Magazine Article


Halley Ganges' Still Life Secrets With Phase One's H25

watches in glass
Halley Ganges

Fig. 1
Halley Ganges

Fig. 2
Halley Ganges

Fig. 3
Halley Ganges

Fig. 4
Halley Ganges

Images by Halley Ganges

New York City-based photographer Halley Ganges knows his still life. His work, which ranges from jewelry to clothing and cosmetics, has appeared in numerous advertisements, editorial layouts, and high-end catalogs. In this article, Ganges describes how he mixes digital capture, creative lighting, and Photoshop techniques to produce images that have a "life" all their own.

STEP #1: Choose Your Equipment

Just over a year ago, Halley Ganges made a big decision. After more than 15 years of shooting medium- and large-format film, he purchased a Phase One H 25 digital camera back. Since then, virtually all of his work has been shot digitally, and he is happy to have it that way. "The first time I saw a digital image shot with the H 25, I was very impressed. Then I shot a jewelry spread for ZOOZOOM magazine ( using the H 25 with selective focus and varied light sources and I was convinced that this was an indispensable tool for me. I already knew how well it worked for some of the "cleaner" and more graphic work that I was doing, but after experimenting a bit, I knew I could pretty much shoot any way I wanted with this technology."

Ganges usually pairs the H 25 with a Fuji GX680 camera and uses the Fujinon 50, 65, 100, 150 and 180mm lenses. "The GX680 is a very well-made camera body with the ability to make movements similar to a view camera, but without the ability to shift the back standard like a view camera. The Phase One H 25 has a 22-megapixel sensor, which produces an extremely clean, sharp, low noise file." With regard to lighting, Ganges employs many different technologies, including strobe, tungsten, and high frequency fluorescent: "Every job is different, and my preference is to shoot with continuous light. I can see exactly what I'm getting, and I feel I can be much more creative and varied with continuous light sources." My favorite continuous lighting options are Dedolight focusable tungsten heads, Kino Flo daylight and tungsten-balanced fluorescent lights and Arri tungsten lights. I have the Dedolight DT 12-4 kit, two Kino Flo Diva-Lites and two Kino Flo Mini-Flo kits (one with 9'' and one with 12'' fixtures)."

Ganges used to shoot tethered to a G5 workstation with dual displays (20'' and 23'' Apple Cinema Displays), but he soon moved to a rolling cart system because of the flexibility it offers. "I now shoot tethered to a 17'' Macintosh G4 PowerBook 1Ghz in my studio. I then process files from RAW to JPEG in Phase One's Capture One Pro software, and send them wirelessly to my G5 workstation. I then check critical focus and color, and my clients can easily drop the files into Adobe InDesign to check their layout. Alternatively, I'll e-mail images for remote approval."

STEP #2: Shoot it: Watches in Glass

Our cover image blends Halley Ganges' knowledge of product styling, with a bit of Photoshop magic. "I produced this image for Forbes Magazine. The client wanted to communicate that these were diving watches. I shot the watches with a Fuji GX680 and Fujinon 100mm/f4 lens with the H 25 digital back. Lighting for the background was three Arri 1K tungsten lights, each diffused, and placed about 5-6 feet behind the set, aimed at a large sheet of Lumilux diffusion, placed about 3 feet behind the watches. I lit the watches by placing a 2x3 foot frame covered with Lumilux about 1 foot to the right of the watches, and slightly above the set. A small 300-watt Arri tungsten light served as the main light, and was placed about eight inches from the diffusion. A white-bounce card was placed about a foot to the left and slightly behind the watches with a Dedolight (aimed from above and camera right) bouncing off the card to bring some life to the black and reflective watchbands.

To stack the watches, I wrapped them around a piece of thick clear vinyl, which I had rolled into a tube to support the shape of the watches. I later retouched the vinyl out of the top and bottom of the stack of watches (Fig. 1). I recommend wearing cotton gloves whenever handling jewelry or reflective items. The gloves can also be used to clean the objects' surfaces. One major advantage to using continuous light is that you can see your ratios and make subtle adjustments based on what you are viewing through the lens.

The lighting for the image of the glass was identical to that used for the photo of the watches.Great care was taken to make sure that the center of the glass was blown out enough so that the watches could be dropped in properly. I masked the white background with large black cards just outside the frame of the image to achieve the dark edges and to also reduce flare and increase color saturation. The drops to the right were made with glycerin on a smooth white Formica surface. The steps to making this composite believable were as follows: In Photoshop CS, I began with the image of the glass and water drops. I then dragged the sihouetted image of the watches (Fig. 1) on top of the glass, and sized it to fit. I then brought just the glass in alone and placed it on top as a new layer. This helped to create the illusion of the watches actually being inside the glass. I then adjusted the opacity of the top layer to 60-80% and selectively erased the white area above the watches with the eraser tool set to 70-90% so that the watches would show through. I then kept some of the reflective feel of the glass by erasing the highlights with the erasor tool set to a lower percentage level."

STEP #4: Shoot it: Sunglasses & Pearls

"The sunglasses (Fig. 3) were shot for Blinde Design with the H 25, Fuji GX680 and a Fujinon 65mm/f5.6 lens. They were stacked and shot from a low angle on a white background. Three Arri lights were used to light the background exactly like the watches, and two Kino Flo 12'' Mini-Flo tungsten-balanced dimmable lights were diffused and placed on either side of the set. A tungsten-balanced Dedolight DLH-2 head was then placed about three feet above the set and slightly to the left to create the catchlights in the frames. After capturing them, I created a new file with a graduated blue/white background. I then made selections around all the lenses, and applied a gradiant at different opacities to give them the lighting effect, while still allowing the frames to show through. To create the ghosted image, I silhouetted the sunglasses and pasted them into the blue and white background. I then reduced the layer's opacity to about 30% and enlarged them slightly. I then pasted the sunglasses in again, and used the Free Transform tool to make them the size you see in the final image.

The image of the pearls (Fig. 4) was created for ZOOZOOM magazine. The pearls were hung from a C-Stand arm, and the image was lit with a combination of daylight and tungsten-balanced Kino Flo 12'' Mini-Flo lights. Two of the tungsten-balanced Mini-Flo's were diffused and placed on either of the set, about a foot from the pearls. A daylight-balanced 12'' Mini-Flo was then used bare-bulb on the background, which created the blue streaks and highlights. In the front of the set, I placed a candlestick holder. This approach is very effective when you want to create an environment and lead the viewer into a specific area of the image. The background is a standard bathroom light fixture, which is also tungsten balanced. One of the great advantages of shooting digitally is that color balance can be dialed in. In this case, I chose a color temperature of about 3200K."

STEP #3: Light It Up: Cosmetics

Shooting cosmetics is no easy task. Glass, metal, mirrors and plastic all produce their own specific challenges, and this image (Fig. 4) has just about all of them. Ganges reviews how he styled the products and put this image together (also for ZOOZOOM magazine): "I started by creating a composition of the products which were required to be shown. The title for this series of images was "Shimmer." To illustrate the theme, I decide to create various environments that I thought brought shimmer to mind: Broadway stage shows, city lights, etc.

Lighting on the products was a Diva-Lite 400 and two 12'' Kino Flo Mini-Flos. Again, I mixed daylight and tungsten-balanced units to vary the color. The Diva-Lite had all four of its tungsten-balanced bulbs installed and was dimmed, then diffused with Lumilux and placed to the right, just outside of the image's frame. A daylight-balanced Mini-Flo was used bare-bulb, and placed camera left. This created the blue reflections on the compact. Another 12'' Mini-Flo with a blue gel was placed above and slightly behind the products, creating the overall bluish tone. The background was from a library of shots that I continually create. The blue circles are small reflective plastic disks that were shot on black, then colorized and cloned. I knew that I would be compositing the cosmetics, so I shot the products with black velvet in the background. The shiny foreground was black Formica, which is great for cosmetics because of its reflective quality and also because it can be easily cleaned."

STEP #5: Process, Prep & Deliver

Once images are shot, Ganges needs to process them, and Phase One's Capture One software makes this very easy. "I use the Capture One software to first edit my images for processing, and it can also be setup to batch process files, even as I'm shooting. There are also many options for curve and color temperature adjustments, as well as sharpening, though I usually apply sharpening in Photoshop. I save files out as 16-bit TIFFs and then do final retouching, sharpening, and if requested, make prints from my Epson Stylus Photo 2200 for clients to review. File delivery is done via FTP or CD/DVD."

To view more of Halley Ganges' work, visit