I’d been looking forward to getting my hands on the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art lens ever since it was announced. I got to have a brief look at one during The Photography Show back in March, but didn’t really have the chance to play with it properly.
Fortunately, one of my closest friends is Sigma UK Ambassador, Paul Monaghan. So, when they sent him one to play with, we decided to get together. We met up a couple of times to go out and take it for a spin and I’ve already posted my first impressions of using the lens. The second time, though, the weather didn’t cooperate, so we used the lens as the subject of a product shot.
Paul likes product photography, and he’s shot a few for Sigma UK in the past. One type of image he really likes to make is “floating” lenses. But they’re not that easy to do on your own, so we decided to make one together. You can see an overview in the video at the top of this page about how we made it, but I’m going to go into a bit more detail here.
First, let’s get the gear out of the way. The final image is a composite, made up of several images shot with the camera locked off on a tripod. We knew from the start that it was going to be a composite, so we needed a way to keep the camera steady between shots. The camera used was the Sigma SD Quattro H with the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 Art lens.
For the lighting, we had originally planned to shoot the whole thing with flash. But then we decided to mix things up a little. The images are lit with a combination of ambient light coming through a large window to the right, continuous Spekular LED lights overhead, below and to the left, and a Godox V860II (Pixapro Li-ION580II) speedlight sitting inside a Light Blaster projecting a slide onto the wall behind.
Building up the light
After we figured out exactly what image we wanted to make, the first job was to position everything and set up the lighting. The one fixed light source that we couldn’t change was the soft ambient light coming in through the window. So, everything else had to be set up in relation to this.
We knew which wall we wanted to use as a background, so we put the 105mm f/1.4 on a light stand with a ball head, and then positioned the camera and angled the lens where the ambient light through the window on the right would give us a nice highlight across the front of the lens. It was mostly just a specular reflection, allowing us to still keep the room, and the view through the camera, fairly dark overall.
Building up the lights the way we did, one at a time, allows us to see exactly how each light source is contributing to the shot. The dark reflection you can see in the front lens element here is from a large diffusion panel on the left. This wasn’t put there to create an ambient reflection in the front element, though. This was to diffuse a row of four Spekular LEDs running vertically up the left side of the shot. And this was the next light we turned on.
This helped to create a diffused gradient, which was then reflected multiple times off the front element of the lens and internal elements behind it. With just this strip of lights enabled, this is how the shot looked. It almost completely overpowers the ambient reflection from the diffuser seen in the previous shot.
You can see there’s a little light spilling onto the background now, but it’s not enough that it’s going to be a problem. You can also see that the top and bottom of the lens are also still quite dark, although the Spekular LEDs behind the diffuser have created a few key subtle highlights to help show the shape and form of certain areas.
As well as reflecting off the lens element itself, we can see some highlights around the interior of the end of the lens such as the filter threads, as well as the thin front edge around the same area. We also see a slight highlight on the edge of the tripod foot showing the direction of the face.
But there’s a lot more detail we can bring out on the tripod foot and the bottom area of the lens. So, we turned on a single bare Spekular LED light below the lens from the front.
This light added a lot of detail underneath the lens. With only using a single Spekular strip, though, the detail isn’t too bright and overpowering. This detail on the underside of the lens, helps to further show off the cylindrical form of the lens, and exactly where its curves lay, particularly as we get down to the foot of the tripod collar.
There’s more light on both the collar, flowing into the lens, as well as the foot that fits in a standard Arca Swiss compatible tripod head. This light allows you to quickly see its shape and form and recognise that distinctive shape. It also lights up the knob which tightens the collar around the lens, even just letting you make out the “LOCK” writing, without overpowering the letters printed on the lens itself.
The final continuous lights which were added were a row of three more Spekular LED lights above the lens and slightly behind it. A second diffuser was placed to the right of it, just to help add a little more of a bounce fill.
These are the brightest light source on the lens itself and balance well with the bright reflection of the diffuser in the front lens element. Having the brightest lights coming from above feels more natural to us as a viewer. Outdoors, the brightest light source is usually the sky, from above. Indoors, it’s usually light fixtures on a ceiling.
This final set of Spekular LEDs means that all of the important parts of the lens are now lit and easily visible. We have a nice highlight across the top of the lens, as well as the filter thread and where the hood attaches. But it doesn’t reach quite around to the front element end of the lens, allowing the rings that separate the filter thread from the hood attachment to be easily visible. We can also easily see where the tripod collar ends, as well as the change of angle between the distance meter and the focus ring.
These lights also add a highlight across the top of the tripod foot, too, which serves two functions. First, it shows you the flat surface, and how it curves up towards the collar, again, showing form. But it also provides some much-needed separation between it and the bottom of the lens. In the previous shot, without the overhead lights, it was difficult to tell where the lens ends and the foot begins.
With the product now lit, and seeing what kind of background we had to work with, it was time to add the Light Blaster. Here we used a Godox V860II speedlight with a slide transparency placed inside the Light Blaster. Paul just wanted some nice colour and texture behind the lens, so we projected a scene in such a way that only a portion of the mountains was visible to the main camera shooting the photos.
Here we have the final lighting setup, including the background.
And here’s a quick gif showing the build up of the lighting in sequence.
A bit more gear…
At this point, there’s another bit of gear I haven’t mentioned yet, but you might have figured it out. Godox doesn’t support Sigma cameras, so we had to use the Godox X1T-C trigger for Canon on the hotshoe in single pin mode. This is because the Godox XPro doesn’t offer single pin mode (please fix this, Godox!).
But the Godox X1T trigger is a little awkward, which is why Godox released the XPro in the first place. Adjusting the power with the X1T requires a bunch of button presses and dial spins, increasing the chance of knocking the camera between shots. So, in order to adjust the power of the background, we had the X1T in app mode and used the Godox A1 to control the V860II speedlight.
Using a remote trigger with the camera and the Godox A1 for the flash means that we can shoot away without risking the camera be knocked and misaligned between shots. Which is important for the next bit.
Shooting & compositing
There are four main elements that need to be photographed for the final composite. There’s the body cap at the rear of the lens, the lens itself, the lens cap that goes over the front element and finally the lens hood. And with the lights all set, this was easy to do. It was just a case of arranging things in the view for each shot and then hitting the remote trigger for the camera.
Although we probably could’ve got away with only using three images, given how Paul’s holding up various elements, we shot a fourth of just the lens to help ensure that we weren’t casting any shadow or reflection on the lens itself. You can see, for example, in the shot at the top right where Paul’s holding up the rear lens cap, that the light on the lens itself isn’t quite the same as in the other shots.
After the shoot, we reviewed the images on my ZenFone 5 using the ProGrade Digital card reader plugged straight into the ZenFone’s USB socket. This is a quick and handy way to review images after a shoot to check that we’ve got all that we need. The last thing you want is to break everything down and realised you missed something on a shoot like this.
Once we knew we had everything, the images were brought into photoshop, layered, and then masked. Paul’s hand and the little spring clamp holding each of the pieces was also removed and those parts of the components recreated digitally.
You might spot in the screenshot above that there are actually five layers. The Background layer at the bottom was literally just that. The background. Just a shot of the slide projecting into the wall without anything in the shot. This way, if there were any consistencies between the shots, we were free to completely recreate areas of the background if we needed to.
The only part of the background layer that was visible in the final image, though, was the area around the tripod foot where a ball head attaches it to a light stand.
The final result
Ultimately, we ended up with a final image that looks like this.
And right now, that image is sitting (floating?) at the top of the Sigma UK Facebook page.
Getting together with Paul is always interesting and a lot of fun. Neither of us ever really knows where we’re going to go or what we’re going to shoot until it happens. We do usually have a plan, that we’ve thought out meticulously in advance, but it’s rare that it actually becomes reality.
It’s fortunate that we’re both pretty adaptable.
If you want a Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art lens of your very own, they’re available in Nikon F, Canon EF, Sony E and Sigma SA mounts.