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Whenever you photograph a three-dimensional object, you only capture one side of that object. In product and advertising photography it can actually prove to be a hindrance. Manufacturers and retailers on the web want their customers to feel completely knowledgeable about the product they sell, but if they are limited to displaying a two-dimensional showroom, they may end up losing potential customers.

With QuickTime VR (virtual reality), however, "e-tailers" are no longer limited to partial exposure of their products. This technology allows Internet shoppers to rotate objects around to whatever angle they want with just a click and scroll of the mouse.

This lesson demonstrates how simple it can be to create professional-quality QuickTime VR files of your products, as well as features the new Photoflex StarFlash strobe kit.



(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • Preparing For A QTVR Shoot
  • Lighting for QTVR
  • Capturing All 36
  • A look at VR Worx software
  • Production Considerations
  • Getting It Right On The Set


    Equipment Used:
    You can click on the blue links below for more info.

    Camera/Media

     

    Preparing For A QTVR Shoot
    The biggest factor in creating a QTVR is preparation. Once you've figured out the positioning, rotation and lighting of your object, the actual photography becomes the quickest part of the process.

    To illustrate, we decided to create a 360-view of one of Photoflex's new strobe heads.

     



    Figure 1

    The main challenge in QTVR is visualizing your subject matter as it spins in three dimensions while you view it in two. Making an interactive movie run smoothly and free of distortion is the goal. You want to prevent the object from appearing lopsided or tilted as you scroll around it.

    The idea then, is to position the object so that it is perfectly centered on the turntable, or "Lazy Susan", so that the rotation is balanced. Any movement off the center axis will cause the object to "wobble" as it spins in the QTVR.

     

    To simplify this process, we fabricated an alignment tool for this purpose out of foam core and masking tape. Since the strobe head was longer than the turntable, our new alignment tool helped us to determine half the length, or radius, of the strobe head, as well as the exact pivot point for the strobe to spin (figures 2 and 3).

    Note: To see how we configured this set-up, as well as other step-by-step techniques, check out the extended versison of this lesson on Web Photo School here: Making Product Shots Rotate With QTVR

     

    Lighting for QTVR
    When lighting for two-dimensional product photography, you have the opportunity to sculpt the light so that every reflection, light gradation and shadow is exactly as you want it to be.

    But in a QTVR such as this, where you'll capture 36 frames of your subject as it spins around in a complete circle, it is difficult to get every element of every frame exactly as you would want it. However, if you use diffused lighting equipment and place it strategically, you'll achieve a natural, three-dimensional feel to your object as it spins.

    Here, we set up a two Photoflex StarFlash 650 Gemini LiteDome Kits, and positioned them roughly 45-degrees on either side of the strobe head (figure 4).

    Most photographers agree that softboxes are fantastic lighting tools for product and portrait photography because they create a soft, natural look to whatever subject matter is being lit. In situations like this, though, where the subject is rotating a full 360 degrees, these lights are even more imperative.



    Figure 4

    Because the softbox casts a smooth, even light onto its subject matter, the transition in lighting is equally as smooth as the object rotates every 10 degrees. With hard, or undiffused light, these transitions may prove to be abrupt and jarring, particularly with highly reflective objects.



    Figure 5



    Figure 6

    Once we had the lights where we wanted them, we came in tight with our tripod-mounted camera to ensure we didn't have excess background and made the following adjustments to the camera settings:

    White Balance: Daylight/5500K (to match the color temperature of the StarFlash strobes)
    ISO: 100
    Resolution: SHQ JPEG (high resolution JPEG)
    Exposure Mode: Manual (allows adjustment to shutter speed and aperture settings)
    Focus Mode: Manual

    We set the aperture to f/8 to allow sufficient depth of field and set the shutter speed to allow for proper exposure. When everything was set with the camera, we used the remote control to trip the shutter. Remember, when you're shooting a series of shots like this, you don't want to have the camera move even the slightest bit, or else the end result will not be smooth.


    Capturing All 36
    After reviewing the test shot on the back of the screen, we were happy with the overall lighting and placement of the shot. At this point, we were ready to shoot the series.

    After the first shot, we rotated the turntable* 10 degrees and took another shot. 2 down, 34 to go! 36 shots may seem like a lot of shooting, but once you get into a rhythm, it goes fairly quickly (figure 7).

    The biggest thing to remember here is to be careful around the camera, tripod, lights, and set. Any unwanted movement of these elements can negatively affect the transition of the final result.

    *Note: While it is possible to use an ordinary Lazy Susan surface for these types of shots, we recommend researching turntables made for this application, particularly if you plan to do a lot of shooting like this. Not only can you see the degree to which you have spun the table (30˚, 180˚, etc.), but QTVR turntables are often notched so that each rotation is easily locked into the appropriate distance.



    Figure 7

     

    Uploading Images Into VR Worx
    Once we had captured all 36 exposures, we downloaded the images and opened them up into Adobe Photoshop. Once the images were up, we reviewed each one to make sure they all looked okay and then resized them to a good screen viewing size. In this case, each image was resized to 500x350 pixels. To see how to do this and more with respect to preparing images for the web, check out the following lessons:

     

     

    Once we had our new folder of resized images, we opened up a QuickTime editing program called VR Worx, uploaded all 36 images and created a QTVR file.

     

    If you would like to see how this particular QTVR file turned out, click here: Strobe Movie: Unedited



    Figure 8

     

    Production Considerations
    As was mentioned earlier in this lesson, the majority of the time spent on producing a QTVR file is in the preparation. But that's if you do it right. If you don't take the time to assemble a nice background and light it properly, you could spend hours in a photo-editing application like Adobe Photoshop removing or altering the background, making digital lighting adjustments to you object, etc.

    As we've found from experience, it's best to do as much of the work as possible beforehand, as it will save you countless hours later in post-production. To give you an example, we decided to time ourselves with digitally knocking out the background with the Pen tool in Adobe Photoshop in just one of these 36 exposures.

    To see how to use the Pen tool in more detail, check out the following lesson on Web Photo School:

     

     

    It took approximately 4 minutes to draw the path, activate the selection, fill the background with white, review the result and resave the file into a different folder. And remember, we've been doing this a number of years and we're pretty fast at it!

    So at best, it would take almost 2.5 hours of focused, uninterrupted work for a pro to create a QTVR from these images if the backgrounds were digitally removed via the Pen tool. In reality, it would probably be closer to 3 or 4 hours to produce.

     




    A Quicker Way To Knock Out The Background
    There is another digital method you can use to eliminate the background that will not take as much time, but the edges of the product will most likely not be as clean and sharp as they would be with the Pen tool.

    Still, this method can get the job done well enough that most people would not notice the difference. This method requires the use of the Magic Wand tool in Adobe Photoshop. The Magic Wand tool is a selection tool that is very good at selecting areas of an image that are smooth and uninterrupted. In this case, our seamless paper background was a good candidate for this method (figure 11).

    Each image took about two minutes, and it ended up being about an hour and a half of work to complete the series. To read more about the specifics of this technique, check out the extended version of this lesson on Web Photo School here: Making Product Shots Rotate With QTVR



    Figure 11

    Keep in mind that even though this method is quicker than using the Pen tool, it is a lot of work, particularly if you're looking to create more than one QTVR file.

    If you'd like to see the result of the QTVR, click here: Strobe Movie: Edited with Magic Wand

    If you'd like to see the Magic Wand tool used in a similar situation, check out the following lesson on Web Photo School:



    Figure 12

     

    Getting It Right On The Set
    The most efficient way to create clean looking QTVR files, as you might suspect, is to photograph your series of images as well as you can on the set and to not spend any additional time in Photoshop "cleaning up" the images.

    Here, this simply meant adding another StarFlash with a HalfDome soft box attached to a Photoflex Boom and Boom Stand and positioning it directly over the background paper. This light served to illuminate the background just enough to make it go completely white. The nice thing about the StarFlash strobe is that you can adjust the power output in small increments to ensure that you get the level of exposure you need -- not too bright and not too dark (figures 13 & 14).

     

    After we set the background light up, we took another exposure. Upon reviewing the image afterward, we noticed that we had a little shadow cast from the strobe head underneath, but this didn't bother us so much. In fact, we liked that this gave the image a slightly better sense of dimension (figure 15).

    Just by adding one more light, we produced essentially the same end result as the Photoshopped version but in several hours less time.

    If you'd like to see the QuickTime VR movie we made for this lesson, click below:

    Strobe Movie: Making Product Shots Rotate With QTVR





    Figure 15


    Equipment Used:
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    Camera/Media

    Recommended Links

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