a Strobist Christmas

a Strobist Christmas
Originally uploaded by CameronMagee
For the Christmas Gift Shots this year, I wanted to go Strobist.

I refused to just shoot the available, ambient light of my bedroom floor. It would have been really gross. Even if I white balanced to the tungsten overheads, I would have had ISO-1600, at wide-open f/4, with a nice blurry 1/25th. It's a dark room. I really ought to do something about that light...

Anyway, I decided not to break out the Alien Bee AB1600, but to just use my Canon 580EX-II Speedlight. I put it on my Manfrotto Nano stand, and triggered it with my borrowed set of Poverty Wizards. When you can't afford the real Pocket Wizards, you go Poverty Wizards. And when you don't have Poverty Wizards, you borrow some.

I wanted a light that I could work comfortably in. I wanted light that would be smooth, and lit from a direction that I would not block. IE: I did not want the typical front light, because I would shadow it. That meant backlight. But, true backlight would look gross for these "product" shots on my "not-product" carpet that already looked "pretty unprofessional". So, I opted for more of a ceiling bounced light. But, I did not want a full downward light source.

I placed my stand off camera right, and pointed it to the camera-left corner of my room, which would light the subject from above camera left and behind. Check out this quick setup shot.
The safe was in the hot-seat here. My workflow was visually simple. I placed all the gifts away from my bed. I would place them one at a time in the shooting area. When their time was done, they got set on the bed, and out of my way on the floor. Then the next subject was called in. You can see the final two waiting their turn in the bottom of that image.

This gave me ISO-400, 1/200th, at f/5.6. Why f/5.6? Because I could dial up to f/4 for the black stuff, and dial down to f/7.1 for the white shiny gifts.

Speaking of shiny, I don't like shiny stuff. It reflects the light, and the flash looks disgusting. To avoid this flash look, I angled all of my stuff slightly forward, by placing a baseball underneath everything. This angled the shiny cardboard away from the light source, keeping it lit, but not glared.
A nice easy system that allowed me to move wirelessly, adjust for bright or dark gifts a few f-stops, and most importantly, was consistent from shot to shot. Because the light was not behind me, I could stand wherever I wanted in front of the subject, and the light just worked.