Magazine Article


Studio Lighting

Spencer Jones' Dramatic Digital Stilllife Technique

Spencer Jones's Equipment List

Hasselblad 553ELD
Sinar P 4x5 View Camera
Toyo GII View Cameras

Digital Camera Backs
Phase One H 20
Phase One H 25

Arri lights & Dedolights: 150, 350, 600, 1K & 2K watts
Balcar & Speedotron Strobes

Medium Format Lenses
Hasselblad CFE f/2.8 80mm
Hasselblad CFE f/4 120mm

Large Format Lenses
Schneider: Standard & Digitar Focal lengths: 80-210mm

Phase One Capture One
Adobe Photoshop CS
FileMaker Pro 7

Apple Power Mac G5 Dual
Apple Xserve G4
Apple PowerBook G4

LaCie Ext. FireWire drives
Internal 120GB hard drives
LaCie AIT3 Tape Drive

Epson Stylus Pro 4000 printer
Minolta Flash Meter III
Minolta Color Meter IIIf
Heidelberg Tango Drum Scanner

1. Choose the Right Equipment

Spencer Jones shoots 90% of his work digitally and his studio owns three digital camera backs. "We shoot with two Phase One H 20 backs (16 megapixel) and one H 25 (22 megapixel)," he says. "Our cameras include a Hasselblad 553 ELD and two 4x5 Toyo-View 45GII view cameras with Phase One"s Flex Adaptors. The FlexAdaptor not only allows the back to be mounted on a number of different brands of view cameras, it also includes an eyepiece and internal focusing screen that makes framing images much easier than with a handheld loupe. It also allows for multiple shot stitching. During or after a photo session, RAW images can be viewed side by side on one or multiple monitors, or in a contact-sheet format.

Jones shoots all in-studio work tethered to Power Mac G5 workstations with LaCie Electron Blue II 22'' CRT monitors. All computers are networked and linked via hardwired Gigabit Ethernet to an Apple Xserve G4 system. This allows images to be stored and retrieved quickly from any workstation, while safeguarding data. At the same time, the system helps the studio to perform scheduled backup routines. When on location, he shoots tethered to an Apple PowerBook G4.

Jones prefers strobe lighting for people, and tungsten for still life. "Shooting with tungsten is great; what you see is what you get. If one area is dark, I just add more light. It"s the same system you might see on a movie set," he says. "My primary brands of tungsten lighting are Arri and Dedolight. Each unit ranges from 150 to 2,000 watts."

2. Communicate & Prepare for Action

Once selected for a project, Jones is called in for a meeting. "The art director, creative director and client will present their ideas and I will make suggestions. Things may change during this meeting, and at the same time, we will discuss if this is a digital or film shoot. Then we set up a shoot date. Depending on the type of shoot, I will bring in model makers, set designers and artists to help with the project. Regardless of the project, it is important to give the client confidence that the job will be done well."

3. Light it Up

For the cover shot, the lipsticks were placed on a 12x12 inch mirror. Jones shot the image with a Phase One H 20 digital camera back on a Hasselblad 553ELD with an f/4 120mm CFE Makro-Planar lens (two feet from the lipsticks). After arranging the set and his lighting, Jones gray balanced his digital back with a gray card and began to work his magic. "I often use C Stand compatible frames, and I tape frosted diffusion material (full-strength Tough Lux) to them to diffuse the light and create a softer look," he recalls. "There is a 2x2-foot frame in front of a 1K (1000w) Arri fresnel light to the left of the lipsticks, which creates the highlights seen on each lipstick case. That light also falls on the background, which is then reflected in the mirror. The background was handmade from curled sheets of silver matte board. On camera right, no diffusion was used. Instead, black cards were utilized to create the dark contrast on both the lipsticks and the mirror. Above the cards was another 1K Arri light with a 1/8 CTO warming gel four feet from the set, which neutralized the overall color balance."

Jones offers these tips: "Be careful with your lights. Things can heat up fast with tungsten. We"ve had problems with the surface bowing, which would create focus problems, and we even had some nail polish explode! Lipstick must be kept cool or it will start to sweat, and when shooting metal, you have to keep light on it or it will look dead."

©Spencer Jones

4. Light it Up

Jones shot the silver chair as a spec image for the "Go" chair company. He placed the chair on a 4x8 foot mirror and used a 4x5 Sinar P view camera (eight feet from the chair) with a Schneider Macro 120mm lens and 4x5 Kodak 64T (tungsten film). The lighting consisted of six Arri tungsten lights. On either side of the camera were two vertically stacked 650w Arri lights with a 4x4-foot diffusion frame in front of each light. On each side of the chair was a 2K Arri light with no diffusion, aimed straight up at a 15-foot white ceiling.

©Spencer Jones

The lipstick closeup pictured to the right was shot with the H 20 back, Hasselblad 553ELD and 120mm Makro-Planar lens with a Hasselblad Extension Tube 16E. A 1x1foot diffusion frame was placed in the back at a 45º angle with a 650w Arri light behind it. A 350w Arri lightwas placed to the right with another 1x1 foot diffusion frame with the light pressed up against the screen to concentrate light on the tip of the lipstick. A matte silver card was placed in the front of the set, under the camera lens, to provide fill light and additional highlights.

5. Retouch, Deliver & Archive

In order to make products look their best, Jones utilizes Adobe Photoshop CS. Most of his work is produced for printed media, and after retouching, images are saved as TIFFs in Adobe RGB (1998) format, then burned to a CD or DVD and delivered to the client. Many jobs are also transmitted via FTP directly from the studio.

As for securing data, "our backup system was implemented by Josh Hirschman at MacADEPT (," says Jones. "We configured our Xserve G4 with an Xserve RAID containing five-120GB drives set to RAID 5 with parity. If one drive goes down, the data will still be retrievable. In addition, a LaCie tape drive backs up our database and email every night, and on Saturday it is set to incrementally back up all images from the server. As an added backup, each system has an additional LaCie FireWire drive hooked up with the last three to six months of work done on each particular computer. Lastly, each shoot is also stored on CDs or DVDs and kept in a binder." The results speak for themselves.