Friday, March 13, 2009

Anatomy of a Photo: Haptic Device

I have a spare half-hour to post so I'll go ahead and get this up, finally. The images have been ready for quite a while, but I just haven't pulled the trigger on writing the text up.

Of course, it has been a long time since I wrote an Anatomy of a Photo post. Sadly, I have no set-up shots, didn't make a note of settings, and took the shots a month ago. I'll do my best though!

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Word has gotten out around the lab that I dabble in photography, so a number of guys have asked me to take shots of various robots and robot related apparatuses. So far, I've done at least four different shoots, not including my own robot. I have to admit, I enjoy product/technical photography -- it is fun to have a subject that doesn't wiggle, complain, need breaks, and looks cool!

While I don't consider myself a professional product photographer, I feel like I am doing a pretty good job on these shots. In fact, one of my dissertation readers commented: "Your object photos are amazing - did you hire a photographer?" Too bad it is so hard to make money in product photography in this economy!

Anyway, in this case, a guy from the lab asked if I could shoot his haptic device. I liked the way the shoot turned out (the image at the top was used in one of his presentations) so I asked him if he minded if I posted about it here. He didn't, so here we go...

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The primary goal was to get some shots that he could use for papers and presentations, highlight the use of his haptic device, and get a few detail shots. Actually, he didn't tell me those needs outright, but whenever I do research/product shots, I always try to get a cool 'overall' view, a cool 'in use' view, and then 'detail' views based on specific contributions.

In particular, I always ask: "What is the most novel thing about this robot?" In this case, his cable transmission was notable, so I made sure to get a shot of it. Actually, the transmission shot was my favorite of the shoot -- see it at the end of this post. And, as always, click to see any of the photos larger.

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The shoot itself occurred in a nearby conference room and was rather painless. The conference room has large brown tables that tend to look nice with a black background, so I set the robot on a table and set up some lights. Before engaging flash though, I shot a few with available light (window) for safety. Overall, I found the available light shots unremarkable so I didn't post any here.

At the start, I was undecided if I wanted a light or dark background. Often, in research papers or on the web, a white or gray background flows better (and doesn't kill printer ink). So I shot the device on a large piece of white seamless to start, as above.

The only lighting in this case is a Sunpak 383 into an umbrella at camera left. I had a large piece of foam core as fill on the other side, if I remember correctly.

After shooting a few frames and chimping, I decided the white background was not letting the device 'pop' like it should. I usually don't like white with silvery products because there is not a lot of separation between the silver and the white. So I removed the seamless and shot on the bare table:

While I liked this a little better in terms of contrast, the edges of the motors were getting lost in the background. So I decided to use a hard light from behind the object to highlight edges (again, this is the cross-lighting trick I always tend to go back to). That necessitated a swap from the umbrella to a large white wall at camera right (moving the table to get the right angle). I also added an SB-20 in deep camera left, slightly below the level of the table, to get a backlight without too much specular on the table.

Overall, I like this shot a lot better. Note how the back light evens out the table and provides a nice outline on the edges of the motors. The table itself was brought up quite a bit by the change in lighting. In particular, the key is now farther away but much larger, resulting in less drop-off.

Once I got the shot locked in, I took a series of shots in this position, moving the robot to get the specular highlights where I wanted them. In these cases, I don't mind if small portions blow out, but I want to avoid a large area (like a pulley face) completely blowing out. I also brought in a hand model when it was too hard for me to hold the device and shoot at the right angle. I could have used a tripod, but it is always easier with an extra hand! The end result was the image that opened the post.

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One thing I've been trying to work on lately is more variation in my shots, especially for product-style photography like this. I'll do a full shoot, then realize during processing that almost all of my shots are from the same point of view. Only after the fact will I think of other unique angles or lighting setups.

So after I got a number of safe (but quality) shots, I started to experiment a little bit. The first change was to rotate the device the opposite way, using the same setup:

With the pulleys facing the key light I also took the opportunity to get some detail shots, like the shot below:

I should also mention, in terms of detail shots, you can often get away with some aggressive cropping of overall shots for web display or within a paper or thesis. It is still nice to break out the macro lens to do a few on purpose in high-res, but if you forget, you can often derive them from your main shots.

I tried a few other views and angles, but the shot above really is my favorite from the whole shoot. No specific reason, I just like the close, technical feel of it. Overall I felt the haptic device was very photogenic, primarily because the red base really provides some pop against a dark background. A little bit of color can go a long way, even for a research paper!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who's the autor of such an nice and impressing Haptic Interface?