I’ve been mucking around with getting the tabletop photography setup in the office the way I like it, and so I’ve been trying things and generally just experimenting. This is a fairly small space, and I found some of my early setups a bit awkward in trying to get set up and broken down easily or in moving around and being able to shoot and light flexibly.
It’s still not perfect (I’m still not thrilled with the lighting but I’m getting there) but I went out into the garden and grabbed some flowers to use as subjects last night and see if I could shoot things that didn’t suck. I’m happy enough with the results I thought I’d talk about it a bit.
The gear: Fuji X-T20 with the Fuji 60mm Macro, plus 11mm and 16mm extension tubes. This is the lens I’ve had in my bag for a while that I’ve always thought “I need to use more” and never do because I’ve never used it enough to be comfortable with it, so part of the experiment was to constrain myself to learning how to make good images with it.
The background is a book stand that I’ve clamped to the table, with a piece of white foamboard attached with double-sided tape, and I’m clamping a piece of white seamless to that. In reality, I can do this with just the formboard for this kind of shot because none of the floor shows up, but for larger things I have the option of adding in the seamless trailing down across the table. This set up would allow me to add colored backgrounds or seamless runs as well easily, and I think I can use a supply of uncut matting papers as a good start on the colored backgrounds.
I’m currently using two basic LED lights, and a couple of home-made diffuser screens. I’ve tried those tabletop tents before and honestly don’t like them a lot because there’s not a lot of flexibility, so I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do the diffusion when I want it but get it out of the way when I prefer more direct light. If anything, the current lights throw too much light and I need to sort that out. They’re also low to the table and I have to think about how I want to add lighting from above as well.
The stand I’m using to hold the flowers is an electronics soldering stand, basically a nice heavy metal plate and you can stick one or more holders on it — they’re magnetic, with very flexible arms and rotate-able tips. I thought it worked quite well for this.
my favorite? This hibiscus shot:
I think that nails the depth of field and lets you see what it is, while keeping the focal interest on the stamen.
This shot (F4.5 instead of F22) abstracts the flower more, and I like it but find I prefer the first one.
This is my next favorite, and by the time I took this I was experimenting with moving the lighting in weird and wonderful ways; imagine me holding one of the lights way out to the side behind and over my head trying to find the right angle to put some drama into the petals and get the shadow to pull out the detail in the center.
Which makes a huge difference compared to this, which has the lights near on the table through the diffuser.
These were shots I made trying to play with stacked extension rings and getting as close and tight as I could. On the plus side, I think I nailed the focus, but I’m not thrilled with the lighting. The second one I really like, but it’s not quite right but something I’ll explore more.
This final shot was an attempt to play up dramatic lighting with maybe a bit of success, but it’s not great. It’s, well, the best I got of this bunch of tiny flowers, which I brought in on a whim wondering if there was a good shot with them. I don’t think I found it, but I do think I found some ways I could get there, but not with the current lighting setup.
Which, of course, has me thinking of ways to improve it…
These are far from finished images; I haven’t done any spot removal, and if you look closely, either the lens or the sensor are filthy and need cleaning. But as experiments, I think they came out as good as hoped, or better, and show some paths forward to continued experimentation. And it was fun, and pushing my brain in ways it’s not used to being pushed, which is also awesome.