Friday, October 11, 2013

The Dead Gecko

Remember my recent Abstracts post? It was during the same day that me and my friend found a dead gecko on the bathroom floor. It was tiny, but it presented a good photographic opportunity and allowed us to occupy some of the long free boring time we had on hand, hit the jump for the full story.

Before I start, I want to show you how tiny this gecko is, the camera in the picture is a Canon 60D and that's my very own Canon 60mm Macro f/2.8. The tripod is my Manfrotto 190CX Pro3.

My friend is still learning about lighting, so I let him lead to see what he would do, and every now and then I gave some pointers and suggestions. So, he started with the obvious, a slightly high angle, shooting directly on the same table where we put the gecko, and shooting from the same direction where the light came from (a large door-sized window with sunset light, which you can see from the shadow).

Here is what came out:

Not the best background, lots of dust specks (we really didn't notice it with our eyes), and it turns out the gecko had some string attached to its front left leg. And more importantly, the light didn't look good. I did a few spot removal in lightroom, and this is what I was able to get, still not good enough.

For the next attempt, I suggested that we should get rid of the brown background, and use something black instead. The only thing we had that worked was my friend's leather tablet cover.

As for lighting, I suggested shooting through the gecko with the sun coming from behind and opposite to the lens (backlighting). We also improved the composition, and shot from a much lower angle, almost from the eye-level of the gecko. Here's the setup shot, but after the sunset light went away (notice the useful tilting LCD, and the extremely useful tripod's extending center column):

And here's how it looked like with just the sunset backlighting the gecko, you'll notice we cleaned the tablet cover thoroughly, yet I had to do a little bit of spot removal.

We were shooting at f/6.3, with the lowest ISO, and the sun was setting down quickly, consecutive shots looked slightly different because of moving light. For the next iteration, I decided we should use flash, and have complete control over our lighting.

The 60D had a commander pop-up flash that triggered a remote 580EX (also my very own) in TTL mode, we were able to adjust the flash compensation either from the camera or the flash itself (which I held in my hand).

For the lighting setup, I decided to mimic the backlight as in the shot above, but with some fill from the front. To diffuse the light, and in the same spirit of the place we were staying at, I used a large (1m x 1.5m) plastic bag to diffuse the flash light and soften it. It is transparent with some writing on it that didn't affect the color of the light. I held the bag behind the gecko, and held the flash almost one meter away from the bag. It acted as a huge (compared to the gecko's size) diffuser, and gave some very soft light. For fill, I used an idea that I used previously with great results. I used a yellow piece of paper in front of the gecko to reflect the diffused light on his eye, and open up the shadows. The benefit of the yellow paper is that it reflect the light with a golden tint. Here's how it came out:

You can see the effect of the yellow reflection on his eye. And to show you the difference, here is the same shot with a normal white paper, and without the vignetting. Much less appealing in my opinion.

At that stage, we were quite satisfied with what we got, but we decided to play with the position of the backlight and the diffuser a bit, sometimes raising the light and sometimes lowering it. It resulted in different pictures for the same subject, especially for the background, and the rim light.

Finally, here's the opening picture (my favorite) again:


Sharing Some Macros
Macro Talk: Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Macro Fun @ Home
Abstracts With The Olympus 40-150R
Flash Series - Part 1: Canon Speedlites Chat (580EX II vs 580EX vs 430EX)


  1. Nicely done. I like the yellow paper as a reflector idea. I'll have to remember that. I agree that it looks better than when you used the white paper.

    1. Thanks Dave, the yellow paper idea is similar to a golden reflector.

      The first time I used it, I was shooting silver coins on red velvet, and the flash was diffused through a yellow piece of paper, the coins came out in gold color, and the velvet had very deep glowing red color.

  2. Are you sure this is a dead lizard, and not just its shedded skin? Snakes shed skins, so i guessed a gecko might. But if there were bones... no question. ;-)


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