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Thread: Photographing taxidermy birds

  1. #1
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    Photographing taxidermy birds

    I have a rare opportunity to photograph some of the birds from Audubon's personal bird collection in about 6 weeks. Most of my photography is in natural light, but this shoot will be in a lab setting with no windows, so I need some help getting up to speed quickly with a simple portable lighting setup that will do justice to the subject.
    I've been told I will have a large table top to work with, so I thought I would set up a background on the table, and photograph against it for both mounted birds on stands, and ones that will be laying flat on the table.
    I need suggestions on what type of lighting system to look at. It can't generate heat, so continuous lighting, unless it is LED, is out. I would prefer a one light setup with a collapsible reflector to keep things simple, but am open to all suggestions.
    I like the idea of a LED continuous source because it is easier to model the light on each subject, and modify the reflector to fill shadows where necessary.
    My experience with flash is limited to on and off camera strobe on the canon system. Shooting with a Canon 5D MK2 camera, 24-70, 50 macro, 70-200, 35 1.4.
    Shaun O'Boyle
    new.oboylephoto.com

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    There are a number of great LED light sources that will work well. I'd highly recommend the Litepanels 1X1. You can very affordably rent one.

    You could work with 2 or use a reflector as you were thinking. You may even be able to effectively light the background with this setup. It depends on what kind of look you're going for. If your masking skills are good you could simply knock out and drop in a background that you've shot separately.

    You'll also want some direct lights, or silver (specular) reflectors to reveal detail. Feathers can be very diffuse on one part of a birds body and very specular on another. Lighting them well will take some time and effort.

    Depending on the size of the bird, and the angle at which you're shooting it, your 35mm can provide the most normal view.

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    What a wonderful opportunity! I'd think it through in order to make the most of it.

    If you are not familiar with table-top lighting, I would suggest looking through a number of lighting forums to get an idea of what can be done and what sort of lighting configurations you may prefer ... then go from there. I strongly suggest not starting with restrictions like "one light" ... instead, pre-visualize what you want then decide on how to light it.

    So, set your objectives to begin with. Ask yourself creative questions: How accurate? How dramatic? End use? How consistent bird-to-bird, or do you shoot each differently according to the bird?

    Personally, I would use strobes ... a gridded overhead soft-box on a boom arm and a few angled lights and standard 7" grid reflectors with 10 and 20 grids to highlight certain areas of the subject to increase textures ... all of which can be rented.

    For shooting, I would use a rented Canon TS-E 90mm to give some distance between you and the subject to provide room to maneuver the lighting, minimize distortion, while using tilts to control depth-of-field front to back while using the best f-stop for optical performance.

    -Marc

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    if the birds are not too large. i would suggest a shooting table, smaller ones are a few hundred bucks. using the translucent plastic allows you to light the bottom surface of the table from underneath to eliminate shadows and the curved back makes the background and any jointlines disappear
    Interfit STUDIO TABLE WITH EXTENSION LEGS INT350 B&H Photo Video

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    Quote Originally Posted by fotografz View Post
    Personally, I would use strobes ... a gridded overhead soft-box on a boom arm and a few angled lights and standard 7" grid reflectors with 10 and 20 grids to highlight certain areas of the subject to increase textures ... all of which can be rented.

    For shooting, I would use a rented Canon TS-E 90mm to give some distance between you and the subject to provide room to maneuver the lighting, minimize distortion, while using tilts to control depth-of-field front to back while using the best f-stop for optical performance.
    Interesting response given the OP said:

    Quote Originally Posted by soboyle View Post
    My experience with flash is limited to on and off camera strobe on the canon system. Shooting with a Canon 5D MK2 camera, 24-70, 50 macro, 70-200, 35 1.4.
    Not criticizing your suggestions Marc, they are all well and good. But learning to use studio lights and a Tilt-Shift lens on the fly might be a little daunting.

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    Quote Originally Posted by jlm View Post
    if the birds are not too large. i would suggest a shooting table, smaller ones are a few hundred bucks. using the translucent plastic allows you to light the bottom surface of the table from underneath to eliminate shadows and the curved back makes the background and any jointlines disappear
    Another valid option provided you know how to light the table to create a nice gradient and can avoid flair from the back lighting or merging of the subject by over-lighting the background.

    Again, not criticizing. I know you guys are trying to help. But I think you forget how much experience you have with the techniques you're suggesting and if the OP had this experience I don't think he'd have posted the question he did.

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    I personally think you will struggle getting a quality result with a one light setup because animal hair will soak up the light and a reflector (even a efficient silver one) might not punch enough light back into the shadows and you will loose fine detail fast.

    If you are experienced using speedlights I would stick with those in combination with a bracket similar to this from Lastolite that will allow you to add a shoot through brolly.

    A couple of Speedlights on stands shooting through brollies should give you an excellent result. A third low powered battery flash can be added to act as a hair style light or background light depending on the effect you want. Practice on a toy bear or similar before the shoot, looking at different lighting styles and pick the one you like the most.

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    I will be transporting this lighting setup to the lab at a college museum to make these photographs, so I have to keep things as simple as possible. I've decided to go with LED panels for this work, I will be working with small bird subjects, so don't need a lot of power. Plus I can visualize light modeling much better with a constant light source. Heat is an issue working with these fragile 19th century specimens, so the LED panels are good in that respect. I spoke with Kirk Tuck the other day and went with his recommendation of a couple inexpensive photodiox panels, and will modify ambient lighting with an overhead diffuser, and reflectors. The photodiox panels can match temps from 3200 to 5600, so I can match fluorescent lab lights if need be. My main investment will be in light stands, and grip hardware for holding diffusers/reflectors. Any recommendations on what would be a good minimum portable setup to handle type of shoot? Which stands and grip hardware? I need to keep this as inexpensive as possible but don't want to buy junk.
    Shaun O'Boyle
    new.oboylephoto.com

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    Shaun if this is a one-off project maybe you can just rent stands and grip gear. I don't know what resources for this you have near you.

    If you're going to buy I'd suggest looking into Calumet stands. They're well made, equivalent or better than the stands most major brands ship with their kits.

    Bogen/Manfrotto and Matthews make flex arms, magic arms and various clamps to fix lights to tables or other supports.

    Matching your light to overhead flourscents may prove tricky with long exposures. The discontinuous spectrum of FL light sources rears it's ugly head when you can't over power it.

    Investing in the Xrite Colorchecker Passport is highly recommended.

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    Kirk,
    Thanks for the suggestions. If at all possible, will turn off the fluorescent lights.
    This project will involve a number of locations with different conditions at each. I'm trying to put together a flexible portable lighting kit that will also serve for table top still life/product photography in a studio when this project is done. I have the color checker passport, and will use that to make a custom profile on site.
    Do you think the calumet stands are equal to the manfrotto equivalents? I see the calumet 8' stand is about $12 cheaper than the manfrotto 7.75' stand, not a lot, but enough to pay for a super clamp when buying 2 stands.
    Shaun O'Boyle
    new.oboylephoto.com

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    Re: Photographing taxidermy birds

    Quote Originally Posted by soboyle View Post
    Do you think the calumet stands are equal to the manfrotto equivalents? I see the calumet 8' stand is about $12 cheaper than the manfrotto 7.75' stand, not a lot, but enough to pay for a super clamp when buying 2 stands.
    Many of them are made by Manfrotto and in my experience they are great stands.

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