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Tabletop Photography – book review

In preparation for my next assignment Ex Nihilo, which requires the use of artificial light in studio-like conditions, I looked for technical information on this type of photography that didn’t require the use of expensive studio facilities. Tabletop Photography proved to be the perfect book.

The objective of the book is to show how a studio-like experience can be achieved ‘with a few shoe-mounted flash units, a touch of crafty spirit, and a measure of imagination’.

I learnt about the different roles of lighting – the key light to replace the sun, the fill light to lift the shadows, the effect light to provide, well, effects, and the background light to light the background for some types of image. The book provides practical suggestions for different types of image and even gives advice on how to make or improvise homemade studio props from everyday items.

While the book will be an ongoing reference point, there are a few important notes to self:

  • Use only manual flash settings to ensure full control over the lighting
  • Improvise soft box using white bags or containers for the flash. Alternatively source a flash to soft box adapter
  • Use a lens hood to avoid stray light adversely affecting the exposure
  • Improvise reflectors – experiment with different materials that reflect light (polystyrene sheets for example). Use shelf-brackets to prop them up.
  • Similarly improvise diffusers with neutrally coloured materials.

In conclusion, the book provides some excellent pointers for experimentation in studio-like photography on a tabletop and on a budget. Now the challenge is to put some of it into practice!


Harnischmacher C (2012). Tabletop Photography. Originally published in Santa Barbara by Rocky Nook Inc. Kindle ebook edition is referenced [accessed 3 July 2015].

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