Any tips on photos of black objects? Never quite right to me.

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by vigilante, May 3, 2018.

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  1. vigilante

    vigilante TPF Noob!

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    I do some product photography and always find trouble with black objects.

    If I don't have a good amount of lighting on the subject, it will be dark and I have to raise exposure and various other brightness settings. When I do this, it tends to draw out ugly features like splotchy color patches and graininess, etc.

    If I do put enough light on the subject so that I don't have to adjust exposure to brighten it, this does tend to make the black not-so-black any more. I can tell it's a little washed out, you know like more of a dark grey tone rather than really black.

    But then on the other hand, if I try to adjust brightness so that the object is actually black, of course that's no good because it's so dark I can't see the features of it!

    Normally I do alright with these photos but sometimes I get in a situation where I need to shoot black objects and dark grey objects together!
    I need there to be proper contrast different between them so I know one is black and one is grey, but I also don't want the features of the black object to get lost in the darkness.

    For some examples I've found some random Google images.
    This is a picture of a shoe that I would consider shot pretty good. I can visually see it is a pure black shoe, but it does get a bit dark at the top of the laces and strap.
    https://i.pinimg.com/originals/11/a6/14/11a614a260810315c61c54f2494974f6.png

    This shoe, I think, was shot less well, it does feel a bit too dark to me.
    https://media.journeys.com/images/products/1_375665_ZM.JPG

    Now here is a very overexposed photo. Look at the man's jacket. Clearly it's supposed to be a black jacket but it's washed out grey.
    http://lovetreephotography.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/over-exposed.jpg

    This is what I tend to get on my products. A bit overexposed and washed out. But like I said, when I take down the lighting and change camera settings, it end up too dark. Or in other words, when it does actually look black, I've lost all the details. Fabric doesn't have a texture, I get blotchy color patches, weird things happen. And those problems only become worse in post processing if I try to bump up exposure and brightness later.

    So going too bright gets me a product that maintains textures, details, and for the most part eliminates color blotches and graininess, but no longer looks very black. Shooting to maintain original black tones kills small details, textures, and might introduce graininess and blotches.
    Increasing exposure on these dark photos tends to look very bad as well.

    I can't seem to find the right balance for black objects on a white background. Also, these are mostly matte finishes I shoot, I haven't had to photo shiny or glossy blacks yet.


     
  2. john.margetts

    john.margetts No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    If you forget photography for a moment and just use your eyes to look at something black you will see very little detail. If you have black shadow and black highlights they will be the same - and not visible. That is in the nature of black. Same applies to white. To see detail, both black and white need to be grey.

    I would say that the two photos of a boot are about as good as you will get.
     
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  3. dennybeall

    dennybeall No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    If you take out all the color in post you get a shot that looks black to the viewer perhaps?? and the detail is there....
    11a614a260810315c61c54f2494974f6.jpg
     
  4. vigilante

    vigilante TPF Noob!

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    Both the boots aren't bad, but I'm getting more like the dude's black jacket. I still want textures/details but can't seem to do it without becoming more grey.
    I know others struggle with this cause when I browse photos I'll come across black objects which I swear have been completely redrawn and fake, probably to overcome these issues.
     
  5. JBPhotog

    JBPhotog TPF Noob!

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    It's all about highlights and shadows with black objects.

    The first boot is an example of this approach, notice the highlights and then as they fall off you get blacks. It's not about over exposing otherwise you lose any shadows and the object looks grey. This is accomplished by adjusting the lighting angles so your camera will see a highlight. Smaller modifiers will give your subject some specularity, this shot has likely no fewer than 3 light sources and plenty of bounce cards.
     
  6. Dave Colangelo

    Dave Colangelo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    The issue is not with your lighting or with you shots but most likely how you are metering. The reason you are getting washed out over exposed images on black objects is because of the middle grey functionality of your camera, and I would think you are paring that with some kind of spot metering mode that is causing this.

    All cameras with in body meters use reflected metering, for the sake of an example lets say you are set to spot metering and your exposure is based on a single point somewhere on the image, presumably on the black item in question. Meters are all judged off middle grey, so if the point in question is pure black the meter will chose a setting such that the result is actually grey. To turn black into grey you simply over expose, in other words you are more than likely 1 to 2 stops over exposing. If you are shooting a heavily black item and using spot metering, or some kind of matrix metering that is mostly looking at the item, I would advise setting your exposure compensation to 1-2 stops of under exposure. This will help balance out the middle grey problem. When shooting predominantly white items you do the reverse, over expose from the meter reading (for the same reason).

    Generally when shots contain a lot of tones the meter modes can average out to get a very useable exposure but in your case you have a very high contrast (almost full black on pure white) so you are fooling the meter.
     
  7. JBPhotog

    JBPhotog TPF Noob!

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    ^^Did you miss the first couple of paragraphs of the OP’s post?^^

    He said nothing about using the “in camera meter”, what he did say was about his lighting, too little too dark, too much too bright.

    As a commercial product photographer for 30+ years, lighting black objects and keeping them black but also providing highlights to give them shape is “all about the lighting”.

    An incident meter is exponentially more accurate for most lighting situations to determine exposure.
     
  8. Dave Colangelo

    Dave Colangelo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I would still assume he is using some kind of meter. The too little to dark may be not enough light. I cant tell if he is in some kind of manual mode and changing light with out changing his settings or not.

    But agree that incident metering is the way to go.
     
  9. vigilante

    vigilante TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the replies. A couple followups:

    I'm in manual mode. I have a light box. So a white box with black objects, I know that will really mess with metering.

    I have three lamps. A brighter bulb as a main lamp and the other two to reduce harsh shadows and add some light into dark crevasses of the objects when needed. I'm not shooting shoes by the way, more like matte black metallic pieces. Manufactured stuff, think like knives and kydex and such, powder coatings, etc.

    Anyway, I'm on a tripod and the typical settings for my last (overexposed) shot were f/14, 1/6s, 100ISO at 40mm fixed. This happened to be a macro lens too.

    The odd thing is that if I put the camera in full auto mode instead, it actually looks a little nicer, but it pops up the flash I get that deer-in-the-headlights look, very harsh, but nicer blacks. It's weird.

    Thanks for the tip about exposure compensation. I'm not always shooting black objects and so I sometimes have that set higher for other things, like +2. I need to remember to bring it back down for black stuff.
     
  10. Dave Colangelo

    Dave Colangelo No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    What kind of camera are you using? Most modern DSLR's have a no-flash auto mode that will keep the flash off but allow for automated settings without the flash being deployed.

    What kind of lamps are you using? Studio spots? Strobes? Regular house lamps? Wattage on the bulbs?

    Since you are in manual mode are you using a meter of some kind, how are you choosing those settings?
     
  11. mrca

    mrca TPF Noob!

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    With black and gray you probably have enough dynamic range in your camera. I agree with the recommendation to use an incident meter. However, if you want detail in the black, zone 1 is black with no detail, 2 minimal detail, so need to move it to zone 3 for shadow with detail. Your reflective spot meter reading from the camera gives you middle gray, zone 5, so try subtracting 2 stops of light to that setting and see what you get. As above poster mentioned, to make black a middle gray reading, the meter adds light to a black object so you must subtract to get it in zone 3. Again, try an incident meter, it isn't forcing you to guess the exposure based on reflection of the object. It measures light falling on the subject and that is accurate.
     
  12. vigilante

    vigilante TPF Noob!

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    Ya I can turn off flash, I just wanted to see what the camera came up with.

    The lamps are big curly CFLs, a couple 45w and a 60w I think. The one brighter one I use as the main and the others to fill in the light box. Stuff like this https://www.amazon.com/LimoStudio-45-Watt-Photo-Spectrum-AGG1758/dp/B0161NTZ4G/ref=sr_1_11_sspa

    I just did some more shots today, it's bugging me. When my lighting is pulled down, the dark surface of the object looks very grainy, textured, and splotchy. Usually splotches are green for some reason. When I go brighter, it eliminates the splotches and graininess and contrast and looks nice, except that it's not very black any more. Maybe I need a better lens.

    I don't have a light meter but I wonder if I can look for the "right" settings via the histograms on the camera? I try to go bright but never touching the right edge or dark edge entirely.

    I always keep ISO at 100, the cheaper camera and lenses just don't do higher ISO at all. I keep the aperture smaller because on products I don't necessarily want out of focus areas when taking photos in perspective angles. 12 to 16ish. That leaves only shutter speed ya? And good lighting of course. So these CFLs claim they are like 200w regular bulbs but that seems like crap to me. They don't seem all that bright really. But I've got three of them for Pete's sake!
    Still I need a shutter to be like 2+ seconds. I do wonder if the really slow shutter could be causing grainy and splotchy issues.
    Would it be better to get even brighter lights so I can speed up the shutter?
     

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