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Thread: Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

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    Snarkbyte's Avatar
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    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

    I need to obtain lighting gear for table-top shooting, including macro and close-up shots. I don't have any real interest in portraits, so I'm omitting whatever equipment possible by passing on portraiture. I already have a couple of Canon 580EX II flash units, but sources of continuous light would certainly simplify things considerably. I'm setting up in spare walk-in closet, which I think should be large enough for the table-top shooting I'm interested in, and I'll have plenty of nearly walls and ceiling for bounce and hanging back-drops.

    I'll need lights of a suitable power, softboxes, light stands, snoots, clamps for flash units, and whatever else I don't know about yet. I haven't really put a number on the budget for all this, but suffice to say I won't be spending upwards of 10,000 USD on top-of-the-line pro studio gear. I'm currently looking at the Westcott Spiderlite TD3 kit, which seems suitable, and accepts fluoresent bulbs (to stay cool in a small closed space).

    Any advice and/or alternative suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Boy!, do you make me feel cheap. I shoot my tabletop stuff in my garage
    with four clip-on lights from Home Depot and 100 W incandescent bulbs.
    I do use a Whi-Bal G7 card and shoot RAW, but mostly I correct in
    Photoshop with Curves. For some shots, I use a fluorescent ring light
    from an articulated lighted magnifying thing that I ripped the magnification
    lens out of. I bought that at Goodwill for $4. I don't do real macro,
    though, just some close-ups.

    Can I have your old stuff?

    http://tonycooper.smugmug.com/Other/...6_sQors-XL.jpg

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by TonyCooper View Post
    Boy!, do you make me feel cheap.
    And you make me feel envious. My space is limited, and need to be able to control the multiple light bounces in a closet space while still directing the light where it needs to go from a sufficiently diffuse source. In other words, I want fairly extensive control, flexibility, and compactness. BTW, I also want a 1,000 acre estate on the French Riviera with a well-stocked wine cellar for 10,000 USD.

    Quote Originally Posted by TonyCooper View Post
    Can I have your old stuff?
    Yep, you can have all of it... because I don't have any old stuff. I'm a complete newbie to artificial lighting, hence the need for advice.

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Seriously, you haven't said what your subjects will be. Without knowing
    that, it's really difficult to suggest equipment.

    Those light tents that sell for about $100 including two light fixtures are
    just fine for toys, jewelry, and small objects. Anything no bigger than a
    football will fit in them. You can set one up on your dining table in minutes.

    I don't know anything about this company's product, but here's an example:
    http://www.markstechnologynews.com/2...ages-like.html
    The camera store locally sells one like it for $79. I like more than two lights,
    though.

    Buying a light box, or light tent, or soft box, or whatever you want to call
    it is a lot cheaper than buying softbox external lights with stands. You can
    use open lights of any kind if you diffuse by placing the object in the tent.
    Make sure the bulbs are matched, though, or the white balance can get
    screwed up.

    If you are going to shoot straight down on a subject, the best accessory
    is a copy stand. Just rig up some diffusers between the subject and the
    lights. Many tripods allow you to shoot straight down by reversing the
    column, but the tripod gets in your way.

    In a lot of close-up photography, you want to use a high f/stop (f/16 or so)
    to get the whole object in focus. You needn't be concerned about shutter
    speed if you use a tripod. A remote shutter triggering device is a good thing.
    A fairly deep surface area is good because you'll want your object well in
    front of the background to eliminate shadows.

    I don't use wall or ceiling bounce light for tabletops, but I have one of those
    collapsible reflectors that I hand-hold to direct the light for some shots.

    I used to collect sterling silver tableware, but decided to sell off my
    collection a couple of years ago. That's tough stuff to photograph
    because the silver reflects both the light and the lens. I ended up
    modifying an opaque lampshade to diffuse the light and shot straight
    down through an opaque plastic panel with a hole cut out in it to
    accomodate the lens.

    This site gives you some information on tabletop set-ups:
    http://www.tabletopstudio.com/

    I can't really provide much in the way of tips without knowing what
    type of thing you'll be shooting. I don't have a real macro lens, so I
    dunno about true macro photography. I just do close-ups with a 35mm
    prime lens.

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    TonyCooper's Avatar
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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    This was shot this weekend. It's a close-up of part of a vase that is about 7"
    tall.

    http://tonycooper.smugmug.com/Other/...1-13-01-XL.jpg

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Thanks for the comments, Tony. I have considered a light tent with desk lamps, but this just wouldn't give the kind of flexibility I want. Light tents are great for even, diffuse light, but if that's all I wanted I could just bounce off of stuff I hung up in the closet. I really want more control than that, so I can have even, diffuse light or dramatic directional light or just about anything in between. In other words, I want to experiment with all sorts of lighting conditions and directions, controlling the intensity and directness (diffusion, or lack of) from multiple sources.

    As far as subject matter, the list is potentially endless... if it's interesting and small enough to fit on a table, I want to be able to shoot it. Tiny insects, plants, food, jewelry, pollen, toys, electronic components, my uncle's nasal hair... you get the idea. I may want to shoot a glass of wine lit from below thru translucent lucite one day, and the shadow of a flea the next. (OK, that last shot is probably not in my future, but I can think of some pretty weird stuff that you wouldn't see in any commercial product shot).

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    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Check out this link. I just happen to be reading the book and was interested in the same setup.

    http://www.graphic-design.com/news/2..._shooting.html

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by Snarkbyte View Post
    Thanks for the comments, Tony. I have considered a light tent with desk lamps, but this just wouldn't give the kind of flexibility I want. Light tents are great for even, diffuse light, but if that's all I wanted I could just bounce off of stuff I hung up in the closet. I really want more control than that, so I can have even, diffuse light or dramatic directional light or just about anything in between. In other words, I want to experiment with all sorts of lighting conditions and directions, controlling the intensity and directness (diffusion, or lack of) from multiple sources.
    In that case, might you be better off with painting the inside of the closet in mat black, to minimise reflection and stray light? It doesn't make for the most welcoming of environments, but I seem to remember from my darkroom days that that was one of the recommendation when setting up a darkroom (or at least the area around the enlarger).

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Thanks for the replies, everyone, but my first major concern is with the lights and lightstands. The softboxes, reflectors, snoots, etc... will fall into place much more simply after I know what lights, stands, and fixtures I have to work with. Any recommendations regarding good quality flourescent lights and sturdy stands, and clamps that will work with Canon 580EX II flash units? I really want to keep everything compatible here, so I don't have to buy a dozen different adapters or build some Rube Goldberg contraption every time I need a different light angle.

    So... starting with the lights and stands... any recommendations? I did some additional digging last night, and found some complaints and buyers remorse concerning the quality control of the Westcott Spiderlite equipment, so maybe that's not the way to go.

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    I've bought light stands and umbrellas from here.
    http://www.skaeser.com/servlet/StoreFront
    Decent prices and good quality.

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    Snarkbyte's Avatar
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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    I've bought light stands and umbrellas from here.
    http://www.skaeser.com/servlet/StoreFront
    Decent prices and good quality.
    Thanks Jim. An interesting site; well organized and good prices. I intend to look at these products more closely, so thanks much for the tip!

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    While skimming the site for product photo, I came across this thread and I found it a bit amusing, but at the same time disappointing.

    There are scores of very good photographs on the CiC site, and there must be a few of us that sometimes also make product shots. I have worked with it long ago, and I also took a lot of product shots at my last workplace before retiring. I am often amazed that people think that so much gear is necessary, and that for example a light tent should do the job. Recently, I did answer to a thread on another board (Swedish), about product photography, where someone had built a contraption resembling the light tent, hoping to make better product shot, but found them too dull and asked about a better camera and a lighting system with studio strobes.

    I have found one very good site on the web, where to learn a bit of lighting techniques for products and what gear could be used at a fairly low cost. It's prophotolife dot com, made by Jim Talkington. He shows how one can use simple means for making impressive product shots.

    In the discussion on camera gear on that other board, I tried to convince the guy that the bridge camera he had was sufficient for the product shot, and that it was mostly a matter of understanding light and the angles to shoot. That it was necessary to compensate for the white background, and that the tent is not particularly suited for creating light that models. The flat and dull lighting that he got was exactly what the light tent accomplishes, if it is used without further light modifiers. I also stressed that it is not the gear that takes the photo. Even the simplest of compact cameras may be used successfully for product shots. I have done it for a couple of years, and as long as the images aren't larger than a computer screen, 2 megapixel is enough.

    The image below is presented in 2 megapixel size. It was shot with a camera similar to the one photographed. The lighting is a window with a white translucent curtain, and a couple of reflectors are used for fill and contour. EXIF data in the image shows what camera was used and what settings. The window light and reflectors are the only light sources. There's nothing fancy, just a straight shot. No studio strobes, no light stands, only one window and a couple of makeshift reflectors.

    I'm amazed that people make it so complicated.

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    My current strictly amateur rig (for watch pics):

    13W Sylvania mini-craft CFLs, 5500K w/LED MagLite for hi-lighting, tracing paper diffusers.
    + an overhead 40W cool white strip light.

    I really could do with one or two more lamps though.

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

    Shortly to be improved by a better Giottos tripod/ballhead and a Sigma 70mm macro lens :-)

    Ted

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    It should be noted that all low-energy lamps (fluorescent bulbs with built-in ballast as well as LED lamps) modulate light with twice mains frequency 2x50=100Hz in Europe, 2x60=120Hz in some other places. Using such lamps for photography requires shutter times of two full cycles or longer, i.e. 1/25 sec or longer, in order to avoid banding in the images. I typically shoot at times around 1/15 or longer when using that kind of lamps.

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by Inkanyezi View Post
    It should be noted that all low-energy lamps (fluorescent bulbs with built-in ballast as well as LED lamps) modulate light with twice mains frequency 2x50=100Hz in Europe, 2x60=120Hz in some other places. Using such lamps for photography requires shutter times of two full cycles or longer, i.e. 1/25 sec or longer, in order to avoid banding in the images. I typically shoot at times around 1/15 or longer when using that kind of lamps.
    A good point, Urban.

    But don't CFL's have electronic ballasts running at 20 - 45kHz, not 120Hz, so the modulation period is insignificant compared to the phosphors' persistence time?

    But maybe I should turn that overhead strip light off (it has a magnetic ballast)? Not that it's lux in the subject zone compares to the mighty flood of lumens from the two Sylvania CFLs ;-)

    Ted

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by xpatUSA View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Inkanyezi View Post
    It should be noted that all low-energy lamps (fluorescent bulbs with built-in ballast as well as LED lamps) modulate light with twice mains frequency 2x50=100Hz in Europe, 2x60=120Hz in some other places. Using such lamps for photography requires shutter times of two full cycles or longer, i.e. 1/25 sec or longer, in order to avoid banding in the images. I typically shoot at times around 1/15 or longer when using that kind of lamps.
    A good point, Urban.

    But don't CFL's have electronic ballasts running at 20 - 45kHz, not 120Hz, so the modulation period is insignificant compared to the phosphors' persistence time?

    Ted
    The HF period is insignificant, the problem stems from the tiny size of the ballast, so it does not have room for a filter to remove fluctuations from the mains frequency. This is advantageous for the mains system, as you don't get overly high spikes when polarity is inverted in the rectifier, but the lamp responds quickly to the lower current each time the mains voltage goes through zero.

    Larger ballasts, as those made for straight rubes, may have sufficient filtration, but some small ones suffer from the same insufficiency of filtration.

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    I believe the CF's run at around 40KHz. The line voltage is rectified to DC, filtered through a capacitor and then converted to high frequency square wave that runs the CF. Not sure of the impact of the phosphors on the light output, but the frequency is so high illumination will be fine even at very high shutter speeds.

  18. #18
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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Most of my table-top macro shots I have done with two aim-able incandescent reading lights. Now I use a setup that cost me about $200. I bought two minibooms (also called hair lights), one Smith Victor and one Impact (B&H's store brand). The latter is here. The Smith Victor seems slight better built, but the Impact has additional features: it will hold an umbrella, and the cone shape makes it easier to use certain bulbs. I either use direct lighting with manfrotto diffusers (about $15 for a package), or I use one with an umbrella for more diffuse lighting and one direct. Lately, I have been trying 75W for the umbrella and 50W for the direct to make the lighting less harsh.

    I greatly prefer continuous lighting for macro because you can see what you are getting. For something like watches, i don't think this would matter much, but for flowers, even slight changes in the position of the lights can make a very big difference.

    Here's one I did with that setup. I think I would back off the direct a little, or simply turn down clarity, if I were doing it over.

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    You don't need very powerful lights for the type of shoting you plan. I would however not select lights that get quite hot such as the work lights you purchase at home improvement stores. I consider these as dangerous both to you and to whetever you are shooting.

    A set of small studio strobes would work just great because they have modeling lights which will provide WYSIWYG lighting. You don't need a great amount of power for anything you can fit into a walk-in closet to shoot.

    Strobes can be modified with umbrellas, soft boxes, snoots or other modifiers. I often use a setup like this for shooting my small dogs and that setup could be carried over to shooting objects...

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

    I also like this type of shoot through unbrella because it controls light better than the shoot through brollies with open backs. This might be a factor when shoting in a small confinded area. I would really suggest to have your table on wheels and be able to roll it out into a larger area in which to shot. A walk-in closet will be pretty crammed.

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

    I like using a boom with some light from directly above. I also have several light stands.

    Lighting Setup for Table-top Shooting

    I would ensure that I had an articulating tripod. My Giottos 8180T allows me to place the camera in just about any spot I want. There are other brand tripods which can articulate.

    I use foam type blankets as backgrounds (but remnants of velvet facric are also great). J.C. Penny has Vellux blankets which are available in many colors, including black which is qite handy. The blanket doesnt wrinkle and makes a super background. They are also relatively inexpensive... http://www.jcpenney.com/jcp/X6.aspx?...1b381e7&submit search.y=7&Ntt=blanket&SearchString=blanket&Ne=4+8 40+877+878+5+961+6+29+3+579+963+1014+1031+8+587+15 +12+1011+598+11+506+10+23+585+969+596+1022+586+100 7+879+968+1027+18+904+903+833+1545&hdnOnGo=true&NO ffset=0&submit search.x=27&Nao=0&N=4294959029&SO=0&PSO=0&CmCatId= searchresults

    I do have a light tent which I purchased on eBay for a pittance. It came with four different colored backgrounds and a front cover through which you can stick your lens when shooting extremely reflective subjects. The lightbox produces virtually reflection free lighting. When I am shooting things like silver, I place a black block (I have made several of these in different sizes from scrap wood and painted them black) which will place in the tent and which will cast a black reflection on your silver item to provide an illusion of depth. Otherwise, silver can look blank and dead. Light tents are not the most creative ways to light but they are very efficient and quick to work with and great for production shooting of small items. I light my tent with a pair of small studio strobes on stands, one to either side.

    Your choice of lenses depends entirely on what you are shooting. Macro lenses may or may not be needed. Tilt shift lenses are great and certainly reduce the effort in post processing. However, they are quite expensive and their learning curve is pretty steep.

    Virtually any camera will be sufficient but, a camera with an articulating LCD might be handy. I don't usually shoot live view except for this type of photography.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 21st April 2012 at 02:48 PM.

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    Re: Lighting setup for table-top shooting

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I believe the CF's run at around 40KHz. The line voltage is rectified to DC, filtered through a capacitor and then converted to high frequency square wave that runs the CF. Not sure of the impact of the phosphors on the light output, but the frequency is so high illumination will be fine even at very high shutter speeds.
    I just tried to explain, that after rectification, the DC current varies with double mains frequency and a modulation depth of about 30%. There's no way a CFL can deliver light free from modulation as long as you supply it with AC. The storage capacitor after the rectifier is just too small.

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