By Douglas Gritz
Back in September I wrote about a commercial photo shoot I did for a Denver furniture maker, Reid Bruggeman. Reid is an artist with all things metal. In addition to the beautiful furniture he creates, he also does commission jobs for clients looking to upgrade their homes. Just such a home owner sought out Reid two years ago to create a series of railings and porticos around their home in Castle Pines, a wealthy area south of Denver (and, as is not often the case, actually nestled among the things it is named after).
It’s been a long, tough project for Reid but he finally finished it this spring. He contacted me about creating some photographs of the finished work. Of course! I said. The only catch is we would have only, yikes, two hours. The homeowners would be out for the a few hours in the morning and needed us out by the time they got back to so they could prepare for guests they were having over later. So, I worked as quickly and efficiently as I could do to get the images.
As for my approach, the metal was all dark and thin. When you look closely it is heavily detailed thanks to Reid’s handmade blacksmithing work on each piece of metal. To me, that’s what really separates his work from someone else, or something you could buy in a store. So I thought it was important to show that detail as much as possible. Shooting dark objects is not the easiest of tasks for a camera, which has a narrower exposure latitude than our eyes. So I used two techniques to bring out the details in the metal:
- I used a tripod for each setup and took multiple exposures (aka, “exposure bracketing”). Later, using Photoshop, I combined these images into an HDR (high dynamic range) image. This provided a good starting point.
- From there, still in Photoshop, I used different techniques to creates masks around the metal work to separate it out from the scene. Using color channels here is very effective for isolating something with a much different tone that it’s surroundings. With the metal isolated, I could then apply curves and levels to taste to make the detail pop as much as I needed.
This techniques worked out really well. But HDR and selective toning can be and have been abused, resulting in a lot of unnatural looking imagery. I didn’t want that. So I played with each technique to keep it realistic while also getting a greater tonal range than what you would likely see with your naked eye standing there in person.
The metal portico is part of Reid’s work on the exterior of the home. I wanted to show how it looked set in the surroundings. The homeowner will later be stretching cloth or vinyl over the metal.
This is the same portico shot from the patio it is set over. This is one instance where I did not want to separate out the tones of the metal because what is most important here is how Reid designed the corner and manipulated metal to get it to bend just as he needed to make it happen.
This is the railing set below the portico. I mean, look at the detail on that! Reid does incredible work. Truly an artist and a master of his craft.
The stair railing is Reid’s work. Again, I wanted to first show it set in the scene to see how it complemented the surroundings. I used a couple of strobes off camera to create a little shape on the rails.
This is the same railing up close. Again, I used a strobe off camera right to get a little highlight on the metal. Then I used my two techniques discussed above to bring out the fine detail in the metal.
This is one image where I pushed the HDR, selective toning techniques right up against the limits of believability. I had a strobe off camera left to create the highlight on the left edge of the metal. Below this rail and to the right was a wood floor, which provided a nice warm bounce of light into the metal, giving it a copper-like appearance.