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Polina Plotnikova

Info from Polina Plotnikova who presented her fascinating flower and “Old Master” still life techniques us on 11 Sept 2013.

Mail to Mark W on 24 Sept 2013 (after I asked on behalf of another member)

Hi Mark,

I enjoyed visit to your club and am glad that some members got inspired to try something different after seeing my images. I will try to answer your questions below.

First of all Bowens do not do the exact model of flash I am using. This range was very successful and they kept improving it. The closest to what I have is something between Gemini Classic500 and Gemini 500Pro:

Now, to your questions:

The soft-box that you have behind the flowers, is that lit by continuous light or by flash? And if it is flash, what kind of unit and flash power do you have set there? If it is continuous, then what sort of bulb do you have in there?

Gemini Esprit 500 I am shooting with has both bulbs in one head – continuous and flash. I am using continuous light only to see how the light will be distributed and to help focus properly.When I am actually pressing the button (or rather clicking the mouse as I prefer to shoot remotely) the pilot lamp (continuous bulb) goes off and the flash bulb fires. The power is 500Wt, which is actually way more then you need for the kind of photography I do. I always keep it on the lowest power. Flash bulb is a standard for this head:

The flash plus umbrella you have behind the camera, what kind of flash unit and power do you have there?

I have two identical Gemini Esprit 500 heads with continuous bulb and flash bulb build in. One has a softbox on it, the other has an umbrella. The power is 500Wt, softbox is usually on the minimum of power and the umbrella is, well it depends how big the flower is, how far from the softbox I need to position the umbrella e.t.c. One of the flash heads (does not matter which one) has to be attached to the camera so it fires when you press the button, the other head, the slave light, will fire because it will be triggered by photo sensor. The flower will be effectively between two clashing lights when an umbrella and softbox flashes fire – that creates this translucent effect. I must say it does not always work equally good on all flowers – those with dark colours and thick petals may need a few attempts to get the light right.

In those flower images are you also focus-stacking multiple-exposures/flashes at wide-aperture or is it just single exposure at a narrower aperture? If it is flashes focus-stacked, do you vary the flash powers between each image in the stack?

I often do focus stacking as most of my favourite orchids are tiny. In order to get absolutely everything in focus I sometimes need a few shots. The flash power always stays the same, it is not HDR – the exposure, the aperture, the light must stay exactly the same if you want to get good result when focus stacking. I think this bit is very well explained in some tutorials on the official Helicon Software website, I have sent all links to Janet a week ago.

I attached a few low res with camera meta data written on the image (yes, of course you can just look in file info and read the exif but this way it is quicker to see my typical settings).



Our member has so far been trying with single-exposure with speedlights in the soft-box and umbrella, but he says he is just getting over-exposure, although I don’t think he has really been lowering either flash power yet. I also actually don’t know what ISO and aperture he has been using, but thought I’d check with you anyway before I get back to him to offer more help.

The ISO is usualy 100, more than enough for this purpose. Overexposed images probably indicate too powerful flash or/and too wide open apperture.

So, thanks if you can give us a few more hints.

This is not a problem at all! I have also attached the snapshot I did show during my presentation with my typical studio set up:


On a photo both flashes are on as continuous light (the pilots bulbs are on), but the moment I press the button the flash bulb fires. You can shoot with just continuous light if you are happy with shallow depth of field which you inevitably get with wide open aperture. But in order to increase depth of field you will have to sometimes go to f16 for example and that’s where you will definitely need flash rather then continuous light.

As I mentioned to you at the end, I was just over-awed by your still lifes. Really amazing, so thanks once again for a great evening.

Thank you very much, I hope my e-mail to Janet with my tips found its’ way to you and other members who had expressed interest in my technique and equipment.


Mail to Janet B on 17 Sept 2013, also repeated in comments here.

My favourite paper brands are Pinnacle and Hahnemuhle. I use Pinnacle Cotton Rag or Hahnemuhle Photo Rag for matt prints and Pinnacle Luster or Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl for slightly glossy prints. My favourite supplier with very good service support and paper profiles you can download for each paper:

When I need to print larger then A3+ ( maximum size my home printer can handle ) I use this lab:

I find this service extremely helpful, reasonably priced and absolutely great quality-wise.

My favourite special effect lens for my dreamlike atmosphere still lifes is Lensbaby Pro with sweet spot 35. I am sure lots of members know about Lensbaby, for those who do not the link to official web site might be helpful:

For remote shooting when I connect my camera to a laptop I use Helicon Remote software. When I need to do focus stacking I use Helicone Focus software. There is plenty of information on the official web site.


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