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Cocoon Explained:

by Gary Regester

Cocoon is an 85% solution - meaning you can throw about 85% of existing small products into it as is and have an acceptable resulting image for your catalog, web or E-Bay.  However, here are several suggestions to improve your photographs and possibly reduce the time you spend digitally "saving" them.  (Our examples shown here, use the Cocoon 40, the smallest of the three Cocoons.)  

Useful tools- Here's a list of items you may decide you need (see photo right below): at least a yard (meter) of adhesive backed Velcro, both "hook" and "loop"; two panes of glass about 2x2 foot (60x60 cm) shown here for the Cocoon 40 or larger; glass cleaning spray; matt knifes, scissors and pens; clamps of every kind; Scotch and double sided tape; (Oh, you thought I meant "Scotch", OK, me too.) "canned" air; anti-static sheets used once already in your clothes dryer such as "Bounce" brand; 3# fishing line; colored filters, such as Lee or Rosco, available at cine or photo supply houses; all types of background materials to photograph your product on top of -  including dull, flat-surfaced translucent films such as Rosco Tuflux or similar; black velvet or velour (flock) paper; pieces of Formica, especially "slate" and a gray; foam surfaces available from art supplies such as "Zippy Foam" from Wandix in Hackensack, NJ; a tripod with an horizontal arm to get the camera over the Cocoon- Gitzo G2220 is great (distributed in the US by Bogen, Ramsey, NJ or call us, we are working on a good universal arm for any tripod; a small "still-life" arm system such as the one made by TableManners in Salt Lake City. 

And lighting, best, a couple or more small fluorescent fixtures which are heat free and highly efficient- check our 90 Watt Trilite (as shown here) (extra blue, 6500K, to balance against the weaker blue digital channel- meaning better blues, grays and chromes, shadows and silvers) or consider our 5300K Task Light.  At Home Depot do-it-yourslef stores (or similar), you can find 2 foot four fluorescent lamp fixtures.  Make certain that the ballasts are high frequency electronic ballasts (not the 60 Hz magnetic) and chose lamps with a correlated color temperature of at least 5000K and as high of a color rendition (CRI) of 85 or higher. Oh, and don't forget that your digital camera choice will need " macro" (close-up) focus capability.

Working surface- While any surface including the floor is acceptable, let us suggest a simple, elegant and cheap working surface that will allow you introduce filters under the Cocoon shown above left- two panes of thick glass found in a junk yard separated by two "2x2" (1.5x1.5"; 4x4cm) blocks of wood. Using your adhesive backed Velcro, you can construct this instant "light table / filter tray" in moments (see photo), here we have set this assembly onto two "sawhorses". We next double Velcro this light table to the saw horses and then add Velcro tabs at the front corners of the Cocoon and the front edge of the table (see left above) to make certain that there is no unintentional movement during setup - this is maybe the most important suggestion on this page!
Lesson One- a) The plastic material of the Cocoon is a shiny polyethylene plastic, great for light diffusion, but a little too glossy for your next background.  If you need a translucent background as shown here, chose a dull flat material such as Lee or Rosco diffusion filters from a photo / cine supply or architect's vellum or similar from an art supply.  Use the curve "cove" part (the largest piece) of the Cocoon as a cutting template and cut out your background surface.  Tape with Scotch tape on top and bottom edge of this piece before assembly of the Cocoon.

b) Look carefully at the center picture above.  Glass as a transparent subject is a bit difficult as it has no color. And at the same time is transparent and reflective.  We have three tricks to create some drama and interest.  First, the yellow graduation behind is the result of slipping a filter into the lower shelf of our "glass filter table" suggested under "working surface" above. Second, the "cast shadow" in front of the bowl (the bowl is translucent and can NOT cast a shadow) is created by positioning a rounded piece of black "velour" page in front of the bowl on that same lower shelf of our glass table.  Finally, we have added two rectangles of black "velour" paper on either side of the bowl, inside the Cocoon (see middle picture).  Use double sided tape or carpet tape to attach cards inside the Cocoon.

c) Lighting is provided by one Trilight under our glass table and one Trilite directly above and behind the Cocoon- a very typical and useful lighting combination.  Note in the picture on the left above, a large black card on top of the Cocoon.  This is placed in front of the top Trilite to keep the light from entering the camera lens (lens flare) which greatly degrades the image.  You will see that some of my set-up photos are made directly into a light source (for demo purposes, of course) - notice how flattened the contrast of the image becomes.  Take extra care to avoid "seeing" any light source from your camera's taking lens.

Lesson Two-  A variation of our first lesson.  The lighting now comes from the right side to create as much dimension and texture, highlight and shadow, to an otherwise smooth transparent glass object. Again, black velour paper is used, now almost surrounding the object.  The trick here is to balance the background "under" light with the side lighting. Note the slight graduation behind our subject. The Trilight (shown) has three lamps inside - it is easy enough to unscrew one lamp or change the relative position of the light fixture (it may take at least three Art Directors to help you with this).

The mistake we see most often is that many imagemakers place their lighting much, much too far away from the Cocoon to achieve good graduation (aka: drama) and efficiency - remember every time you half the distance between the light source and the Cocoon, you INCREASE the amount of light by FOUR times.  Having said this, be careful not to bring tungsten light so close that you deform or melt your Cocoon or subject.  We really suggest cool running fluorescent lighting used as closely as possible. Note: Ornament is suspended from our "tablemanners" arm with fishing line, later retouched with the "rubber stamp" tool in Adobe's PhotoShop.

Lesson Three- OK, next trick.  Dial a sparkle, sheen or shine to your jewelry, rings, pearls and watches. What I hold in my hand (left, above) is a screw-in (E26 base, aka: household base) self ballasted lamp.  Cocoon is great for flooding your subject with a broad overall soft directional light. BUT once you establish your overall illumination you need a "sparkler" from very near your camera position.  And the only way you will know how much and exactly where to place this light for the best effect is to watch through the camera until the suddenly you discover just the right spot. It may be under the camera lens, just above.  Carefully watch - you will know.. Study the picture above right- my "sparkler" is above and to the left to pick up the sheen of this mother of pearl piece (center photo). Note use of background materials.

 

Lesson Four-  (at right) Repeat of the above - just to see if you are still paying attention. Light coming from the left with black "velour" paper on the right to enhance the texture of the coins. Top "sparkler" fairly high up to spread the light, through a yellow filter taped to the top of the Cocoon increasing the look of the gold - note that the top silver dollar catches a bit of that color.
Lesson Five- (photo below) Trick number five - If you want to show your subjects on black, but want to enhance incident highlights and roundness of the pearls or the silver highlights of the rings. place them on an "island" of black, but surround your subject with white - let the lithographer add "process black" after the fact.  This "island" also helps the automatic digital cameras make something close to a correct exposure - all black or all white backgrounds fool the metering which is trying for a middle gray.

Lesson Six- (below) Now that you are an expert, you realize that of the three camera "ports" in the Cocoon, two "ports" will always be a liability to your image as they will show up in a highly reflective subject such as the antique door bell below. We have inserted a translucent sheet in which we cut a hole positioned immediately over the bell's handle.  Again note the two black "velour" cards to add a bit of dimension to the "chrome" look of the bell.  This time we have a white "island" around the bell with the black "velour" paper as close as possible - this give the edges of the bell the necessary black reflection to separate well against the intended white background which will be added later by your printer or through Photoshop.

Last note-  a number of Cocoon users have asked if the camera "ports" could be larger or asked if they could introduce direct light through the sides.  Also photographers working outdoors with flowers or small creatures (butterflys) have asked if we made a Cocoon without a bottom.  It is very easy to cut the polyethylene material of the Cocoon to whatever is your heart's desire - simply "score" the surface about half way through with a matt knife, then carefully cut through completely at one point - then by slight folding action the entire piece will lift out.

I hope some of these thoughts were helpful.  Please feel free to send me your comments and question -

   -Gary Regester

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