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Gear Run-Through

Lesson 4 from: Lighting for Still Life and Product Photography

Steve Hansen

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Lesson Info

4. Gear Run-Through

Lesson Info

Gear Run-Through

We've got this full set, and we've got a really nice backdrop. And this is an undertaking you might not be able to do in your home. Maybe you can get away with it in your garage. What you want is a muslin backdrop that is backed away from the set, so it's gonna be a big backdrop you're gonna need. So it's also gonna be something we're gonna have to light separately. So I think the thing to do now is I might start just kind of-- Before we get started, could you talk us through the choices that you made with your camera angle. Just sort of get our base set up with equipment and lights and what you got going here. And then we can dig into shoot. Let's go through the fun stuff. I'm gonna be shooting a Nikon D800E from way back in 2000 whatever. It's still an amazing camera, and it's really what I use. I'm kinda waiting for the D850 to ship or whatever. I'm not in any hurry because I'm not obsessed about cameras as much or gear. I've kind of lost that lust for gear acquisition, but the ...

one thing I have recently purchased are a set of ZEISS lenses. And I could not believe the difference in quality on the image. I would zoom in to 100%. It's like it could resolve pixels within pixels. It was like adding another 10 megapixels to the camera. There are also designs, let me see if I can grab an actual lens here. This is my favorite lens now. This is a ZEISS 85, and for this shot, I'm using a 50 macro. I've got a 50 macro, and I've got a 100 macro, and I think they're not full macro. I think they're one to two or two to one. They're close. But this guy has one of the sharpest lenses you could possibly imagine. Basically, what I do, the reason I like 'em so much is, one, they're heavy, and they feel amazing. But if you notice, when I'm shooting food, you're making minor adjustments in focus all the time. I go, am I here, am I there? With traditional lenses, they-- like a millimeter will be an inch or whatever, depending on the lens we're using. But this guy, I've gotta crank it to get that far, and so I can zoom in and it just feels like-- I went back to using another one of my older, other lenses, it got really annoying fast 'cause I just love the flow of this, and the whole thing is just a single-- You can touch it anywhere and it'll just go, and it protects it from food because I'm a former chef, and I do a lot of my own styling. So I'll be a mess, I'll wear an apron. My hands will be messy, and I'll come and grab the camera lens and it'll just be-- So I can wipe it off. I'm really terrible about that, but you'll see there's gunk all over the cameras on the left side here from all the splash work I do. I destroy these cameras. But these lenses were really sort of a revelation. I've sort of upgraded, and I don't know that I can look back. I think when the 850, this gets put on the 850, it's really gonna be remarkable. I actually have to turn down saturation in Lightroom, or I use Capture One. And I use it up here. Sometimes I use Lightroom, but the colors aren't meant to be flat or neutral. The colors these produce are true so, in fact, sometimes too saturated. So I'll actually be turning saturation down instead of trying to-- For video, I'm not sure. I think he wants sort of a neutral look, and I think that's what other lenses are trying to be are a good all around lens. But these are a photography mis-- I love 'em. I put rings, whenever I get a lens, I'll get the LEE filter. This is a LEE lens hood. I love it. It allows you to put the, I think they're four by four inch filters into 'em, and you can put two of 'em in there. I do landscape photography too for fun, and I use this all the time. One, to protect the lens from splashes or rain or wherever you happen to be. Two, it kinda controls any spill that you get 'cause when you're up close and you have a softbox comin' on the left, you wanna make sure you protect the lens from any glare. And it accordions, so if something's catchin' over here but it's not over here, you can always bellow it in and out. What I do is I have rings that attach to the front of the lens to adapt, and that way you can just-- I'll kinda show you, it's really simple. In fact, I'll knock these off during shoots all the time. But they just come off like that. I've got a polarizer in there right now, and that way I can neutralize the polarizer or activate it. I use this for glass, for wine shooting, anything reflective I'll use it for. So I have it on there just in case. We'll need it at some point today, I'm sure. To what extent, I don't know. So that's the camera lens combination I'm using. I'm all about the sensor, I don't care about the camera. I don't care if it's Nikon or Sony or whatever. I just like the sensor. I might eventually move up to medium format, but only for certain types of shoots because I don't feel like the depth of field is different. It's a different vibe, and I love the more pixels I can cram into a sensor, the more depth of field at a given F-stop I can get, the more-- 'Cause when I do a splash shoot, when I fling stuff in the air, there's not much room for error 'cause I want everything perfectly sharp. So these guys do a great job. They can get messy, they can get dirty. And when I'm being more deliberate and it's more of a fine art setting or a setting like this, medium format would probably work really well. So I'm probably gonna go the route of both eventually. But I've been so happy with these over the years, and they've been nothing but reliable. Knock on wood. For the tripod, I've got a Novoflex L-bracket and a Novoflex ball head. No particular reason, I just like 'em. I was doing a lot of landscape photography early in my career, and that was really-- Whenever someone's getting a certain type of gear, no matter what brand it is, I always like to go the opposite. I don't know why. A lot of people are shooting in one brand of strobe, I like-- I just like to be anything that you can use to separate yourself, whether it be gear or how you shoot, how you light, anything you can do to be different is beneficial, I think, to your career. That's sort of a tangent there, but let's-- I've got a ball head, and I've got a Gitzo tripod. This thing goes up to like eight feet, 10 feet, something like that. It goes high, it goes really high. And that way I can actually do overheads with this guy. I have a rolling camera stand at the studio, which is amazing for that. But if you're getting your first tripod, if there's a center column, just throw it in the dumpster, just don't even mess around with it. I don't see any reason to turn your tripod into a monopod. It starts to get kinda funky, and it also gets in the way of if you wanna shoot. This thing can go all the way to four inches off the ground, all the way to 10 feet. I think, nine or somewhere in there. But it gives you a lot of options, and it's also a very stable tripod. Whereas the camera stand, if you're shooting natural light on a camera stand, like one of those rolling Fobas, you'll get a lot of camera shake. If you're not shooting strobe and you're shooting a couple seconds, it's not over the base of the pole. It is kinda wobbly. So whenever I see people shooting handheld with a high resolution medium format, or they have it on-- They're shooting natural light on it, I'm like, "Oh, that's gotta be a mess at 100%." I don't know how they do it. So yeah, that's why I started really shooting strobe as much as I can because the light coming from these guys is spectacular, and that transitions me to my strobes. Now, these guys they're expensive, and they're not entirely necessary. I love them, but that doesn't mean you can't get anything you want using natural light. A lot of food shooters use only natural light and for good reason 'cause it looks fantastic. But I was all, from early in my career, I'm like, "How am I gonna look different than all the other shooters?" And the best way to do that is use lighting, and I used, actually, my styling expertise to style things differently and kinda get my own look that way too. So there's various methods you can use, but with natural light, when it comes in the window, it's going everywhere and everything looks soft and everything looks neutral and almost bland. I see a lot shots, there's a lot of lifestyle shooters out there. There's a lot of lifestyle imagery out there, and it just wasn't my thing to be-- I just didn't. It sort of blends. It looks amazing, but from an advertising perspective, it kinda all runs together to a point where everyone's got beautiful white teeth, and they're kinda hanging out with their Corona. It just kinda washes over me from a view-- Just from a fan of advertising. It doesn't have that impact 'cause you only get a little bit of time to catch the imagination of your viewer or to make 'em feel something. It has to be different. Different is everything. So that's something I work on everyday. Every time I go in the studio, I'm just messing around. How can I do something a little different today? I'm always trying to push that in certain directions but not go too crazy 'cause people sort of expect something from my style when they're-- That's sort of the the left and the right of this 'cause you want to push yourself, but if you become something you're not, you could lose your fan base in a hurry and your clients. So that's part of it. I use Broncolor strobes. Typically my lighting setup starts with this guy every single time, the 12 by 50 inch strip light. I love Westcott softboxes. They're sturdy, and I can wipe 'em down. You can see this one has just stuff all over it, and most of the time, you'll go into my studio, and there'd be like syrup covering all my-- I have to clean 'em constantly 'cause we're doing the splash stuff in there all the time. This is kinda my starting point, and a strip light is just obviously called for here 'cause you need a light that's pretty evenly. And just taking the first couple shots that I saw on the monitor, it's a little low. It almost looks like it's being lit from underneath, so we're gonna work on that first. And then kinda go from there, but as far as lighting goes, that's always been my kinda go-to light for everything. And if it's not working, I'll scratch it and then kinda start from something else. I love the dramatic look of this. Most of the time, I'll actually take the front baffle off and kinda let the inner baffle-- (Velcro tears) 'Cause there's a middle one, and this kind of resembles sun poking through the clouds almost. There's a hot spot, and I love that light. It doesn't look very good on glass or stainless. It can look good on stainless but not glass as much, so I'm kinda keeping the front baffle on to be safe. And then we can kinda push it when we start to shoot final. The lighting is kind of a-- There's multiple ways to go. There's nothing you can't do with really any light. Do you guys own strobes? Do you own speedlights? Or power packs? Or monolights? All the above? Yeah. It runs the gamut. And there's no single answer. In fact, what I would say is don't do what I do, just find your own light that you love. Whether it be, your look being kind of having a gold card somewhere that just kinda creates your signature. It can be something as simple as that. As long as you consistently do it, you can start to form a style. Yeah, you can do it with monolights. I prefer the packs in the studio because I can get-- A lot of it was just cables. I would have, when I first started, I had LED lights, and I loved 'em. And I still use 'em for motion for video for almost everything. But as far as getting shots, photographic shots, I've relied on these 'cause there's not cables everywhere. When you have like seven monolights and it starts to get crazy, each one has a plug and each one needs a power source, and it starts to turn into a whole mess. This is more than I'll ever need, and I actually got these. In fact, I think almost every light, except for the Picolites I got used. I found these on eBay. I found like four Pulso heads for $2500, which is unheard of. So you think these are just completely out of reach, and they're expensive. If you're resourceful and you could get a single pack and a single light and be good and use mirrors and use reflectors 'til your heart's content. And it'll last your whole career. You don't wanna end up kinda buying things twice if you don't want to. It gets to the point where you say, "Oh, I can afford this tripod. I'll just start with that." You kinda wanna take your time and be patient and then get something you know you'll have forever because it's a really economical way to go in the long run. I know it's a lot to ask when you're first starting. You're like (groans), but it happens. It happens pretty quick. If you are really wanting to take this seriously as a profession, if you're really patient with it, it'll happen, and it's just about timing and about kind of putting yourself out there but not until you're ready and not too early. And that's the big thing. As far as lighting goes, I think a key light is critical, but I love light shapers. I love removing light from the scene or adding small amounts of light. This is basically the inverse of using a flag to cut light. This is actually a projection lens, and I'll spin this around for you to look at. I love this lens, I used to have a-- I think in my first class I did with CreativeLive. I had a Detolight, which is essentially the LED version of this, and it allows you to focus a perfectly square beam onto something with sharp edges for a beer label. You can focus it a little more soft, so it just highlights a certain area. And this is where I want your eye to look. This is the light I use to get that to happen. So wherever I point this is probably where you're gonna look first if I have it in the shot at all. But in this, I know I'm gonna want it, and I don't know where I'm gonna aim it. We're gonna play this by ear and have fun with it. But I know I'm probably gonna use this. And these Picolites are awesome. They're so small. I'll take this. When I travel a lot for photography and I'll take-- I have a mobile, the battery version of the-- I'm forgetting the name of it. But it's the battery version of the Scoro packs, and they're fantastic. And they come with these little lights with LED modern lights on 'em. And they're pretty spectacular. These really get in tight and close. Just never break one of these bulbs. I broke one. I took one of these off in my luggage, and the bulb had broken. They can be like 800 a piece or something like that. They're some crazy amount. So you do not want to mess around with that. That's why these are really best kept in the studio. But these just snap on like this, pretty simple. And you're ready to go. For now, I have over here is-- They make a larger size for now, which I think might've been more appropriate for this background. This is a fairly refined kind of thing. It's meant to be up close, but we're gonna make it work for the larger background. But it just adds sort of a pool. It's like a stage light. It adds sort of a pool of soft light, a circular pool. And we're gonna use this to light the background but just a little bit. That way it sort of creates a ring. Instead of adding a vignette later, we're gonna sort of flush some light in there and really make your eye go to the center. I think one of the graphical things about the shot is that it is centered in the image, so it's right down the middle. So artistically, it's right down the middle. So what we have to do is really make it vertically dynamic and create rules of thirds within the scene and create a really fun dynamic image, whether we go low or high. We're just gonna kinda work the scene and see where we can take it.

Ratings and Reviews


I really enjoyed learning about the details and complexities that go into the orchestration of food and product photography. The shoot that Steve Hansen puts on in demonstration of this was really elaborate and complicated. I never realized how much of the creative aspects of the images I see in magazines are created in camera, rather than in post-processing. I am a portrait photographer, so I was surprised at how much I learned that can transfer to creative portrait shoots as well. After watching this course, I have noticed details in lighting technique and product photography that I never saw before, and that has helped me elevate my work very amateur still life skills to a professional level. I now do product photography on the side for a refreshing change of subject matter, and have been able to photograph my own print products for a pre-sale catalog for my IPS sessions. This course is super useful across niches. I definitely recommend it to all photographers!


A lot of information to take in, really enjoyed the class. Loved how the layers were built on and the placement of all the items. Would love to see the final picture ofter touch ups :)

Penelope Diamanti

Enjoyed and learned altho I'm far from being able to afford this equipment, but love his work and I found him an engaging teacher.

Student Work