Paul Cutting

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How I shot it: Cervelo R3

How I shot it: Cervelo R3

How I shot it: Cervelo R3

Recently I set up a portable studio in my garage to do some portrait images and when I purchased my Cervelo R3 I figured I might as well take the opportunity to do some product photography while I had the backdrop setup. 

When doing product photography make sure you research what people who are interested in the product you are photographing expect in an image of the product.

For instance, when photographing a bicycle here are a just a few of the ‘rules’ you may not have considered. When these rules are not followed your image could be immediately dismissed as…garbage.

1 – The chain has to be in the big chain ring up front, and the smallest gear on the back.
2 – Logos on the tire must be split 50/50 on either side of the valve stem.
3 – The valve stem should always be at the bottom of the wheel pointing straight up or hidden from view.
4 – The drivetrain should always be towards the camera.

Let’s go through the equipment used:

Grey seamless paper backdrop
Canon 7D
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens
El Cheapo light stands x2
Westinghouse 36” softbox
Aurora Lite Bank Firefly II Octabox – 26”
Godox V860II-S speedlights x2
Godox X1-T
Grey Card

Camera Settings:

We are doing product photography so no need to worry about movement of the subject.  Therefore, I set the sync speed to the max of 1/200 sec which will eliminate any chance of light pollution from ambient lighting. 

Naturally we want the best quality image so ISO is set to 100.  The was no real need to choose a low f-stop to save on flash recycle time but for some reason that’s where I went.  Images were shot at F/2.0.

Initially I used a light meter to set the speedlights power to f/2.0 and from there I chimped the power of the speedlights to where I wanted them to be for certain shots.  Flash power control was done manually from the Godox X1-T for this shoot.

Once I had the lighting how I wanted it I used my grey card to set my custom white balance for the scene. It’s not lost on me that I’m photographing on a 18% grey backdrop, or that I could just take the easy way out and set my white balance to flash. I believe it’s solid practice, and a reflection of your technical skill, to set a custom white balance whenever possible in order to have the most accurate colors ‘in camera’. Setting the exposure using a grey card is another article but certainly something I do on the regular as well.

Camera location was straight on at the same level as the top tube of the bicycle. 

Light location:

I had a look in my mind that would be achieved by cross lighting the bike. Placement of the key light (Firefly Octabox) was camera right at about a 10-degree angle front to back of the head tube of the bike, firing down at about a 35 degree angle. Similar to a Rembrandt lighting setup for portraits.  The second light was placed camera left as a back light at as close to the backdrop as possible while minimizing spill onto the background. 

See the lighting diagram and behind the scenes image of the setup.

BTS lighting setup


This image shows the cross lighting effect as the light from camera left is falling on the rear tire, leading inside edge of the rear wheel, chain stays, seat post, and the back side of the head tube. The light from camera right is softer and falling along the entire front of the bike introducing the highlights along the controls, front of the head tube and down the front of the forks. It is also providing the fill for the rest of the bike. The shadows cast by the wheels are almost symmetrical.

It may be hard to spot here but this image shows why choosing to shoot at F2.0 was not the best choice. As we know zoom increases depth of field. This image was cropped in camera at a 28mm focal length. Which is almost at the max zoom of the Sigma 18-35mm lens. My focus point was on the frame of the bicycle and as a result the handlebars are not sharp. For a shot like this I would have been better served using an aperture of F8.0.

In the gallery above I shot all of images at F2.0 and physically walked around the bicycle while adjusting the power of the lights to suit my needs. One of the mistakes I did while taking these images is evident in images MG_8879 and MG_8882. In these two images you can see a red colour cast in the paint and this is because light absorbs color as it reflects off of a surface. In this case I was wearing a red t-shirt. The light was bouncing off of my shirt and was reflected in the images. Something I knew would happen but being time crunched, I made this rookie mistake.

I hope you enjoyed this look at my gorilla style, time crunched photo shoot of my Cervelo R3. The images turned out well and I was able to practice my craft while reminding myself of a few lessons learned, and forgotten along, the way.