Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Movie Poster Photography Stand

A Simple Stand for Poster Photography

As the technology of photography goes, photographing posters is not a formidable task, but if a few simple techniques are applied the results can be vastly improved.

It is usually better to work without a flash. If the poster is not glossy, a flash photo will usually be fine, but if the poster is glossy, a flash exposure will produce ugly hot spots. A common technique among internet poster sellers is to use a flash with the poster cocked at an angle way from the camera's focal plane. This solves the hot spot problem, but looks odd.

Whether the poster is glossy or not, the results are good most of the time if the exposure is made with available light and no flash at all. Then the biggest problem is making sure the available light is evenly distributed over the surface of the poster. This usually means turning off all the room lights and facing the poster away from the windows. A picture taken with available light doesn't have to be tilted away from the focal plane.

In most cases, available light will require a tripod, and
preferably a remote shutter release, either cable or infrared.
Low-light photography without a flash means long exposures (slow shutter speeds), and if the camera shakes or jiggles at all during a long exposure, the image will be blurred. If the camera has a built-in meter for automatic exposure, the job becomes really easy and the results consistently pleasing.

Although photographic lighting is a complex subject, in the
paragraphs above I've given a simple lighting solution to the task of photographing posters that is eminently reliable. Everybody can use it successfully the first or second try.

A more difficult problem is mounting the poster in an upright
position for the picture. For that we need some kind of stand that can accommodate different poster sizes; we want to attach the posters without using tape, tacks or glue. We want to put the poster up in front of the camera and then take it down without altering the poster's physical condition.

Some people have developed fantastic solutions to this mounting problem. I've seen big sucking vacuum walls that will make any poster of any size lie perfectly flat and vertical in front of the camera instantly. The ones I've seen have been installed in elaborate permanent studios with lighting and camera prepositioned to yield perfect results every time based on extensive testing. I've also seen steel background walls used with magnets to hold up the posters, again providing infinite flexibility for sizes.

For my work I don't want a permanent fixture because I don't have space for a studio. I want to be able to assemble and then disassemble my stand to allow for multiple uses of my limited space. At a camera show in Southfield Michigan last June I bought a used portable background stand made by the Da-Lite Screen Company in Warsaw Indiana. I modified it for use as a poster photography stand.

Da-Lite Screen's Portable Background Stand

Many companies make background stands for photography. The one pictured happens to be first the one I found. It has a 1 1/8" diameter adjustable aluminum bar across the top, and the two supporting stands can also be adjusted up and down. It was designed to hold up background paper or cloth, so there is nowhere to attach posters.

I made an accessory for my background stand that I can attach to it for poster photography. It is a 72" aluminum ruler that I fasten to the horizontal bar with two steel hose clamps. The hose clamps are attached to the aluminum ruler with rivets. I had the riveting done at a machine shop, but I probably could have done it myself with some kind of consumer rivet gun and drill.

Hose Clamp Attached to Aluminum Ruler with Rivet, then Attached to the Aluminum Crossbar

The aluminum bar is too thick for bulldog clips, but the attached ruler gives me a hard surface that is a good size for bulldog clips and I can use it with the clips to hang the posters up in front of the camera, as I've done with these posters:

Insert, The Old Barn Dance (R1944) Gene Autry

4x5 foot banner, Friday Night Lights (2004) Billy Bob Thornton

For the Insert, as with most posters, I also used bulldog clips at the bottom to make it hang down straignt. For the large banner, I used clips and another 72" aluminum ruler to make the poster hang straight and to make its long folded bottom edge line up evenly for the camera.

Bottom Corner of Mounted Friday Night Lights banner showing end of long ruler clamped to the bottom with bulldog clips

On this end of the background stand we can see the bottom edge of the Friday Night Lights banner before I clamped another 72" ruler to its bottom edge to make it hang straighter.

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