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Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?

  
 
petermendelson
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


I am interested in doing some still life photography for fun in my basement next winter, and am starting from scratch and looking for some basic advice on equipment to get me started and that I can also grow into. I am using a Hasselblad X2D with various lenses and Leica Q3. I have one Godox V1N flash (and am picking up a Godox off-camera trigger today), but that's it. There are so many choices it's bewildering. I have a large white round table and a decent size room, so I am looking into: 1) a decent flash set up with some reflectors, soft boxes, etc.; 2) some basic background materials; 3) whatever else is essential. In terms of subject matter, I am thinking of various objects and antique items that could be up to, say, the size of a large trunk.

Also looking for some enjoyable online classes on still life - I've been getting ads for Joel Grimes still life online course, which looks fun, but advice on any others are appreciated.

Thanks!

Peter



Jul 16, 2023 at 07:50 AM
rico
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


Your top priority is support, followed immediately by panels. Support includes stands, grip arms, clamps, etc. Panels serve for bounce, light modification, and flagging. I very rarely use my softboxes. Example setup:



In essense, you build a set around the subject to create the desired mood and sense of place.



Jul 16, 2023 at 12:47 PM
jeffbuzz
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


What size subjects? For objects smaller than ~12 inches, a simple 36 inch light tent may be a good modifier to start with. 2 or 3 small strobes can light that from the inside or outside using fairly minimal supports. You can get also self contained shooting boxes with LED light strips built in.

Larger subjects will require larger lights and modifiers as @rico has shown you above.



Jul 16, 2023 at 05:28 PM
doctorb
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


Based on your selection of cameras, I wholeheartedly recommend Profoto. You will not be disappointed.


Jul 20, 2023 at 04:08 PM
rscheffler
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


Since you're new at this, you might find working with strobes makes it difficult to visualize the actual light quality on your subject. You may be better to start with continuous output lighting so you can actually see what's falling on your subject and adjust it accordingly. This was also the way things worked when I was in a college photography program many years ago. First year students worked almost only with continuous output lights and in second year transitioned to strobes. There are a ton of LED light options available ranging from 'spot' type lights to larger panels.... And since you're photographing static subjects, you can get away with lower to mid-range lights that may not have the brightness one would want for non-static subjects.


Jul 25, 2023 at 12:21 AM
CharleyL
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


A Youtube channel "Camera Club Live" might help, but he uses all top dollar tools that are not at all necessary for this. Learn the tricks from him, but don't be intimidated by his high dollar equipment. You can get the same results with budget priced photo gear and hardware store alternatives for a lot of it.

My lights are Godox and my softboxes are by various sources. When doing "still life" I use whatever I can come up with for supports, clamps, etc. and make backgrounds, reflectors, etc. from things like Foam Core, sometimes adding strips of wood from my woodshop so they will stand up without a fancy support.

@rico posted a photo of one of his setups that is about typical of what I usually end up with. Notice the Foam Core panels that are in his setup. Walmart is likely the best source for Foam Core, but it's also available from Hobby Lobby and other stores too. Support devices and clamps are important, but fancy high dollar photography versions are not needed when you are first getting started, and sometimes even work better here than the high dollar alternatives. Shop for alternatives, like using spring type clothes pins and woodworking "A" style clamps to support the foam core. You will need better support for the lights and a tripod for your camera, but again, the expensive stuff isn't necessary for "Just getting started" either. I bought linen table cloths in a few different colors (the smallest available and square) when I started doing this, and have added additional colors as I needed them. All came from Amazon. You will want an ironing board and steam iron to make them look their best with no wrinkles, but do the ironing just before using one. I fold mine and store them in zip locking bags to keep them clean, on the shelf in my "prop closet" and ready for the next use. It's also to keep my wife from "Adopting" them. I've begun to add wine glasses, silverware, dishes, etc to my Prop Collection too.

My usual table for this, isn't really a table at all. It's a 26" square (rounded corners) table top that was picked up at a flea market. No legs with it, just the top. I use 8" bed risers and a Walmart wood stool for the needed height, and then add a piece of the perforated rubber toolbox drawer liner to the top of the stool to keep the top from sliding around. The flea market top then gets placed on this and centered as reasonably as I can get it. Then I add the table cloth of color choice and center it as best as I can. Again, all this is not a table, but it looks like one. What goes on the top, and their positions then become your choices for the "Still Life Photos".

I then decide where to place the foam core and lights to achieve the look that I want as seen by the camera (Live View on the camera helps). With a digital camera, I might take 60-100 shots, making slight changes between each, before I decide that one, or a few, are what I want.

You can do this almost anywhere, and without most of the high dollar equipment. With care and time to learn your lighting, where to place it, and the foam core for reflectors and blocking, you will achieve some very interesting results, and get better at it as you continue to experiment with your lighting and setups. Don't expect to do your first, or even second, still life shoot and setup in just one day. Thake the time to acquire your Props over several weeks, and build the perfect image in your mind as you do this. Then begin to assemble the table and props. When you finally have the arrangement as you want it, this is the time to begin setting up the lights and using Foam Core to get the light and shadows exactly how you want them. Many "Test Shots" will be needed. I think my first attempt at still life took me about a week to assemble up to this point. Of course, I didn't work full time at this, but left it set up and in my mind, making slight changes, some times adding, deleting, or changing the props, until I was satisfied, and then started working with the lighting, shadows, and taking the test shots.

You will get better, and faster at this with experience. Don't set time limits. Do your best with what you have. Learn what works and what doesn't. you will get better and faster at it as you gain experience. Your brain will develop clearer ideas for the next still life setups as you do more of these too.

Charley






Oct 19, 2023 at 03:16 PM
rek101
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


I think a basic plugin godox strobe would be ideal or if you had the budget and you don't mind rechargeable things, one of the battery powered ones would be nice too.

When I've messed around with this, I've always used the transparent part of those 5 x 1 reflectors as a scrim and it looks shockingly professional. So a 5 x 1 should be around 20 to 40 dollars and a basic 300 watt strobe is around 100 and any godox one should fire with your trigger. A softbox is an alternative to the 5 1 reflector scrim setup and is probably more versatile but having both could help a lot.

As for clamps, I use those A clamps sold in kit from B&H for around 20, but they sell the same thing at Habor Freight for 8 dollars. I think harbor freight is the best source for different kinds of clips and clams.

The last thing I'd imagine needing that might add a lot to the cost is a stand for the strobe. It's hard to get away with a tiny flimsy stand if it has to support a light weighing a few pounds attached to a softbox or a scrim weighting about as much. So here it's probably easier to just get something from Adorama when you order the strobe and suck it up and pay the 40 to 150 it costs for a stand that holds a strobe. C stands are very useful, but they're also heavy and over 100. Any stand that holds a light with a modifier is going to be bulky and heavy.

Here's the kit I would get (try to get open box)
Stand, ~40
- If you can deal with the weight and cost https://www.adorama.com/us1730351.html
or
- https://www.adorama.com/us1723796.html (ask someone here if you can get away with a smaller footprint or something lighter, but this is what I use)

Strobe, ~100
- plug in variety for about 100 https://www.adorama.com/fplfbl300b.html
or
- wireless variety for around 500 https://www.adorama.com/fplfx300ptk7.html

Softbox/reflector ~40
- https://www.adorama.com/us1732072.html
or maybe and
- https://www.adorama.com/fppr5132.html

A Clamps, ~10



Oct 20, 2023 at 03:12 AM
 


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jlafferty
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


Id caution you to not get a cheap plug in strobe. They will always display noticeable color shifts when changing power settings. At a minimum Id go with the Pro line of lights from Godox, AD300Pro, AD400Pro are both great options. Or, as others have suggested, constant lights might be great - but there again check color specs. The Nanlite FS series is a good balance between price/performance.


Oct 20, 2023 at 08:06 AM
rek101
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


jlafferty wrote:
Id caution you to not get a cheap plug in strobe. They will always display noticeable color shifts when changing power settings. At a minimum Id go with the Pro line of lights from Godox, AD300Pro, AD400Pro are both great options. Or, as others have suggested, constant lights might be great - but there again check color specs. The Nanlite FS series is a good balance between price/performance.


I didn't know this was an issue. My bad. I use einsteins and one digibee and I always figured the color shift issue was for product photographers who had to have absolute control. I never knew it was that big a deal. One thing I like about the basic plugin stuff is that I find myself setting things up and not thinking that much about the equipment. The interfaces are pretty brainless and I am forced to focus on the shot itself. But if the cheaper godox stuff has color shift that changes things noticeably, my bad...scratch that suggestion.



Oct 20, 2023 at 04:10 PM
jlafferty
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


rek101 wrote:
I didn't know this was an issue. My bad. I use einsteins and one digibee and I always figured the color shift issue was for product photographers who had to have absolute control. I never knew it was that big a deal. One thing I like about the basic plugin stuff is that I find myself setting things up and not thinking that much about the equipment. The interfaces are pretty brainless and I am forced to focus on the shot itself. But if the cheaper godox stuff has color shift that changes things noticeably, my bad...scratch that suggestion.


Einsteins are, IIRC, super color stable. Alien Bees aren't too bad. The Pro line from Godox are excellent. Their cheaper lights, not so much.



Oct 20, 2023 at 08:07 PM
CharleyL
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


"Id caution you to not get a cheap plug in strobe. They will always display noticeable color shifts when changing power settings. At a minimum Id go with the Pro line of lights from Godox, AD300Pro, AD400Pro are both great options. Or, as others have suggested, constant lights might be great - but there again check color specs. The Nanlite FS series is a good balance between price/performance."

Though this is important for high end photography, you are far from needing perfect color stable lights at high dollar prices. You are learning, and just about any photography light that you buy will be color stable enough and way lower in cost for your present needs. It will very likely be obsolete or broken before you need better lights. You need reliable and adequate power lights. Even the cheapest Godox lights will satisfy your learning needs for the next few years to come. Save your money and start having fun doing still life shoots and buy what you need as you progress and save you money for those "better" lights when you become a pro.

I tend to do "still life" when the studio isn't scheduled for anything and no work is coming in. I stay busy this way and it keeps me active. I try out things that I haven't tried before and learn, but I'm 81 and have been a photographer since the early 1950's. so I'm still learning. But "still life" is a form of photography that I haven't spent much time doing in the past. For me, this is a relatively new form of photography that I became more serious in doing over about the past 10 years. Sure, I've done it many times in the past, but they were single setups and shoots of just one item, then everything was broken down and put away. I now work at getting everything "just right" and have spent several whole days working at attaining "just right". Learning exactly what each kind of light can do and how to adjust it is very important. How to work with several light sources, adjusting each one to light exactly what you want just one light at a time is also important. Step by step like this until everything is perfect. "Test shots" along the way, help you work toward your goal. Even after all my years of experience, I still get quite excited when I achieve the shot that I was building up to.

I started making line drawing cartoon like drawings in a notebook whenever I get an idea for a different still life shot. With it I make a list of all of the props, which ones I already have, and which ones I need to find, borrow, or buy. I may be mentally working on many still shoots at a time, in this notebook. From them I make up lists, borrow, buy, have, etc. Wandering through the local "Dollar" and "Thrift" stores is almost a weekly occurrence. I try to hit the "Antique Malls" and "Flea Markets" frequently too. This keeps the prop costs significantly down. Those shots that I'm most interested in doing tend to cost me more because I don't want to wait for what I need at lower costs. But my "Prop Room" is filling fast. Making use of what I or family already have can save a lot of money and storage space.

For my usual "Still Life" setups, I usually use the center of my small studio with a backdrop of choice lowered behind the table setup and frequently up to about 4' from the rear edge of the table. Then I usually place one of many different colors of table cloths on it. I've been buying 54" square table cloths in different colors a few at a time from Amazon to use for these shots. From there I add the props and arrange them. Then comes the lighting. One at a time, I add the lighting and adjust as needed. Test shots can be frequent or just a few, until I am satisfied with everything. I add lights, move lights, change prop positions, etc. until I see in a test shot what I have been seeing in my head. Then I take shots at multiple distances and camera angles seeking the perfect result. Choosing the perfect shot then is sometimes very difficult.

Charley



Jan 19, 2024 at 10:19 PM
wilt
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


rscheffler wrote:
Since you're new at this, you might find working with strobes makes it difficult to visualize the actual light quality on your subject. You may be better to start with continuous output lighting so you can actually see what's falling on your subject and adjust it accordingly. ... First year students worked almost only with continuous output lights and in second year transitioned to strobes.


Amen! Learning with intermittent lighting (strobes with no modelling light capability) greatly slows the learning process.



Jan 26, 2024 at 10:51 PM
story_teller
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


I would say the original poster gave up or is no longer interested. This post started in July last year and the OP has never responded. Might as well call it a day!


Jan 27, 2024 at 09:18 AM
CharleyL
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Basic still life flash and background equipment advice for a noob?


If anyone is still reading this, I have purchased a 3 way geared tripod head for doing my "Still Life" photography. It was my birthday present to myself this year, since I've been enjoying still life shooting and have begun appreciating the need for micro adjustable and very stable camera positioning. My Slik U-212 Pro tripod heads just weren't doing the job that I needed for good still life work. It's a K&F Concepts CD3W. Though it will work fine on a solid tripod, I have put it on one of my camera stands.

Though a good tripod works, I tend to prefer the camera stand because it requires less floor space and tends to be a bit more stable when the wheel brakes are applied than even my better Slik Pro tripods.
About a year ago I bought two of these Regalite 6' tall camera stands used and very cheap, and fixed them up for use in my studio, instead of using tripods. They have proven to be ideal for my small 19 X 26' studio shooting room, since they require very little floor space. I've been using one of them with my Canon 90D camera for most of my studio work, and now my still life photo shoots too. The second Regalite 6 camera stand is presently holding my video camera. It's always good to have a spare, but I really don't need it.

Also recently added to my "still Life" gear are some mirrors of assorted sizes (at least 2 of each size smaller than about 12" square) from Hobby Lobby. A few a few chemistry stands and holders from Amazon, a large shallow black cooking tray and you will likely also need some Loc-Tite Fun Tac (a kind-of clay used in tiny amounts to hold little things in place (been using this for years) and these were found at the local grocery store. Also some 4 1/2" "A" clamps from Amazon. (If you watch the videos on the Youtube Channel "Camera Club Live" you will see why). Hobby Lobby is also a good source of Mat board in many colors, if you aren't already buying it somewhere for framing your photos. A bit expensive in full sheets at about $12/sheet, but very worth having a few sheets for "still Life" too. (Watch the videos). I was using my backdrops until I started watching the videos. I still do, for some "Still Life" shoots, but back lighting requires a different approach and the mat board does the job. I have yet to purchase a piece of shiny surface black plastic, but I probably will soon from a local plastics distributor, now that I can appreciate Barby's use of it in some of these videos. Watching his videos have added many new tricks to my "Still Life" photo shoots.

For "props", your budget and what is available in and around your house will dictate your best sources. I also frequent the local thrift stores for my Props, but Hobby Lobby has a huge assortment of good Props to add if you have the money. If on a tight budget, get ideas for things from Hobby Lobby, but then search for similar things in your home or friends and neighbors homes that you might "Borrow" for a photo shoot. Hobby Lobby is also a good source for candles of all sizes and colors.
I already have quite a few candles in the house, because my wife loves burning them. She has also wondered where certain vases, plastic flowers, statues, and other household things have disappeared to, but then re-appear again in exactly the same place in a week or so. A neighbor recently tore down a weathered rustic board fence and it was laying in a pile. I asked him if I could borrow a few of the boards and promised to bring them back. He said "they are going to the dump. Take all you want. I don't want them". Firewood can be good "props" too. So are pieces of chain link or other fences. Rustic Junk in the yard, or neighbor's, etc. I am always on the watch for possibilities to borrow or buy cheap.

When you do Still Life photo shoots you learn proper lighting very quickly, and this learning experience of your lighting and what it can do will take the rest of your photography quickly to a whole new level. After you get good with your cameras, good lighting is the next giant step in achieving better photography.

Charley



May 06, 2024 at 12:24 PM







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