Table-Top (Revisited)
by Walter Graff

In a past articleI did a set-up of a wine bottle and glass to show the possibilities of a table-top shot. Here is another example. In this case its for one of my clients. I run the production department of a large car group in Massachusetts. It’s a great relationship as I have creative freedom. But creative freedom comes at the price of budget and often talent. It’s not easy to find talent in an area where no one knows what a headshot is.
But I do try to maintain some standards even with no crew so to speak. It’s sort of like sailing on a large vessel. There is a limited crew but everyone has plenty to do to
keep the sails doing their thing. One thing I strive for is the best I can do. It’s never been about money for me, but rather artistry. So whether I have a $250k budget or a $1500 budget, in my mind
there should be no difference in the end result. I was asked to do a spot announcing a sale at Toyota due to construction of a new facility.

And being I am on a small budget, I don’t do such a shot in a studio, rather in my barn. It’s a great space on my property. It has room for two cars, and I have a wood and metal shop in the back where I make all sorts of things. I hope one day to make my office upstairs if I ever get time. So I decided to pull my boat out and give the space its first test. It was a great space for such a spot because all the props I needed for such a
commercial were all construction props and what better place than my barn where have all sorts of neat stuff. I decided on a construction hat, a blueprint, hammer, and pencil as my props, placing them all on a raw piece of plywood. It doesn’t get any more construction than that.

My ‘studio’. Seeing this makes me realize how much I have to clean this place up before the winter sets in.

First I need the table. A nice piece of fresh plywood does the trick. I then collected my props. I actually started out with more items then reduced what I had till it was enough but not too much. It’s often easy to over prop something. After it’s done I step back and simply see what I did wrong and make it look right. And as I have said a gazillion times, my lighting always starts out simple and ends up being simple. For this I have also added a white/grayish backdrop that I will use. This will cover-up my mess of a barn. I stretch it tight between two C-stands. Actually I had to buy it because I forgot to bring some material I already had from NY up to my house. Walmart has about every color and material made, so I found some that worked and had a few feet cut off a ream. In fact
much of what I buy in the area of backdrops comes from such stores. One can even find green felt material there which makes for a great impromptu green screen when necessary.

Lighting wise, I am going to need to light the table, rim the table from behind with both color and just white light and light the background. Four lights as I see it. First I start with my tabletop. Shadows are my friend in this case as I want to create a look that represents
construction. That means that my light might not necessarily be perfect. I choose to use an open-faced 600 watt Lowel light and to warm that light up with some half CTB. Doing so will give the wood some warmth. I’ll worry about the other props later. I place the fixture high up form the camera right side allowing the light to shadow the hat and the hammer giving the shot a bit of depth.


I needed some sort of blueprint to place on the table as if this was the foremen’s work table. I went online and did a search in Google under the term “Blueprint”. I came up with some blueprints, found one that was generic, took the file down to my local print shop and had them make me a 3 foot blow-up. I had my blueprint.

I worked my other props till I had a look and balance that worked for me. I also had to imagine what graphics needed to be placed over the shot and where and made sure none of my props fought what would be the graphics. Now I had to light it. The photo on this page shows my final layout. Now I wanted to create shadows, color, and reflections
in the hardhat to give the illusion of depth and reality.

From the back left side of the table I placed a 200 watt fresnel and closed the doors enough to make a slash across the blueprint. Since it was a blueprint, I wanted to accentuate that so I used a blue theatrical gel on the light to make a blue wash on the blueprint. This light also added specs of blue reflection spots on the hardhat which I

Next I wanted to help create the illusion of overall depth so I took a 150watt MR16 open faced Cool Lux fixture and placed it high and to the right of the table about the same height as the blue wash. That light raked across the hammer and the hardhat creating a shadow that came towards the camera giving the shot some depth.

Below are two angles (front and back) showing the fixtures used and their placement. From camera side above and from behind table towards camera below.

And finally I wanted to rake my background with a texture of light. I took my favorite apparatus out of my kit. You’ve heard me talk about it 1000 times and here I use it in the 1000th example, my homemade cukaloris. Using a 600 watt omni I let it wash the white
background making sure to cut the light so it does not spill on the table.

A piece of foam-core cut with random patterns makes for a great tool.


You may also notice in one of the photos above that my camera is rather far for the tabletop shot as to being close. B doing so I force the elements to squeeze somewhat together when I zoom into them. Had I placed the camera close I would have had to
zoom wider making a shot where the elements might have appeared more separated and less streamlined. And of course with the longer lens I create a shallower depth of field which means I get a softer focus un the very front of the shot and towards the back of the table.

I may seem from this article that I had everything planned and simply set it up. In fact that is not the case here and is often not. Lighting wise, I always start with one fixture and add to it. In this case I started with my main table key light. Then added the blue backlight. Then noticed that my helmet and hammer looked flat so added the white backlight to both create reverse shadows and to create the simmer running down the hammer. And finally I added the cukaloris and the 600 watt light to make for a textured background. You can see a movie file of the final product at

Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'

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