As previously mentioned my mother gave me a Samsung NX11 for Christmas. Today I have some freshly polished nails to shoot, so it’s time to see if this camera and I can be friends.
First of all, I wash my hands thoroughly, with an extra rub around the cuticles, and moisturise the skin. These are essential steps for nail polish photography, trust me.
Then I head outdoors for some natural light shots.
Natural light shots
It’s a grey, overcast day, and just minutes before sundown, so it’s not exactly bright outside. The ground is all ice and sludge, so I don’t want to venture too far from the door and the safe spot of ground there, either. But hey, it’s just a few initial test shots, and it’s cold, so let’s get this over with.
I’m shooting hand-held here, with the camera in aperture priority mode, and everything else handled automatically.
The first thing I notice is that the lens — the 18-55mm kit lens — has a longer focusing distance than the Nikon lenses I’m used to. This means I have to hold my hands further apart, which makes it more difficult to hold the camera steady.
Second I notice that the preview is nice and bright. My shots look quite good! Bringing them onto the computer shows the photos to be underexposed, and ISO performance is less than brilliant. The white balance is a touch on the cool side, which is quite normal with such a difficult background.
Lastly I notice that I did a seriously bad job at cleanup after doing my nails, and my cuticles look like they’re about to commit mutiny. It’s not pretty. I’m getting the brush and cuticle butter out before I set up the flash.
My home is the apartment equivalent of a dark cave, so shooting nail polish indoors means getting the flash out. I don’t have Samsung-specific accessories, so I’m working with the same kit I use with my Nikon here:
I set up the flash and triggers, and press the shutter button while crossing my fingers. The camera doesn’t believe in the flash, but will fire it! I have to remove the transmitter from the hotshoe to gain access to the camera’s flash options, and I have to set the white balance manually, but it works.
I’m still shooting hand-held, but now the only thing automatic is the focus. All settings on both flash and camera are manual. TTL is for the weak.
In setting up the shot, I come across another problem. As mentioned, my flat is dark. This means the camera’s screen is dark, and with manual settings set to match the flash, it’s so dark I can’t see my hand! However, the Samsung NX11 has a so-close-to-magic-it-might-as-well-be setting for these situations: Framing mode. Framing mode means the display is detached from your settings, and gives you a nice and bright view of what you’re looking at. This feature is so brilliant it might make this my preferred camera for shooting at home.
Looking good! I can see what I’m doing and I’m getting the results I expect. Additional cleanup means my nails don’t look quite as horrible as in the initial shots, but some postwork is required to make the final image.
The camera is small and lightweight. Hand-held shooting doesn’t tire my arms out the way my Nikon w/macro lens does.
The camera does not appear to have any special support for Eye-Fi cards, which means it will happily go to sleep while the card is trying to upload photos.
My new ingenuiTEA teapot arrived in the post today, which means I can finally dig into my bags of loose-leaf tea again. It also means an excellent opportunity to practice photographing a transparent, shiny, plastic teapot. Making tea will just have to wait.
I usually do shots like this against a white background, but I doubt the white text on the pot would show up very well that way, so I picked up a sheet of black cardboard on the way back from the post office.
At home I set up my usual studio — just a simple infinity sweep using said black cardboard — and shot a couple of test shots. I have a single flash (at whatever settings it was on since my last shoot) bouncing off the ceiling, a macro lens (which happened to be attached to my camera from last shoot), and I’m using the camera hand-held.
Right away, this confirms a couple of my suspicions:
- A single light from above looks weird for this, and
- Auto-focus can’t handle this at all.
Time to break out the tripod, the lightstand, and all the other goodies that turn our tiny living room into an obstacle course.
For the second test shot, I have one flash with an umbrella off to the left, a second flash bouncing off the ceiling, and I’ve switched to my 35mm prime lens.
I’m liking this shot a lot better. The handle is disappearing against the background, so I put up a reflector to get some light in from the right. The two flashes need to be balanced better, so I experiment with that. There’s a harsh reflection of the umbrella in the teapot, but I soften that a bit by moving the flash further to the side and turning down the power a bit.
As I’m getting closer to a shot I like, the image just seems to be begging for a dramatic, high-contrast look, so that’s the treatment I give the final candidate.
I quite like the result. It’s not perfect, but I’m craving tea and running out of patience.
Have spent the afternoon reading about guide numbers. I can practically feel my photography XP bar filling up.