January 2012

Ah, my little angel...

Each of the last six years I have made a new Christmas ornament and video in late November, early December. The 2011 MarleyTurned Christmas Ornament is "The Christmas Angel". The body was turned from cherry. The hard maple halo and wings, were created using a technique developed by the German engineer, Hans Weissflog. If you are not familiar with his work, I can tell you that it is simply amazing. The amount of detail in his pieces is almost beyond comprehension. In the video, I used a narrow parting tool to cut the groves. I later made my own tool to allow for more intricate work. I will have a detailed article on the Christmas Angel in the fall of this year, but for today I want to talk about something that many of us have struggled to do.

A high tech fix for a bad photo

When I completed the first Angel, I set it on top of my lathe’s head stock and snapped a picture. Easy enough, but since the lighting was not ideal and the background was my shop, I had to edit the image in Photoshop to clean up the color cast, remove the background and to add a fake background and shadows.

Wouldn’t it be nice to start with a quality photo up front and forget all the editing? Just take the picture and post it on your favorite woodturning form, or on your own website? A quality photo is especially important if you are trying to create a portfolio of work for sale, or for submitting to a juried exhibition. I am not an expert in photography, but I do want to introduce to you that it is not that hard to improve the quality of your photos using material you may already have in your home.
Definition: A tent like structure made of translucent material hung around a frame. The fabric diffuses the light coming from outside the tent so that highly reflective subjects placed inside the tent can be photographed without reflections. Lights can also be used inside the tent aimed at the top and sides to create varied lighting effects. Reflective surfaces can also be staged around the subject to lighten shadows or highlight an area. The image at the right is an inexpensive, commercially available light tent. Price is about $50. It is too Small for many of my bowls, but fine for smaller items.

The Light Tent

Frame: The first step is to make a frame. PVC pipe is great for this and it is very inexpensive. Wood, or even a cardboard box could also be used for the frame.

Cover: For the cover I used a white bed sheet.

Background: The background can be done with a white or colored sheet of paper, or fabric. For this project I ordered a graduated background from B&H photo: http://BandH.com "FLOTONE 31x43" background (Thunder Grey) SKU FLBG3143TG" for about $33 US.
The graduated background creates effects that would be difficult to do with a solid color.

Lights: The light source you choose will have a color cast. Halogen tends to be white, incandescent yellow, and florescent blue. I used a couple halogen lights from a big box store.

Clamps: You will also need some clips or small clamps to hold the background in place.

What do I need?

Don't glue all of the pipe together until you have tested it and are comfortable with the dimensions. Also, the less you glue together, the smaller it will break down for storage.

You need to make the frame wide enough to accommodate the width of the background you plan to use. In my case that is 31 inches. Here are the sizes I used to make mine:

Parts is Parts...

All PVC is 1/2 inch Schedule 40 pipe and fittings. Fittings are glued as shown.

•Top Front and Back: Qty 2 of 26" long glued to a Tee at each end and a 1.5" short glued in the end of each Tee.
•Top Sides: Qty 2 of 24" long
•Legs: Qty 4 of 24" long with 90° elbow glued to one end.
Optional Leg Base: Qty 2 of 24" long with 90° elbow glued on each end. You can just set it up on four legs, I connected the legs together to make it a bit more ridged and to allow for clamping to the table.

OK, Let's Build This Thing

Only gluing the pieces as they are shown above, assemble the frame and use small clamps or clips to hold the background in place to the top / back of the frame and to the front of the table. Since the frame is the same size as my table, I also clamped the frame to the table.
Now you are ready to add lights and cover it with a sheet.
Lights can be set outside the tent aimed at the subject, or you can place them inside the tent shining away from the subject. The idea is to diffuse the light to prevent hot spots. Position the sheet to prevent room lighting from causing undesired reflections on the subject.
Set up the camera on a tripod, place the subject on the table and zoom in to set the frame. With single lens cameras like mine, zooming out all the way tends to create a bit of a fish eye effect and this will distort the shape of your turning. By positioning the camera so you need to zoom in a little you can avoid this effect.
Check your camera's owners manual to learn how to adjust the white balance. This will allow you to take photos with accurate colors. Turn off the flash, and use the manual settings to use a slower ISO like 80. Experiment with shutter and exposure settings until you get the best photo possible. Then, write down those settings for future use.
You can also use reflectors, like aluminum foil taped to cardboard to add more light to areas with too much shadow.
You may need to set up a cardboard screen between the camera and the light source to prevent the light from changing exposure or causing undesirable reflections in the lens. Experiment with different lighting types and angles.

I'm ready for my close up Mr DeMille...

Good lighting makes for great detail

There are a lot of resources on the Web on making your own light tent and for photography techniques as well. Something else to do when you are not making sawdust.

I hope you enjoy the Christmas Angel video.

Have Fun,
Be Safe,
Learn New Things!

Larry Marley

Updated March 10, 2012

You can use an inexpensive light fixture with a 120w (equivalent) Bright White CFL for a good dispersed light source.