Photographing Auto Instruments
becomes a unique challenge...
How do you photograph hundreds of similar products efficiently?
Follow along as we tackle the assignment of shooting 197 gauges for autos, boats and hot rods manufactured by VDO the German Instrument company. It had to be done quickly, the shots had to be perfectly uniform, and they all had to be knocked-out for the catalog. The German Gauge manufacturer was introducing a new line of "Classic" gauges. We didn't know what we were getting into. There were nearly 200 different gauges to be photographed -- each looking almost exactly alike, yet different enough to be natural. We were given the previous catalog showing only a few gauges photographed and most drawn as high contrast, repro style line drawings. We contemplated a number of techniques to solve the problem from assembly-line tactics to shooting one bezel and duping in the faces.
Master Photographer Hubert Gentry, who would be doing the actual shooting suggested we shoot each in an identical pose using a tent. Of course we would take Hubert's suggestion. After all, he's the master!
First we would build the "set"
Since the job had to be done quickly, and under a very tight budget I decided to "gang" the gauges together for the shoot. We do gang printing, right? Why not photos?
From some particle-board scraps, I built a simple four-gauge 'set' with precisely cut holes that would snugly hold the gauges. On the face of our mini set we laminated a sheet of #2 gray Color Aid paper. This had been used before and we knew it would render white in the final printed piece -- thus eliminating knock-outs. It would be easy to expose out of the image so that no outlining would be necessary in the final pre-press stages. I had to make two sets, since there were two different size gauges. It would also serve well once we began converting the images to line art for newspaper reproduction.
The studio for our "set" demanded a tent...
In the studio, Hubert set up a tent all around our set. We weren't worried about background or the surrounding environment since the camera would be seeing only the Color Aid board with the four gauges. Look closely at a typical final shot (below) and you'll see the sculpting of the reflections on the chrome. It's interesting that all of the gray modeling is created by the single 3-inch wide opening in the tent where the camera lens peeked through. You can just make out the camera in the side reflections. The square shape at the top of the bezel is the opening in the top of the tent.
This configuration worked out well because it rendered a uniform look across nearly 200 gauges, yet because we shot four at a time there were subtle differences between gauges. They looked natural and not contrived.
Having everything carefully planned and set also facilitated the session. We hustled the gauges through in an afternoon. Individual set-ups would have taken days.
The uniformity in gray values and highlights also facilitated converting all of the gauges to straight line art for later use as ad slicks. They also solarized well into a four-gray separation for screen printing onto banners and store displays.
This scenario can work for many different smaller products that you may have to shoot in bulk.
The board, the controllable background gray, the tent and lighting are all techniques you can use with today's digital equipment. And, as we learned, actually shooting the gauges was far better than trying to draw them on the computer or work with individual shots of each gauge.
Back to the In-House Photo Studio
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