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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Durable Plastic Backgrounds

As many of you know I have become a big believer in the Strobist mindset of using small strobes for big results. My budget simply does not allow for me to have full sized studio lights, but what I do have is a collection of Nikon flashes that would love to be used. What I needed to shoot this little ball of energy is a sturdy background that would stand up to being puppy abused. Hardware store to the rescue.

Subject 1 is a 6 month old, fearless puppy. I had purchased a sheet of flexible plastic from the hardware store a while back in the hopes of using it as a background. This is sheeting that normally would be used for, ummm, I have no idea since I only seem to hurt myself with power tools. It is most often used to as a wall covering in bathrooms. But it is ideal when you need a sturdy background for small subjects. I had originally purchased it as a background for taking eBay product shots. If for only the reason that it felt more durable than using paper.

At any rate, this material makes a great background for animals because it is heavy enough that they won't destroy it when they dig on it and it would be easy clean up for accident. By making a bit of a fold in the background a slight shadow forms giving the background a bit of separation.

By putting the background down and letting the dog sniff, paw and otherwise abuse my background I was able to get it to trust this foreign surface. You have to earn the trust of any animal before you can photograph it. In order to earn its trust you have to know how the animal thinks and reacts to different stimuli. I have found that just letting the animal have time to walk around is the most important aspect of getting a good picture. Second on the list is being at the animals eye level.

To get down to an 11lb dog's eye level, it means you are going to be sitting, if not lying on the floor. While not every image has to be from this angle, it is a good starting point to get the animal the eyes of the animal as the focus.

The lighting was very simple. It was all bounced off the white ceiling. I have two Nikon flashes set to manual and triggered by eBay wireless cactus triggers. The SB-80DX is camera left and slightly behind the subject at 1/2 power. The SB-600 has a Gary Fong diffuser and is camera right in line with the subject.

Because of the small size of the background there is not a lot of room for the animal to walk around and still be in the frame. I did have to recreate the front of the image in photoshop and take out the front edge.

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