In honor of the recent Tour de France, I will take a moment to write about a recent bicycle photo shoot. Not a race, like I would typically shoot, but a set of bikes in a product style of shoot. Gerard Cycles was formed by John Sheehan a few years ago with the goal of pairing state of the art carbon frames with custom sets of components to create high end, personalized, "race-winning" bicycles. John was revamping his website with Gerard's newest frames and component sets and needed some professional product images to help spread the word of his brand, and to hopefully sell some bikes.
In order to obtain a desirable final product, I would need to light the bikes in a way that kept editing to a minimum and also kept the bikes true to their color. I started my setup by hanging a white paper backdrop on a stand near the far wall. This would make the background a consistent color that would make it easy to remove in Photoshop after the shoot. The white backdrop also acts as a reflector and keeps the lighting on the bikes fairly even from the back and sides. I lit the setup with a pair of flashes, diffused with white umbrellas. Through the shoot, I would have to re-position these in order to remove any shadows and keep the bikes evenly lit. Half of the Gerard line of bike frames have a glossy finish while the other half have a matte finish that creates a challenge to evenly light. The black on black frames proved to be the trickiest. I needed to find the best angle of lighting in order to have enough contrast between the matte frame and polished lettering. After a bit of trial and error I was able to come up with a reasonably good solution.
The other significant detail that I have never really thought about through the years of looking at bikes online, was what lens to use and what angle to shoot at. After looking a little closer at some of the major brands currently on the market, the conclusion I came to is that the main goal of shooting a side view of a bike is to get the handlebars to line up, creating a two dimensional feel. This was accomplished by shooting low and about 15 feet away with an 85mm lens. After that shot was completed, I could have a little fun with different angles and close-ups.
After the photographing was finished, the next step was the removal of the white paper backdrop in Photoshop. Due to the intricate nature of the bikes, this ended up being done with a mix of magic wand and polygonal lasso tools. After I clicked the mouse enough to make my index finger go numb, I had a result like this:
It was fun to add a little bit larger of a product to my portfolio and learn a little about the bike manufacturing industry... One of these days, I hope to take one of these machines for a spin!