DIY Strobe Gel Holder and Demo Product Shot

| December 28, 2010

Quick demo product shot using strobes through glasses and cerulean gel

I have been accumulating a bit of strobe lighting gear lately to expand my photographic horizons so I decided to start putting it to use. For this shot, I took over the kitchen island and set up a few pieces of black foam core to serve as my set. One piece was flat and two were standing up at 90 degrees held together with masking tape. I then grabbed some Sunkist cans out of the fridge and lined them up in a row. Since I was planning to use my f/1.4 50mm lens, I knew I would be able to get a nice depth of field effect going as the cans receded into the distance. When shooting with wide open f-stop settings like f1.4 or f1.8 (smaller number means larger lens aperture opening) you get a pretty dramatic blurring effect as you move away in distance from the point of focus. Perfect for drawing attention to the star of the show. In this case, the foremost can of sugary goodness.

Lighting the Background

After reading up on strobe lighting techniques on several blogs, I became fascinated by the idea of creating nifty looking backgrounds with light using otherwise boring things around the house.  I wanted to create some depth and add a bit of sparkle to the shot so I grabbed some glasses out of the cabinet and stacked them up toward the back of my little set. I will get to the lighting part in a minute but below is how the glasses were stacked. I ended up adding two more glasses and moving them around a little for the final shot but you get the idea.

Glasses in place for my nifty background effect

The next task at hand was to light the glasses and background in a way that would complement the product. With the key word being complement, I took a cue from the can and decided to put a blue gel on one of the strobes. Orange and blue are complementary opposites on the color wheel. When combined they work together to get us to buy soda uncontrollably and root for mile high football teams (winking here).

My son bought me a huge set of strobe gels for Christmas but I had no way to affix them to the flash. I know I could have just taped them on but how boring it that? What I wanted was something that would allow me to change out the gels quickly while being held securely on the flash.

Making the Gel Holder

I had some spare black foam core left over so, using a #11 Xacto blade, I cut out a square just bigger than my flash head and then cut a fairly precise hole in it that the strobe head would slide into. Look at the photo below on the left. You can see how I custom-cut the first layer of 1/8 inch foam core to fit nicely over the flash head. I then cut three more pieces the same size that simply looked like rectangular frames. Once cut, I laminated the four pieces together with Titebond PVA wood glue. The glue dries super fast and, once bonded, the laminated foam core pieces form a very strong assembled unit.

My DIY Strobe Gel Holder

The top and final layer was designed to retain the gel. Looking at the photo above on the right, I only glued the top border of my upside down “U” to the rest of my assembly. That way, my gel could be slid in and held in place by the left and right legs. To finish things off, I glued a small retaining block that would keep the gel from sliding down and out. It is pretty sturdy, light and works really well!

Lighting Set Up and Firing the Strobes

The diagram below approximates how I set up the final shot. The strobe with the gel was fired through the glasses on the left to create the background and I used a white satin shoot through umbrella on the right to light the cans. At this point I tried a variety if settings using my camera’s aperture priority mode to adjust the exposure. I just cycled through a bunch of aperture settings to see what the effect was on the shot.

The strobes were set to fully automatic and were triggered with a camera-mounted Canon ST-E2 IR transmitter. The gel flash on the left was group A and the umbrella flash was group B. I used the transmitter to adjust the power ratio from left to right until I was able to get the look I wanted.

Basic lighting diagram

I like how this turned out given my current level of experience. In retrospect, I would have done more to control the hot highlight on the first can. It was created by some contaminating light from one of the kitchen windows. Live and learn. My son and I are going to make some flash grids out of soda straws today to see what other groovy kind of effects we can come up with! Hope this writeup is helpful. The best advice is to get the strobes out and experiment. It really is the best way to learn and you will have a blast in the process!


Category: Photography, Tutorials