Behind the Scenes

Shooting with Natural Light and an Ironing Board

Before I start, I want to impart some wisdom: If anyone tells you that you can't use an ironing board in a product photography shoot, they're wrong.

The best thing in life are free, and that rule also applies to lighting. In the flat I share with my girlfriend, we're blessed with some big windows. Last week, I decided to make the most of them.

That same girlfriend runs a popular lifestyle blog called Daisily. With a backlog of products to photograph and review for the blog, I resolved to kill two birds with one stone and shoot some beauty products she had been sent. I figured my experiment would be welcomed with open arms.

As it turned out, I ended up shooting some products that had already been photographed. By me. The week before. Doh.

Anyway, I was pretty pleased with the photographs, so I thought I'd share my process of shooting the Miss Patisserie products.

lily brighter.jpg

The lighting, background and ironing board setup

You might have guessed by now, but I only used natural light for this shoot. It took place in the afternoon of an overcast day, so the light was nice and flat. To balance some of the shadows, I grabbed a piece of white card and manoeuvred it as I desired.

As luck had it, I had just done some ironing, so the ironing board was still erect. While I gathered the props, ferrying them between rooms, I placed them on the board. Then, instead of moving our heavy glass desk over to the window, I decided to use that as my surface. It worked pretty well, too - the adjustable height of an ironing board really helps when you're trying to shoot a flat lay!

For the background, I used a really cool marble chopping board that my girlfriend had picked up the week before. I placed a simple grey tea towel underneath the marble to keep the colours consistent (and hide the floral pattern of the ironing board).

Choice of lens and camera settings

My trusty 50mm gets me closest to the subject among my selection of lenses, so I stuck that on my recently acquired D600.

I stuck my camera on a tripod in an effort to keep things shake-free. For the clean look I was going for, I didn't want to use a high ISO and have loads of noise ruin the shot. I kept that at around 400 and relied on the tripod to keep my camera steady.

For the flat lay photos, I used a smaller aperture - around f6.3 to f8 - to keep everything in focus. For photos taken from a more horizontal angle, I wanted a shallower depth of field, so opted for f2.8 to f4. The latter was small enough to get both the pot and spoon in focus, but blur the flower in the background (see below). 

Product photography using a marble background.

A lighting lesson from the shoot

I sometimes overthink my photographs, and that's usually a surefire way to mess up a shoot. Sometimes I try to be too clever with lights and flashes, or use a certain lens because that's what other people would use. This time, I stripped things back and got some results I'm really happy with.

So the next time I'm looking for excuses about not having the right gear for a certain shoot, I'll remember when I used an ironing board to great effect.

Here's the equipment I used, in its entirety:

  • Nikon D600 + 50mm 1.8
  • Tripod
  • Ironing board
  • Window
  • Piece of white A4 card
  • Marble chopping board
  • Grey tea towel
Almost everything I used during the shoot (minus the camera and tripod, which I used to take this picture...obviously).

Almost everything I used during the shoot (minus the camera and tripod, which I used to take this picture...obviously).



The Story Behind My Broken 35mm Film Camera

Take a quick glance at the photo below and you'll be able to see that something is amiss. Nikon F601 cameras rarely come with Duct tape, Sellotape and surgical tape as standard. Mine does, though, and here's the story behind the bodge.

The story starts in Kent

After I finished my A-Levels, I was mentally stranded. I had a vague inkling that I wanted to go to university, but I didn't know what to study or where to go. While I made up my mind, I started working full time in an office.

A close up of the repair.

A close up of the repair.

I had worked there on and off for a few years, spending my summers in stuffy shirts and pointy shoes, tied to a computer all day. It was unfulfilling but it paid well.

As much as I loathed it, the time I spent there was invaluable. It motivated me to do something else. Anything else. My creativity and wanderlust were sparked in that dusty room, so I resolved to do The Gap Year Thing: travel.

After 9 months of working, I had saved enough pennies to go Interrailing around Europe for a month, solo. I packed my cameras (a D-SLR as well as the camera in question) and set off for Split, Croatia. An eye-wateringly early flight meant that I arrived in the sunny coastal town mid-morning. The owner of the hostel I was staying with picked me up from the airport and drove me to his warm, welcoming abode.

It continues in Croatia

There were no other guests in the hostel when I arrived. They were either exploring or working. As I settled, a young Russian called Phillip entered with a timid "Hello". He had been interning with a multi-national organisation for 3 months and was a long-term resident of the hostel.

We exchanged awkward pleasantries and I went to my room to unpack. When I say "my room", I mean a four-person dorm.

Taken during a trip to see the  Mosor mountains  with Phillip.

Taken during a trip to see the Mosor mountains with Phillip.

It breaks on a bunk bed

I plonked my bag on the top bunk in a bright corner of the room, arranging my day bag for an afternoon of exploration. I unpack my camera gear, deciding to take both cameras with me for my first solo taste of the continent.

It is at this point that it breaks. Nonchalantly, I tossed the 35mm camera onto the soft, springy mattress. The landing wasn't quite the cushioned one I had in mind. The camera bounced on a wayward spring, the back compartment flinging open and revealing the open roll of film within.

A couple relax in the shade near Split's swanky marina.

A couple relax in the shade near Split's swanky marina.

My partially successful rescue attempt

A piece of plastic the size of a pencil tip had broken off, rendering the latch useless. With no hope of repairing it, I resolved to tape the back up as a temporary measure. Using plasters and surgical tape, I managed to keep it under wraps until finishing the roll of film. When I changed film, off came the makeshift stitches and on went a more secure bandage: Duct tape. Lots of Duct tape.

I shot two rolls of film on my trip and both came out almost unspoilt. To my delight, I only lost a couple of frames. Both casualties occurred at the point of impact on the bunk bed.

I've since put a few more rolls through the camera, to varying degrees of success. I lost a complete roll to light-leakage, whilst others have come through the ordeal unimpeded. 

The bodge remains to this day.

The bodge remains to this day.

Four years later, the tape solution is a mainstay. A common sense approach would be to get the latch fixed, but I quite like it as it is. I'm not a prolific film shooter, but that may be about to change. I've been hooked on the Negative Feedback Youtube channel for a few weeks, and it's inspired me to get shooting in the old school way again. On the presenter's recommendation, I even picked up a couple of rolls of Poundland's Agfa Vista 200 film, which I'm eager to try out.

So maybe the tape is on borrowed time. Even if that is the case, I'll always look back fondly on my Duct tape memories.