Beginner's Corner

Getting Super Sharp Images in Your Photos by Vadim Chiline

Ever wonder how to counter diffraction? Wonder why your images are so soft? Do you want to learn how to create sharp and stunning images?

You've tried to stop down your lens to something like f32 and noticed your image gets fuzzy? I explained the reasons for this in my Science of Diffraction video earlier this year. You’ve probably heard about focus stacking but never really knew much about it, or were too scared to try? 

In partnership with, (seriously, one of the best places to learn about professional product photography, and I'm also instructor there), here's my follow-up video: An introduction to focus stacking. In the first part of this new video, I will show you how to get the most depth of field with your camera of a simple object on white.

Part I:

In Part 2 of the video, you will learn about the various methods you can use to focus stack images as well as the 2 main parameters you can control in the software: radius and softness. Finally, I will compare Adobe Photoshop's implementation of focus stacking vs Helicon Focus' abilities. So check it out... 

Part II:

Photography Instruction Announcement for all Levels by Vadim Chiline

It's been a little while since my last post, but I have been up to many many MANY things lately. As some of you probably already know, I've been quite involved with Photigy. If some of you don't know what Photigy is, well, where have you been hiding? Get out from under that rock and check it out. It is probably the single best resources for commercial product photographers out there. You can also check out the Photigy Facebook page and ask away! I'm moderator there, so just ask for access - it's open to all interested in product photography. 

Need to learn everything about splash photography? Plenty of courses and behind-the-scenes material on there! Want to learn to shoot cosmetic brushes? Well, there's stuff on that too. Equipment reviews? Uh huh... yep, we have those as well. 

What about those of you who aspiring photographers? What if you're a landscape, wedding, or heck, even a fashion photographer?  Well, here's the great part.... I'm here to introduce this all new subscription service that's just been released: The Photigy Studio Basics membership level. Here's my very brief little intro about it!  I decided to do this outdoors, heck, it's spring, it's fresh, it's new... just like this announcement! 

Photigy's Studio Basic subscription gives you access to tons of tutorials, behind-the-scenes shoots, mentoring by your instructors via live Google hangouts, various Webinars covering all the basics of studio product photography - you simply have to sit behind your computer or tablet, ask your questions and we'll give you answers. How cool is that? 

Lastly, I'm currently involved in writing and recording plenty of different tutorials, as well as a complete in-depth course covering everything you need to know to become a professional jewelry photographer - mastering catalog photography from head-to-toe. I look forward to interacting with you. 

9 Popular Studio Light Modifiers Explained by Vadim Chiline

As a follow-up to last week’s survey of studio light sources, today we’ll focus on light modifiers, which can be used to modify the light’s strength, direction, color, pattern, and shadow falloff. Before I talk about the equipment, let me explain the importance of the relative size of the light source to the subject. The smaller the light source, the harsher the shadows and contrasts will be. Take the Sun on a clear day, for example. Though the Sun is huge in reality, it’s a small, bright light source shining on the much larger Earth. Consequently, when you look at your object, you’ll see strong contrast and dark shadows and harsh edges. When the clouds roll in, look at the shadows again: They’ve softened and have more attractive, gentle feathering at the edges. Contrast has also been reduced. The clouds have scattered the light rays, diffusing and softening the light. Note that the clouds have effectively increased the size of the light source relative to the subject. See the diagram:


Softer light is generally a desired effect when working with all subjects, from people to highly reflective objects like jewelry, which is my specialty. The specular highlight-- the bright spot on an object--is usually more pleasant when created by soft lights.


Similar to rain umbrellas, but without the handle, umbrella modifiers are very affordable and are found in most studios. They come in several sizes and varieties: black outside with white or silver interiors, all white (called shoot-thru), and specialized ones with gold or zebra patterns (white-silver-white-silver) on the interior. The basic concept is that when a light is pointed at the center of the umbrella, the light rays are reflected back and scattered or diffused. Umbrellas are the ultimate in portability and speedy setup. Common for people photography, they’re great for group coverage when two are used.

In the product photography studio however, the umbrella generally isn’t your best choice. The inherent problem is light spill—lack of control over the light. Since the diffused light spreads out over a large surface, you would need to use “flags” or black cards to block the light from certain areas of your image.



Softboxes produce soft controlled directional light. The image above demonstrates the effect of moving the light source away from the subject. As stated in the beginning, the larger the light source appears to the subject, the softer and more diffused the light becomes. Take a look at the shadows and contrasts in the above images.

Softer light is generally a desired effect when working with all subjects, from people to highly reflective objects like jewelry, which is my specialty. The specular highlight-- the bright spot on an object--is usually more pleasant when created by soft lights.

These light modifiers are the workhorses in our studio. Softboxes work similarly to umbrellas by scattering and softening the light, but in quite a different manner. They are rectangular boxes made of opaque, black material on the outside, lined with diffusion material on the inside (white or silver), and usually have an additional white diffusion panel called a baffle, which sits several inches away from light. The front of the softbox is open but kept covered with one more layer of white diffusion material. This produces a very soft light source and, because of the design, light is directional and therefore controlled. Should a photographer need additional control, most good brands have a grid that can be fastened with Velcro at the front. Softboxes produce a rectangular catchlight on the subject.

On the negative side, softboxes are big and bulky. For onsite shoots, you’ll have to take them apart, unless you have a minivan or SUV. Some brands are easier than other to assemble, but generally they’re a pain in the neck and since time is money, might not be worth the effort. They cost substantially more than umbrellas and can strain a beginner’s budget, depending on the brand and size. Softboxes come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from small ones that can be mounted on camera flash guns to enormous ones used to illuminate cars and trucks. Our studio is equipped with several 24" x 36" and 30" x 60" softboxes.


They are basically the same as a softbox except they have eight sides rather than four. They are very popular in fashion and portrait photography. Quite large, they can be unwieldy, measuring from five to seven feet. The catchlight they produce is similar to the umbrella’, multi-sided and octagonal.

Beauty dishes:

A very simple device, a beauty dish looks like a bowl that fits onto your light with a small plate that reflects the light back onto the sides of the dish. It is used most often in beauty/cosmetic and glamour shoots. It produces a light that is in between a bare studio light and a softbox: the shadow/highlight transition is more abrupt, giving it higher contrast. Because of this, the beauty dish tends accentuate flaws in your model's skin, so attention must be given when placing the light. It works best between three and four feet from the model, giving what many call a "liquid wrap-around lighting." The beauty dish produces a circular catchlight. In my jewelry photography, I sometimes use them when shooting pearls because they produce round highlights.


The above image compares the contrasts, highlights and shadows created by the different modifiers. Notice how harsh and contrasty the bare studio light image is.

Color gels:

A color gel is a transparent, colored sheet placed in front of a light or used in combination with other modifiers such as a grid. Used extensively in all areas of studio work, color gels give depth, dimension, and a mood to images. Available in just about every color on the spectrum, they are an essential part of a functioning studio. They’re also cheap, so have fun experimenting. I love them!


In jewelry photography, I have to try to give more life, or apparent depth to the products: A touch of colour can go a long way. Here are two beauty shots for


Grids are modifiers that attach directly to the front of the studio light's small, conical reflector. They focus the light into tighter beams and change the shadow edge feathering. They usually come in 10°, 20°, 30° and 40° hole-patterns. A 10° grid produces a very narrow beam of light with sharp shadows, while a 40° grid produces a broader beam and softer edges. We use grids frequently in the studio. They can be used to add a bright highlight to a particular area of the subject or, when mounted onto a background light, to create a circle of light on a background. In fashion/people photography, they are often used to light the model’s hair.

Barn doors:

Barn doors have been around for decades and are simple black, metallic flaps that you mount at the front of your light to control the direction and width of the beam. They produce somewhat harder shadow edges than grids do. You can manually change the size of the beam by opening and closing the doors. The light shape produced is rectangular. They are commonly used for background lighting and sometimes to light a model’s hair.


This fixed cone-shaped device also mounts to the front of your light. It creates hard shadow edges and, when used on backgrounds, produces circular shapes. A snoot is sometimes used to give a spotlight effect on objects or highlight a specific region of your image. We have rarely used them in our studio.


A gobo is modifier that creates a light pattern. They are usually metallic or glass-etched and are available in a multitude of different sizes and shapes. They’re mostly used on background lights to create interesting backdrops, such as light passing through a window or a mottled effect. The Batman spotlight is a famous gobo example.

Here's an image where multiple modifiers are interacting together

Here's an image where multiple modifiers are interacting together

What happens when you put some of the above together? You can paint your subject in gorgeous light. The above photo's details: 5D Mark II, 50mm f1.4 lens; 2 sofboxes; 1 background light with grid creating backlighting into the veil; and 1 hair light with barn doors.

That concludes this part of Beginner's Corner. In my next blog, I will share a conversation I had with a Facebook user about what it takes for a career in Photography and/or Design.

3 Studio Lighting Options for Photographers by Vadim Chiline

I’m starting a new blog category called “Beginner’s Corner,” mainly targeting new photographers seeking technical information about commercial product photography. A successful photograph depends not only on the subject, equipment, and post-production. It’s the lighting that will make or break your image. My studio is equipped with all sorts of lights and accessories, from strobes and continuous lighting sources to umbrellas and softboxes to colored gels and various backgrounds and backdrops. Today let’s focus on the three main lighting options:

Continuous lighting


With this system, the light remains on and at a constant intensity or brightness. Great for getting instant feedback about the highlights and shadows on your subject, continuous lights are also relatively cheap compared to strobe-lighting systems. In video production, they’re used 99% of the time.

Unfortunately, they’re nicknamed “hot lights” for a reason. They get extremely hot because of their tungsten or quartz-halogen bulbs. At 500+ watts each, these lights require special, heatproof accessories for safe use in your studio or home. Tungsten hot lights, can increase the ambient temperature quite considerably, just three 1000-watt units will not only suck lots of juice, but can also wilt or even melt certain props used during a product photography session. For example, prop wax with prolonged heat exposure will no longer hold properly, and if you’ve concocted an elaborate scene, it can be a frustrating event when it all collapses.

Newer lights are on the market today, which use fluorescent bulbs that don’t generate the same heat. The trouble is that you’ll need many fluorescent bulbs to match the intensity of a tungsten bulb.

The second problem with hot lights is the lack of light-intensity control. Most continuous-lighting sources have only one setting for brightness or perhaps a simple toggle with half or full power. To top that off, most lights aren’t strong enough to freeze action at the lowest ISO settings, unless you shoot at relatively large apertures in the f2.8 to f5.6 range. As a studio photographer, lighting is your paintbrush – you need maximum freedom to adjust the lighting conditions in your “controlled environment.” Unless you are on a tight budget, I don’t recommend this route.


These lights are small, very portable units that attach to the camera’s hot-shoe connector. They’re rarely used in studio photography because they don’t provide any visual guide for shadow and highlight placement, which basically means that you’re working blind, more or less by trial and error. Some photographers use flashguns in the studio for high-speed, action-freezing situations, such as capturing liquid splashing (some studio strobes are able to do this as well). They’re most often used outdoors for weddings, reportage, and wildlife or nature photography.

Strobe lighting:


Strobe lights deliver a powerful but short-lived flash as the main light source and are usually fitted with a secondary light, a tungsten-based modeling lamp of relatively low wattage. A modeling light is a continuous light that's used to help show where the light and shadows will fall on the subject. It’s not what lights your subject when you press the shutter – the flash does that. On the strobe unit, there’s a knob or slider that controls the output strength of your light. This is also usually tied to your modeling light so you see the effects instantly. This is especially useful with a multiple light setup. We can modify the intensity of each light to see the general effect with the modeling lamp to “paint” your subject.

The strobe’s strong, short bursts of output allow you to maintain a low ISO in the range of 100 to 200, reducing noise and enabling your digital sensor to produce the best image quality. Secondly, because of the variable power, you still have control over the aperture setting. Reduce the power and you can use f5.6 or crank it up to use f16.

Quality studio strobe light manufacturers provide power packs that let you shoot in the field – giving you ultimate flexibility, which continuous lighting can’t provide, unless of course you have a gas-powered generator!

Shopping guide for continuous and strobe lighting

Continuous lights Affordable: Britek 3-light kit

Britek lights are popular because of their price. Many photographers and especially, videographers purchase these as first lights. They are more fragile and have less attachment possibilities, but for those on a budget, this can suit your needs.

Moderate: Lowel 3 light kit;

Lowel has been around for a long time in the industry, serving both the photographic and video community. We own a set of these lights. The price/performance is great as well as durability.

High: Arri 3 light kit

Arri is an industry standard, used throughout the world, and because of this, they are priced to match. Mostly a video and cinema lighting company, they produce a full range of low to extremely high powered lights. They are very rugged, and can take a beating.

Strobe lights: Affordable: AlienBees

AlienBees are created by Paul C. Buff, a visionary some might call him because of his dedication to producing what I think is the industry's best price/performance lights. They are built in the USA, and come in various strengths (and colors). Many amateur and professional photographers use them in their studio. They do suffer from some inconsistent light output and color. There is a new light being produced called the Einstein and is taking the industry by storm.

Moderate: Elinchrom D-Lite

Elinchrome lights have been used by professionals for years as their trusted light. Not overly priced, they have been a workhorse in the industry.

High: Profoto

Profoto is recognized as one of the top brands of photography lighting equipment out there today. Most top photographers are equipped with these, and rental companies carry them in stock. They are built to last and take a beating in and out of the studio. They have power packs and all the accessories you would ever desire. They are priced extremely high, but some photographers will only swear by them. With the cost of one Profoto strobe, you can almost purchase a whole set of AlienBee lights with modifiers.

I’ll be back in a week with a discussion on light modifiers. If you have topics which you are curious about, please, drop a comment or email me, will be my pleasure to help you.