Stovetop Photo Studio


Introduction: Stovetop Photo Studio

About: If I'm not part of the solution, then I must be part of the precipitate.

So, you need to take pictures for your latest Instructable, but every horizontal surface in your house is piled high with other incipient 'Ibles in various stages of progress? (Of course not. You keep things neat and tidy all the time. ...Me, too, of course.)

But just in case there's some unnamed person out there whose creativity sometimes gets ahead of his or her orderliness, this Instructable is about how I set up a product/macro photography "studio" on one of the few flat surfaces in my apartment that tends to stay uncluttered - the top of my stove.

I was surprised at how well this worked - the stovetop/underhood light was great for lighting, and I was able to hang my drape and so forth from the vent hood.

(Note: Do Not Attempt this using a gas stove with burning pilot lights.This set-up may not be one that can be made safe for any type of gas stove. The type with igniters at each burner instead of pilot lights might be okay, but I don't think I'd try it myself. If you have actual pilot lights with little burning flames, please just skip this whole idea.

More precautions against fire are covered in Step 3.)

('Nuther note: It may also be unwise, or at least inconvenient, to do this if you share living space and/or cooking facilities with others who may want to use the stove for more conventional purposes. I leave the judgement call, and any relevant negotiations, up to you.)

Step 1: The Stuff You're Gonna Need

First of all you need an electric stove. It's very handy if the stove has a ventilation hood installed above it.
(Again,Do Not Attempt this using a gas stove with burning pilot lights.)

Other stuff you'll need:
  • Large cutting board, or other large flat board that will fit on top of your stove.
  • Background drape.
  • Masking tape.
  • Various clips, clamps, hooks, holder-thingos, etc.
  • Camera & photographic subjects. :)

  • Depending on how tall you are, a stepstool may be sometimes be handy for getting a better photo angle.

Step 2: Get the Stove & Vent Hood Reasonably Clean

You'll have to clear off the top off the stove, and (this is the hardest part) clean the vent hood if you have one. At least make sure that the flange around the bottom of the hood is clean - it's a great place to attach clips for hanging your background drape and other stuff. Then (it's always better to do this after cleaning the vent hood) wipe down the stovetop so that it's reasonably clean too.

Step 3: Avoid Burning Your House Down -

- the firemen would laugh at you.
(That, and your house would get burnt down.)

The best reason not to use your stovetop for a photo set-up, or for anything else other than heating and cooking, is the risk of starting a fire. Putting potentially flammable drapes and other stuff on top of concentrated heat sources is generally a bad idea - unless you're going to be very smart and careful about it.

And please don't try this at all if your stove is gas rather than electric.

With an electric stove, nothing's going to heat up (barring serious electrical malfunction) unless it gets switched on, so I taped all the switches securely in their "OFF" positions. Now I know that nothing's going to get turned on accidentally. 

Having a fire extinguisher within arm's reach is probably not strictly necessary, but it doesn't hurt.

Step 4: Hanging the Background Drape

This is where that wonderful flange on the vent hood comes in. The exact details will depend on your specific clamps and drape (& flange) - I've set out how mine works in the image notes below.

Step 5: Supporting the Foot of the Drape

It's better for your drape to be too long than for it to be too short. But, if left unsupported, the weight of any extra length can pull all that graceful curvature out of the drape.

Exactly how you support your extra drape will depend on the details of your drape; your various clips, clamps and holders (or, in a pinch, masking tape); and your stovetop & oven door. Just be sure to leave a short loop at the front for ease of curvature and adjustments.

Step 6: Break Out Your Camera & Photo Subjects

As you can see, I'm not the best product/macro photographer in the world. But this stovetop set-up is so easy and convenient for me that I hope to be getting lots more experience, and maybe even to improve some. :)



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    16 Discussions

    For those of you with gas ranges or cook tops, but who would like to use the techniques described it this ‘ible, it is very easy to turn off your ‘standing’ gas pilot lights to safely use the stove top, and then turn them back on when finished.

    It is easy to either adjust the size of the standing pilot flame, OR TO FULLY EXTINGUISH it by turning the pilot gas control valve(s) which is located beneath the cook top [usually 'hinged' and can be either lifted at the front with a rod to hold it in the up position, or removed from the range totally.].

    Once access is available to the pilot burners, visually follow the small Aluminum gas supply tubes back to where they enter a small valve, which does NOT have a knob, but instead, has a shaft with a small slot for a small screwdriver.

    Turning that shaft clockwise will decrease the amount of gas flow to the pilot burner, and if turned until it stops, then the pilot flame will be extinguished, and thus there will be no fire hazard resultant from using the range top with combustible materials. Turning that shaft counterclockwise [anti-clockwise to some] will either turn the gas to the pilot light(s) on, or increase the amount of gas flowing, and thus increase the size of the standing pilot flame.

    BE SURE that you FIND, and extinguish ALL range top burner pilots. It is not necessary to extinguish lower or upper oven standing pilots.

    Because of my 'Scotch bloodline' I refuse to pay the ridiculous amount for maintaining a bunch of standing pilots, IF they are not really necessary. So for that reason, my range/ovens stay cold, without pilots ALL THE TIME.

    However, for those of you who want the 'convenience' of standing pilots on your range top, you can simply turn off all the cook top pilots an hour or so BEFORE using the photo studio techniques in this 'ible. Then, when finished with your photography, simply RE-IGNITE the pilots. Remember, there probably is more than one, and you will have to MAKE SURE that all are turned off, and all are accounted for in the re-ignition process.

    Therefore, those of you with gas ranges and cook tops CAN use the photo techniques outlined in this ‘ible, IF YOU TURN OFF ALL cook top pilots.

    Again, I suggest turning off ALL range top standing pilots ALL THE TIME [24/7], and using matches or a cheap butane lighter to light the burners when needed. Believe me it saves a lot of money.

    AND keeping all pilots off also eliminates the worries and complaints of those paranoids who ‘think’ they are smelling a gas leak when it’s only the unburned residual odor from the burning gas out of the pilot(s) from the odorant [usually Ethyl Mercaptan] which the gas company is required to add to Natural Gas [it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless so that’s why an odorant is added.].

    Again, do it right, and you still can use the techniques in this 'ible, EVEN if you have a gas cook top.

    Very nice, and I love the Beach mat back drop. Some of the pictures could do with a little diffusion on the flash just to soften the highlights, (backing parchment?) and perhaps some Kitchen foil would serve as a reflector to help lift the shadows.

     ...very nice!

    May I attend the inaugural tea and crumpets one afternoon?  ;-)

    ..only to test the oven out, of course!

    (those slippers will simply have to go, though!)

    1 reply

    Of course! Just let me know the next time you're in this neck of the woods.  ;)

    Tea is always at the ready, but I may have to put on my best bowler hat and look up the words to "Rule Brittania" in order to manage the crumpets. I have accomplished scones a time or two, but crumpets are a whole different kettle of fish...

    (You don't like my frilly-fancy-furbelowed sneakers? I've got a whole 'Ible-In-Progress on how I decorated them - they started off a bothersome  blank white.)

    (I'll wear steel-toed, waffle-treaded leather work boots to our tea, of course - one wants to do these things properly. ;)

    As soon as I saw this I thought ACK !!  I have a gas stove,  and OLD gas stove....I couldn't do this.   And I am glad you addressed that in your explanation :-) 
    7 replies

    Thanks for the comment. :)

    And thanks for the "ACK !!"
    Gas stoves are rare where I live, and most of the housing is relatively new. Your comment reminded me that that's not the case everywhere, so I've strengthened my fire precaution warnings and put one on the Intro page.

    Thanks again, and I'm glad to know you won't be trying this on your old gas stove - we need to keep all the Goodharts we can. :)

    :-)   Yeah, the gas stove in my apt. is nearly as old as the building...and IS older then the landlord (who is in his 70's).  Shortly after they converted this Doctor's office mansion into 4 apts.  they put in stoves and refrigerators (the upstairs people got a new one, because it thawed out between tenants, and when it started up again, it caught fire....electrical short).  If you remember the old Rounded front refrigerators,   then you know what we started with.... :-)  The one we have now, I think he bought at a garage sale  LOL 

     I have a gas stove, best westinghouse one they had. Love it. Better then electric anyday

    Yes, I did fall in love with the ''instant on, instant off'' -ness of gas, although I can not say I like paying nearly $200 a year to keep pilot lights burning :-)    We really need a newer model, one that ignites at the time one turns it on.  
    But I did grow up at home, using all electric.   With some practice one can use them fairly efficiently too, but most people don't bother trying.

    The family house has a big five burner and it's great, apart from the fact that the gas knobs are subject to being turned on by leaning or passing the oven...

    At mine I have an old halogen electric and it's pretty good, though temperature control works very well it's just too powerful altogether, oven, grill everything... especially the grill, granted it's job only ever see steak and bacon, occasionally sausages...

    I have cooked on a number of gas stoves - there was one particularly glorious one from the 1950's, done up with so much chrome and fancy curves that it might as well have had tail fins. :)

    The thing I loved about gas is the infinite variabilty of the heat - I'd learned to cook on a electric stove on which the best temperature for sauteeing anything could only be achieved by every-so-often switching the control knob back and forth between settings "2" and "3." :(

    That, and that when the electricity goes out, with gas you still have heat and can  cook hot food.

    Most of the urban Pacific Northwest was built after the huge WPA hydroelectric projects in the 1930's, during the half-century when the Federal goverment operated the dams and sold the power at heavily subsidized rates. At $0.02-$0.03/KWH for basic residental service, it just seemed silly to pipe gas into most new construction.
    Then the power industry was deregulated, hydroelectric operations were privatized, and I moved to the PNW just in time for the $0.06-$0.08/KWH basic residential rates.

    It is very nice not to have that constant "Do I smell gas?" mini-bit of paranoia, which I try to remember when its time to I pay my electric bills for winter heating. :)

    It is very nice not to have that constant "Do I smell gas?" mini-bit of paranoia, which I try to remember when its time to I pay my electric bills for winter heating. :)

    Actually, that is kind of funny, because when I got married, my wife had no experience with gas (but she DID know of the occasional gas leak and city block tragedy that happened from time to time) very rarely, but she was city raised and paranoia was in her blood :-)   It took many a nearly sleepless night to get her to be less OCD about the stove (a pilot would blow out, and she'd be back into it all took years really for her to get comfortable with it).   My biggest beef with the big burner stove (electric) that I grew up with, was the length of time the burner took to heat up, and also to cool down.  I would love to get one of those induction stoves (if I moved into an area with out gas).  They look nice. Of course,  that means not being able to cook with copper bottomed aluminum pans, etc.

    I like paisley - it's one of my minor regrets in life that I just missed being born in time to fully enjoy the paisley heyday of the 1960's.

    And a place just never quite seems like home unless there's a kettle on the stove. :)

    Gosh, you have a nice vacant/clean fridge. :-P

    Actually, this does seem like a decent and easy idea, and something I wouldn't have thought of otherwise.  Though I'd have to put too much effort into actually cleaning my stove, so...guess that's my excuse right now for not actually posting any real "Instructables." :-\

    1 reply

    For some reason, I don't like putting much stuff on my fridge - it just bothers me somehow. I once house/dog-sat for my sister for a week, at the end of which she was not especially pleased to find that I'd straightened her chaotic multitude of refrigerator magnets into neatly right-angled columns and rows.

    With that said, the most work-intensive part of this Instructable was getting the kitchen clean enough that I was willing to post photos of it on the net - and even that was still much easier than cleaning off the worktable where my "real" macro photo is supposed to be set up.