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Shooting Highly Reflective Cutlery

Quarantine: Shooting Highly Reflective Objects

Let’s be creative this quarantine! Let’s see how we can shoot highly reflective cutlery.

In general, cutlery can be tricky to shoot, but it’s specially difficult if the whole body of the utensils is metallic and polished. What can we do in this case? There are many ways to shoot polished metal, but the one I prefer is to create a large light source, compared to the subject, so all the reflections coming to the camera have the right angle. I usually do this with a large reflector on top, or to the side, of the subject.

Background

Now that so many people are under lockdown, I decided to make a series of posts and videos to teach you how to shoot everyday objects. However, I realize some of you may not have a lot of lighting equipment at hand, so I’ll offer two solutions: one with DIY lighting and another using hotshoe flashes.

Objectives

The first post in this series is about photographing some highly reflective cutlery, producing an image that’s suitable for a product catalog or that we can sell as stock photography. That’s why I decided to shoot my cutlery over a white base/background.

The Process

I started by placing my cutlery (fork, knife and spoon) over a piece of white foam board, on top of my dining table. Instead of foam board, you could use any other white surface. The table is located next to a large window, so I had plenty of natural light. I set up my camera on a tripod and chose my framing. In terms of exposure, I knew I wanted to use a low ISO of 200, and a medium aperture of f/8 so most of the utensils are in focus. Then, I took a shot.

Cutlery with Natural Light
ISO 200, f/8, 1/8 s

Because of the large window I had a lot of available light, but the image doesn’t look interesting. The reflections are too dark, the shadow is a bit distracting for a catalog image. 

In order to neutralize the shadows, I decided to place two clamp lights on either side of the camera, facing each other, with the cutlery in the middle. Both clamp lights have daylight corrected LED light bulbs, so I didn’t mix my color temperature too much. Both lights also had simple, tissue paper diffusers, that I just held in place with folder clips.

Cutlery with Two Lights
ISO 200, f/8, 1/60 s

I took another shot and I already see some improvement. The shadows have nearly disappeared and look more controlled. The image as a whole looks nicer, with more controlled reflections as well. However, what’s with the dark knife blade?

Since the blade is reflective, flat and long, it’s acting as a mirror. However, the reflection we’re seeing is the ceiling of my dining room, which is not lit in any way at the moment. My next option then, could be to add a light to the ceiling. The problem is, I don’t have another light. I could bring the ceiling closer, then.

In order to get the ceiling closer to the cutlery, I placed another piece of foam board on top of my set. One end is over the table, the other over my clamp lights. Since this new ceiling is so close to my lamps, it will reflect a lot of light and act as a third, large, light source.

Cutlery with Two Lights and Low Ceiling
ISO 200, f/8, 1/60 s

Let’s take another shot. There it is! Nice, controlled shadows and highlights, with a nice clear reflection on the knife blade and spoon.

Using Hotshoe Flashes

Of course, if you have a couple of flashes that have the same guide number, you could replace the clamp lights with them. In my case I put small softboxes over two Godox TT685.

I also changed my parameters to something more suitable for flash. That means I changed the shutter speed to 1/250 s. The flashes were set to 1/32 power, and you can see the result below.

Cutlery with Two Flashes and Low Ceiling
ISO 200, f/8, 1/250 s, flashes w/softboxes at 1/32 power

Just for kicks, I replaced the flashes with smaller, Godox TT350 with their included diffusers. I tested with the same parameters, the flashes also at 1/32 power, with the same result.

Cutlery with Two Flashes and Low Ceiling
ISO 200, f/8, 1/250 s, flashes with diffusers at 1/32 power

Summary

As you can see, shooting highly reflective cutlery may be challenging. However, if you understand that you’re dealing with shadows and reflections, you can then control them, regardless of the kind of light you’re using.

I hope you enjoyed this post and video, and it helps you stay creative during these strange times we’re living. Please stay safe and leave a comment with your suggestions for future posts.

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