Radio Console close up

Dash wide shot

Steering Wheel Audio Controls close up

The subject matter isn’t the most exciting for some, but for some Strobist enthusiasts (people who love to photograph stuff with off camera flash to a point where it is nerdy) this stuff is great! The setup for this was relatively simple and can be achieved with manual flash or ETTL, wired or wireless. I used a combination of wireless manual flash and ETTL flash that was connected to a 10m (30ft) cord and controlled from the camera body. The purpose of the job was to photograph a car radio installation kit in a new Holden Captiva (aka Chevy) and steering wheel audio control interface kit. The images will be used in an industry brochure that is designed to announce the product’s introduction.

Now for the process: With no clear direction for the shots needed, I decided to shoot first and ask questions later and the client was more than happy with the results that I showed them on the back of the camera as I shot the job. The middle shot was photographed first using my Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens set to manual focus, 50mm focal length and f8 for good depth of field. Ideally this sort of work is photographed with a medium format camera and a tilt shift lens in a studio but I don’t have $50k worth of gear at my disposal. The tilt shift lens would have been used to match the product plane with focal plane of the camera to maintain perfect sharpness. I still got it to an acceptable level due to the size it will be printed at. I first determined a base exposure of 1/250th of a second at f8, ISO 100 to knock out the ambient light from the skylights in the warehouse where the car was located. With no ambient light to worry about, I built up the light bit by bit until I got good coverage and balance. First I setup one Canon 580EX-II speedlight on a stand and firing into a soft box to soften the light with an additional Stofen diffuser on the flash head. Here a battery pack and am ETTL cord can be seen.

The 60cm soft box on a stand through driver's window

I fired a few test frames to get the lighting right by using a few different positions through the windows and checked the results on the LCD of the camera. I was getting heavy shadows cast by the steering wheel over the focal point of the photograph, the radio fitting kit. I had to fill the shadows somehow, but I still wanted good contrast and blacks to suit the style of brochure that it was going to be in. First thing was to try bouncing the light back into the shadows, but I didn’t have a reflector with me. It wouldn’t have been any use because it would be too big to fit in the car anyway. I scoured the warehouse to find something white and I found an empty white cardboard box which was perfect. I first tried a small section but it didn’t do what I needed to do, so I had to result in using another flash to get more kick. So I rigged up another Canon 580EX-II flash on a table stand, a Stofen diffuser and a radio trigger to pop the flash during the shutter sequence. This I bounced into a larger sheet of cardboard with the flash mounted on the centre console to create a larger source of light to make it softer. I then experimented with power levels until I got the right balance of light and shadow. You can see here the flash is flagged with a piece of foam (a very commonly used piece of equipment in my bag) to prevent lens flare.

The high tech reflector

I took the photographs on a tripod to slow down the process in getting a good composition and to maintain maximum sharpness in the final file. I also used a suedo HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique on the wide shot of the dash as the shutter speed was too fast to record the lighting on the dash, so the only way to soak it into the shot I turned the flashes off and shot at 1/40th of a second to register the low light output of the dash lights. The two shots were combined in Photoshop and I merely combined the layers and used a mask to paint in the lights. I also used that frame to add more depth to the photograph as the top of the dash was totally black and it needed some life. All photos had to be prepared to a printable standard in post production, so the images had to look flawless. In order to keep my retouching time to a minimum I cleaned the car in the front top to bottom with a good quality cleaner and a towel. Once that was done, I used the air gun in the workshop to blow off any dust on the product to make my job of cloning out the dust specs much easier. I used some layer blending techniques to brighten and darken certain areas to highlight the product better. The image on the navigation was superimposed on the system as it never looks good if you try it in camera. I added a slight gradient of white over it to resemble the glare from the light source.

Well I hope someone got something out of this article as it was a lot of fun to shoot. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.

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