Photography behind the scenes – Action Still life

A behind the scenes look at Photographing action still life in the studio –  Photography and retouching by Giles Angel

A multi-part composite image produced using the Triggersmart Flash Trigger and high speed flash

This action still life shot of a fragmented cake topper was a private commission for a friend’s wedding. There is some obvious irony in this shot, sinces they did split up before getting back together, but are now happily married.

I decided to use the Triggersmart Flash trigger. The precision timing ensured I gained a much higher proportion of useable images than if I had simply guessed when to press the shutter. Otherwise many more images would have been exposed too early or too late. So, it was a good time saver on the shoot. Here’s how I did it with behind the scene shots.

Here is the studio set-up using the following gear  Nikon D3 tethered to a laptop. 1/500th F18. Two Einstein E640 flash heads set to 1/7000 flash duration. A Triggersmart Flash Trigger set to infra red beam and 2 Pocket Wizards.


Close-up set up showing gear and lighting set-up

LIGHTS – Two lights here are Einstein E640 flash heads. One overhead with a large softbox the other on the left as a fill to create some side light and shadow on the subject.

TRIGGERSMART BOX – This controls the sensitivity of the infra red beam and amount of delay when triggering. For more details about Triggersmart see

RECEIVER AND TRANSMITTER – One sends the infra red beam and the other receives it, as soon as the connection is broken this sends a message to the box and triggers the flash or in this case the shutter.

REMOTE TRIGGERS – These are Pocket Wizard flash triggers. Not the cheapest on the market but have a good range and you can change the behaviour of each to receive or transmit or both.

The Triggersmart is rigged to the camera shutter rather than the flash, (extra cable required) so my hands are free to drop the cake topper through the infrared beam.

The infrared transmitter and the receiver were simply placed either side of my target surface. Sensitivity was set to high, so even the smallest fragments could trigger it. The time delay was short as I wanted the flash to trigger immediately after the beam was broken, at the point of impact with the target surface.

On top of the camera you will see there is a wireless flash trigger which fires the studio flash heads as the shutter is released.

For a speedy review of each image, the camera was shot tethered to a laptop, which can be seen on the bench far right in the middle of the image above. This not only saves time chimping the camera’s LED screen, but also clearly reveals any imperfections on the enlarged image.

Images were edited in Adobe Bridge before being taken into Photoshop for comping.

A large number of shots were taken and the best elements from each were comped together in Photoshop for the final image.


The layered Photoshop file with separate exposures masked in and out for different parts

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