Almost all the pictures on this daily weblog are taken with a Nikon D40 + 18..55 mm “kit” lens. I bumped into a fantastic deal two years ago for that setup and have never looked back since then.
Pictures matter on this weblog. In fact I try to get a picture, drawing, or code snapshot image into every single post. It’s simply more fun – to make, to read, and to look back to later.
And until now, almost all pictures were taken in plain daylight (indoor, on a table next to one of the windows). This has been a mixed blessing really – gorgeous light at times, but a widely varying white balance due to the different times of day at which I decide to take some snapshots. And with winter nearing, good daylight conditions are going to get scarce again.
Seeing some of the pictures uploaded to the new “JeeLabs” Flickr group (check it out!), I felt that I really need to beef up the images on future weblog posts a bit. Better close-ups, and more importantly: more consistent lighting conditions and while balance. I’m hoping to do this without killing the low-key basic approach to everything done at Jee Labs.
After some lengthy conversations with Steve Evans and with many thanks for his tips, I’m going to try doing a bit more with flash. At first I wanted to try something with RGB strips, but it simply makes no sense to light up a little scene like a theater (requiring substantial amounts of light!) while the shot only takes a fraction of a second.
There are three problems with using the built-in flash, though:
- it causes horrible reflections
- it causes horrible shadows
- it’s still fairly weak
For decades, I’ve routinely turned off flash for any picture I took. It seemed so ill-suited to capture anything meaningful in a pleasant way, especially with people.
The good news: project / product shots are different…
First of all, everything I shoot for the weblog tends to be fairly small. So a “lightbox” is definitely an option: a micro-studio set up to photograph a very small area with all the lighting in place.
Ok, time for some examples (sorry if it looks a bit like a JeeNode commercial). This is the JeeNode v3, Jul 2009:
This is the JeeNode v4, Nov 2009:
And here’s the JeeNode v5, Sep 2010:
All of them shot out of hand, in daylight, most of them tweaked a bit for exposure, white balance, and shadows, and cropped / rotated for proper framing. No big setups, no comparisons, just some tweaks until it “looks right”, each time.
Here’s a shot of the JeeNode v5, as it came out today, while spending a lot more time on lighting, setup, histograms – but still essentially just some quick ad-hoc tweaking:
Basically, I adjusted the exposure until the background is fully white, and I’ve boosted both color and the sharpness a fair bit (using Nikon’s View NX2 instead of my usual iPhoto).
That last image is definitely closer to the real thing. Much more detail in the shadows and in the highlights. I’m also pretty certain that this new setup can deliver results which are far more repeatable (and at any time of day).
But it is “better”? I’m not convinced. The crystal on the RFM12B is a good example of how you gain detail, but also lose some “vibrance”. Somehow, that JeeNode isn’t jumping off the page anymore … it just sits there.
Oh, here’s another fun shot:
Maybe I’ve simply been staring at too many JeeNodes today. Comments welcome.
Tomorrow, I’ll show the setup I made for this.