Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I'm bidding on a job right now in which my client wants to see a line item for product rotation. In other words, when you roll your mouse over the image the product spins.

Based on some quick research online it looks like you'd rotate the subject 15 degrees or so and run the resulting images through java, QuickTime, flash or whatever the programmer's choice of wizardry is. Wanted to check with my stack community to see if anyone has shot this type of image(s) before and could lend some knowledge.

  1. What's the best way to rotate the object (size of an iPad)? I'm guessing a turn style or modeling chair, but then wondering about final image, of course wanting to minimize post time as much as possible.

  2. Is 15 degrees sufficient for smooth transitions between frames?

  3. Final question (perhaps best for wiki???)...Looking for suggestions on bidding this line item. Seems like the bulk of the work would be in post if a turn style needs to be masked out of every frame. Would it be best to base quote on projected time (hourly rate) or for # of pics processed? I know this is rather subjective and if someone feels they need to edit this off the question I'm fine with that...just want to see what contemporaries are charging so I'm in the right ball field. Thoughts?

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2 Answers 2

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What you are looking for is a Lazy Susan (or, sometimes, turntable). They vary between little plastic things you can pick up at a housewares store that will hold a couple of kilograms at most to very expensive rigs that can turn a diesel locomotive with ease. The chances are pretty good that you'd want something in the low-middle end of that range that can be a part of your studio for a while.

While it may be more money than you had hoped to spend, I'd suggest investing in about a 30-inch set of aluminum bearings with about a half-ton rating. It's not that you're going to want to be lifting a half-ton of anything onto a table over and over again, but you want the stability, repeatability and longevity that will make the setup worth your while. A good set of bearings along with a sheet of 3/4" MDF (half above, half below) will give you a solid, stable platform that will last for years of product shooting. Even if you never shoot another spinner again, it's often easier to adjust the table upon which the product is sitting than it is to move the camera, the lights, the reflectors, the scrims, the flags,...

It's not too difficult, with the right tools and a bit of skill (or a hired cabinetmaker) to create a rectangular table with a revolver circular bit in the middle and just the smallest gap. It's easy to heal or clone out the gap — it's even something that would have been relatively easy in the days of film. With a white melamine or laminate surface, you can even extend it into a seamless sweep.

How many images you'll need will depend on how quickly and smoothly the object is supposed to spin. 15 degrees between images ought to do it, but I'd check for a "tighter" brief first.

You're a photographer. You make the "big bucks" with your camera. You can't charge nearly as much for post-production as you can for shooting, and if you bring your post-production hourlies into the mix at all, you'll find the client won't be willing to pay very much for it. You'll need to consider PP for your own purposes, but you're charging for the product shot. Every product or every different shot of the same product (not a rotate series, but, say, a different product orientation, accessories, props, etc.) is a separate line item on the invoice, as is the session base if you have to travel, any additional crew or talent you need, etc. But the shot (or rotate series) is a deliverable, and it doesn't matter how much behind-the-scenes has to happen for you to deliver it — post-processing isn't a separate charge unless the client wants a change.

That means two things: get fast at the things you have to do, and do whatever you can at shooting time to eliminate as much post-processing as possible. It's likely, for instance, that building a decent Lazy Susan shooting table will set you back $300 or more in materials and a full day in time, but it will pay for itself in time saved on a single 24-image rotation sequence compared to putting the object on a chair you have to edit out of every shot. Sometimes you have to spend to make.

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Thank you Stan. My studio is mobile at the moment so building a large format table will have to wait. I'm going to use a modeling stool for now. Your description on pricing is confirmation that we're on the right track. Thank you. –  Rob Clement Apr 15 '13 at 15:53
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Furniture stores may have simple turn-tables that they sell for television tables. It is a tv-set cabinet, with a circular bearing device and a MDF sheet on the bearings. Wait a sec, I'll go take a photo of my turntable bearings plate:

turntable bearing plate

That's a light version, rated for max 50 kilograms, and not really so very smooth. Stan's suggestion sounds good, that you buy something of a bit higher quality. Inserted the photo so you'll better know what you will be looking for.

To make the turning look smooth, it should be at least 15 frames per second, and that's not very smooth yet. A good deal of computer displays are flat LCD screens with 60 Hz refresh rates, and it would be nice to have the turning image fps suit that number. Take a pick from 15 fps, 20 fps and 30 fps. After that, you'll want to decide how long will the complete turn take. One second full turn makes you dizzy, I think. Two seconds for complete turn might look better, which makes for 30 frames at 15 frames per second rate. Your customer should have been more specific about it.

Basicly it is just another timelapse, only you turn the object and control your camera instead of letting all go on a programmed automaton.

About the time, I bet you'll spend as much time setting up the lighting than you'll spend at postprocessing. See, the object is turning, but lights should stay put. No nasty reflections at any phase of the turn, while still having every angle nicely lit.

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Thanks for the post! –  Rob Clement Apr 15 '13 at 15:54
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