The JTL Product Table; Shoot Tabletops Like A Pro—Anywhere Page 2
The only lights I'd hesitate to use here are high-intensity tungsten hot lights (more than 100w, if that). My studio strobes use 60w bulbs, which was not a problem, even in close proximity to the plastic. The lights I did use were the following: digital (flicker-free daylight fluorescent), shoe mount, flat-panel strobe, and monolights. I also used white plastic panels as a combination light diffuser/bounce card.
My tabletop subjects were quite diverse, as were my lighting setups. I photographed some with as many as three digital lights, with an overhead bounce card for fill. I used sidelighting with Lowel Egos (one per side), adding a third light (this one a Sharpics design with standard reflector) underneath the table and aimed upward. I next shot with a Canon shoe mount bounced off the table's sweep wall, with a second Canon flash coming up from floor level. While the backlight alone would have sufficed, using a light below the table added an interesting dimension to my shots. I also used a flat-panel strobe underneath the table, aiming it upward at an angle toward the front, adding a fill source, which was a shoe-mount strobe bounced off the ceiling. For subjects with potential hot spots I employed two monolights, with one always at the rear and the second one aimed through a white panel, with a second panel on the opposite side to block ambient reflections and add fill. The point of mentioning all these setups is to give you an idea of how many ways--and you'll come up with more--that a table like this allows you to light any subject.
There is nothing shabby about this product table, but because of its light weight, you should be careful not to accidentally nudge it. On the other hand, it moves out of the way with ease. While I would have preferred rubberized (perhaps even suction) feet at the base for a surer grip and to prevent marring the floor, the plastic feet attached to the frame managed to ensure a level playing field. I would have liked a more solid shooting surface to handle a greater diversity of subjects, so that I could comfortably set a glass of wine on this surface without fear. While this table is certainly designed for objects within a certain weight limit, anything stiffer would detract from the portability aspect. And when all was said and done, the table did hold up nicely with a variety of loads, letting me tackle some difficult subjects successfully.
To be honest, once I had this product table put together, I really didn't feel like taking it apart. I find myself shooting tabletops too often to disassemble something like this and put it back together on a regular basis. I would prefer to just have it sit in a corner, ready for use. And in the time I could avail myself of the JTL Product Table, that is precisely what I did. I found that this sweep table added a defining element to my work.
What Is A Sweep Table?
Picture a table-size lawn chair. Except that the surface is a semiopaque, milk-white Plexiglas (or similar plastic) that cascades down the front to form a lip and gradually sweeps up the back to form a seamless backdrop. But unlike a chair, the table stands at roughly table height, with a larger surface.
The operative words here are "milk-white," "seamless," "sweep," and "semiopaque." The table has this tone because white makes for a neutral backdrop, which blends in nicely on any page and especially because it makes it easy to silhouette out a product to fit in with a print or web layout.
The table is seamless so that edges don't intrude on the shot, as with seamless paper used as a studio backdrop. Depending on the lighting, subject position on the table, and camera angle, the upward sweep may form a graduated backdrop.
As for its semiopaque quality, the table can be lit from several different angles. Normally we think of lighting from the front, sides, and overhead, or from overhead and to the rear, as with a hairlight. Lighting from these directions strikes this white surface and often results in light gray tones, not a brilliant white. That's because the light penetrates the surface and also picks up the darker tones or light falloff below and merges these tones. Now take that one step further. Instead of aiming lights into the surface from above, consider directing the lighting through the surface to add an extra dimension to the shot. That's the benefit of a sweep table. When we place a light underneath, we create something almost magical: The subject appears to be floating on a sea of white light.
Pricing And Source
The JTL Product Table is available on its own or in kit form, with lights. On its own, it's priced at $329 (street).
Manufacturer: JTL Corporation, 14747 Artesia Blvd., 3-G, La Mirada, CA 90638; (714) 670-6626; www.jtlcorp.com.