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Mouthpieces Taking Good Photographs of Saxophone Mouthpieces

rhysonsax

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I am currently trying to take photographs of some of my saxophone mouthpieces so that I can post decent pictures on a website I have been building. I would like the pictures to show clearly the key external and internal features of different mouthpieces, and also not to have distracting features such as human hands, "busy" background etc..

The mouthpieces I want to picture include ebonite, gold plated, silver plated and stainless steel. I have a reasonable bridge Panasonic bridge camera, some filters and a tripod but no studio equipment.

The sort of pictures I would like to take would be like these ones from DC Sax: https://www.dcsax.com/products/vinta...nt=11136078023 or https://www.dcsax.com/collections/ac...nt=40442907719

The initial pictures I have taken so far used natural daylight (not direct sunlight), blue fabric background and the macro setting on my camera. They are mainly OK but I think they could be better. Do you have any tips for curing some of the remaining issues such as:
  • Glare / reflections off the shinier metal pieces
  • Lack of detail in the blacks of the ebonite pieces
  • Lens distortions (what settings are best for depth of field but not distorting straight lines)
  • Lack of detail inside the mouthpiece chamber and throat
  • Failure to focus up inside the bore on the throat
And what views of the mouthpieces would you find most informative ?

Rhys
 

Stephen Howard

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What you're taking there are essentially macro shots - and they can be very tricky.

You need a LOT of depth of field - and that can really test the quality of a lens.
Lens distortion isn't really connected to depth of field - but as a good rule of thumb you want your lens set to around 100mm.
Lack of detail in the blacks is due to incorrect exposure (typically underexposed) - but if you increase the exposure you may well 'blow out' the lighter colours. What really helps in this situation is having the ability to adjust and balance the exposure in post (processing). All depends how good your software is, and whether your camera chucks out 'raw' images rather than jpgs.
Most focussing problems can be cured by doing it manually. If you don't have that feature you may well have a 'focus hold' one...whereby you can focus on a specific point and then move the camera without changing the focus.

Glare is all about shading and/or bouncing the light off suitable surfaces. Carefully-positioned bits of white card may help to reflect light. Black card will mask reflections and add lines of interest to reflective surfaces.
A cheap 'light tent' is a good bet for even illumination.

One way to get around a lot of these problems is by taking multiple exposures at different setting (focal length, aperture etc.) - but you'll need to use the tripod. You can then 'merge' the images in post.
Not sure what modes you'll have on your camera, but at the very least you should be using aperture priority or manual mode - with a tripod.

It's worth spending some time checking out Youtube vidoes on product photography - you'll pick up lots of hints about single-source lighting and shading, as well as info about camera technique.
 

Tenor Viol

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Product photographers use a light box. Basically, create a five sided space using muslin or similar to diffuse light. This gets rid of the glare and reflection issue. The sixth side is the one you photograph from. Alternatively, make a 5-sided box out of white card or similar - lighting will be the challenge.

I'm sure I saw some inexpensive product photography light boxes online recently.

Depth of field is the issue with macro photography. If genuinely macro (i.e. 1:1) using a bespoke macro lens, then depth of field becomes very shallow. There are options: just take more pics focused on different elements, or, time consuming option is 'focus stacking'. I have not done this: it is easier if the camera explicitly supports the option (mine does). You take a series of photos as the plane in focus is moved a small amount each time, you then merge the photos in something like Photoshop, which supports it.
 

rhysonsax

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That's very useful @Stephen Howard and @tenorviol - you have both shared some excellent pictures on this forum or your own websites / blogs so I am happy to be guided by what you suggest.

The bridge camera I have is a Panasonic FZ200 which has a 25-600 mm lens and allows for Manual Focus.

'm using the image editing functions built into Nero, so fairly basic but they seem to be OK.

I don't want to spend too long on taking and manipulating masses of new photographs (probably doing about 8 shots each of about 25 mouthpieces), but will certainly look into getting an inexpensive light box or light tent.

A few more questions:
  • What zoom setting would equate to 100mm (presumably stated like that for 35mm film) ?)
  • What colour and material for the background and would the choice depend on whether it is for a shiny metal or dull black mouthpiece ?
  • How best to get light shining into or through the mouthpiece to illuminate internal features of the chamber and throat area ?
Rhys
 

Stephen Howard

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The camera looks up to the job - and I see that it can shoot RAW photos.
It might be worth splashing out on a photo editor and learning how to use it. Affinity is a good one, and it's cheap at the moment (£24). I have it but don't use it myself as I prefer a very old version of Photoshop - but it's impressive, and it comes with a RAW converter which'll allow you to tweak all sorts of parameters (exposure, white balance etc.) to get the best out of your shots.

Dunno how you'd tell what focal length you're at - unless there are markings on the lens barrel or some sort of indication on the screen/viewfinder. Sometimes the software will be able to pull that data from the image's 'info'.

For backgrounds you generally want contrast - but too much can be a bit confusing. Light grey is nearly always a safe bet, as are creams and pastels.

As for light in the bore of the mouthpiece - use a torch! If it's an LED torch you might have to watch out that the light doesn't look too blue. Failing that, a shaving mirror can be used to reflect and focus light into a tube.
 

jbtsax

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On my computer those links don't show any photos, just a "page not available" message.
 

h4yn0nnym0u5e

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Looking at the spec, you need an actual focal length setting of 18mm to equate to 100mm on full-frame.

I use free tools wherever possible: RawTherapee to do initial processing of RAW files, picolay for focus stacking if you want to try that, and GIMP for more creative stuff and blending separate images. It's all a pretty steep learning curve, though, so maybe not of so much interest unless you hanker to improve your everyday images, too!

All above advice is excellent. If I had to pick one thing to add, it'd be to use your tripod and manual focus and exposure, and give picolay a try, as it only does one thing, which is focus stacking. Just going for maximum depth of field by setting a small aperture like f/22 will probably (a) still not get enough DoF, and (b) go past the "diffraction limit", which results in everything looking fuzzy again.

Oh, and as you're using a tripod anyway, pick a low ISO figure to reduce noise.
 

Chris J

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The ISO is part of the compromise equation to get a working Exposure Value
A bigger depth of focus is achieved with the smallest aperture.
The smallest aperture needs more light than a large aperture
A higher ISO needs less light than a smaller ISO (so allowing a smaller aperture, and a larger depth of focus)

It is much better to underexpose a shot, and then adjust with software (where black and white starts, and where mid point is). There is a huge amount of in formation in an underexposed picture that can be recovered, but an over exposed one is unrecoverable in the over exposed areas.

Chris
 

rhysonsax

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Thanks very much for the very useful posts so far. The Cafe seems to have a lot of knowledgeable and helpful contributors.

Any suggestions on a decent light box for me to get or at least the features to look for ? Possibly around £50.

Rhys
 

h4yn0nnym0u5e

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The ISO is part of the compromise equation to get a working Exposure Value
A bigger depth of focus is achieved with the smallest aperture.
The smallest aperture needs more light than a large aperture
A higher ISO needs less light than a smaller ISO (so allowing a smaller aperture, and a larger depth of focus)

It is much better to underexpose a shot, and then adjust with software (where black and white starts, and where mid point is). There is a huge amount of in formation in an underexposed picture that can be recovered, but an over exposed one is unrecoverable in the over exposed areas.

Chris
Broadly correct. High ISO tends to make images "noisier", so if using a tripod there's no reason to use it. The smallest aperture gives best depth of field, but at the expense of diffraction at really small apertures, which makes the details go fuzzy again: online calculators are available. Underexposed information tends to be noisy, but as you say over-exposed areas are blown out and irrecoverable. Good lighting will help, as you can try to minimise the reflections which are the usual problem. A sensible choice of background will also help, e.g. Using a darker grey when photographing an ebonite MP than you would for a metal one. Some cameras have settings which help avoid blown highlights, by showing them in a different colour on the rear screen, or providing a histogram which shows you the proportion of the images which is at each brightness.
 

Tenor Viol

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Assuming you have enough light and you're using a tripod...

  • Opt for a 'low' ISO such as 100. If you've not got enough light then ISO 400 will be fine with modern cameras and unlikely to be noisy
  • A smaller focal ratio will give better depth of field, but unlike with film cameras, diffraction effects kick in quite quickly with modern digital cameras and may require experimentation (unless you can find specific details online for your camera). For example, my current camera maximum recommended f ratio is f/11 to avoid diffraction effects. In the old film days f/22 would generally have been OK. If your sensor has larger photo sites, you can probably get away with f/16 but it's worth taking test shots and checking it out
  • Use remote triggering, or delayed exposure to reduce camera shake
  • As mentioned by someone else, photograph RAW if possible as you can correct things like exposure, white balance etc which you can't do with JPEGs. You can always output the final image as JPEG, but PNG and TIFF give better quality
  • If you want to try focus stacking, I'd suggest using Google and finding some videos on it - main issue is use camera on manual and don't change the aperture or exposure time, just the focus
 

h4yn0nnym0u5e

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Rhys did say he has a tripod, so I've assumed he'd use it! Hence any amount of light is "enough", the Lumix DMC-FZ200 goes to 60s shutter speed.

It has tiny photo sites (1.62um by my calculations) so diffraction kicks in really quickly, which will be why it only goes to f/8. Easy to check: focus carefully on a flat object square on, which has plenty of fine detail, and take pix at f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and f/8. I'd expect the f/4 one to be the clearest under close examination.

You can do a similar exercise at different ISO settings to check for noise: I'd keep at f/4 and vary the shutter speed to get comparable results. It's a 2012 model, so not super-modern...
 
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