Simple setup for photographing guitars

Started Jun 14, 2015 | Discussions
rsergio007 Junior Member • Posts: 47
Simple setup for photographing guitars

Hi,

I'm helping a friend luthier creating a setup for photographing his guitars in a consistent, professional looking way.

The idea is to setup an area in his workshop with a table against the wall on which he would place the guitars vertically, with a white background running from the wall into the table top, creating a smooth curve. The idea is to position the camera on a fixed spot in front of the table so all photos are taken covering exactly the same area, so all his guitar photos have the same scale.

The budget is very tight, so I'm thinking on trying a one light setup.

My idea is to use just one continuous light like the Walimex 250S , with a large softbox like the Walimex pro Softbox PLUS 80x120cm . This light would be placed to the side of the guitar, and on the other side would use just a big gold reflector to fill in the shadows.

Now my questions, is this enough? The light is rated as 50W fluorescent (equivalent to 250W), 140lux @ 2meters. Is this power enough to light a guitar and white background, knowing in front of the light there will be a relatively big softbox?

Is there any problem/danger to use this type of continuous light with a softbox? Does it heat up and burn the softbox?

Is it feasible to use the reflector to fill the shadows or is it essential to have a second light?

I'd appreciate any help you guys can give

Thanks

Sailor Blue
Sailor Blue Forum Pro • Posts: 13,767
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars
2

Most softboxes can be used with up to 250W incandescent modeling lamps so a 50W CFL shouldn't be a problem.

The problem is that if you want good color reproduction you need a CFL with a CRI of 90 or higher and the Walimex CFLs only have a CRI of 83. A CRI of 83 simply isn't high enough. These are probably consumer CFLs intended for home use, not for photographic use.

Getting a seamless white background with one light source is just about impossible. For good seamless white you need to light the subject separately from the background.

Typically you would use two lights to evenly light the background from the front but you can do it with one light if you illuminate a white paper or fabric background from the backside.  Use the camera's highlight alert to tell you when the background is just barely overexposed, i.e. start with it underexposed and increase the power of the background light until the background surrounding the subject just starts to blink.  You can easily use a brush to make the edges or corners pure white if they don't photograph that way but you want to make sure the subject is surrounded by pure white.

Don't add more brightness to the background than absolutely necessary or light from the background will cause the edges of the subject to be overexposed.  The greater the distance of the subject from the background the less this problem becomes but for something like a guitar 3'-4' of separation should be sufficient.

If you try to add enough white to a plain white paper or fabric floor to make it go pure white you will overexpose the subject.  Using a reflective floor such as 1/8" clear or white acrylic or a sheet of white tileboard will let you have a pure white floor. You position the camera so that the pure white background reflects off the floor.

I can't give you much advice on lighting guitars since I have never done that but I would suspect that you would want a diffuse light source the size of the guitar to give you nice smooth highlights along the body and neck as well as small focused lights to give you pin point highlights.

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Testing123 Regular Member • Posts: 489
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

Sailor Blue – What a great and helpful reply! I’ve looked all over and couldn’t find a like button anywhere!

rsergio007 - There is a guitar luthier in New York by the name of Roger Sadowsky. He has set up a photo ‘studio’ to accomplish the same goals as you/your luthier friend (size standardization, color fidelity, etc.). Check out his site and if you like the results he’s obtaining, I’ll bet he’d share what he’s done to accomplish it. He’s really a great guy (not to mention a well-respected luthier):

http://www.sadowsky.com

Hope that helps…

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OP rsergio007 Junior Member • Posts: 47
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

Thanks for your reply! You really got me with the CRI issue. It probably is a showstopper. I'll go search for >90 CRI continuos lights, not even sure if it exists or is financially feasible. I'll probably have to go with a cheap entry level studio flash.

As for the white background, the idea is not to have a burnt background. The guitar would be around 50cm from the background, the light almost parallel to it, so it hits the guitar at a good angle to expose the wood grain and reveal the body volume and curves.

So, my thinking is that one light to one side, one big reflector to the other, and the guitar just a bit apart from the background, would render a good image. Good wood grain, color, and volume; soft shadows (due to large softbox) on one hand, but noticeable shadows produced by features such as the bridge, pickup guard, f holes, etc on guitar body (due to very shallow lighting angle); controlled reflections from shiny parts due to large light source; very smooth shadows on the background if any; balanced contoured lighting by using the reflector to fill the dark side of the guitar.

Do you think this makes sense or I would absolutely need a second light to have both sides under control? Will I end up with a well lit guitar and an horribly whitish/grey background??

Ellis Vener
Ellis Vener Veteran Member • Posts: 9,585
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

Hi,

I'm helping a friend luthier creating a setup for photographing his guitars in a consistent, professional looking way.

The idea is to setup an area in his workshop with a table against the wall on which he would place the guitars vertically, with a white background running from the wall into the table top, creating a smooth curve. The idea is to position the camera on a fixed spot in front of the table so all photos are taken covering exactly the same area, so all his guitar photos have the same scale.

The budget is very tight, so I'm thinking on trying a one light setup.

My idea is to use just one continuous light like the Walimex 250S , with a large softbox like the Walimex pro Softbox PLUS 80x120cm . This light would be placed to the side of the guitar, and on the other side would use just a big gold reflector to fill in the shadows.

Now my questions, is this enough? The light is rated as 50W fluorescent (equivalent to 250W), 140lux @ 2meters. Is this power enough to light a guitar and white background, knowing in front of the light there will be a relatively big softbox?

Is there any problem/danger to use this type of continuous light with a softbox? Does it heat up and burn the softbox?

Is it feasible to use the reflector to fill the shadows or is it essential to have a second light?

I'd appreciate any help you guys can give

Thanks

Will he be shooting straight at the front of the guitar or at in oblique angle like from the headstock or the tail end?

Will the guitar be upright, in a stand, or laying down?

Do you want shadowless or to show the instruments contours and quality of finish?

Do want the instrument to looking like it is resting on something, and if so what, and what kind of background? Or do you want the guitar to be isolated against an infinitely deep texture-less white, black or some other color?

The easiest set up is to put up a "sweep" of SuperWhite (there are many shades of white but the color called "Super White" is the go-to choice for photographing against white). You want the set to be deep enough and wide enough that the curve of the sweep disappears when you light it. Think about using either a table or a 4x4 foot piece of 1/2" thick marine plywood or something equally smooth and rigid. 2 sawhorses to support this platform. To support the seamless paper: 2 stands, 2 Manfrotto Super Clamps (or similar); and a good thick wooden dowel, or metal conduit, or PVC pipe that is at least a foot longer than the roll of paper. If you use 9-foot wide paper but a narrower platform, if you tear the corners off of the paper to about half the depth of the platform the paper won't buckle. You'll also want a couple of spring tensioned A-clamps to keep the paper from unrolling once you have it set up. Or of course you set up with a hard surf surface in the floor and skip the table.

For light: what ever lighting instruments you use you want the light to be evenly diffused. I like to start with the set being lit from the top so I hang a diffusing scrim that is larger than the object (6x6-feet is a good starting size for a guitar ) over the top of the set. And put a moonlight in a softbox (or umbrella) on a boom above that. So: two stands for the scrim & frame, the light source(s), and the boom. Being able to move the light above the scrim will let you control where the highlights are and

Around the sides and front of the set arrange large white or black Fomecore panels.

While that looks like a lot of stuff (and it is) it's also a great way to make light that shows off what you are photographing very cleanly. People aren't looking to see how "arty" your lighting is but want to really see what it is you are photographing.

If you want a more artistic approach take a look at Lisa Johnson's book "101 Rock Star Guitars": http://www.amazon.com/Star-Guitars-That-Rocked-World/dp/0760338213

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Sailor Blue
Sailor Blue Forum Pro • Posts: 13,767
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

Ellis Vener wrote:

Hi,

I'm helping a friend luthier creating a setup for photographing his guitars in a consistent, professional looking way.

The idea is to setup an area in his workshop with a table against the wall on which he would place the guitars vertically, with a white background running from the wall into the table top, creating a smooth curve. The idea is to position the camera on a fixed spot in front of the table so all photos are taken covering exactly the same area, so all his guitar photos have the same scale.

The budget is very tight, so I'm thinking on trying a one light setup.

My idea is to use just one continuous light like the Walimex 250S , with a large softbox like the Walimex pro Softbox PLUS 80x120cm . This light would be placed to the side of the guitar, and on the other side would use just a big gold reflector to fill in the shadows.

Now my questions, is this enough? The light is rated as 50W fluorescent (equivalent to 250W), 140lux @ 2meters. Is this power enough to light a guitar and white background, knowing in front of the light there will be a relatively big softbox?

Is there any problem/danger to use this type of continuous light with a softbox? Does it heat up and burn the softbox?

Is it feasible to use the reflector to fill the shadows or is it essential to have a second light?

I'd appreciate any help you guys can give

Thanks

Will he be shooting straight at the front of the guitar or at in oblique angle like from the headstock or the tail end?

Will the guitar be upright, in a stand, or laying down?

Do you want shadowless or to show the instruments contours and quality of finish?

Do want the instrument to looking like it is resting on something, and if so what, and what kind of background? Or do you want the guitar to be isolated against an infinitely deep texture-less white, black or some other color?

The easiest set up is to put up a "sweep" of SuperWhite (there are many shades of white but the color called "Super White" is the go-to choice for photographing against white). You want the set to be deep enough and wide enough that the curve of the sweep disappears when you light it. Think about using either a table or a 4x4 foot piece of 1/2" thick marine plywood or something equally smooth and rigid. 2 sawhorses to support this platform. To support the seamless paper: 2 stands, 2 Manfrotto Super Clamps (or similar); and a good thick wooden dowel, or metal conduit, or PVC pipe that is at least a foot longer than the roll of paper. If you use 9-foot wide paper but a narrower platform, if you tear the corners off of the paper to about half the depth of the platform the paper won't buckle. You'll also want a couple of spring tensioned A-clamps to keep the paper from unrolling once you have it set up. Or of course you set up with a hard surf surface in the floor and skip the table.

For light: what ever lighting instruments you use you want the light to be evenly diffused. I like to start with the set being lit from the top so I hang a diffusing scrim that is larger than the object (6x6-feet is a good starting size for a guitar ) over the top of the set. And put a moonlight in a softbox (or umbrella) on a boom above that. So: two stands for the scrim & frame, the light source(s), and the boom. Being able to move the light above the scrim will let you control where the highlights are and

Around the sides and front of the set arrange large white or black Fomecore panels.

While that looks like a lot of stuff (and it is) it's also a great way to make light that shows off what you are photographing very cleanly. People aren't looking to see how "arty" your lighting is but want to really see what it is you are photographing.

If you want a more artistic approach take a look at Lisa Johnson's book "101 Rock Star Guitars": http://www.amazon.com/Star-Guitars-That-Rocked-World/dp/0760338213

Good reply Ellis. I'm glad someone with experience shooting guitars could give some advice.

A couple of tricks.

Paper comes in 53" wide rolls so there is no need to buy a 9' wide roll.

B&H - Savage Widetone Seamless Background Paper (53" x 12yd, #1 Super White)

If you do buy a 9' wide roll of paper you can use a regular wood saw to cut the roll of paper down to the desired size. A hacksaw will give you a much smoother cut but is a lot more work.

I can buy 1" corrugated aluminum tubing at the hardware stores here. It is frequently used as a pole to hold window drapes so it should be available at home supply stores and at drapery stores. I drilled holes in each end of a piece of tubing and simply bolt it to the top of a couple of cheap lightweight stands.

To make it possible to bolt the tube to the stands I added a Short Adapter Spigot with 1/4"-20 and 3/8" Female Threads to the top of each stand. Two $3.40 spigots and $2 for a package of bolts is a lot less expensive than a pair of superclamps (the B&H Impact Superclamp is a very good one and only $20).

B&H - Impact Short Adapter Spigot with 1/4"-20 and 3/8" Female Threads

Here is a photo of the corrugated aluminum tubing with some black fabric rolled around it. After this photo was taken I enlarged the holes for 3/8" bolts.

To hold rigid black or white reflectors a Short Adapter Spigot with 1/4"-20 and 3/8" Female Threads can be bolted to an A clamp, or if you prefer you can use a male spigot and a cap nut like I did.  This makes it possible to mount the A clamp on a umbrella bracket on top a light stand.  By using the umbrella bracket and rotating the clamp you can adjust the reflector to virtually any position.  Black or white foam core board or Coroplast work well as low cost reflectors.

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OP rsergio007 Junior Member • Posts: 47
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

Ellis Vener wrote:

Hi,

I'm helping a friend luthier creating a setup for photographing his guitars in a consistent, professional looking way.

The idea is to setup an area in his workshop with a table against the wall on which he would place the guitars vertically, with a white background running from the wall into the table top, creating a smooth curve. The idea is to position the camera on a fixed spot in front of the table so all photos are taken covering exactly the same area, so all his guitar photos have the same scale.

The budget is very tight, so I'm thinking on trying a one light setup.

My idea is to use just one continuous light like the Walimex 250S , with a large softbox like the Walimex pro Softbox PLUS 80x120cm . This light would be placed to the side of the guitar, and on the other side would use just a big gold reflector to fill in the shadows.

Now my questions, is this enough? The light is rated as 50W fluorescent (equivalent to 250W), 140lux @ 2meters. Is this power enough to light a guitar and white background, knowing in front of the light there will be a relatively big softbox?

Is there any problem/danger to use this type of continuous light with a softbox? Does it heat up and burn the softbox?

Is it feasible to use the reflector to fill the shadows or is it essential to have a second light?

I'd appreciate any help you guys can give

Thanks

Will he be shooting straight at the front of the guitar or at in oblique angle like from the headstock or the tail end?

Will the guitar be upright, in a stand, or laying down?

Do you want shadowless or to show the instruments contours and quality of finish?

Do want the instrument to looking like it is resting on something, and if so what, and what kind of background? Or do you want the guitar to be isolated against an infinitely deep texture-less white, black or some other color?

The easiest set up is to put up a "sweep" of SuperWhite (there are many shades of white but the color called "Super White" is the go-to choice for photographing against white). You want the set to be deep enough and wide enough that the curve of the sweep disappears when you light it. Think about using either a table or a 4x4 foot piece of 1/2" thick marine plywood or something equally smooth and rigid. 2 sawhorses to support this platform. To support the seamless paper: 2 stands, 2 Manfrotto Super Clamps (or similar); and a good thick wooden dowel, or metal conduit, or PVC pipe that is at least a foot longer than the roll of paper. If you use 9-foot wide paper but a narrower platform, if you tear the corners off of the paper to about half the depth of the platform the paper won't buckle. You'll also want a couple of spring tensioned A-clamps to keep the paper from unrolling once you have it set up. Or of course you set up with a hard surf surface in the floor and skip the table.

For light: what ever lighting instruments you use you want the light to be evenly diffused. I like to start with the set being lit from the top so I hang a diffusing scrim that is larger than the object (6x6-feet is a good starting size for a guitar ) over the top of the set. And put a moonlight in a softbox (or umbrella) on a boom above that. So: two stands for the scrim & frame, the light source(s), and the boom. Being able to move the light above the scrim will let you control where the highlights are and

Around the sides and front of the set arrange large white or black Fomecore panels.

While that looks like a lot of stuff (and it is) it's also a great way to make light that shows off what you are photographing very cleanly. People aren't looking to see how "arty" your lighting is but want to really see what it is you are photographing.

If you want a more artistic approach take a look at Lisa Johnson's book "101 Rock Star Guitars": http://www.amazon.com/Star-Guitars-That-Rocked-World/dp/0760338213

The guitar will be upright in a stand, and will be photographed from the front (facing the background). In practice, he'll have the camera fixed on a tripod, facing the background, and the guitar will be upright. He'll shoot the front of the guitar, rotate it, shoot the left side, back, right side. The ideia was to have the guitar around 1' from the background, so the lightbox, 2' wide and 4' tall, positioned sideways almost parallel to the background would hit both the guitar and background laterally, casting just a slight shadow on the background. The background might be changed from white to black or something textured depending on the context.

But if I understood your lighting concept, you say it's better to have a large diffused light above the whole set no matter how the guitar is positioned, and use reflectors to create highlights? Or did you mean having the diffuser face the guitar front side so light hits the front evenly, and then use the reflectors as needed?

Maybe he can use a large hanging silk between the vertical light and the vertical guitar to create an even bigger softer light and then use reflectors for highlights, like you suggest.

But I can see the advantage of having the big 6x6 diffuser horizontal above the set, with the light above it, because it hits the background evenly from above instead of unevenly from the side...

The main ideia is definitely to have light that reveals the body details, contours, wood grain, finish and lights the background in smooth, but not necessarily burnt way.

OP rsergio007 Junior Member • Posts: 47
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

These are good examples of the type of lighting he's looking for:

http://www.taoguitars.com/wp-content/gallery/tao-guitar/frontrecadweb.jpg

http://www.taoguitars.com/wp-content/gallery/t-bucket/capture-one-6173-2.jpg

In both cases you can see the textures, and the smoothness of the finish and really soft shadows

Ellis Vener
Ellis Vener Veteran Member • Posts: 9,585
Re: Simple setup for photographing guitars

rsergio007 wrote:

These are good examples of the type of lighting he's looking for:

http://www.taoguitars.com/wp-content/gallery/tao-guitar/frontrecadweb.jpg

http://www.taoguitars.com/wp-content/gallery/t-bucket/capture-one-6173-2.jpg

In both cases you can see the textures, and the smoothness of the finish and really soft shadows

Was you can see fro the shadow patterns i the second example, that is (at least) a two light set up. The smooth highlights on the pickups and panel around the knobs is the reflection of a large bounce panel.

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