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Shooting for a web store flowers catalog

GAP was recently approached by a flower shop store to assist in photographing their 2014 lineups of bouquets for their website. The objective was to shoot "high key" i.e. white background. The key challenges where lighting, post-processing and a tight deadline to submit all in 24 hours. In the remaining of this post I will am sharing the way I approached it.

Planning and setup

Fig.1. tabletop setup for the shoot of flowers bouquets for the web catalogue 

To achieve the setup above, I planned and later executed a three light source setup with the help of 3 Canon speedlites. I had two and I had to borrow the third from a friend. 

Whenever you are shooting still life, it is recommended to set the speedlites on manual mode. However when we started shooting different sizes from small bouquets to 2 meters long plants, we had to adjust the key and fill lights both positions and height. That part was tedious! As a lesson learnt, try to group same length products, start with the shortest and then introduce bigger and larger ones as you go on adjusting location and height of your source lights.

Gear, accessories, and camera settings

I made use of all tripods, light stands and speedlites I have for the assignment. I have even used the 5 in 1 reflector to soften the fill light set at the camera left angle of 45 degrees. I had to make use of clamps to properly lay it out in front of my 580EX ii.

The day before I had to buy a fresh white shower curtain to use it as a backdrop. The result was amazing and you will get to see it at the end of this post where I have published some photos of the shoot. The idea was to light up the backdrop with my 430EX ii to achieve the nearest to a pure white - right there in the camera. To do that I set its mode to manual and started off with 1/16th of the flash power and placed it behind the shower curtain.

Both key and fill lights were on right and left of the camera position by 45 degrees as depicted in the setup above (fig.1.) Both on manual and initial power set at 1/8 for the key light and 1/16 for the fill light.

The camera was set at Manual mode, Flash White Balance with the aperture ranging between 5.6 and 7.1 and the shutter speed at 1/200 to kill the ambient light. ISO however was ranging from 640 to 800 depending on the luminosity of the bouquet itself and my distance in and out of the shot. 

The shooting process

I had three assistants waiting in line, bringing one bouquet after another, placing it on the table or - if heavy to stand still in the vase or too long for the backdrop - holding it by hands underneath the table. 

I had my Canon 7D tethered into Lightroom for better evaluation of each snap. This came handy as I had the client commenting online to a 15" monitor. 

Once all test shots and auto focus locked, I turned Image Stabilization (IS on Canon lenses) off and moved to manual focus for quicker and steadier shoot.

Post processing

Post processing was not a picnic!!! I worked out the majority of the adjustments in Lightroom and left the tricky parts to Photoshop. 

Some were easy to adjust and they were finished in Lightroom. Just applied some exposure, clarity and saturation...

To remove the persistent grey around the subject I created a Brush Adjustment Preset in Lightroom as such: Exposure: 4.00; Contrast: 100; Saturation: -100; Sharpness: -100 and painted all around to achieve clipping highlights. To make sure the background is pure white I activated the "Show Highlights Clipping" on the histogram panel. When all white turned red I was happy and moved to the next shot.

Below is a sample of the final result...

Leaves have to be post processed in photoshop. A mix of clone stamp and healing brush did the job well

White color flowers are another challenge. You have to slightly overexpose the image for a proper white color

This one was easy however, I had to reconstruct the glass vase in Photoshop

This one was tricky since the vase is made of glass. I had reflections everywhere so I gave up and used Photoshop to clear the erase and reconstruct

This was a long bouquet. Two assistants had to sit underneath the table just to hold it straight

I discovered that red colors are the trickiest part in Canon. Someone told me you don't have this issue in Nikon. I underexposed and it worked well: no washed out reds and enough details in the shadows

For the complete photos, you can see them under this project link.

Final tips and conclusion

What started out as an easy evening photo shoot for a friend ended up as a complicated photo and post processing sessions where I had to use all I learnt about photography, lighting, Lightroom and Photoshop to successfully achieve the outcome. I enjoyed the challenge and I hope you do the same i.e. accept the challenge and do the necessary research and practice to achieve it. Once you do, the satisfaction is beyond compare.

Final Tip: wear slipping-free sneakers as twice I slipped and fell due to water spilling everywhere from flowers, vases and my camera and gear survived many times water damage.