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

Case Study—A Textured Leather Battery Wallet

When an object such as a coin or fabric has relief or texture that you want to emphasize, you need to light it at a low angle with hard light. The light sweeping across the object forms shadows that give a three-dimensional affect to the surface. The problem is that our subjects have two different surface textures. The velcro and nylon on the inside are flat black and the leather on the outside is shiny.

The Assignment

The assignment is to photograph a wallet used to hold sets of batteries. It will be used on the Web and in a printed catalog. The goal is to show the surface texture of the object as well as it's form.

1. Composition

The subject we've chosen, a battery wallet, has a function— keeping battery sets together. Since it can be opened and closed, we decided to use two wallets to show it both ways in the same photo. The camera is placed high so it is shooting down on the subjects.

2. Lighting

To light the velcro and nylon on the inside of the wallet, a hard main light is placed at a low angle. This light, sweeping across the subject, brings out detail and texture. To show the surface and texture of the leather on the outside of the subject, a bright light is used to illuminate the background. From the camera position, the bright background is reflected in the surface of the wallet and shows up as shiny white detail. The wallets are placed on a sheet of smoked plexiglass so the background light can sweep under them without creating shadows. Because the items are raised, any shadows created by the main light fall outside of the image area.

3. Camera Settings

Because both the subject and background are darker than middle gray, exposure compensation was used to lighten the image a little.

The setup uses a main light (left) at a low angle to the subject and a background light (right) that illuminates the background and creates a bright spot that reflects off the leather surface of the closed wallet. The wallets are placed on a raised sheet of smoked plexiglass.

The final photograph shows the texture in both the leather and velcro and the subjects stand out clearly against the background. The bright areas on the leather covering of the closed wallet are reflections of the brightly lit background.

When just placed on a neutral background and lit, the wallets create confusing cross shadows. The image doesn't look professional.

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