrounding it in white and taking a photo, but because of photoshop we were able to light it in a few minutes, take all the different reflections and combine them into one final photo.
We always try to use photoshop as a tool, not something to save the photo. Knowing the basic principles of light we can use photoshop to remove lights or stands or reflections. This makes it easier to take the photo, but much much harder afterwards to do a perfect job of Photoshop. The light still has to “feel right” as you light the scene. It’s still a matter of adding and subtracting light, it’s just that photoshop has allowed us more options of ways to do this.
With a still life photograph you can play and create a lot more. During this downtime I think I will do just that. In the meantime, however, I’m going to get a reflector and take a photo of that camera sitting on the shelf.