A Short Course Book
Digital Desktop Studio Photography
The Complete Guide To Lighting and Photographing Small Objects with your Digital Camera

Case Study—A Neon Flamingo

The first results, shot without the light and fill card illuminating the base made the flamingo look like it was floating in air. All details in the base were lost.
Any subject that emits light presents real challenges, especially if there are parts that don't emit any light at all. The contrast range between the brightest and darkest parts is quite extreme.

The Assignment

The assignment is to photograph a neon flamingo while it is on and glowing. The main problem is going to be to show the true colors in the extremely bright neon and the shape of the very black, shiny base.

1. Composition

Since we want all parts of the flamingo in focus it is arranged parallel to the camera and the camera is centered on the subject. A middle gray background is chosen so the illuminated flamingo stands out against a darker background.

2. Lighting

Since the neon flamingo emits light, it doesn't need to be lighted. However, a light is placed on either side of the flamingo to add highlights to the base and give an idea of its shape. A diffuser is used to soften one of the lights and you can see the difference in the two sets of highlights. Those on the left are sharp, while those on the right, created by the diffuser, are soft. The background is not illuminated with another light but by light spilling over from the two being used for the base.

3. Camera Settings

For this subject we do a lot of experimenting. We try a variety of white balance settings, but finally settle on daylight. Experimentation also shows that we needed to underexpose the image from the recommended setting to get fully saturated colors in the neon.

The setup showing the position of the two lights, diffuser, and fill card.

The final image shows the true colors of the neon and details in the base. Flamingo courtesy of Emily Morin.
To hide the power cord, you could drill a hole though the background and run it through that hole and out the rear of the setup. If you are good with Photoshop, you could also remove it with that program.

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