Published February 17, 2009
Volume 17, Number 2

Green-Screen Technique Keeps Photographer Corning in the Studio      

Using green-screen compositing means shots can be made in the
studio,  avoiding expensive location set-ups.

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Commercial photography has been Don Corning’s profession—and passion—for over 30 years. He started in the business as a young man with his father on the peninsula back in the 1970s. “We had a color lab and about nine people working for us over in San Carlos,” he recalls. About 20 years ago, he and his wife, Diane, set up shop on this side of the bay, moving their studio into Hacienda at 5635 West Las Positas Ave. in 1990. Things have changed quite a bit in the world of photography since then, and Corning continues to keep up with the times. 

Although his firm was among the first wave of half a dozen Northern California photographers to “go digital” in 1995, Corning was not immediately sold on the innovation. “We went to an early seminar and saw what was then the dawn of the digital world. I came away saying that it would never replace film,” he quips. Six months later, realizing it was the direction of the future, he purchased his first digital camera and started work to transfer the techniques he had developed in the dark room to Photoshop. “We were at the frontier of this new technology, so there was a lot of self-training and experimentation, but on the whole it was a smooth transition,” he observes.

Color management is one of the advances he appreciates. “We now have such finely tuned control that a screen image will print at a printing house within five percent of the original color value,” he reports. “And with today’s camera chips it’s possible to generate really large scale images, up to 18 feet, for a trade show, for example. It’s gorgeous!”

A recent innovation he can offer clients is the use of a green screen background and special software that enables him to photograph really complicated products and drop them seamlessly into a completely different setting, eliminating the expense and complexities of shooting on location. This approach not only captures and holds the detailed profile—for example, a sophisticated medical probe as thin as a pencil lead—but can also be applied to moving objects, opening up all kinds of creative design options. 

Corning recently worked with a client that had developed sport accessories for the iPod and wanted to depict them in a series of challenging action shots—snow-boarding in Tahoe, roller-blading at the skate park, BMX bike-riding on a track. In contrast to three to five days for a location shoot, requiring a raft of permits, assistants, and at the mercy of the weather, Corning photographed the product on models in action against the green screen in his studio, in complete control of the environment. “It only takes a few minutes for us to digitally drop out the item, saving many days of pen-tooling and clipping. Then the designer can manipulate the image and put it into any background the client wants, with all kinds of special effects. It’s phenomenal.”

Corning’s portfolio includes projects for some very notable companies in the area, including Sanarus, Kyphon, Chevron, Challenge Dairy, Netgear, SanDisk,  and Valley Care Health Systems. His signature shot of the Hacienda arch, which appears on the first page of every issue of NETWORK, is inextricably tied to the park. For a view of his work, visit www.corningphotography.com.


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