Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop


Last Saturday, August 3, 2013, the Austin Shutterbug Club had a still-life and tabletop photography workshop at the Northwest Austin Recreation Center. This was a welcome outing for the month of August, as it was something that we could do indoors, in an air conditioned room!

The workshop was presented by the club’s president, Brian Loflin. Brian had brought along several interesting items that could be arranged on a tabletop and that we could use to photograph, while observing the effects of different lighting techniques.

Brian set-up 4 different still life sets and he emphasized that he was going to light them with very simple setups. The first scene was a bowl of apples in top of a lacey old tablecloth. The light source was a north-facing window to the right of the camera, and a white foam core board was just to the left of the bowl of apples.


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I was using my Canon 5D Mark II camera and my Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens for all of these photos. In the photo above, I had set the aperture to f/5.6 to get a relatively shallow depth of field. Later on, I came back to this bowl of apples and shot it with my aperture set to f/25, and as you can see, the table cloth behind the apples is now in focus, too.


In between the two “bowl of apples” shots, Brian had set up an interesting arrangement of old photography books, a pen, and some reading glasses. He used the light from a window, but used to small foam core boards to block the light into a very pleasing “slit of light” across the objects.


Next, he set up a collection of sewing tools and supplies on a black piece of Plexiglass. He then used one of my Fotodiox 312AS LED lights placed behind the objects (backlight) and used two small white foam core boards on either side to bounce some light back onto the fronts of these objects.


Even though Brian had cleaned that sheet of Plexiglass right before he set this scenario up, when I brought this photo up onto my computer monitor, I was very surprised at all of the dust and scratches that the camera had captured. I spent at least 45 minutes in Photoshop cleaning all of that up….

For the last still life setup, Brian had placed a vase of yellow flowers in front of a dark green velvet backdrop. We all set our cameras to capture some ambient light, while we used a snoot on a speedlite to put a circle of light right onto the flowers themselves.


I was very pleased to get the opportunity to participate in this little workshop. It was a fun thing to do inside, away from the Texas summer heat. I could easily see myself doing much more of this type of photography in the future! Maybe I can convert one of our spare bedrooms (sometimes) into a miniature little product and still life photography studio. Honey?

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8 thoughts on “Austin Shutterbug Club Still-Life Workshop”

  1. Gregg, Thanks for the comments and for the help on Saturday! I think a lot of folks liked your Fotodiox lights. I did. They certainly beat the old quartz “hot lights”!
    I see that you picked up a tip; If you were going to shoot a real job or a more serious set of images, buy a new piece of plexiglas. You would want to keep a lot of the reflections.

    1. Brian, thank you for bringing all of the interesting objects to photograph, and more importantly for sharing your knowledge on how to really bring them to life by using the simple lighting techniques that you explained as you set them all up!

      Yes, the Plexiglass was a mess in my photo…. I tried to keep ALL of the reflections that I saw. I think that there must have been a lot of dust and stuff fall off of the spools of thread as you arranged them into an interesting pattern. Because I don’t have a reason very often to go in and really spend time touching stuff up in Photoshop, this time it was actually very pleasurable.

      Thanks again for putting on a great little indoor workshop for us!

  2. Cleaning black plexi – the bane of my existence 😉

    Studio space for still life – you really don’t need that much. A friend of mine uses one of those kids’ tables, like a play table – it’s lower and that way you can get your overheads much easier.

    Trends today are natural and earthy – try looking for some old barn wood or beadboard – a lovely surface and you won’t be spending all day in photoshop. The beadboard is awesome with window ight. Look for older stuff but not ratty. If it’s painted brand new take a little fine sandpaper to it.

    You might also try your OMD. For certain scenes, you will get a better apparent overall depth of field.

    My favorite for still life is my Tamron 28-75 2.8. I also put the camera on rails. That way you’re not halving to walk the tripod just to shift your composition an inch. Works wonders.

    1. Libby, this was my first experience with black plexiglass, and it definitely takes some extra special treatment, but it does give a very nice result in the photo.

      I have used our kitchen table, as well as our kitchen counter island for photographing small objects like this. The results are great, but there is just too much time and effort to drag all my equipment out and set it up, make sure I’m not interfering with Barb’s meal preparation or eating times, and then also to tear it all down and put it away. That just sucks out most of the desire to even play around with stuff like this. If I just had a dedicated space, I could leave some light stands, softboxes, and maybe a background stand set-up, and only pack it all up when we really needed to use that spare bedroom for something else.

      I need to start thinking about collecting some props, like your suggestions of old barn wood or beadboard. In the past, I haven’t ever thought of a need for doing so, but now “I can see the light”!

      I brought my Canon camera to this workshop, for only one reason…. Brian asked me to bring a Canon Speedlite and an off-camera flash cord. He had the equivalent for the Nikon shooters to use, while I brought mine for the Canon shooters to use. I suppose that I could have also brought my Olympus Speedlite and an off-camera cord, but I would have been the only one using it. I actually did miss the electronic viewfinder that the OM-D has, but in the end, I got the same results with the Canon (by checking for the blinkies on the LCD after each shot).

      In the workshop announcement, it was recommended that we bring a macro lens. I only have the 100mm for the Canon camera, so that’s what I brought. I have two lenses for the Micro Four Thirds Olympus camera that I could have used, but they are also a fixed focal length (the 12-50mm zoom is fixed at 43mm when in macro mode).

  3. A dedicated space where you can leave stuff up makes a huge difference, and it does not have to be that large. Sometimes for something like a catalog cover I will spend 3 days adjusting a composition especially of it’s on film.

    For backgrounds and props, my eyes are peeled all the time. One of my favorites this past year is this grey one

    It’s actually a metallic finish professional baking sheet with no sidewalls. It is so forgiving, has more life than black, has gentle reflections and is easy to keep clean. I have never used it for baking of course, and I store it wrapped in a towel so it wont scratch. There are boxes and boxes of velvets and stuff here – hardly use any of it anymore. I should really do a purging.

    1. Libby, It must be very nice to have a dedicated space! Even if I had a place that I could leave some stuff set-up for a week or so at a time, I think that would/could make this type of photography a lot more fun.

      I really like that gray baking sheet background. That’s a great idea! I’m going to start being a lot more aware and on the look-out for interesting things that I could use in my photography when I’m out and about. Once, on a trip to Home Depot, I went looking for stuff like that, and I ended up with a clear sheet of Plexiglas. and a 15″ square piece of shiny marble floor tile. I used that clear Plexiglas when I did a “Pouring a Beer” post over a year ago. I used the shiny black marble tile to set a piece of Barb’s jewelry on for a photograph of it.

      A few months ago, I purchased a book called “Digital Still Life Photography: Art, Business, and Style” by Steve Sint, and it really speaks to me!

  4. Gregg here is the baking sheet

    In Austin you might well e able to source locally so you can get a look at it to ensure a finish that you like and no scratches. I did originally buy them for baking, but when I saw how nice they were, I held one back for shooting. The important part is no tall sidewalls that would cause shadows.

    Also shop flea markets, yard sales for stuff like distressed metal.

    A friend of mine here does kids portraits, and he shops for old shower curtains and vintage sheets. He gets the stuff for 50 cents or a dollar.

    Since I do a lot of industrial parts here, I source industrial floor tiles and things like diamond plate. A lino store here just lets me take the stuff when the samples are no longer useful to him.

    There’s a world beyond stuff manufactured by the photo vendors like the standard watercolor backgrounds which of course come at a premium price.

    Thanks for the book link – I don’t do a lot of book shopping these days.

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