August 16th, 2010
Photography Tutorial: Schwinn Helmet Ad
black schwinn helmet ad


Long time, no blog! I recently finished a cross country relocation from the DC area to Utah, to say the least, that type of move can really put a kink in your schedule! I now have a larger place to shoot in, so hopefully I will now be able to produce tutorials more consistently than I have over the last few months. I can't emphasize how important adequate studio size is, anyone who has ever shot in "cloistered" spaces long term will understand how much of a cramp it can be on your creativity. Anyhow, on with this weeks tutorial, a mock Schwinn helmet ad.

Before You Begin

This weeks tutorial, at least from my personal "skill level point of view", is not really the most complicated. So why post it since I have a "thing" for more complex stuff? It's pretty simple, I wanted to illustrate a principal many photographers either take a very long time to discover or plain old never do discover:

Grip gear is king!

Thats it. Grip gear is king, and it really is. The above shot is created, technically, with one light only, but as you'll soon see, that shot is totally impossible without grip gear.

As usual, here is my equipment run down. Please keep in mind, as with all of my tutorials, there is always more than one way to rig a set. This list is mine, and the tutorial presented is the method I used. If you can figure out a way to use less grip gear, great!

  • Space. This is always something I bring up. I used a space of about 7x7 feet (49 sq/ft), so I consider that to be the bare minimum for this shot.

  • Light/C-stands. I used 6 stands total. Here's my break down: 4 were regular Mole Richardson and Arri baby pin (5/8 pin) light stands, 1 Matthews turtle base C-stand, and 1 Giottos self standing mono pod which was used to support my flash unit.

  • Jaw style A-Clamps, or if you are a Canadian filmmaker, "pony clamps" (WTF?). I used 5 of these, and I consider them to be life savers every time I end up using them. I got mine for really cheap in a big assorted bag at Wal-Mart years ago. Note that they are heavy duty plastic, so don't use them on anything hot! You can find metal versions of these clamps as well.

  • Gobo arms. I used three of these, and like the A-clamps, total life savers.

  • Flags. Technically I only used one "real flag". I used 3 black foam core boards, and one heavy duty trash bag that I folded up.

  • Bounce card, which in my case was a large piece of white foam core.

  • Flash unit and sync cables. I used a Nikon SB-800 speedlight. If I can get away with using my on camera flash as a commander, I do, but here's the deal... I'm photographing a totally shiny, round object, so any on camera commander flash is going to show up. Not exactly what you want...

  • Helmet. I used a Schwinn helmet I got at Wal-Mart.

  • Camera with flash sync terminal - duh!

Set Rigging

The first thing I setup for this shot was my subject, the helmet. The Swchinn helmet had a bunch of very convenient vents cut in it, so I was able to insert a gobo arm into one and just have it sit on the end of the pole, the other end was mounted onto a Mole baby pin light stand. That's basically it for the rigging, pretty simple!


After rigging the helmet, my next task was to setup the bounce card directly overhead. Because the helmet is curved in a down sloping fashion, it became necessary for my bounce card to also follow this same downward angle. This is really important to understand. If I were to setup the bounce card in a level manner, only the very top part of the back of the helmet would show up in the shot. This has everything to do with how the helmet reflects light. I ended up using two stands to rig the bounce securely, a framed silk would have been even better / easier to rig, but this is what I had on hand ;) Make sure your bounce card is as close to the subject as you can get it without it creeping into the shot. The closer it is, the softer and bigger the reflection you'll create in the helmets surface.

I used a flag with additional black foam core clamped to it to create a solid black background behind the helmet. All of this was supported by a gobo arm mounted to an Arri baby pin light stand. The wider base of the Arri stand helped ensure stability (since I just moved, my sand bags were not yet filled up at the time of shooting).

Directly behind and underneath the helmet on a self standing mono pod, I rigged my SB-800 flash. I had it firing straight up into the bounce card. To help control the light, I zoomed it in all the way and mounted a black foam core onto the mono pod to ensure no light was hitting the bottom of the helmet. This setup ensured that all the light illuminating the helmet was light bouncing off the white bounce card. This produced a very nice reflection effect in the helmet, but it also produced a lot of nasty lens flares. To remedy the flaring issue, I rigged a light stand with black foam core and a folded up heavy duty trash bag. Problem solved :) Pictures of the setup are below.


Focus. Press shutter button. To be honest, there really isn't anything to say about the actual shooting for this particular shot.

Post Production

I did most of the editing for this shot in Adobe camera RAW. I crushed down the blacks and desaturated all the color to create a crisp black and white shot. In Photoshop I made an artistic compositional decision to paint out the very tip of the helmet (the visor part) and replace it with the Schwinn logo instead. I liked how the whole thing flowed along the helmets curve.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! You can comment below. If you are in need of a photographer for a commercial assignment, contact me here.

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