Tabletop photography tips and tricks: using tilt-shift adapter for DSLR

I have not used my DIY tilt-shift adapter for DSLR for a long time, mostly due to its size and weight, which made it not an user-friendly device, especially on a “regular” tripod. However, things got changed after I’ve bough a giant 180 lb studio stand: In just a few seconds I can mount any size camera there.
So, this time I’ve used it to shoot a new set of pens for our long-term customer, company called They produce and sell a custom hi-end gold platted and diamond-enriched pens handwriting instruments and located here, in our frozen Atlanta.

First, the lighting setup:

lighting setup tabletop product photography tutorial

lighting setup for tabletop product photography

Three light sources were used: #1 and #2 (PCB 640WS  monolights through 10º honeycomb) at a very sharp angle to highlight acrylic body. This type of sharp light makes acrylic to glow, while leaving nice little highlights on an embossed chrome.
Main light, (#3 on small strip box through the 2 F-stop diffuser) positioned on top  provided nice gradient reflection on a pen. Because chrome surface is much more reflective then the acrylic body, the gradient is  more visible on a chrome, leaving pen’s body less impacted.. meaning more “internal” texture is visible (I called it internal as pen is polished, the only internal structure of semi-transparent acrylic can be called texture here).

I tried to use my favorite Canon 180mm F3.5 L Macro lens, but it appeared that at given shooting angle I can’t get enough DOF: even at F25 I did not see desired sharpness of whole pen I was shooting. So, I’ve grabbed my tilt-shift monster and tilted the front standard to the left, to be more in parallel  with the pen. Tiny Rodenstock APO 80mm F4 was closed down to f16, and I’ve got a full pen in a focus, see yourself:

The front tip, 80% crop:

tabletop photography tutorial: 100% crop sample pen front tip

tabletop photography 100% crop sample pen front tip


Notice how nice gradient reflection works here. Also, I had the pen and top diffuser positioned the way that reflection get it only on a one side of the pen’s tip: it gives more “polished” look to the pen. See these sparks on the emboss, this is where those two sharp spot lights from the sides is only directly visible: the light beam gets reflected away from the camera.

The other end of the pen:

tabletop photography tutorial: 100% crop sample pen other end

tabletop photography: 100% crop sample pen other end


This is what I call sharp shot, and it was only possible because of the lens tilt.  Below the final, combined from 3 pieces image. We shot each object individually and got them together in PP:

tabletop photography tutorial example final photo

tabletop photography tutorial example final photo

Hope this was interesting. Just another piece of our ongoing work, enjoy:-) You can also look at our very first shot of the similar pens for the same client,  we had it more then year ago.

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Camera gear:

Lighting, light modifiers and accessories:

Exposure specification: shutter speed 1/250 sec, F16, ISO 100


About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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