Sony A7rII vs Phase One IQ160: The battle of the young vs the old

Hey everybody! It's been a while, again.... though I've been active over at Photigy as some of you know, as well as running my studio! I'm busy writing a new course covering the business of running a commercial photography business. I'll be posting a teaser soon ;) Stay tuned. 

In this quick review. I'll be doing a head-to-head test of my time-tested high megapixel medium format camera, the Phase One IQ160 against the newcomer, Sony’s high megapixel king, the A7rII.

The Sony will be mounted with the latest Sony 90mm macro lens while the Phase One body will be combined with a manual focus Schneider-Kreuznach 120mm macro lens. See who wins this battle of kings! Available for download are the RAW files over at Photigy.com (login required). 



My First Course to You: Introduction to CGI for Photographers with Cinema 4D

Hey there! Well, finally I've put together a course - around 3 hours of introductory material to those who want to get their hands dirty with 3D/CGI modelling. 

In this fun course, learn the basics of modelling and rendering with the very user friendly software from Maxon, Cinema 4D. This software is not only powerful, but also available on both Windows and Mac platforms.

The core of this course will show you how to create a Revlon lip product ad from start to finish.

Here's the main image you will learn to make in my course: 

Visit Photigy.com for the full course details and breakdown!

Building Your Photography Portfolio:
Diary of a Product Photographer

Many photographers, from beginners to seasoned pros, continuously need to work on their portfolios. Some of you might have areas that are very strong, while some others are either still green, or in need of additional content. One of the ways to increase your image count is to go out an buy some items and "invest" into your portfolio. 

Scroll below to watch my video, or if you prefer, you can do it old school and read! :) 

Last week I decided to produce some new images involving nail polish. I wanted to create new images in my cosmetics section and.... have fun! Shooting different objects, or trying different techniques is what makes photography fun and why we do it no?

I encourage you to see my previous video about taking the time to have fun at work and use times which are a little slower, or in between jobs to produce new work. 

I went to my local makeup store with my staff and we ended buying several bottles of various nail polish brands. I decided to buy a few more pricey brands, and similar colours in the cheaper variety that I could easily waste and not feel like I'm pouring money onto the shooting table. 

The more expensive bottles were the showcase bottles, to which I added the cheaper liquids around it to produce the various images below. All these images were produce in one day. We sat and planned out our images drawing them out roughly. The general theme of the shoot was Pantone's 2015 Spring/Summer colour palette. The importance of keeping up with trends is really important I believe - be it colours, styles, feels. Here are the images with a quick rundown of the ideas behind them.  

The Puddle of Colour:

The image Puddle of Colour was our first image of the day. We spent some time looking at various images here and there and saw several with objects sitting in liquid, powder, etc. We decided to take a stab at it. We first created the image with the bottles on the table and took several dozen shots to find the best composition. I wanted a horizontal one, and we worked at it until the image was pleasant.

Once the composition was good, we took a paper to our computer screen and traced out the shot and drew out the general puddle shapes we wanted. Because the light was coming from top left, the puddles had to sit mostly to the left of the bottles, otherwise, the shadows would cover too much on the right. 

One-by-one puddle at a time, we lifted 2 bottles and poured nail polish, proceeding until done. Photoshop was used to clean up puddles, edit colours and any blemishes. 


The Wall of Polish:

The Wall of Polish shot began it's life on a table with a bunch of L'Oreal bottles where the general architecture of the shot was done and played with some orthodontic wax and patience. Once we all liked it, we reproduce it and light it. All bottles were originally closed. We opened one bottle at a time starting from the bottom and moved up from there. As the bottles opened, we took a series of images of the drops, puddles being created. Once done, we closed, cleaned up and moved on. Photoshop was used to composite the multiple images together, to clean and edit colours. 


A Waterfall of Colour:

A Waterfall of Colour was an idea I came up with while on lunch and on my couch at work. I saw this image, pretty much as it stands right now. Bottles that are standing at the top, with a flow of polish flowing from them down an incline. The use of bottom-up camera perspective distorts the image and increases the "stature" and importance of the actual Sally Hansen bottles. The image is a composite of several images: The bottles; the falls. Photoshop was used to edit colours, edit blemishes, etc. 

The following series of images is basically just some "fun" images I would say are more a study of geometry, shape, colour. I had fun with the remaining nail polish liquid by doing various tests. It's always inspiring! Keep on shooting!

Getting Super Sharp Images in Your Photos

Ever wonder how to counter diffraction? Wonder why your images are so soft? Do you want to learn how to create sharp and stunning images?

You've tried to stop down your lens to something like f32 and noticed your image gets fuzzy? I explained the reasons for this in my Science of Diffraction video earlier this year. You’ve probably heard about focus stacking but never really knew much about it, or were too scared to try? 

In partnership with Photigy.com, (seriously, one of the best places to learn about professional product photography, and I'm also instructor there), here's my follow-up video: An introduction to focus stacking. In the first part of this new video, I will show you how to get the most depth of field with your camera of a simple object on white.

Part I:


In Part 2 of the video, you will learn about the various methods you can use to focus stack images as well as the 2 main parameters you can control in the software: radius and softness. Finally, I will compare Adobe Photoshop's implementation of focus stacking vs Helicon Focus' abilities. So check it out... 

Part II:

Photography Instruction Announcement for all Levels

It's been a little while since my last post, but I have been up to many many MANY things lately. As some of you probably already know, I've been quite involved with Photigy. If some of you don't know what Photigy is, well, where have you been hiding? Get out from under that rock and check it out. It is probably the single best resources for commercial product photographers out there. You can also check out the Photigy Facebook page and ask away! I'm moderator there, so just ask for access - it's open to all interested in product photography. 

Need to learn everything about splash photography? Plenty of courses and behind-the-scenes material on there! Want to learn to shoot cosmetic brushes? Well, there's stuff on that too. Equipment reviews? Uh huh... yep, we have those as well. 

What about those of you who aspiring photographers? What if you're a landscape, wedding, or heck, even a fashion photographer?  Well, here's the great part.... I'm here to introduce this all new subscription service that's just been released: The Photigy Studio Basics membership level. Here's my very brief little intro about it!  I decided to do this outdoors, heck, it's spring, it's fresh, it's new... just like this announcement! 


Photigy's Studio Basic subscription gives you access to tons of tutorials, behind-the-scenes shoots, mentoring by your instructors via live Google hangouts, various Webinars covering all the basics of studio product photography - you simply have to sit behind your computer or tablet, ask your questions and we'll give you answers. How cool is that? 

Lastly, I'm currently involved in writing and recording plenty of different tutorials, as well as a complete in-depth course covering everything you need to know to become a professional jewelry photographer - mastering catalog photography from head-to-toe. I look forward to interacting with you. 

Breaking from Routine - The Studio Photographer's Diary

When you work in the commercial product photography business, you are often confronted with big jobs of dozens of products, especially on white. This often has to mean same angles, same lighting, etc. After a dozen or so years, you can get into a funk. In the following video I give you some tips to keep it alive at the studio. This video is featured on Photigy.com as well. 

I have also created a French version, see below. Une version francophone est disponible en dessous ! 

English:

DSQUARED: HE WOOD - Rocky Mountain Wood Men's Fragrance Photo & Video

We took a stab at creating a short 30 second spot and ad for this men's fragrance. Inspiring ourselves with the dark wood of the product and theme of a mountain, we keep this mysterious, with some fog, moonlight, simple synth pad music and some wind & crow sounds.

It was a series of new tests and learning experiences: Playing around with our digital motion control rig; working with dry ice; and toying with slow motion camera moves to keep the smoke from moving too fast. Quite the challenge. Never mind pulling focus, handheld light movements, and pouring the fog... We would have loved to had the arms of an octopus.  

Hope you like it. Here is the photo, followed by our video. 


Canon News Preview: 5Ds, 5Ds R, 750D and EF 11-40 f4L lenses releases

Hey everybody. I've just posted on my blog as well as on Photigy as joint publishing. Check out what I've got to say coming in as a professional jewelry and luxury product photographer about the features of Canon's newly released cameras and lenses. I will discuss the features, availability and pricing of the new 5Ds, it's sibling the 5Ds R, as well as the 750D and the new ultra wide zoom lens, the professional grade EF 11-24 f4L.Below you will find the offical Canon press release for the 5Ds/5DsR:

 

PRESS RELEASE

MELVILLE, N.Y., February 5, 2015 – Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, is proud to introduce the Canon EOS 5DSi and Canon EOS 5DS Ri Digital SLR cameras featuring the world’s highest resolution* among 35mm format DSLRs. Providing photographers with uncompromising image quality, these new EOS models incorporate a newly designed Canon 50.6 megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor and Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors for superb image quality and processing speed. Perfect for commercial, studio, portrait, landscape and architectural photography, or anyone looking for an affordable alternative to medium format, the ultra-high resolution of these new models allow for large-format printing and extensive cropping capability while maintaining fantastic image quality.

 

Maximizing the potential of the new 50.6 megapixel sensor – for the first time in an EOS camera the low-pass filter effect in the EOS 5DS R model is cancelled. The cancellation of the low-pass filter helps deliver sharp images, squeezing the most out of every pixel. Both models provide attractive options for medium format shooters especially when coupled with a wide array of over 70 creative Canon EF lenses to choose from.

“Canon is always looking to deliver the absolute best in image quality and push our technology to the limits. These cameras deliver on that pledge, providing photographers with two new incredible tools that will enable them to make the most out of every shoot,” said Yuichi Ishizuka, president and COO, Canon U.S.A., Inc. “As photography becomes more specialized and more images are captured than ever before, the burden is on the photography equipment to keep up with the demands of today’s artistic talents. These new camera models will provide many photographers with new options to deliver their vision to clients, fans, and the world.”

Built to Maximize Sharpness

In addition to the 50.6 megapixel full-frame image sensor and Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors, both cameras include a 61-Point High Density Reticular AF array including up to 41 cross-type AF points and EOS iTR AF for high precision autofocus. They also include the EOS Scene Detection system featuring a 150,000-pixel RGB+IR 252-zone metering sensor that provides enhanced precision and performance.

In support of such a high-resolution imaging sensor, the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras were designed to minimize camera shake and significantly improve stability via a reinforced chassis, baseplate and tripod lug to improve rigidity. Canon also re-designed the mirror vibration control system to help reduce mirror bounce and camera shake. To help maximize stability and minimize vibrations, Canon added a new Arbitrary Release Time Lag Setting in Mirror Lock mode in both models. In addition to the standard setting (press the shutter button once to lock the mirror, then again to release the shutter), the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras offer new setting intervals of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, one and two seconds, releasing the shutter after the selected preset delay, allowing potential camera vibration to dissipate before shutter release.

A new Picture Style called “Fine Detail” has been added to enhance the sharpness of JPEGs and EOS Movies with three new settings: Strength, Fineness and Threshold. With such abundant resolution on each sensor, both models also provide two cropped shooting modes, while still delivering high-resolution images 30.5 megapixels for the 1.3x mode and 19.6 megapixels for the 1.6x mode. The available crop options are visible as a mask or an outline in the viewfinder; so shooters can know exactly where to frame their subject.

Capturing the Action

Like the EOS 7D Mark II, the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras feature an advanced AE system that can detect and compensate for flickering light sources such as sodium vapor lamps that are often used in gymnasiums and natatoriums. When enabled, this anti-flicker system automatically adjusts shutter release timing to help reduce disparities in exposure and color especially during continuous shooting. And new Auto White Balance settings include Ambience Priority and White Priority (for use when shooting under tungsten lighting).

Photographers and cinematographers will appreciate improved custom controls including a built-in intervalometer and bulb timer to enable the capture of time-lapse images and long-exposure images. These features are ideal for recording fireworks, star trails, sunrises and more.

Both models feature Intelligent Viewfinder II providing approximately 100 percent field of view, while adding the ability to display cropped shooting frames and superimpose a customizable selection of camera settings and data such as dual-mode electronic level display and grid, as well as exposure, white balance, metering, drive, image quality and AF modes. A new Customizable Quick Control Screen, another first for EOS cameras, allows photographers to quickly change frequently used camera settings and functions.

The EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras continue the EOS Movie tradition with the ability to shoot in 1080p Full HD up to 30p or 720p HD video up to 60p. A creative Time Lapse Movie function, a first for EOS cameras, takes a continuous series of still photographs and automatically combines them in camera into a Full HD movie file. Interval adjustments can be set from one second to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. The number of shots possible range from 2 to 3,600 with a maximum of two minutes and 30 seconds of playback time. In addition, high-speed continuous shooting up to five-frames-per-second (fps) at full 50 megapixel resolution allows users to capture fast action.

The EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R cameras feature dual card slots for CF and SD memory cards, including Ultra High Speed (UHS-1) SD cards. Built to last, the cameras also feature a shutter durability rating up to 150,000 cycles, the same as the EOS 5D Mark III.

Availability

The EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R Digital SLR cameras are scheduled to be available through authorized Canon dealers in June 2015 for estimated retail prices of $3,699.00 and $3,899.00 for the body only, respectively.

These devices have not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. These devices are not, and may not be offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.

What aperture is the best for jewelry photography and why: science of the diffraction: Part 1

Hey there everyone! Some of you might have seen this video previously as it was first posted on photigy.com, but for those of you who might have missed it, here it is! Over the past several years on various forums and through direct contact, I’ve seen many images of jewelry or other product photography that are basically void of sharp detail and contrast. I’ve always replied back with my comments regarding diffraction and its effects.

In 2012, I wrote a blog posting about this very topic and has been a great hit. I decided to recreate it with some additional information. In the first part of this video I will be covering the underlying physics of diffraction in photography and in the second half I will be using a Canon 5D Mark III to showcase real world examples of diffraction.

In the follow-up video blog in the next short while, I will show you how I counteract diffraction or avoid it all together by using a process called focus stacking. I’ll show you my favourite software of choice, Helicon Focus and the various algorithms and variables you can use to produce great diffraction-free images.


Photography Expert Tips: Must-Have Photo Studio Accessories

Hey there, yep, it's been a long while since I've last posted something blog-wise. Well, here's something new, a video blog by yours truly! Having been a jewellery photographer for over 10 years I've come across many tools and accessories I deem really important. I've decided to introduce them to you in this video below.

In addition, you will find links to some of these awesome accessories below over at B&H Photo/Video. They really are top notch for shipping anywhere and fast (including awesome shipping to Canada)!

Live "On-Air" Comments & Critique Session in January

Over at the Photigy.com Pro Corner forum, members can submit up to 2 photos each that I will then go over during a live "on-air" broadcast. The broadcast will be 1 hour long, so first come, first serve. Act quick! There should be more coming as well as an announcement in the the first quarter of 2015. So stay tuned!

Fragrances & Cosmetics Photography - Luxury products and more

Having celebrated my birthday over the past weekend, I decided to have it coincide with the launch my entirely new Fragrances and Cosmetics portfolio. I hope you like the images - my team and I certainly enjoyed producing them. All images are shot in our studio most of which was shot with our Phase One system. Beauty deserves the best!

Guicci Guilty Ladies Fragrance
Guicci Guilty Ladies Fragrance

Gucci's Guilty lady's fragrence - luxurious gold on black.

Over the near decade of jewelry photography that I've been doing, I've often been asked by my clients "You really only shoot jewelry?" To that I usually answered something like: "Yes, 99% of the time, that's been my bread and butter". In the past several months, I've been wanting to challenge myself and broaden my scope of photography and venture into different types of products, though remain the luxury market. With my jewelry background I've been very good with items made of metal, semi and precious stones, so my natural inkling was to do work with fragrances and cosmetics.

The world of fragrances and cosmetics is a very pretty one. Perfume bottle design is so interesting and so unique; the initial impression of a bottle will entice the consumer to pick it up and sprits some "magic" on. With today's fragrance bottles mixing multiple materials together from glass, metal, plastic, wood, sometimes fabric and more, there are plenty of fun challenges with every design and brand. Add to this the lovely scented elixir inside these flasks which adds refraction of liquid in various hues - shooting is pure bliss.

Chanel's classic deep blacks
Chanel's classic deep blacks

Chanel's classic deep blacks seen with this beautiful compact.

Guest Judge - Jewelry Photography for Contest

On another note, I was recently invited to be a guest judge on Photigy.com photography challenge: "Shinny Jewelry" for March 2014. The event was broadcast live on YouTube.com from our Google Hangout with host Alex Koloskov, editor Chris Anzai, Timothy Koo, Joshua Geiger, Dave Nitsche, and Florian Hartmann. I picked my top 5 photos from a pool of nearly 30 submissions. It was quite a fun experience. You can watch that recording here.

Interview with Jewelry Photographer Vadim Chiline of EpicMind Studio

Okay, perhaps a little late, but I wanted to share with you in case you missed it, an interview I did with Chris Anzai for Photigy.com. He approached me a while back and asked me to participate in his interview series. It took a while to get it done because of my busy work schedule (a little like my blog entries really hehe)... Anyways, here's the interview link if you've not yet seen it. It will give you an insight of how it works around here and my journey as a jewelry photographer.

Interview with Vadim Chiline Jewelry Photography Expert.

Jewelry & Product Catalog vs Hero Photography: Their Differences and Purposes

Announcement: Live Product Showcase of the Phase One IQ250 with Vadim Chiline

I just wanted to announce that I will be showcasing the all-new CMOS-based sensor digital back from Phase One in Montreal, at Photo Service Ltee., Wednesday February 19th from 1-5:30PM. Please sign up for the event and see hands-on what this new back can do, especially in low light conditions.

Example of a hero or beauty shot
Example of a hero or beauty shot

Hero shots help create a mood and feel for a product line.

The Product Photographer's Profile

In the world of luxury product photography, which includes things like jewelry, watches, perfumes, cosmetics, or glassware, you are often asked to shoot a plethora of products even if we talk about let's say : anti inflammatory herbs or etc, . If you’re looking at getting into commercial photography and insuring success, knowing to do both standard catalog and hero shots well will insure the survival and prosperity of your photography business.

There are a few “schools of thought” on the subject. The following is my own life story and by no means a guide, but perhaps my insights into the industry I work in. There are 3 types of product photographers:

The exclusive product catalog photographer

This job entails taking in rather large volumes of work, such as shooting entire jewelry lines, or say an entire series of lipsticks, brushes, etc. and providing them cut out on a white background for the client. It’s the way I started my career, with plenty of static angles over and over. We still provide this today. When volumes are high, with steady clients, with a highly skilled and trained team, you can work in some nice margins and make a living. Unfortunately, this business model can get stale to the photographer’s artistic heart and to the staff’s mental health (I’ve witnessed both). Hence comes the other type of product photographer.

The exclusive editorial and hero-shot photographer

This type of photographer generally works with low volume; perhaps one-of-a-kind items that need that special lighting or that special background or accessory to give more depth, life, even create an emotional human-product connection. They will usually work within a brand’s image utilizing select colors, materials. They work with assistants, stylists, and depending on the client’s size (and available funds) an art director, etc. These projects normally have much larger budgets and the output of winner images is low per day depending on the complexity required. These tend to be much more demanding of everybody because we are selling an image of a brand within a storyline or an emotion. Yet, these jobs are the most artistically rewarding and can be the most lucrative.

A bit of both-worlds: A transitioning photographer

This type of photographer is one that does a little of both styles mentioned above. Normally (I think) one would identify with one or the other, but depending on your industry, location, market, and ability, you will probably do both of these. I’m in this group. I still provide plenty of jewelry catalog photography and videography but do work on hero shots and ad spreads for various companies. By working in both worlds, it guarantees income throughout the year. It all depends on the level of income you wish – if you are satisfied with X per year, and it’s met, then great, if you want XYZ per year, you will have to make sure you work even harder and get more jobs, or increase your prices.

Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.
Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.

Example of a standard watch catalog photo on white.

What got me started with this blog post was a Facebook post about an advertising shot where the photographer mentioned the things that were done in post-production. A comment was left stating that this retouching mislead consumers because nothing was “this perfect”. I replied to this comment… I had to.

In my professional realm as a jewelry photographer, I need to photograph items that are generally very small and highly detailed. The thing people must realize is that they are designed to be viewed by the naked eye and at best with a 10x loupe. When a client needs a large in-store poster, or large web version for his zoom feature, we are in fact going much larger than the intended viewing size. Even some stellar pieces will show some sort of blemish at these magnifications. So in the bare minimum, all items need retouching to a certain degree.

Is there such a things as too much? Well, in my opinion, considering I work in commercial photography/advertising, not really… We, as a society, have become accustomed to living with blatant exaggerations no? Look at most adds created today, they almost border fantasy. Do your Subway sandwiches look anything like those you see in the pictures? Do Big Macs really look that perfect? Does that volumizing lash product really work as in the commercial? Does that shampoo give orgasmic experiences? No, no, no, and NO. They do create desire – they open appetites, increase our confidence within ourselves, etc. With every generation, advertisers have to push beyond the cusp and outdo previous campaigns to gain visibility with an audience that quickly loses interest, and awaits the next trend.

Some beauty images that make up the ads we see are completely "fudged" and impossible unless multiple shots are done, or CGI is added, etc. Do they reduce in any way the sale of an item? Not really if not at all in my opinion. As said above, they create a brand image. This is the gist of advertising. See a sexy bottle and it makes you want to drink it's luscious elixir. For example, the two photos at the end of this blog post of Dalmore Scotch are composites of several different images. Sometimes shooting several images can be more productive than trying to get it all in one shot.

Topic for a future blog? Behind-the-Scenes?

I'm thinking of doing perhaps a behind-the-scenes involving my shoot of 12 year old Dalmore Scotch. Should you like to see one of the BTS of one of those 2 photos, let me know with a comment at the end of this blog to cast a vote :)

Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots
Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots

Dalmore Scotch Whiskey Hero Shots.

Finding & Building a Photography Studio: EpicMind's New Home

It's been yet again what feels like a century since I've last posted, but I've been wanting to share with you the development process of our new studio (well, it's closer to 8-9 months that we've moved in now). We ended up relocating our studio just a few minutes drive away, by the waterside in another lovely historic building, this time, 100+ years old - the Dompark Complex; Old buildings make for amazing studio spots I think.

Entrance area
Entrance area

Viewing from the entrance.

This is now my second true rental location for my studio; before that I operated from home. My previous studio was a dream come true, sadly, one that became a nightmare rather quickly as I realized what I needed and didn't need in my studio. What was "cool" at first became stale rather quickly. Before choosing your new location, I highly recommend you make a list of "must haves". When I first moved into my previous studio, I was impressed by the overall "vibe" in the building - bustling with young companies in a booming part of town. Sadly, there was little or no mixing between the various companies (150+) in a sort of marketplace where businesses could mingle and perhaps share work. People in the hallways would just walk passed you looking away or at their smartphones and trying to "look smart". I was quite put off - the "vibe" in reality was but a puff of smoke. Don't get me wrong, as I said, the location looked great, but a business is there to perform a task, not inflate one's ego.

Another problem was the shape of the studio: It was a long and narrow rectangle with a closed off room in the middle. Because of this, there was plenty of lost space because of walk areas. We had 1200 sq.ft of total space, but effective space is what's important: after removing walkways, storage and chair areas, the square footage was much less. Cost per usable square footage was high in the end. Our lounge area was stuck with our video shooting area. We didn't even have a lunch table or a tap with running water - all things that weren't properly thought out before the studio was leased.

Lastly, the windows were only at one end of this narrow rectangle. My office was in the closed off room with NO windows at all. This gave us a dark studio, which is great when shooting, but with little natural light and Canada's long winters, seasonal depression easily affected us when were weren't shooting. Working in the dark, and then going home in darkness can affect the personality of the team over the long run.

Out with the old, in with the new: The search began.

6-8 months before my lease was up, I began jotting-down possible rental locations as well as the needs and "like too have's" for a new studio. Things such as how many shooting setups and how much area they needed; a kitchenette (I don't need a full kitchen as I don't shoot food really); a change/makeup area; a storage room for equipment; an area for retouching and graphic work and finally, my office. Location was also very important - I wanted to be close to downtown Montreal as well as remaining relatively close to home.

Shooting area
Shooting area

The shooting area of our new studio.

I knew wasn't in the position to buy a building, so I visited plenty of office spaces, all of which were lofts with large areas. Rent is unfortunately a big piece of a business' operating costs, and the prices varied greatly based on services offered, location near public transport such as subways, etc. I had set a monthly budget and went around looking. Sadly, a few spots I really liked were way overkill in size for my needs and budget. You need to be smart and think big, but not TOO big either where one bad year of business and you're finished. Having my list of wants, and budget figured out, and having started the search early, I found a place that allowed me to double my space, but for a few hundred dollars more a month in rent. It had a slightly larger footprint then my old studio, but with 18' (5.5m) ceilings, I was able to build a mezzanine which increased the square footage, but not the rentable square footage. In the end, it saved me money by avoiding renting a larger surface area elsewhere.

A Blank Canvas

The Blank Studio
The Blank Studio

The new studio before we leased it and did the build-out.

When the lease was signed, the room was basically a big empty space with a very high ceiling and three huge 15' (~5m) windows. Using the architectural floor plans provided, I sat down with my assistant and drafted up a basic idea of a mezzanine that would maximize the space for all types of job. The shooting area was quite large allowing three concurrent product photography stations or two photo and one video station. For fashion, we have a long shooting corridor when needed of around 30' x 20' (9m x 6m) as well as a makeup/change room. Once the first floor and mezzanine areas were defined, I decided to make a virtual mockup using my favorite 3D software, Maxon's Cinema 4D alongside the amazingly quick VRAYforC4D render engine. In my spare time (which really doesn't exist) I love CGI and modelling with it - especially interiors. So after a few days I modelled and then rendered-out several views and angles with quite a bit of detail. I provided those images alongside revised floorplans and electrical diagrams to the contractor who would put paper to reality.

3D Renderings of Epicmind Studio
3D Renderings of Epicmind Studio

CGI done in Cinema 4D and Rendering done with VRAYforC4D. Various different renders I designed before anything was built/setup.

Dealing with the building's contractor was a pain sadly and something I would compare to dealing with my 3 year old child. Needing constant supervision, errors, omissions and/or shortcuts were occurring. Luckily, after 45 days, construction and painting was finished. I was ready to move into the studio "of my dreams". The joy of having large windows with plenty of light was something that made my entire team happy - I only needed to find custom curtains for those huge windows. Luckily, the curtain and drapery makers for the Cirque du Soleil are based here in Montreal, once hired,they quickly and easily made us some. Once installed, we were ready to start a new journey at Epicmind Studio.

Office
Office

My office on the mezzanine.

Is a Studio Forever?

Will this be my final studio? My gut tells me no, but for the next few years, it's my 2nd home. A place I hope to use lots and make plenty of beautiful work for current and future clients of mine. Like any place, you will realize some shortcomings and never know where your business will take you or how your needs will change through the years. This is the fun of running a business, it's forever changing.

Anyways, hope this little glimpse into my studio as well as my decision making process enlightened some of you. The process of finding, configuring, and working in was a pure joy this time around. If you have any questions, it will be my pleasure to reply.

Various
Various

Client and employee comfort was something I wanted in the new studio. Nespresso helps us all "stay sharp".

Forking Around?

Well, that certainly got your attention. I've decided to change the blog around a little and have some fun posting some of the various things we play around with at the studio during non jewellery days. I decided to shoot something simple with simple lighting, and just play with shapes, shadows and contrasts. Out came some utensils from our kitchen drawer. Because the utensils weren't in pristine condition, and not wanting to burden my retouchers with pointless scratch removal, I decided to shoot in a very high contrast, playing more on the silhouette of the object, making a very black and white image. Most of the images on white were shot with a very shallow depth of field of around f4 on the Phase One camera's Macro lens.

Here's a story I created from the shoot: The text is perhaps a touch graphical in nature so be warned :) Images are mostly out of camera with minimal retouching. You can see the lighting diagram for the first image at the end of this post if interested.















Lighting Diagram for the "Go Fork It" image on black:

Photographing a 16-Carat Yellow Asscher-Cut Diamond Ring

In the world of jewelry photography, having the chance to shoot rare and exotic stones and designs is a huge privilege. Normally, we must work with the so-called more affordable and inclusion-filled variety of jewels. If doing lots of web or catalog photography, this is sometimes what makes up your bread and butter as a jewelry photographer. An amazing Birks & Mayors engagement ring featuring a large 16-carat yellow Asscher cut diamond.

Sometimes though, you get a call to shoot something that’s more intriguing, rare, or even spectacular in nature: The large diamond; the odd cut; an intense color rarely seen; or a combination of some of the above.

Several weeks ago, I got the call to shoot a large 16-carat fancy intense yellow Asscher-cut diamond ring for Birks & Mayors, sometimes called “Canada’s Tiffany’s”. The diamond was stunning and sat in a yellow-gold flower petal basket, laced with yellow diamonds. This basket was then wonderfully flanked by additional pave diamonds. Overall, it was quite the exquisite piece of jewelry to photograph. It is currently on display in their store in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

A head-on photo of a 16-carat yellow Asscher-cut diamond.

The photography was done using our lovely Phase One system. The RAW images were processed and converted with Capture One Pro 7 into 16-bit TIFF, allowing for the most color and tonal range possible while retouching (banding issues in gradient areas are greatly reduce or avoided all-together). The above photos were made-up of between 7 to 15 images and then stitched together using HeliconSoft.

Retouching was relatively straight-forward (although took several hours of work because the images were to be used in large prints) requiring contrast adjustments, cleaning the metal and improving the diamond faceting (removing some unwanted dark reflections/refractions, and unwanted colors). Last but not least, additional contrast was added via sharpening at the end as well as a blue colour cast was added to the white metal matching the Birks blue standard.

We were very pleased with this result and are looking forward to future collaborations with this wonderful company.

 

Book Recommendation


Great jewelry photography reference book, Harry Winston.
Recently published, Harry Winston

On a different note, if you are interested in large diamonds, including rare and exotic designs, I highly recommend you take a look at the following book: Harry Winston. I just purchased it recently and love looking over the amazing history at this jewelry institution. It's a large hardcover book, filled with some of the history of Harry Winston Inc., covering many of it's classic collection pieces including the Hope diamond, a large 45.52 carat blue diamond. It might not contain every masterpiece ever created, but it's quite impressive. Every jewelry photographer or designer should own this book. Great jewelry photography - great jewelry design.

In the Next Blog...


In the next blog I will cover a retouching technique with my first video blog: converting white gold to yellow gold. So please stay tuned (hope to put this up in the coming week).
 
 

Shooting 60 Megapixel High Resolution Jewelry Photography Now at EpicMind Studio

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but as is usually the case, we’re busy here at the studio churning out work for our great clients. I’ve also been in the process of purchasing a new camera system for the studio. Well, it’s now complete, we are now equipped with a 60 megapixel system of high resolution madness! The studio is now equipped with a Phase One 645DF and IQ160 digital back alongside a slew of insanely sharp lenses. Jewelry photography with our new Phase One 60 Megapixel camera system

Why did I consider going medium format? For a few reasons:

1. I believe Medium Format offers the best possible image out there, within a controlled environment bar none. The resolution and color depth is great, especially highlights I find. There’s more tolerance to retain what matters in jewelry photography, bright tones that define and shape the in the metal and stones.

2. Stacking! I will not necessarily try to make full frame image using the new system, but will shoot the items smaller in the frame, which is still as large as say a Canon 5D Mark II/III produced image, but because of the relation of the image size and sensor, the depth-of-field is greater. For example, take your macro photo from further back, yes the image is smaller, but you get additional depth of field the smaller the object is in the frame. Now instead of needing between 8-9 images for a given piece of jewelry, I can get away with 4-5 via the Phase One. After cropping (in Capture One Pro), the image is about the same size as the Canons, but took less time to shoot, and to stack together. But why not use the full resolution then? Much of our work, the final destination is small catalog and web sizes, so no need to go overkill. The advantage is that say for a given client we have 1000 products to shoot in a given year, in the end we have 9000 photos vs 5000 photos, so a 4000 photo difference for ONE CLIENT. Do this across our entire client base, and that’s time and money saved.

3. Reliability of our Canon bodies was sad to say, poor. In the past 1-2 years, we’ve had three 5D Mark IIs going in and out of repairs for a broken USB connection – which means $300+ in servicing + the trouble of getting it sent in, etc. Images were getting stuck while we were working tethered to the computer, they wouldn’t download. This sometimes required a full system restart, but in most cases, the camera needed to have the battery pulled out to reset it. Part of the problem we also realized was our iMacs had problems connect with the USB on the camera. We were loosing our minds when again; time is money with catalog photography. On the other hand, the Phase One system, uses a thick Firewire cable which has a thick plug that is more “commercial” in build and can withstand much more abuse (and in our studio there is NO ABUSE: the 5Ds "lived" on a tripod in the studio all day ugh..).

4. Critical sharpness and lack of anti-alias filters. The medium format system as some of you might know (as well as the new Nikon D800E and some Canons) no anti-alias filter (AA), which helps remove moire patterns in images. AA has a final effect of blurring or removing a tad of sharpness in your images. In jewelry photography, when sometimes we need to resize the images to poster size, every bit of original sharpness counts – for me! Add to this the lenses that are available such as the 120mm macro, which is razor sharp, even when stopped-down to f29, suffers very little diffraction compared to the Canon equivalent where shooting f16 or smaller rendered garbage. We can easily shoot at f22-f29 and feel very comfortable using the images. For important projects we would open-up a little for sure, but again, depends on our needs.

5. The next fun aspect of the Phase One System is the availability of the Leaf Shutter lenses. They allow shooting with synch-speeds of up to 1/1600 of a second. For outdoor photography and fashion work, it will permit using strobes to counterbalance the ambient light quite well. It wasn't a huge selling point for us, but as mentioned earlier, we are heading in a few new directions here at EpicMind.

6. Lastly, with 60 megapixels on the IQ160 digital back, as mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of cropping room. In a fashion shoot, we can easily crop a hand, or a part of the face, and still have something usable for a full pager. It’s quite insane to be honest with you. We will be branching out with our photography in the coming months and this will be something that will be loved by us, and our clients I’m sure. It doesn’t hurt to have room to crop.

Phase One IQ160 Digital Back

Why didn’t I go with the Nikon D800/E? I’m sure some of you must be asking yourselves this exact question. I mean it is substantially cheaper; I don’t even want to talk about that (because if you look at the money aspect only, most of you would think I’m crazy). I listed above my reasons, the Nikon though great, is not the studio camera for me. Its resolution bump is nice but not in the same league. The tonal range that I’ve seen from the Phase One or even Hasselblad is just superior out of the box. The dynamic range is quite comparable from the data; the shadows might even be better on the Nikon! As they say: different strokes for different folks. I have no regrets. This is a business tool for my studio – something that I count on.

What did I do with the Canon system? I sold some of it, but kept most of it. We run a second shooting station as well, so this will remain Canon-based. There are certain things that the Canon does much better, but those are mostly out of the studio type things such as: blazing fast auto-focus; great high ISO performance; shoot several frames per second burts, etc. The same can be said about Nikon.

In the coming months, I will share with you some images, comparisons, and more with the Phase One system.

I would like to thank the following people who helped me along the way:

Walter Borchenko, Phase One Canada representative from B3kdigital.com Jean-Yves Lapierre, Montreal Commercial Sales Rep, Photo Service, photoservice.ca Doug Peterson, who got the ball rolling, Phase One Rep in the USA working at Digital Transitions, digitaltransitions.com

Jewelry Photography Tip from a Pro: Stopping Down & Diffraction vs Focus Stacking.

Jewelry photography focus stackingThe area within the red square is show below at various apertures and focus stacked.

In jewelry photography, most of the time we need to make sure everything is pin sharp. Having some blurred stones or portions is often frowned upon unless it’s quite deliberately done and for an artistic purpose.

I sometimes receive less than ideal jewelry items to retouch where the focus is extremely limited, or everything is soft as though Vaseline was smudged over the picture. In most cases, the lens and camera are perfectly fine, but the user has done some serious mistakes with how his camera’s setting have been adjusted.

As many of you know, stopping-down a lens, or in human-like analogy, squinting your eyes when you want to see “sharper”, gives you more depth-of-field (DoF). For example, a lens shooting at f2.8, which is quite open, means the lens’ iris is nearly wide open, letting in lots of light – the image will have a very shallow DoF. Therefore to compensate, we stop-down the lens, going from f2.8 to say f5.6, f8, f11… etc.

What I want to cover today is that many of you out there are somewhat unaware of the limits of stopping-down a lens. After a certain point, every lens starts to loose overall sharpness, to the point of looking blurry. Every lens out there suffers this, it’s called “diffraction”.

To explain this, the edges of the diaphragm blades in your lens disperse light. When you begin stopping down say at f8 to f25, the diffracted light is initially a small percentage of the total light that hits your sensor, but gradually, it becomes a larger percentage of the light recorded.

How this applies to Jewelry Photography

When photographing jewelry, you are using a macro lens and usual some extension tubes. When working in the macro world, DoF is quite shallow. Any of you who’ve shot flowers or insects, heck even jewelry since you are reading this, know that unless you stop-down your lens quite a bit, you will not get enough of your subject in-focus. Therefore you tend to shoot at around f11-f16, some even f22 or higher. Have you seen a sudden decrease in sharpness in your images? Well, that’s diffraction at work. The following is an example of DoF vs Defraction as applied to jewellery photography. Note: only a little sharpening was done in Capture One Pro. Additional sharpening in Photoshop improves the images a little best kitchen knives - but those affected by diffraction, win nothing in my opinion.

Shot at f8: Notice the lack of depth of field, but the portions in focus are sharp. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

Shot at f11: Slightly more depth of field, sharpness is still good. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f11

Shot at f16: Depth of field increases once more, but sharpness begins to drop. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f16

Shot at f25: Much more depth of field, but now image looks fuzzy. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f25

Shot at f32: Not much more depth of field than at f25, but seriously diffraction is happening. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f32

Finally, here’s an image that was done using focus stacking software. A total of 9 images were used:
9 photos that were stacked together, rending everything sharp. Jewelry photography & lens diffraction at f8

For jewelry photography, or really, any macro photography where DoF is a must, focus stacking is the way to go for ultimate sharpness. We use Helicon Focus exclusively at the studio. It's proved itself faster and more reliable than the equivalent in Photoshop. Outside of using View Cameras with bellows, there's no way to achieve this effect. To some of you it might seem not cost-effective, but take it from me, we shoot thousands of images a year for print and web catalogs, nevermind magazine ads and trade-show displays. Focus stacking is easy, anybody can do it really. We basically start the sequence by focusing on the front-most part of the image, and with each shot, focus a little further into the image, until we reach the back. Export it with your favorite software, in our case, we recommend Capture One Pro, and then open the sequence in Helicon Focus, press the start button, you're done!

We have used a tilt-shift lens on occasions, the Canon 90mm TS/E, but we limit the use to items that would require at most 3 image stacks - pendants, certain earrings. Time is money, but critical image quality is what drives us the most.

Jewelry Photography Fashion Shoot for EckSand Jewellers

We've been quite busy at the studio for the past couple of weeks (what's new?). Our client EckSand Jewellers wanted to refresh their look with their latest collection with some new fashion images. It was a pleasure to work on a different, much more human project, it has been a while. With today's economy and the fact that creating real fashion shoots costs money because of model, makeup-artist, retouching, post-fx work, etc., oh yeah, and me the photographer, the bill adds up quickly. Jewellers typically resort to using stock images, from the royalty free type to some rights managed ones. But honestly, nothing beats doing your own shoot - there's much more direction possible. Jewelry photography fashion shoot image 1
My favorite image from the shoot. Simple setup using 1 light, 1 reflector and some background lights: Canon 85 f1.2 II lens, high ISO shot.

EckSand wanted an emotional image that was both dark and sensual in nature.They wanted it to contrast with their delicate pearl and diamond collections. With the makeup wizardry provided by Ekaterina Ulyanoff and model Caroline, we had a blast shooting.

Jewelry photography fashion shoot image 2

The setup was quite simple using 1 light with a grid coming from about 8' high, 2' left of camera. There was also a reflector being held by my amazing assistant Sophie. I used the modeling light only because I wanted to keep the lovely blurred lights in the background (very weak lights of a few watts each) giving it an "evening out" mood. Because of this, I shot between 800 and 1600 ISO with the Canon 85 f1.2 lens shooting quite open because of the low light and sometimes needing to freeze the jewelry on the model. I had to ask the model to hold her poses a wee-bit longer than usual because of the slow shutter speed. I must say, the Canon 85 f1.2 has always been one of my favorites... it's a true gem creating fantastic bokeh/blurs.

Jewelry photography fashion shoot image 3

Anyways, I hope you liked the images. Next blog I'm hoping to post some insights on how we perform white gold to colored/yellow gold conversions in Photoshop. Stay tuned!