Shooting Saturday – Stock Toilet Paper

Today’s small photography project is a stock photography shoot of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer. After taking some time to get the settings right on both my camera and my strobes, they came out reasonably well.  In fact, all three stock photography sites to which I submitted them approved all of my submissions. I’ll talk through how I set this shoot up in this post, lessons I learned, and accidental find.

COVID-19 is no joke.  But how people have responded to the pandemic, like buying up allof the toilet paper, is ridiculous.  And, since all of my other photography projects are on hold, I decided to shoot some high-key photos of toilet paper and a bottle of hand sanitizer.  Maybe there will be an agency who needs a high-quality high-key photo of these precious commodities.

For this shoot, I used two Newer N-250W strobes with square soft boxes. But you could also have great diffuse, soft light if you set up a shoot by a south-facing window and fill in the shadows with a piece of white foam core or the white side of a 5-in-1 reflector.

A while back, I made a simple folding frame out of wood that I use as a table-top studio for both low-key and high-key photography.  I think I spent about $15 for the materials. Then, I simply clamp a white poster board to the vertical frame, and I have a studio for small objects.

An iPhone shot of my small product photography studio.

I am shooting with a Canon Rebel EOS t3i and a “nifty-fifty” Canon 50mm lens f/1.8. For my first two frames, I shot at ISO 100, 1/100, f/9 and the lowest setting of power on the strobes. The first few frames were terribly overexposed. After a couple rounds of adjustments, I dialed in at 1/125 sec. and f/22.  I was not terribly excited about shooting at f/22 because I did not want that great of a depth-of-field.  With that depth of field, any imperfections on the poster board would show up in the image, which I would have to clone out in post-production.  In fact, that is what I had to do with several photos.

Initially, I shot with the strobes at 45/45 degrees at their lowest power settings, as you can see in the photo above.  But this created some awkward shadows.  So, I moved them directly to the side of the roll.

20200407 Stock Toilet Paper Roll-8566
ISO 100, 125 sec., f/22.  I created a vertical shot with a lot of negative space for text.

In retrospect, I could have solved my power/depth-of-field problem if I had simply pulled the strobes away from the object.  The general rule of thumb is that softer light comes from a light source that is bigger relative to the object, which meant closer to the roll of paper.  But, since I was shooting with two lights, it would not have been a problem.

While I was shooting, I would chimp to check on my work. I noticed black spots on the LCD panel.  As I was shooting, I thought the spots were under the glass on the panel. Once I pulled the images into Lightroom, I realized that the spots were part of the images.  Not only were they part of the images, but there were dozens of spots.

20200407 Stock Toilet Paper Roll-8544
This is an unedited image of a roll of toilet paper. You can clearly see the spots that are on my sensor.

At first, I thought they were on the lens, so I swapped out the lens with a 24mm, but the spots were still there.  So, that left one thing – spots on the sensor.  I locked up the mirror and used an air rocket to try to blow the spots off the sensor. After another round of images, there were still dozens of spots on the images.  I spent an unreasonable amount of time cloning out the spots.

So, it looks like my next project is cleaning a DSLR sensor!

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