Successfully using a Manfrotto product table?

Started Jun 10, 2012 | Discussions thread
Barrie Davis
Barrie Davis Forum Pro • Posts: 21,460
Shooting tables R Us...

Peter Berressem wrote:

I never used the translucent plexi coves to extinct shadows (not meant as an attac, Brian ) back in the film days, with even less reason at present.

Reasons are: the moment the underlighting is strong enough to get a shadowless BG, i.e. extinct main light shadows, the plexi is also a lightsource that effects the subjects. A fact I dislike.

I agree. Backlighting through the Perspex sounds like a great idea, but it doesn't look right when you do it.... which is a huge let-down when you've spent lots of money on curved translucent Perspex/Plexiglas of heavy enough gauge to support a weight without sagging.

It's even less successful when trying to backlight the white background into a coloured one, using filter gels over the backlights. The front lighting washes out the colour in the general area, but leaves the shadows LESS de-saturated! Coloured shadows on pastel-ified backgrounds is not a good look.

My favourite product shooting table is a very simple affair....and is NOT translucent.

Sit back, get comfortable, and I'll tell you about it.

  • It comprises a table top sheet of 10mm MDF board painted white with matt acrylic undercoating. This white finish doesn't darken white seamless paper from the back when it's rolled out on top. The small size I am currently using suits the product ranges I most often shoot these days... it is only three feet by two (3'x2') (60cm x 90cm) ... although I have larger pieces available.

  • For a support to the top I use 6 x folding plastic crates/storage boxes in lieu of legs or trestles. These storage crates stack securely when erected, and are surprisingly rigid and strong. They also stack neatly when folded up. In use I make two stacks side by side, and 3 crates high. The MDF mentioned above is placed on top... and the background run out on top of that.

  • For a lower table I need erect only 4 crates, and make the table two-crates high. This effectively raises the camera for a high shot , of course, but saves ME the bother of climbing up a ladder to look into it.... (that is, back in the days when I did look into it... these days I'm viewing on a laptop.)

  • For a really low table, lower than a coffee table, I use two crates only side by side. This low platform is more convenient as far as setting lights is concerned, than is working flat to the floor.

I must emphasise that. A low platform for the subject to rest on is very often more comfortable to work with than a subject flat on the floor.

  • I can even go lower, and still not actually be on the floor, by using crates in a collapsed condition.

  • These multi-height tables I am creating can be erected, and changed again, in matter of a few seconds... MUCH quicker than messing around in the manner required to make fundamental alterations to an ordinary shooting table. And there are none of those locking levers sticking out to catch in your clothing twenty times a day.... !!

  • I can even make my tables double-decker, with a layer of MDF at an intermediate height, say. I make a 2 crate-height table, and then put a 1 crate-height table on top of it! The lower deck then makes a place to put all the bits and pieces you want while setting up a shot... (string, double-sided tape, blu-tack, exposure meter, and a handful of those fold-back spring-lever paper clips that I don't seem able to manage without)... and all to hand without walking to the back of the studio.

  • I can even change the crate-height by putting them on their sides or ends, but this has to be done with more care. They don't 'lock' into a nice secure stack like that, so it is only suitable for photographing lightweight stuff... (eight teddy bears in a row!)


I have used several types of trestles and tables across the years... but nothing has beaten my folding crates for quickness combined with flexibility. These crate things are available all over the world, and do not cost a lot of money, indeed, most people will have seen them....

Pack of ten crates £25, but you can usually get them as singles in DIY warehouse type stores..(Homebase, B&Q, Home Depot etc.)

PS. You can also use them as storage crates!!

"Ahh... But the thing is, they were not just ORDINARY time travellers!"

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