If you make things to sell, you know that having great photos is a MUST. Getting that perfect lighting for product photography is not always easy – or convenient – so the solution is a DIY photo studio.
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Take amazing photos
Every article I have read about selling products online and taking photos for juried craft shows says the same thing. “Take amazing photos!”
But what they tend to leave out is just HOW to do that.
So after some trial and error (okay, a LOT of trials and a bunch of errors), I have figured out an easy and inexpensive way to create an ideal environment for taking product photography.
And yes, I am still working on the whole taking part of the “take amazing photos”, but that is a whole other post!
No natural light
One of the problems I’ve run into, is that there is no ideal spot in my house where the natural lighting is good enough for photography. I also don’t have a nice blank wall anywhere! There are lots of windows – thus the no blank wall part – but trees block some of the light and other obstructions cast shadows on any table I drag around trying to find the ideal spot.
A small, quick DIY solution
At first, I was making jewelry and wanted some nice shots to put up on Etsy. I invested in a macro lens, which made taking good photos easier, but lighting was still an issue.
How to make a small light box
- Find a good size cardboard box
- Cut the top and two sides, leaving a 1 to 2 inch “frame” of cardboard around the edges (see photo above)
- Double up sheets of white tissue paper
- Tape the tissue paper to the top and the two sides with the cutouts
- Cut a piece of white (or black) poster board to the width of the box, and leave the length so it is much longer than the box
- Tape the poster board on the top inside of the box
- Pull the length of the poster board, allowing it to curve gently. This will create a “no horizon” effect in your photos.
58 cents and some lamps
You now have a light box! The one in the photo above cost me a whole 58¢ to make, and that was for a sheet of white poster board, and a sheet of black.
To get the lighting, just grab some table lamps or high intensity desk lamps and put them on either side of your new light box. BE CAREFUL with how close you get the bulbs to the tissue paper! High intensity lamps throw off a lot of heat, and I don’t have to tell you that tissue paper is flammable, right?
Setting up a shoot using your lightbox
Using a DSLR camera and macro lens, set up your tripod close to the edge of the light box. You are going to want to use a tripod to keep the camera from shaking. If you have a remote shutter cable or wireless shutter release, use that too. And turn off the built-in flash. That thing is just terrible.
A quick note on what camera to use
I use a Canon Rebel xs and xsi. I already had the xs, and liked it SO much, that I bought a used Canon xsi on Amazon. One camera has the macro lens on it, and the other is used for the 18-55mm lens.
You really don’t need an expensive camera. Seriously. A good photographer can take awesome shots using an old point-and-shoot. It’s about the skill – and maybe a decent lens – but not about the camera body. My Canon cost $199 for the body, and I do not think I will need an upgrade for a long, long time.
Black ice makes jewelry pop
A really cool backdrop for jewelry is called “black ice”. Black ice is a really shiny, solid black surface that makes a really interesting reflection of your subject – perfect for jewelry shots!
After reading about using black ice, and seeing that it would cost a few hundred dollars for what the pros use, I went on a search for the perfect, affordable black ice backdrop. Home Depot for black laminate flooring tiles? Nope. A small slab of black granite? Nope. Either the store didn’t have a small piece of what I needed, or what they had was scratched. And you don’t want ANY scratches on your black ice! So what did I end up with?
A black acrylic clipboard. Small, lightweight, easy to store & carry, and CHEAP!!!!
Perfect props for product photography
For props, I hang earrings on wine glasses and some vintage bone china tea cups. To stop the earrings from moving after I place them on the prop, I keep a watercolour paint brush handy.
Just touch the earrings lightly with the brush, and they stop swinging back and forth! It’s also great for brushing away any dust or lint that gets on the poster board backdrop.
You can find tons of great props at the dollar store to use in your photography! I keep all mine in a big basket in the photography studio.
Time to get serious
Once I started designing clothing, purses and tote bags, the little cardboard light box was too small! Uh oh!!! It was time to get serious about an alternative, and with no room upstairs, I headed for the basement.
How to make your own photo studio
Don’t laugh (or look too closely at the junk), but this is what I had to work with:
Again, no nice expanse of blank wall to use, and it is really dark down there. But this was all I had and I needed to make it work.
With only a minimal investment, I was able to turn this messy, dark area with a really low ceiling into the perfect studio!
Once I cleaned up the mess, I ordered a few things from Amazon. Within a few hours of the stuff being delivered, I had my studio set up! And the best part is that everything I have is lightweight, portable and easy to move!
Lighting is the most important
As you can see in the photo above, I bought the LimoStudio softbox lighting kit. Before I ordered this kit, I did a ton of research on softbox vs. the umbrella style of lighting, and since I don’t do portrait photography, the softbox lights were the best solution. And under $80! It appears that it is no longer available, but this one is comparable.
The softbox lighting kit comes with everything you need – bulbs, softboxes, diffusers to go over the bulbs and the tripod-like stands. And since they are designed to be portable, they come with a nylon bag to carry everything!
Every part of the light set-up is adjustable too. The softboxes can tilt and turn, and the tripod can be adjusted to any height. Trust me, these things are GREAT! And the light is perfect too.
Since the tripods are so light, they tend to be a little wobbly. And because I am
clumsy so engrossed in taking photos , I sometimes bang into the lights. Here’s the simple solution to stabilize the stands:
One pound ankle/wrist weights! I happened to have a set from my days of weight training, and the velcro makes it a snap to fit them on the light stand. The one pound each is just enough to stabilize the lights, but still light enough that I can move them around.
A flat surface
I got this 4″ folding table. Big enough to put all the products on, sturdy enough to hold everything, and the table folds up.
Make taking flatlays easy
A plastic step stool with TWO steps. The two steps are great because sometimes I need to get a little higher up in order to capture everything in the frame when taking the shot. I just have to pay attention, so I don’t lose my balance and fall face first into the products. There have been a few close calls!
Now that I had the basics, I assembled everything in the cleared out area.
To make the curved, white backdrop, I used a huge length of white fabric. A white sheet would also work.
I leave the step stool right in front of the table, and it’s easy enough to push it under the table when not in use for taking flatlays.
Trick to get products to stand up
Remember that I said the basement has really low ceilings? Well, I made that work for me.
In the AFTER photo, do you see how the purse straps are standing straight up in the air?
I stuck a small nail in the joist above the table and used some filament for stringing beads to suspend the purse straps. I cut a length about 6′ long, and slipped one end through the straps. Then I stretch the doubled up length up toward the joist until I get the correct length. And because I don’t want to be spending time tying knots then trying to untie them, I wrap the filament around a spring-type clothespin and just pin the clothespin to the nail in the joist.
So that’s it! The perfect little product photography studio that I can fold up and move if I need to.
Tell me in the comments below – are you going to make your own studio?