Friday, September 29, 2006

Product Photography

We are surrounded by product photos everwhere we go. Glossy advertisements hawk all kinds of products accompanied by beautiful pictures. You really need a studio environment for product photography. The key is to control the amount of light so that it is evenly spread - something you cannot do with normal lighting or a normal flash.

However, you can achieve reasonably good results at home with some creativity, and optionally - some good flash units.

I own a Nikon D70 - which is blessed by Nikon, with their CLS (Creative Lighting System). This amazingly flexible system allows you to control multiple flashes in wireless mode - and control the flash output of each flash unit independently. I have 2 SB-600 flash units, and 1 SB-800. The SB-800
acts as a "master" flash and can wirelessly control the other 2 flashes. You can find more information about the CLS system here.

I decided to use this setup to do some product photography. The first requirement for this type of work is a "light box". If you have the time and effort, you can create your own light box. I purchased mine from a local camera store. Depending on the type of products you want to photograph, you can purchase different sizes. The one used in this project is the smallest available - and is suitable for photographing small objects like mobile phones, small cameras, toys etc. The light box comes with different backgrounds that you can use depending on the type of product you are shooting. I use white background for dark objects, and vice-versa.

The light box was setup on a table, with the 2 SB-600 units on either side mounted on tripod stands. The camera was mounted with the SB-800 unit and set to "master mode". After setting up the appropriate background cloth, I place the product inside the lightbox, and then close it completely. The lightbox comes with a small slit in front to push the lens inside. Takes a little bit of trial and error to setup the correct flash output to get decent pictures. That's the great thing about digital photography. I cannot imagine doing something like this with film-based cameras!

Of course, it is not mandatory to have flash units. You can achieve similar results by placing the light box in bright (and direct) sunlight. It will be hot work - and not as flexible as using the system shown above, but the results will certainly be good enough that people will ask you "How did you do that?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Geo-Tagging with Flickr

Geo-Tagging with Flickr
Originally uploaded by Cajie.
Geo-Tagging allows photographers to embed the details of the physical location (latitude/longtitude) from where the photo is taken. This information is usually recorded as EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data inside the photograph.

How is geo-tagging useful?. Well, in the first place, you will be able to identify the exact location each photo was taken. Imagine being able to go back to the exact same location after 20 years and compare the scene from the original photograph. For historians, it can provide vital information on changing environment.

Most professional digital cameras can link to an external GPS unit and automatically embed the location information everytime a photo is taken.

But what about normal digital cameras that cannot record this information?. One low-tech solution is to use a stand-along GPS unit such as the SONY GPS-CS1. Just make sure the date and time on the camera is synchronized with the GPS unit and the included software will then scan your images to match the date/time with the coordinates recorded by the GPS unit.

If you have your own GPS unit, you could also record geo-tags in your images manually using an EXIF editor tool such as the Opanda Exif Editor.

But this article is not about all of the above. It is about how href="">Flickr has come out with a cool way of embedding geo-tags inside your photos - and the good thing is that you don't need any hardware or software to do it!

By integrating Yahoo! maps inside the Flickr photostream, users can zoom into the map to identify the spot at which the photo was taken - and simply drop the photo at that location.

Flickr automatically reads the physical coordinates and embeds them inside your photograph. Once you have geo-tagged all your photos, you can view a global map showing the locations where each photo was taken. Pretty cool!.

I have just started geo-tagging my photos. You can see an example here.

Now for the not so cool part. Yahoo! maps are'nt the best in the world (At least when compared to Google maps). Yahoo! maps are pretty detailed for the U.S. region, but fall short when it comes to the rest of the world. It would have been really cool if Flickr had integrated their
service with Google maps, but I guess that would be asking too much since Flickr is owned by Yahoo!. I only hope Yahoo! updates it's maps to be on a similar level as Google.

Secondly, Geo-tagging using satellite maps can be, at most, a task in approximation (however detailed the maps may be or may become in future). It can never replace a direct interface between the camera and a GPS unit. But in the absence of a GPS interface, it is the next best thing.

Go ahead and try it out.