Black Backgrounds

Discuss cameras, settings, composition, or anything related to photography - cactus or other subjects.
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Shmuel
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Black Backgrounds

Post by Shmuel »

This may be a dumb question, but so many cactus photos look great with a black background. How does one do that?
Do people move their plants into a "studio"? Or just put a card or something in back of the plant? :?:

Shmuel
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DaveW
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by DaveW »

Mine are just moved to a table outside the greenhouse with a black background on a piece of plywood, in my case black cotton velvet if you can get it since it is less reflective than synthetic velvet, whose artificial fibres have a slight sheen. If possible incline the background slightly forward to keep the light off it. You can also clean up the background in post processing. I sometimes use the Paint Bucket set to black in Photoshop Elements and just fill in the black background to remove any light spots. This does not work in some images though because it can bleed into the petals or spines where you do not want it, therefore getting the best black background to start with is preferable.
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Some also use the "Black Box" method. You spray the inside of a cardboard box black, or line it with black material. This is then in effect is like photographing the plant if front of a small dark cave entrance since the sides and top of the box keep the light off the black background. You can also get ready made folding light boxes with black backgrounds off EBAY which provide different coloured backgrounds, plus diffuse the light falling on the plant.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_from= ... t&_sacat=0

I prefer to take my plants in natural light rather than artificial light or flash, but as cacti only tend to open their flowers in full sun therefore you can have a bit of a problem since that produces very contrasty pictures. The ideal photographic lighting is said to be a sunny day but with the sun veiled with lightwhite cloud. A way to produce this effect is to use the diffusing light boxes above, or a separate diffuser held between the sun and the plant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVV4mcfygQo

http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototip ... hting.html

I use one of these cheap round Chinese diffusers off EBAY:-

http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=rou ... &_from=R40

I presume this was the type of effect you were after? Both used black backgrounds similar to the above methods, plus a diffuser when taken in full sun outside the greenhouse.?
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51_A. muscula2.jpg
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7george
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by 7george »

Yes, people can do this different ways, even moving their plants to a "studio" some kind.
Image

Image

The photos above are made using direct sun light and black background from some furniture (a table, drawer). In this case you have to eliminate imperfectnesses by proper plant positioning and cropping the frame afterwards.
If your cacti mess in your job just forget about the job.
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Shmuel
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by Shmuel »

Awesome! Thanks. I knew there was more to it than trying to angle at the night sky. I have had the problem of sheen on black cloth, or just that the black wasn't really black. (there are zillions of blacks in the fabric industry). I also do not like the heavy comntrast of sunlight or flash - you gave me good ideas. Again,

Thanks,
Shmuel
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Shmuel
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by Shmuel »

George,
The cropping idea is a good point. I usually keep my camera at maximum megapixels so I can crop and get a decent quality out of what is left. Your first shot of the Mammillaria is in full sun? It looks great!!! The Gymno also looks great - even with the high contrast.

Shmuel
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DaveW
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by DaveW »

There are ways of doing it in post processing too. If you are having trouble with sheen or patchy light on undulations on a black background you can use a different coloured one where light falling on it does not matter so much. I would not use white since that can bias your cameras exposure meter and lead to under exposure of the subject. If you use something like grey, light falling on that does not matter so much. With a solid coloured background using post processing you can change it to any colour you want using the Paint Bucket tool, or similar in your post processing software. Set it to black and you will get an absolutely black background.
black.jpg
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Same background with one click of black Paint Bucket tool on it.
Echinocereus-reichenbachii-black.jpg
Echinocereus-reichenbachii-black.jpg (229.7 KiB) Viewed 8072 times
This method does not always work, since occasionally filling in the background can bleed into the petals, or plant itself if there are any similar tones. However you can always go to Edit and remove the action you have just done.
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SnowFella
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by SnowFella »

Lots of way's to skin that cat indeed.
I used the easiest possible method in the past, just an old black t-shirt tacked onto a cork board for backdrop. Just place it behind the plant and in shade and adjust your camera settings to get the background black.
Nowadays though having picked up a stack of photography gear including several flashes I'd likely try to do it not even bothering with a backdrop, can do a quick studio setup using 2 off camera flashes in just about the same time it would take me to do the backdrop thing.
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7george
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by 7george »

I agree that the very black background and direct sunlight are not the best solutions for a good picture. They make the contrast very strong and often hard to edit, process that photo. Gray is better. For the 1st photo of Escobaria sneedii I used filtered (screened) light. And for sure several light sources from different sides contribute to a better quality.

Image
Here black is perfect but the white is overexposed. But it could be good with other set of equipment or camera adjustments.
If your cacti mess in your job just forget about the job.
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DaveW
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by DaveW »

You don't in fact need several light sources, a white reflector on the dark side of the plant will fill in the shadows, even a white sheet of paper can be used. Those 5 in 1 diffuser/reflectors in my original video are very handy for this since I am not a real fan of using artificial light in flower photography, preferring to use natural light. You can even make a diffuser from a white sheet of tissue paper stuck to a wooden frame, some use an old picture frame or similar for this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8_btceWWlA

Whilst it is theoretically possible to get it right in camera it is very difficult since cameras do not have as wide a dynamic range as the human eye. That is the reason I shoot RAW since it allows more tweaking of the image in post processing than do in camera JPEG's, as this video shows:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBF1i8t8Skw

However, obviously what constitutes correct flesh tones is a matter of personal opinion, since I thought they were better straight out of camera than after his adjustments above.

Most of the higher end cameras can shoot RAW. You obviously need post processing software that can open the RAW files from your camera, since unlike the universal JPEG's each camera manufacturer has their own type of RAW files and often alters it with their latest camera. I use Photoshop Elements with the free Adobe Camera Raw editor. As to space on memory cards that is not really a problem these days, since I shot 1400 RAW images on a single card in Chile last year with my Nikon D200.

http://photographyconcentrate.com/10-re ... oting-raw/

Evidently you can even shoot RAW on an I-Phone now.

http://www.imore.com/how-shoot-raw-phot ... ne-or-ipad

On course before you start any photo manipulation the first thing is to calibrate your monitor for photography, or others may not see your photo's as you see them. Computer monitors straight out of the box are notorious for not being calibrated right for photography. The makers usually adjust them to enhance the reading of text. There are plenty of free calibrators on the web to use though.

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-online-t ... e-monitor/
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7george
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by 7george »

Of course DaveW is right about all these things we should do to get good photos. But I remembered about another way I used to get a black background - doing a night shot using some artificial light source.

Image
My image again is far not perfect because of holding the camera with one hand and flashlight with the other one, also my .jpeg image wasn't very fixable. :salute:

Here you can see that the petals of that Gymno were not actually pure white: there were some other colour spots that been lost at the first high contrast images.
Image

This last one was made with gray background (peace of grayish cardboard) and under daylight (not a direct sun).
If your cacti mess in your job just forget about the job.
°C = (°F - 32)/1.8
Shmuel
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by Shmuel »

Beautiful, George! What is that first one? It whispered Discocactus to me, but I don't know. My experience in night backgrounds is that I have to reallt contort to get a blank sky. Maybe just too much urban sprawl by me...

The Gymno is a great photo. The light and shadow bring out great texture and detail. It also brings out a point that should maybe be a new topic - reflected vs transmitted light, of which your 2 flowers seem to illustrate the concept.

Shmuel
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DaveW
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by DaveW »

Another way of getting a black background is to use the "black box" method, or a version called the "black bucket" method. It's rather like photographing something at the entrance to a cave since the bucket sides shield the back of the bucket from stray light. Obviously for our plants you do not need it mounted on a tripod, but just resting on it's side with the plant in front. A black internally painted cardboard or wooden box can be used in the same way:-

http://digital-photography-school.com/t ... g-flowers/
thorneyheart
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by thorneyheart »

That is a really awesome tip you've shared, Dave.
Shmuel
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by Shmuel »

I agree! A simple low tech solution with great reasult, I love it.
Thanks DaveW

Shmuel
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DaveW
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Re: Black Backgrounds

Post by DaveW »

It's usually called the "Black Box Method" since people simply used a deep cardboard box and painted the inside with a black spray can, or used matt black paint to paint it rather than a black bucket.

Also see:-

http://www.instructables.com/id/Photogr ... ackground/

I am also a great fan of diffusion. Our plants usually only open their flowers in bright sunlight which is the worst type of photo lighting since it produces harsh shadows and often burnt out highlights, therefore I use one of those circular spring open diffusers between the plant and the sun.

See:-

viewtopic.php?f=33&t=21429&p=248886&hil ... rs#p248886

viewtopic.php?f=33&t=28431&p=252215&hil ... rs#p252215
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