Tripod Side Arm and Counter Weight
Andrew Scrivani just finished up a 2-day class on the business of food photography at CreativeLive. For one of the class segments we did make some photographs to show what it is like to interact with a client, chefs, a prop stylist, and a photo assistant (played by yours truly).
Because this was a business class, not a class on studio equipment or lighting, we didn't talk too much about the photography. But after the class I had a few of the students approach me to ask about the equipment, hence this blog post.
The most repeated questions were about the tripod, the cross-arm, and the counter weight I added to help with stability. The tripod was a large Gitzo carbon fibre tripod, the current model is the 5542, with a rapid column. On top of the tripod I added a cross-arm so we could boom the camera out over the set to photograph straight down on the plates. For this I used a Manfrotto side-arm or cross-arm (they call it a reproduction arm) along with a pan & tilt tripod head, such as this Manfrotto head (both Andrew and I prefer a 3-wawy head over a ball head when the camera is used over the set like this) and because the camera was going to be hanging out there I added a small Manfrotto counter weight to the cross arm. I also added a 20lb. sand bag to the tripod for even more stability. I didn't want Andrew, the tripod and camera, or me to go crashing into the set because of the uneven weight distribution. If your studio space and budget can handle it, a better solution for this would be a dedicated camera stand, such as those from Foba.
All of the above, except for the counter weight (which I supplied) and the sand bag were rented locally from Glazer's Camera here in Seattle. If you are in the Seattle area and are looking to purchase any of these items please consider buying locally. If your local dealer cannot supply these items. I have also provided a list of the items at Amazon at the end of this post (these are affiliate links, if you purchase via these links I will get credit and possibly a few cents on the purchases).
The camera we used was a Canon 5D mkIII with a Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar T* 2/50 ZE lens and a Canon 100mm macro lens. If you watched, you might have heard Andrew and I comment about the autofocus not working with the 100mm lens (the 50 is manual focus only). Full disclosure, the camera belongs to CreativeLive and they had it set to back-button focus. Neither Andrew or I use back-button focus, so we never even thought of that being the issue until the very end of the segment.
The lighting for the set was a foam-core V-flat (made from 2 4x8 sheets of white foam-core taped together along a long edge to form a hinged "V" with a diffuser clamped to the open end of the V-flat. Inside the v-flat we had two Profoto D1 strobe heads (Profoto now has a D2 version) pointed into the V so the light would bounce back from the V-flats through the diffusion silk and onto the set. We used two strobe heads because a single head didn't give quite as much power as we wanted to photograph at f/8 and a relatively low ISO. Here is an overhead diagram of the lighting...