I was setting up for an action packed day of doing Evil-Bay product photos for a friend when I got this great idea to do a image of different poses of a stuffed toy goldfish that my niece from Victoria, BC just loved. She just feel in love with the little toy during her visit here last month. I wanted to take a series of photo of it so she could use it as a desktop background image for her computer. The idea was simple: have a series of goldfishes, in different poses, covering the image in a uniformed pattern. But there were a couple of work-flow issues I had to work out first before I could start.
The first issue I had for my idea of having “suspended goldfish” was how to get the goldfishes to look like they are floating in mid air without the use of obvious strings, or laying on a flat surface, something that would make post editing more difficult. I want to have the least amount of post editing as possible. I had a couple of ideas, but my best ideal solution was to somehow have the goldfish photographed while it was tossed or dropped though the air. From my experience, I would need to use a flash to catch the goldfish while it is being dropped, freezing the image while the goldfish was in mid flight.
First I tried using my regular studio strobe-light. Setting my camera to its sync speed of 1/250, and using a electronic radio-trigger to fire the flash gun, I figured that the flash would be fast enough to capture a crisp clear image of the goldfish as it fell to the ground. I only needed to do one test shot when it became obvious that the studio flash gun was too slow.
Second, my next option was to use a Speed-light, or portable flash gun that uses batteries as its power source. A speed-light fires a flash at a much faster pulse than any standard studio strobe-light does. Because both my camera (SLT Alpha 77) and speed-light (HVL-F58AM) are Sony, I could use TTL and the camera will set the flash automatically to whatever the camera was shooting at. This means that I could set the shutter speed to a much slower speed, like 1/170, and it will only expose the image sensor after my camera’s flash triggers the speed-light to go off. In other words, the speed-light is “slaved” to my camera’s flash, and when I press the shutter button, the camera flash goes off, and that triggers the speed-light and the camera takes the image. And becuase the flash fires at a much faster pulse, I can freeze an object at about 1/8000 of a second.
A perfect moment frozen in time of the goldfish falling through the air using a speed-light with a 50cm soft-box.
Once I got a series of shots of the goldfish in various poses falling through the air, I did my general post editing in DarkTable. Darktable is a free open-source photo editor that handles RAW files from almost every major camera manufacture. In Darktable, I mainly just set the white balance and toned up the image to make the background more evenly white to help me in the next phase of post editing.
Next, I opened GIMP to start the final editing process. Here is where I paint out each image with the colour brush, while leaving just the goldfish on a pure white background. I then layered each image, and stacked them onto one larger background image. The final size of the whole image was 6000 x 4000 pixels. once I was happy with the arrangement of goldfishes, I saved the master image and scaled it down to a reasonable size to be used as a desktop background image.