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Thread: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

  1. #1

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    Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    I'm interested in doing some personal tabletop work--flowers, concepts, fine art. I've looked at "shooting tables" at B&H going for $400 to $500 (usually made of tubular steel/aluminum with curved Plexiglass insert--e.g., Smith-Victor's product line), but I'd also consider fashioning my own. Does anyone have any recommendations on off-the-shelf products (ideally cheaper) or instructions on making your own? Mike

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    Moderator Ralph Barker's Avatar
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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    I think a lot depends on what you'll be shooting - particularly, how heavy the objects might be. Once you have a handle on that, assess the availability parts in your area, especially used pieces of appropriate materials. Plexiglass is handy for back-lighting and shoot-through types of shots, but not essential for everything. If you're thinking of top-down shoot-through, consider a design with splayed legs.

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    I am of the idea that the tools should be bent to your needs, not the other way around.
    Think of the feel and look you want to give to your image, then, find the most appropriate materials and lighting that will help you to achieve your vision.
    Too many times if we use what is available we compromise our initial intent.
    For the project where this image belongs I have used as surfaces a combination of brushed and polished aluminum and two light sources.

    Your intentions I am sure are different, as they should be.
    All I can tell you, have fun with it, and break rules!



  4. #4

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    Ikea or Home Depot metal sawhorses, 2x4s crossers, 1/8 to 1/4 white milk plexi held with big A clamps, throw two stands and a X-bar across the back if you need a sweep... mmm reminds me of the 80s but it works and is nice for B&W. Half the price of a ready made and more versatile, you get to swap out the plexi and stands for other projects.

    Get low-boy stands or a Superclamp to hold a light underneath.

  5. #5

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by mdd99 View Post
    I'm interested in doing some personal tabletop work--flowers, concepts, fine art. I've looked at "shooting tables" at B&H going for $400 to $500 (usually made of tubular steel/aluminum with curved Plexiglass insert--e.g., Smith-Victor's product line), but I'd also consider fashioning my own. Does anyone have any recommendations on off-the-shelf products (ideally cheaper) or instructions on making your own? Mike
    What do you plan to shoot? Straight product illustrations? General still-life arrangements?

    I find a seamless rear sweep to be extremely useful, and a front sweep occasionally useful. Smith-Victor makes a shooting table with a plexiglass white top. I'm not sure if the plexiglass is sold separately, but that's the most useful part; you can just prop it up on top of a table. If you can but just the shaped plexiglass part that may be the cheapest option. You can do the same thing, more cumbersomely, with a roll of seamless paper, although it's hard to keep the paper from wrinkling if it's not affixed to something (for which a plexiglass sweep is ideal).

    I find the ability to backlight the plexiglass to be only rarely useful, personally, but for some setups it's nice to be able to do.

    I've got a large Bogen shooting table. It's bigger than ideal for most purposes; as small as possible is actually better than larger, since it's easier to light subjects if the sides of the table aren't too far away.

  6. #6

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    Good thoughts, all. I plan to shoot still lifes, mostly, and the room I'm using is quite small. In addition to the above, any thoughts on inexpensive lighting options?

  7. #7

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by mdd99 View Post
    Good thoughts, all. I plan to shoot still lifes, mostly, and the room I'm using is quite small. In addition to the above, any thoughts on inexpensive lighting options?
    I'd suggest then that you start with a solid ordinary table against the wall and a few rolls of seamless paper in various colors that you can tape to the wall and the table to form a sweep. Work with that for a while before you invest money or effort in to building anything more specific. Seamless paper is not as easy to work with as a dedicated sweep, but will give you experience with what the various setup challenges are and how big a table you want before you commit to something more permanent (if you decide you even need one).

    As for lighting, I light my shooting table from regular lightstands to the side, with a booms to get the lights in the right places. I switched from electronic flash to continuous lights (kino-flo softlights and an HMI spot) when I got a digital scanning back, and have never looked back -- MUCH easier to preview what the shot will look like if you can actually see it.

  8. #8

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    By the way, personally I found the single most surprisingly labor-saving tool for shooting still lifes and tabletops isn't fancy lighting or a fancy table, but a good camera stand. Camera stands, unlike tripods, make it easy and quick to make fine (or large) adjustments to the height of your camera, which you do more often than you'd think with tabletop work. If I had to chose between a fancy sweep table and a good camera stand, I'd go for the stand first.

  9. #9

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    If you're looking for low cost, large Quick Grip clamps on any table and a sheet of fabric, colored sheet styrene or vinyl can make a sweep. Clamp them to the table with the bars facing up and use spring clamps to hold your sweep to them. If you're wanting to spend a little more you can also use Speedrail fittings and 1" pipe size aluminum tubes to cobble together a table, I've built a few and they work great, I order the fittings and tubes from McMaster-Carr, search their site for Aluminum Slip-on Structural Fittings.
    Last edited by Jim C.; 2-Feb-2008 at 18:56. Reason: added McMaster url

  10. #10

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    Re: Shooting tables--make your own or buy?

    I used to own a nice large Leedal shooting table. I never used it

    I always found it better to use a nice regular solid table where I could clamp stuff and make my own frame for backgrounds or sets. IMO a solid table that eliminates any vibrations is best. Most shooting tables vibrate easily.

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