10 Essential Accesorries for any Studio Product Photgrapher

Besides my trusty camera, sturdy tripod and Strobe lights, I need to use a very specific set of tools to get my Still Life and Product photography completed in a professional and timely manner.  Here is a fairly comprehensive list of the accessories that I find essential to use in the studio.

Stripboxes - A beautiful strip of soft light.  It is the perfect tool for creating a narrow beam of light that helps to define shape, revealing the curves and contours of the product.  As you can see in this image of the Beard Trimmer, the 120cm x 30cm Stripbox was placed overhead and the soft highlight follows from the head, down the body of the item, accentuating the curved elegance of the beard trimmer.  They are also best used to highlight the shape of beverage and cosmetics bottles.

Stripbox light reflected on the top of the beard trimmer  Other highlights created by 'feathering' the grid spot

Stripbox light reflected on the top of the beard trimmer  Other highlights created by 'feathering' the grid spot

Grid Spots - If you want a focussed, controlled beam of light on your product, then a grid spot is a great choice.  The Honeycomb ‘cells’ keep the light controlled. A smaller angled grid (I used a 10 degree grid) creates a small spot of light and a larger angle grid creates the larger size. For this shot I ‘feathered’ the grid, so that the light skimmed past the front end of the Beard Trimmer head at a 45 degrees angle, which created the highlights that are visible on the head and down the silver body. 

J.P. Morgan at The Slanted Lens has a excellent tutorial on how Grid Sports can also be used for a portrait photography location shoot.

Light Stands & C-Stands - C-Stands are heavy and sturdy. Made of metal, they have retractable legs that spread out for stability. These can be made extra secure with sandbags laid over the leg. The central pole has two - four risers. They can be extended to the maximum height of the stand. A grip head attaches the long adjustable arm that also supports clamps or another grip head which can be used to attach accessories. C-Stands can support heavy strobes, flags, scrims, bounce cards, diffusion material and can even hang a Product with tough fishing line or wire. I used a C-Stand to attach the overhead Strobe with the 120cm x 30cm Stripbox.

Good quality light stands can support Speedlights, flags, bounce cards and light weighted props, if needed. However do not forget to use sandbags on the legs for extra stability.

A Clamps - These inexpensive springy devices are good to hold bounce cards and paper. You can clamp diffusion material to Stands or C-Stand arms with them, and they can support small props that need a little help standing up.  They come in various sizes and styles and can be purchased from your local DIY store. A must for Product photographers.

 

Bounce cards and Reflectors - Bounce the light back with a bounce card.  Utterly essential for Still Life photography.  Illuminate portions of the Product with a white, gold or silver card.  White card for a clean lighted tone.  Silver card for a stronger light and gold if you want a warmer tone. Use black cards (flags) to cut the light from a portion of the composition that has too much light.  Buy black and white foamcore and silver and gold card and cut into various sizes for various sized projects.

Here is a detailed FStoppers Jewellery photography tutorial using black and white card to bounce stripbox light into a watch.

Diffusion material - Soften your highlights.  A roll of tracing paper,or a bedsheet, white shower curtain, ripstop nylon or translum diffusion, hanging on a C-Stand arm, can do wonders for your stripbox lighting.

A shiny, glossy bottle that is illumainted with stripboxes on either side can reflect strong, harsh strips of light down the edges.  Place a roll of tracing paper in front of a stripbox, softbox or grid spot and that bright light on a glossy surface becomes softer and more pleasing to the eye. Gradients can be created on the object or background when the softbox and grid spot is angled correctly behind (or in front of a background) of the diffusion material.  In essence the diffusion material works like a flag, cutting the light’s intensity.  Diffusion material can be mounted on DIY scrims too. 

The awesome Product photographer, Alex Koloskov, reveals the benefits of using diffusion with softboxes material in making gradients.

Table - A black finished table is good for tabletop photography as it will not reflect unnecessary colour casts back into the products or scene.  For versatility, use a pair of sawhorses so that different surfaces can be mounted on top, i.e. glass, plexiglass, wood.

Gaffer tape and other sticky stuff - Black Gaffer tape will not leave a residue like other sticky tapes. It’s good for sticking Gels to honeycomb grids and mounting diffusion material on plastic piping or a wooden frame. Coloured blue and white sticky putty is great for holding props or products in place and marking an area where the hero bottle/product will be placed, once cleaned.

Cleaning materials - Canned air, anti-static cloths, microfibre cloths and cleaning fluids.  Use them as needed.  The more dust and smears that smother the product, the more time there is spent retouching in Photoshop. Some smears can create retouching headaches, so clean beforehand. Don’t go into the studio without them!

Wooden and metal blocks - Go to your local metal worker and wood worker and get them made in many different sizes.  They are fantastic for propping up items that are prone to falling over. I also use them for propping up large bounce cards.

If you want to work efficiently and calmly and create great Product and Still Life photography, in a professional environment, then do yourself a favour and add these accessories to your shopping list.

Just One Light - Uncomplicated Lighting Set-Ups

When it comes to Product & Still Life Photography it is possible to make stunning imagery with just one strobe.  Whether you're using Continuous lighting, a hotshoe mounted flash, a monolight, natural window light or even a table lamp, you can make a bowl of fruit glow with light and colour that you would never find in the fruit aisle of a supermarket.  

If you start out your tabletop photography career with just a table lamp, some tracing paper, some black & white cards (to bounce the light back) you can produce fantastic quality shots of Wine Bottles, Glasses, Food, ornaments... the list goes on.

Even Jewellery photography, which can be very complex and can utilise a gang of strobes in one studio set-up, can be tackled with one light and softbox and bounce cards.

Phillip McCordall, a very experienced, Professional photographer, uses just one overhead strobe in a softbox in this video:

His videos are excellent learning tutorials for any aspiring beginner.  He mainly uses table lamps to show you the process of lighting Bottles, glasses and other stuff.

Another excellent Photographer, Vadim Chiline of EpicMind Studio, takes you through his shot of a cosmetic product using just a grid spot, on his blog.

 

I was using one light for the Carved Wooden Motorbike shots this week.  An 18cm, 20 Degree Grid Spot in various positions, set the tone for me.  Dramatic, moody, mysterious, those were the themes that I had in mind when I started shooting.  I knew that I could achieve this by using a Honeycomb grid.  

The fun part of lighting shots like this is how to light the rest of the bike.  The narrow beam of light that the grid spot provided, did not fill in the areas that remained untouched by the light - the bottom side of the bike facing the camera.  

This is where I used white bounce cards, to light those areas.  Depending on the angle I placed those cards, or if I used a black card to cut out the light, (which I initially did) I can subtly shape the light to my taste.

Want a bit of shadow and contrast near the back, then I would cut out the light with a black card.  A little more light down the front; turn the white card towards it.

In this case, after various set-ups I found that I wanted the side of the bike to be lit evenly, so I evenly place the white bounce cards along the front.

I took three separate shots with the grid spot in different positions and post processed in Lightroom & Photoshop to achieve the three shots I have of the bike.


I think it is just as enjoyable lighting Still Life & Product photography with just one light, it certainly is satisfying finding the correct position for the light and then bringing light back into the shadow areas with the cards.  Just remember to have items to prop the cards up, like wine bottles or stands.