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Trash Can as a Tool for a Professional Photographer: The End Result is all that Matters?

In this lesson you will see another DIY solution for a shooting cone. On one of the forums a fellow photographer suggested that they have used a white trash can as a substitute for the cone… I got a smile at first when I read the comment, but then I realized that this is such a great and simple ( I love simple things:-) idea, and it’s a shame I did not get it myself.

Trash cans are usually cone-shaped, and can be used as a shooting cone with minor modifications.. same as a $500 shooting cone can be used as a perfect trash can:-)  I know this solution may not look serious for a true “pro” photographers, but being 100% self made and dogma-free person I always look for the end result instead of judging on how my work process may look from the side. Yes, it will be a good idea not to use trash can while having a client in the studio: they want to see how well you spend their money.


On the other hand, if the client will know that you can deliver outstanding result regardless of the equipment availability, it may help to get an assignment… true? Long story short: The next day I’ve bought few trash cans, one black SKAGEN watch  and spent some time in the studio…

The End Result:

Product photography lighting tutorial end result that matters
Product photography lighting tutorial end result that matters

Looks not bad for a trash-can made shot, doesn’t it? To explain things faster, here is the video introduction of the shoot:

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Trash Can as a Tool for a Professional Photographer

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The alternative (final, Focus Stacked) version, without that foggy addition:


Product photography using shooting cone result sample by koloskov
Product photography using shooting cone, Men’s watch

I did a total 11 exposures for the final shot: The first five were needed to get it all in focus, using a focus stacking technique (explained in this article).  Also, to get watch dial highlighted the way I wanted I would have to combine 2 exposures every time I moved the camera.

I wanted to have the watch body lit by only 2 lights (from both sides), but the watch face was not lit well this way. Adding one more light from the front of the watch face inevitably affects the watch body. Below is what I am talking about: mouse over to see how the 3rd light was changing the composition:


With and without the dial light

The combination of two photos (multiplied by 5, for each focus stacking move) was the most efficient and fastest way to get the job done: total 1.5 hours for shooting, few more hours to get everything fixed (including digital background) in Photoshop. Do you call this cheating? If yes, think about what really matters: the process or the end result?

   In the Gearbox

Lighting, Light Modifiers, and Accessories:

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

December 10, 2017

29 responses on "Trash Can as a Tool for a Professional Photographer: The End Result is all that Matters?"

  1. Hi Alex,

    This video also is unavailable and it tells I need to be a Photigy member which I am…

  2. Just can’t stop reading your blog, been on it for about 3 hours now…….should have found this a year ago…:).
    It is a great stimulans to me to get in the studio now and try some of the things I have seen here.
    Really inspiring, thanks for sharing.

  3. Hello Alex,

    Do you mind telling me what are those two cables connected to the camera? One is for tethered shooting and the other is? Also what kind of cables are you using. I can only use the one that came with my canon (it’s very short) if I connect extension it does not work.

    Thank you


  4. Where can we get a trash can like that Alex?

  5. I am sorry Alex to ask you this,

    Where do I can buy “Color Checker” like yours and how do you use it?

    Vu Duc Thao

  6. As long as one keeps the same magnification (let’s say 1:1) the DoF does not depend on focal length; when somebody uses shorter focal length he/she has to get closer to the subject to keep the same magnification; in the end what is gained from shorter focal length is lost because of shorter distance between camera and subject so the DoF stays the same.

  7. Alex, me again. I just wanted to mention that a few of my colleagues said they use the “Helicon Focus” program quite successfully for objects that need focus stacking.


    • I’ve tried it after your comment. It looks nice, but I still think that photoshop does it better. So, if you already have CS5 extended – no real need in helicon. If not, helicon works very well.. for free!
      Thank you.

  8. Alex, great work again. It’s good to come up with alternatives to the expensive tools that enable you to produce the work, as not everyone can afford the sometimes silly amount of money these things cost.

  9. Outstanding work Alex thank you for talikng the time to make is video

  10. Alex,

    When you are shooting the different focuses how do you keep your zoom from “zooming” itself when your lens is pointed down? Zoom lenses have a tendency to zoom themselves all the way out when pointed in a down position. I also noticed that you color corrected the reflection in the final image. It appears to be somewhat blue in the “before” image.


    • Larry,
      I do not use zoom lenses when shoot macro.. trying not to use them at all, when possible: zoom is a compromise, and compromise is not my friend when it comes to the image quality. I think some zoom lenses may have a lock.. or you can use a tape to lock it :-)

      In fact, the white reflection was not only color corrected, but we re-created it completely digitally, based on the real shot…
      We always do color correction of everything, and not only CC; cleaning, adjusting, etc. Just an example of how PP looks like: AKELstudio masterclass, part2: Post production in photoshop

  11. Very good, Alex! Only about the lens I think as Tony, but instead of a 35mm, I would probably use a 55mm micro-nikkor (I know! you use Canon !)Any way, this wouldn’t solve your DOF issue ?

    • Paulo,
      55mm will give deeper DOF, but you won’t get object like a ring in a focus anyway. I have canon 65m MP-E macro, and DOF is not enough to cover anything like ring even when shot 1:1 macro. Closer you come to the subject, less DOF (in absolute values) you’ll be getting.
      Only TS or focus stacking:-)

  12. Great usefull article :) Perfect you made my day :)
    greetings from austria

  13. I am not experienced with this kind of photography so maybe this is a stupid question:
    Could you have avoided the use of focus stacking by simply using a shorter macro lens, say a 35mm? (since the watch is not a very large object)

    • Tony,
      I do not know any 1:1 macro 35mm lenses, so this is only my thoughts: 35 mm is too wide, and it will change a perspective of the subject, which is not good. With that small object DOF still won’t be enough even with 35 mm lens: to get a macro, you’d have to have 35mm lens VERY close to a subject, and shallow DOF will still an issue.
      For example, when I go from 180mm macro to a 100mm one, it helps to increase DOF, but not enough to avoid focus stacking.. in most cases.

    • Tony,
      what’s your aversion to the focus stacking? Just curious. Myself, I think it’s great.

  14. Thanks Alex for another great tip! A friend of mine needed a light setup for some small product photos. I showed him your light cone article, which saved him from spending a silly amount of money on a “professional” light tent.

    Best wishes!

  15. Great idea. They don’t give me much $$ for equipment here at the museum so something like this would work nice. 2 questions: Was there a change in light color through the plastic? And, do you think that focus stacking would work by using a zoom instead of a focusing rail, especially on such a short distance? Thanks again.

  16. Hi Alex, another very usefull post :)
    I agree with you, it doesn’t matter the means, the end result is what matters. On the other hand, I’m not sure the customer will understand the price he pays vs. the “gear” you use.

    “same as $500 shooting cone can be used as a perfect trash can” Hahaha! The sentence of the day :)

    Take care.


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