Tabletop Photography: Using Compact Flashes and Low-Cost Tricks to Create Professional-Looking Studio Shots Hardcover – Jul 20 2012
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About the Author
Cyrill Harnischmacher is a photographer and designer who lives and works in southern Germany. His first book lowbudgetshooting won him the prestigious Fotobuch-award of the German Booksellers Association in 2005. Cyrill is a studio photographer by profession and a nature and infrared photographer by passion.
Cyrill has authored four beautiful, accessible, and successful books published by Rocky Nook. Earlier titles include Low Budget Shooting, Closeup Shooting, Digital Infrared Photography and The Wild Side of Photography.
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In the Preface, the author states that the intended audience for this book is "amateurs who are making their first foray into tabletop photography and who don't already own studio lighting systems." I'd say that while that may be the author's idea of intended audience the reality is that photographers of all levels of experience will find value in this book. It is particularly well-suited for amateurs because of it's succinct discussion of photography basics but further on, more depth is given to topics specific to tabletop photography and its associated topics.
The book is square in size, has very nice quality glossy paper and is beautifully illustrated with subject appropriate photographs and graphic embellishment.
The book is divided into the following main sections:
I'll briefly describe the content for each main section.
The Basics: this very brief section is what it says. It's either a nice refresher or a good introduction to the essential elements of photography... focal length of the lens, depth of field, exposure, light and composition.
Technology: In this section the author walks the reader through the essentials of choosing suitable compact and system flash units. Most helpful is that he cites specific brands and models rather than talking generically. The various ways of triggering flash units is covered as well as various ways to control your camera whether it be by a cable release, computer or remote control.
Light: This important section discusses ways and methods to "shape" the light produced by your shoe-mounted flash unit(s). Umbrellas, reflectors, soft boxes and diffusers are covered in concise fashion. It is very constructive that the author has accompanied the text with excellent photographic examples illustrating the results of using different tools to shape the light reaching the subject.
Studio: In this section you learn how to set up your tabletop studio depending on what you intend to photograph. You learn that "tabletop" photography may actually require an entire room if what you are shooting is large. Many tips on the use of paper backdrops, clamps, tripods, pan heads and filters are given. Accessories that can be helpful to your photographic efforts are discussed such as adhesives, anchorages, supports & shims, backdrops and props. For instance, would you know how to precisely position water droplets on a subject? You'll learn how to do that in this section.
In Practice: This is the meat of the book. Concrete examples with detailed explanation covering a myriad of scenarios demonstrating setup, shooting technique, how to freeze motion, multiple exposure and much more. Once again, the text is accompanied by wonderful photographic examples so you have a very clear understanding of the result you'll achieve.
Assembly Instructions: The final section delves into the nuts and bolts of building your own do-it-yourself accessories such as making a bracket to hold multiple flash units, making a bubble level for your camera, how to make holders to facilitate the photography of small objects and so much more. You may never make many of these accessories, but it's great that the resource to do so is available in case you ever need to build some of these things. Plus you'll save a ton of money if you make your own as opposed to buying a commercially available accessory.
This slim book covers a lot of ground in a laser-focused manner. It's very approachable and amply illustrated.
I was provided a copy of this book by O'Reilly for review.
I take quite a bit of macro photography for my personal projects, and I do have quite a bit of purpose-lighting. Cyrill shows how to achieve good results not only with studio lighting, but also and primarily with banks of flash lights, a much more portable, and possibly cheaper, arrangement.
The author covers the basic variables one can play with (depth of field, lens perspective, etc), and the technologies involved, but the undisputed star of the book is light. Lighting equipment is covered extensively, but it is the comparative study of the results of using different lights on the same scene (pages 32 to 37) that in my view is worth the entire book on its own: it is very hard to describe lighting, but here we are shown what different light shaping devices achieve in reflection and shadow...without having to try ourselves.
Experience is irreplaceable, but the review of surface types under different light conditions, and the collection of tips and tricks sprinkled throughout the book is really inspiring... maybe you do not need to build some of these contraptions, but it is nice to know that you could, if you needed to. The tips on handling unwanted reflections were quite handy to me personally.
In fact, at first reading I didn't think the book covered some essential considerations, like the relationship of lens focal length to angle of view. (You don't want to accidently include a wall to the side of a subject in an image by using too wide an angle lens.) However upon reading the book more slowly, I discovered that most of the essential subjects were covered somewhere, even though it might not have been in the expected location. I advise you read the book carefully so that you don't miss any points.
The author covered all of the relevant equipment. He emphasized using flash units rather than larger studio lights, not only because of cost but also because, in many ways, they provide more flexibility. The equipment discussions were quite comprehensive, emphasizing lighting equipment and its use (although he did fail to mention the use of booms, which I have often found helpful for placing a light). Most of the book was devoted to the practice of tabletop lighting, including methods for getting pure white or black backgrounds, photographing glass objects, and combining continuous lighting and flash. The book concluded with instructions on making some of your own tools for tabletop photography.
There were areas that I wished the author had explored more extensively, like the use of depth of field and perspective to achieve the photographer's goals. In fact I generally would have liked more examples and more discussion throughout the book, particularly since it was obvious from the illustrative photographs that the author understands all the ins and outs of tabletop photography. Even so, the book will probably prove useful to the novice in this area, provided that he or she is willing to use imagination to consider what is possible.
Well presented and well illustrated!
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