Pro's Choice; Chris Collins, Problem Solver; Bringing Still Life To Life Takes Ingenuity, And The Right Tools Page 2

The Shot Is King
What you don't use in a still life studio may be as important as what you do use. Collins shuns formulas, so he avoids commercial gadgetry. "We build our lighting to suit the shot," Collins points out. "I get such a diverse array of work, so the lighting is never the same. We're not reinventing the wheel for each job; we just come up with a better wheel--one designed for the road we're taking."

Schott Bakery

This may look like a real bakery shop window, but it's a studio set. Shot for Schott, the glass company, the idea was to show how great a product could look through this unique glare-free glass. Tungsten spotlights came down on the fresh baked goods, while blue-filtered, bounced strobe added a skylight effect seemingly from outside.

For instance, if he needs a sweep table, he makes it himself. As in the case of the FruitSimple campaign (, where he used a sweeping brushed aluminum backdrop to bring out the essential qualities in a fruit cup--all to illustrate the key ingredients in this company's fruit smoothies. He also dislikes light tents and diffusion housings. If he needs one, he has it fashioned specifically to the needs of the shot.

In the past he did the same thing with mini softboxes, which he made from Gatorboard with a milk-white Plexiglas front. The fittings on the back of these small light banks are designed for his Speedotron heads. Of course, he'll also use full-size banks where needed. At other times, he may use special diffusion materials over a flash head to soften the light.

Yellow Tail Firefly

This "firefly" was shot as part of a continuing ad campaign for Yellow Tail. Chris Collins' lighting had to define the edges of the bug (actually a model) while enhancing the yellow glow effect.

"The only reason I opted to make my own miniature light banks," Collins added, "was because, at the time, there was nothing quite like that available commercially." Very often he'll use just a sliver of light from one of these cube-shaped banks, some as small as 6". Getting that sliver of light is easy enough with black cards blocking out the extraneous light. One recent example involved photographing a firefly as part of an ongoing advertising campaign for Yellow Tail wine. Collins commissioned Christo of Clockwork-Apple ( to design and build a 6" firefly that came to life--with a glowing abdomen. Strobe lighting was used here. A mini bank right and left produced the defining edge lighting, while a yellow-gelled mini bank from underneath reinforced the glow on adjacent parts of the bug, with an additional light as fill.

To learn more about Chris Collins, visit his website at: You can also find an in-depth analysis of his photographs in his own words in "Studio Lighting Solutions" by Jack Neubart (Amphoto, 2005).

Yellow Tail Tattoo

Also part of the Yellow Tail wine campaign, the emphasis here was clearly on the transfer tattoo of the mythic creature with the yellow tail (created by Scott Campbell - A small softbox from overhead illuminated the back, while two mini banks provided separation against the dark gray seamless paper backdrop.

Jack Neubart is the author of numerous books on photography. His latest book is "Photographer's Exposure Handbook" (Amphoto, 2007)