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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love to work in the Studio. It is immensely satisfying having complete control of the photographic process, from pre-planning to post processing.
Styling the scene to my own taste, by positioning the product or Still Life item exactly where I want and utilising the plethora of props that I have at my disposal, using Compositional rules such as The Rule of Thirds and Leading Lines, in order to create an organic composition, gives me full control of my studio photography.
Thinking about how I will light the product or scene, how I will make the mundane, everyday object, look stylish and beautiful, is like revisiting Art classes at school (without punitive teachers and irritating classmates). I can let my creative imagination run wild.
When it finally comes to actually lighting the Still Life, positioning the lights, choosing the correct power output, picking the right diffusion for the job, I feel like I am a music composer, picking the necessary instruments, creating the perfect harmonies and finally giving birth to a beautiful musical composition.
I use Lightroom and Photoshop to create the final mood and feeling. The ultimate vision, that initially, lay in the right portion of my brain, is brought to fruition with the power of post processing, adding the final tone and sheen.
If the lighting and photographic process gives the Still Life the beauty, it’s the post processing that adds the emotion.
The awesomeness of working in Studio Photography is that I can make snap second reflections on my shooting process and choose a different prop, a Grid Spot instead of a Strip Box, a Gradient instead of a coloured background. I can spent time making a perfect composition, completely of my own creation.
I can patiently make changes whilst viewing the shot on the Monitor with Live View; the modelling lights on the strobes give me an idea of where the light will fall and where the shadows come into play. I can work with the set in real time.
Each shot taken will be reviewed and analysed. The set and Exposure can be readjusted if needed, and then re-shot until I get the final result.
It is having that complete control of the photographic environment, being the Master Puppeteer of the artistic vision, that I or somebody brings to me, is what makes Studio Photography so worthwhile.
As a Still Life & Product Photographer, I can be my own complete film crew, set designer, cameraman, director and editor and it is the Product that is the star.
And I get to listen to my own music ;)