Table Top Photography

Street photography

Until now I would always have described myself as a street-photographer, but here in Germany street photography is becoming ever more challenging, not only are the laws and rights to privacy here relatively strict, which severely hampers publication, but there is also a lot of misinformation around as to what is, and what isn’t allowed: more info


So . . . there I was disillusioned with street photography, yet again, and so I went hunting around on the internet looking for something else to channel my energies into, when I came across a video on YouTube from Don Giannatti:

COVID-19 – Free table top photography class:

“That sounds interesting”, I thought.

I then watched a few more of his videos, and I liked his style and down-to-earth approach to lighting, and the way he described them I found that I easily understood lighting concepts that had until then always been a bit of a mystery, so I decided to take part on his 8-week online course, and I’m loving it, I’ve learnt so much.

I can’t recommend him highly enough, he’s opened my eyes to a whole new world of photography.


YouTube channel

Week 1: Textures and backgrounds:

An old 19th century lemonade bottle on an old wine box
An old 19th-century lemonade bottle on an old wine box

The brief was to find a textured background and a contrasting object to photograph against it.

And what better than a piece of old green glass shot against some old wood I had lying around?

Actually, everything looked fairly anaemic until I put water in the bottle as an experiment and some of it dripped out onto the surface of the wood, I instantly recognised its potential, and then spent the next hour and a half getting the water to look right.

Online lesson

Top 10 review

Week 2: Light and the arc of beauty

Tomato salad with bread
Tomato salad with bread

Back and side lighting can be counter-intuitive, because the impulse is always to light directly from the front, but lighting from the back casts lovely shadows into the foreground which become compositional elements in themselves.

I originally had an old apple with a withered skin to use for this project, but again it looked underwhelming, so I grabbed my evening meal of Mediterranean salad with white bread and carefully arranged it under the lights.

And it tasted all the better for it.

Online lesson

Online 10 review

Week 3: Tools and power tools

White sewing machine against white background
White sewing machine against white background

Lighting power tools isn’t as easy as you would first think, especially, if like me, you choose something as challenging as a white sewing machine shot against a white background.

I learnt more about lighting with this subject than I would ever have imagined, as everything was amplified, the margin for error was extremely narrow, and there was simply no-where to hide, every mistake stuck out like a sore thumb, and I had to spend an inordinate amount of time eliminating them.

Online lesson

Week 4: Splash shots

Lemon spray
Lemon spray

Many objects are relatively static, which is why adding something such as water to the shot can increase the visual dynamic.

Here the skill was in capturing the fluidity of the water and then compositing it together in Photoshop with the original object so as to create an image with plenty of visual impact.

I chose a simple glass of water together with a slice of lemon standing in a pool of water for the reflection, shot against a black background with 2 speed-lights – keep it simple, less is often more.

Online lesson

Week 5: Playing with our food


Getting up really close and personal with food, capturing the textures so that you can almost taste it.

I went to the local supermarket and bought a variety of foods, but eventually chose the bag of pistachios, I poured them into a bowl, twisted the M4/3 30mm macro lens onto the camera and started taking images, and although they superficially always looked good, the shallow depth of field always left one or two nuts ever so slightly out of focus.

But this type of photography has to be perfect, so I got out my DIY C-stand – a cheap microphone stand from Amazon – and shot it directly from above, almost like a flat-lay.

And a wise decision it was too. 

Online lesson

Week 6: Lighting for dimension and shape

Indian wooden box with glass marbles
Indian wooden box with glass marbles

Believe it or not, I really struggled with this topic, I couldn’t think of anything, I spent hours going through everything in my mind, until by chance my  eye landed on this old wooden box sitting in the corner of the room gathering dust.

I cleaned it down, gave it a good oiling, but it still seemed a little mundane, so I bought some special paper to photograph it against, and filled it with glass marbles to give it some visual interest, but I almost regretted it, because the shiny glass surface of the marbles reflected everything, especially the lighting I had previously setup just  for the box.

It wasn’t ideal, but I did learn a lot.

Week 7: Small, hard light – shadow play

Ivy in pink water
Ivy in pink water

Although I had struggled the week before, this idea came to me almost fully formed within 10 minutes of the week’s topic being unveiled.

I had recently thrown away an old disco mirror ball, but had kept the spot-light it came with, I quickly re-purposed it into a primitive snoot and cut myself a cookie out of a sheet of paper to represent a window frame, I found a small glass at the local flea-market, filled it with water and red food colouring, took a cutting from the ivy growing in the garden, and spent the next few hours putting it all together in a pleasing composition.

I did very little editing, I pressed the enhance button and desaturated the background in Photoshop to emphasis the colours.

Obviously it is a little different to what I had originally imagined, but very nice it all is too.

Week 8: One large soft light

"Waiter, is this really the Peking Duck?"
“Waiter, is this really the Peking Duck?”

I originally thought that I had a fantastic idea for this assignment, lemon tea and biscuits shot from above, so I went to the shops and bought myself expensive French patisseries, and a fresh lemon.

I spent hours setting it all up until I had what I wanted, I then edited it all in PhotoShop until it was as good as it gets, but it was only when I was about to upload it that I noticed, that someone had done something very similar the week before, and I have no wish to be accused of visual plagiarism, so . . . back to the drawing board.

Luckily though, this idea came straight to me the morning after, almost in a dream, and it contains an element of visual humour that the lemon tea never had.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the result.


That was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my photographic journey, I learnt so much, it’s changed the way I think about light and lighting, I can only recommend it.

I am so thankful that I stumbled across Don Giannatti’s video on YouTube all those weeks ago, and I’m especially grateful to Don himself for taking the time to arrange and organise all this, thank you.

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© 2021 - Andrew James Kirkwood

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