MY PHOTO SETUP
I took all the photos in this website, the good ones and the bad ones. And I did it all in my garage. I started with a very cheap 3.2 megapixel digital camera, the Olympus Camedia D-395. About four months ago I moved up to a better camera, the 4.0 megapixel Kodak EasyShare DX7440. It has a better lens, more features and higher optical zoom, which really helps with the close-ups. However, all things being equal, the difference in the quality output between the two cameras is not significant. One of my best looking albums, the Colnago Oval CX, was taken with the Olympus. The big difference is in the features. So don't think that you need an expensive camera - even my new one only cost around $300.00.
I use a tripod for 99% of my shots. I only take hand-held shots when I can't place the camera where I need to with the tripod (usually only in certain close-ups). But it is extremely difficult to take a good hand-held close-up shot. That's where the extra optical zoom capability of the Kodak camera really comes in handy - you don't have to get the camera in as close when you have a good zoom lens, so you can keep the camera on the tripod.
I have two tripods. One is a regular size lightweight telescoping tripod, which I bought at Target for under $30.00, and the other is a mini telescoping tripod (great for close-up shots of the crank, rear derailleur, chainstays, etc), which I bought at a photo store for under $20.00. The mini tripod, however, is so small and light that it can easily shake when I depress the shutter. To prevent camera shake, I use the self-timer feature on the camera to avoid having to depress the shutter button. Next time I buy a camera I will look for one with a soft-touch shutter button, or better yet, a remote control activated shutter.
Early on I used available indoor light plus the camera flash, and as a backdrop I used an off-white painter's canvas drop-cloth from Home Depot (with an ugly beige tint to it - you can see it in the Colnago Master photos). I hung this drop-cloth backdrop against three organizer shelves that are side by side in my garage ($40.00 each also at Home Depot, but I already had these). Fortunately, the three organizers together, at about 9' wide, are just the right width for photographing bicycles.
I quickly realized that flash lighting tends to wash-out color and details, especially in close-ups, and creates strong shadows against the backdrop, so I stopped using the flash, and now I only use two dual-lamp 1,000 watt Sears work lights (about $35.00 each), aimed at the ceiling. This works much better as it eliminates glare and shadows. There are two 500W lamps on each of the worklights, but I only turn on one on each worklight, to keep the heat down. That really isn't too bright, but it is enough for good photos after I raise the light sensitivity setting on the camera.
I used to combine my halogen work lights with the existing fluorescent ceiling lights, thinking more was better. Not so, when they are two different types of light. Halogen/tungsten casts a yellow tint, and fluorescent casts a blue tint. Most digital cameras have white-balance settings that compensate for the tinting, but this feature doesn't work as well with mixed lighting. So now I turn off the ceiling fluorescents and only use the halogen work lights when I shoot - and I set the camera's white-balance setting to tungsten. This results in photos with hardly any yellow tint. Whatever tinting is left I can usually correct with Photoshop.
As for the backdrop, I "upgraded" from the canvas drop-cloth to a white paper/vinyl drop-cloth also from Home Depot. It didn't work very well either - it was too transparent, had a huge seam right down the middle, and it tore easily (you can see this backdrop in the photos of the Merckx 7-11 Corsa Extra). The transparency allowed the shelves behind them to be visible.
I upgraded again, this time to two king-size white cotton sheets, professionally sewn together (yes, I took them to a tailor shop), to form a single 9' x 16' sheet. Unfortunately, the sheets were still too transparent (you can see this in the photos of the Ciocc). Additionally, the sheets showed all their wrinkles (one time I took the trouble to iron them, can you believe that?). And it was impossible to prevent the sheets from sagging in different places. So I was still not happy. I tried to improve the backdrop situation by hanging yet another sheet behind the first two. This prevented the see-through problem, but the wrinkles and sagging were still there. So now I was over $100.00 into sheets, but still not happy with the results. The two photos below are of the "double hung" cotton sheets.
Sheldon Brown suggested using the seamless paper which professional photographers use. I found a roll of it at a local pro-photo supply store, 9' x 50', for $55.00. Suffice it to say that i wish I had gotten this from the beginning. I rigged two arms that extend from my organizer shelves, and the roll hangs between them permanently. When not in use, I roll it up and it is completely out of the way. (For those of you with nothing to hang the paper on, they sell lightweight portable poles which serve as a frame from which to hang the paper.) The two photos below show what the seamless paper looks like.
I use concrete sprinkler "doughnuts" to keep the end from curling back (don't ask me where I got them, you know already).
This is what the roll looks like when not in use. Note the support arms that I rigged up (I wonder where I got the hardware?)
This is what the lighting set up looks like when in use.
Same setup with a bike ready for a shoot. Note the prop stick behind the rear wheel - it is wedged under the quick release lever. Note also that these photos were taken exclusively with the light from the two lamps pointing up at the ceiling.
I get the bikes to stand up by leaning them against a homemade prop stick with two wheel chocks under the rear wheel. The prop stick consists of a piece of closet hanger tubing, with a white rubber foot on one end and a swiveling suction cup on the other end. The suction cup is part of an adjustable/removable kitchen towel hook that I took apart. The wheel chocks are left over parts from the towel hook after I disassembled it. (And guess where you can get all of the parts? Uh-hmm, that's right.) Lean the bike on the prop stick so that it is at a slight angle to the floor, in other words, not perpendicular. If you try to have the bike too perpendicular to the floor, it will fall. Eventually you will get the feel for balancing the bike on the prop stick safely. Don't forget to use wheel chocks, without them the bike will roll and fall. Here you see close-ups of the prop stick and the wheel chocks.
This is how I use them. First I place the two chocks under the rear wheel, and then I place the prop stick between the bike and the floor.
Once the bike is nice and steady, I take a bunch of photos, download them onto my computer, select the best ones and then edit them with Photoshop 7 (other software programs will also work, but Photoshop is the best). I crop, rotate, correct levels, brightness, color balance and sharpness as needed. Another important thing I do with Photoshop is get rid of the prop stick when it is too visible. For example, here you see it,
and here you don't.
The editing process can be time consuming, but it is the step which often transforms a bad photo into a good one, or a good one into a great one. By the way, the power to make things disappear (or appear), must only be used for good, never for evil (if you know what I mean).
I also use this setup, with a slight variation, to take photos of components. This is what the setup for parts looks like.
I put four sawhorses (where did I get them? all together now: Home Depot!), with a couple of boards across them the width of the paper roll. I drape the seamless paper over the boards and I use it as a backdrop for dark colored components, or for large components, such as wheels and rims. For light colored items such as the Nuovo Record seatpost box above, I use a dark backdrop improvised from two small sheets of black poster board, which I got at...Michael's Art Supply (gotcha). The photo below shows what a photo with the setup above looks like.
The first photos I took with the seamless paper backdrop are of the Colnago Oval CX. Take a look and you'll see what a difference this backdrop makes compared to the Ciocc and the Casati where I used the cotton sheets. The texture and color of the backdrop with the seamless paper is smooth and even, and gives the photos a professional studio look. I am now on my second roll of seamless paper, because even though it is pretty long and made of very heavy stock, it will not last forever. Bicycle tires in particular leave black rub marks, and walking on the paper also gets it dirty (don't walk on it with shoes or barefoot - just use socks).
I am still learning, so if you have any suggestions regarding photo techniques or tips for Photoshop, I would appreciate hearing from you. Likewise, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I added "side reflectors" (two large pieces of white foam-board from Pearl Arts & Crafts) as you can see below.
The pieces of foam-board, which measure 40 x 60 inches, are simply wedged in place. The purpose of these pieces is to reflect light into the sides and center of the background paper. In particular, they help to solve a problem I discovered when taking full side view photo of a bike. The problem, as you can see in the photo below, was that the sides of the photos were always darker than the center, and the edges appear to have a blue tint.
As you can see in the photo below, the reflectors bounce enough light along the sides that the tinting along the edge is eliminated and the background lighting is more even all around.
The reflectors are not a major necessity like the seamless paper background, but they do help produce better photos for only a few dollars investment, so I think they are a worthwhile addition to my setup.
Bob Hovey has put together a great page showing which shots and angles are ideal for documenting a bike, whether it be for eBay or your own records. I highly suggest checking it out. Bob's photo page is here. And if you are a dedicated Masi fan(atic) like Bob, you should check his awesome Masi site as well.
Jack Bissel (a/k/a Mookie) has also put together a page showing his photo setup. His setup is strictly for outdoor photos, so it is ideal for those of you who can't put together a setup like mine. He also has some great how-to tips for editing your photos with Photoshop. And the rest of his site, 43 Bikes, is very, very cool, so make sure you check it out while you're there.
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