Tutorial No.1 -Sustainable life form-

Idea and context

This shoot was taken for a small contest about product photography organized by the photo club  (Szempont fotókör) of the town I used to live in. The task was simply submit an appealing photo about a product or any kind of object which fits into the category of product photography.

Although this photo didn’t win, it received some good critics, so I decided to write a little tutorial. The set-up was very low cost so some could get some creative inspiration. We tried to take advantage of street lights and scenes as much as possible rather than rely on expensive equipment.

The subject

I admit that the idea of the robot is not that original, besides I wanted to come up something more than a simple product shoot. I intended to be a bit more distinguishable by creating an own character as  the subject.

The robot itself is made of things found in the household. The head is some kind of sponge, the ears are for dish washing while the body and legs are made of boxes of a light bulb and matches respectively. The eyes are came from a dissembled alarm clock.

The character is very simple yet I think very funny.


Full resolution version.


  • Canon EOS 450D
  • Carl Zeiss Jena Pancolar 80mm f/1.8
  • M42 to EOS adapter

Light setup

Light setup diagram

  1. Huge selective trash container for paper (table)
  2. Home made funny robot (subject)
  3. Flash light (“hair light”)
  4. Camera on a bean bag
  5. Reflector mounted on the pole of a street lamp (key light)
  6. Reflective windshield sun shade (golden/silver as fill light)


The place was spotted by Mrs. Camerajunky and was special because of a powerful halogen light mounted on the pose of a street lamp. This reflector was used to lit a bunch of parking lots and seemed to be perfect for being a key light for our night setup.

We used a big trash container (for paper) as table as it had a nice size and some good looking metal rings at the top to make it possible to move them.

There were a chain of other street lamps in the background and they worked well as decorative light circles in the out of focus part of the image.

Post processing


Most importantly this image is a montage of two shoots.

Since the aperture blades of this lens don’t form a complete circle when stopped down. The light spots in the background had a somewhat polygonal shape I didn’t like. On the other hand the contrast is slightly lower when shooting wide open with this lens. So I took 2 shoots with different apertures. One shoot at f/1.8 for nice circular light spots and bokeh, and an f/4 for more sharpness and contrast.

The final image is composed in Photoshop applying a layer mask thus achieving nice blurred background, while the subject is sharp and has a good contrast.

Layer mask visualization


Bean-bag as tripod

Because the container used as table was pretty high, I could not use my small tripod.  I needed something to stabilize the camera because this well built, heavy lens ruined the balance of this plastic camera. To make it worst the surface wasn’t exactly even neither.

To solve this I used a pillow or a bean-bag to find the right position and make the camera fixed in position. This is actually wonderful because you can set many different angles easily with this technique.

I think this is very useful for many situations and apart from the price advantage it features a very pocket friendly size for a tripod.

Live view for manual focusing

These entry level DSLRs are not really appropriate for manual focusing using the viewfinder due to the lack of the ground glass. These viewfinders are designed for auto focus. The presence of live-view  made it possible to focus with this great lens eventually even at night. If you have this feature, go and try some old manual focus glass! It has to be said it is not adequate for action shoot in most cases.

Street lights for background decoration

Street lamps, traffic lights and car lights can make beautiful vivid light circles when they are out of focus. I think it is worth to play with this concept a bit.


Related Post

One comment

Leave a Reply