What you need: Tabletop Photo Studio
Posted by verybigjen on 04/24/2010 at 20:03:06
Professional photographs are necessary to correctly show your buyers what you are selling, and the quality of your work. The problem is getting those shots is harder than it looks, and many sellers struggle to get their shots properly lit, and staged.
In this article Im going to show you some cheap options to make a tabletop studio to improve your pics, and one that will pack in a box when not in use and store away
First, make sure your camera has a macro setting, on most point and shoot digitals it’s a tulip icon. All camera brands seem to stick with this icon convention, so if you don’t have a tulip icon check your manual to see if you even have a macro mode. It will look similar to this, but likely can be any number of places. Usually a dial setting or a button.
Macro lets you get in closer then the typical “snapshot” range of 3 foot. Most macros let you get a foot away or even closer. My old camera was more of 6 inches away, and gave me great detail, but as camera megapixels rise so does macro ability, I've seen some simple point and shoots that have about a 3" macro distance.
I use some closeup filter/lenses on my new DSLR, and can get much much closer than that, even touch the item and get a sharp detail shot, but a decent point and shoot will get you far. If you are buying a new one MAKE SURE you know it has a macro and test it’s focus distance in the store if you can. If you can't get as close as you need to you should find another. I suggest focusing on your hand, you always have it nearby, it’s finely detailed and never out of macro distance. See how close you can bring it and have it focus.
In some brands of cameras, the macro setting is intended for flower shots literally, so it might be heavy on red and green (since we are talking flowers here) on your actual photos. You might need to color correct more on your final shots a tad, but usually I think things work out well enough.
You can find many tutorials online for boxes built with cardboard or posterboard. I had previously made such a box, It was big, and worked well, but let me say unless you have that kind of time and materials on hand - and a dedicated place to leave it be since it won’t fold up - buying a collapsible nylon equivalent for under $20 shipped on major auction sites makes it far more sensible and affordable on both time, and space since it set up and folds down in seconds.
While “light tents” or “photo soft boxes” online can be expensive, if you know where and what to look for you can also find them extremely cheaply and in a wide variety of sizes. Bigger is usually better as you can make a more extravagant layout and provide some nice angles or even do nice hand shots, but A 16“ or 20” cube will likely be fine for most online craft sellers, myself included.
Where you place your lights will depnds what you sell, shiny objects you will want the lights just outside the walls, so you use the white nylon as a diffuser so you dont have bright reflection spots on your shiny surafces, as wel as a light fill (see below). If you have fabric items, you might find a front light works better than a side (see my studio pic below).
You can also buy some kits with the box (as seen above) and two or three lights and a mini tripod, but I find you can assemble the same on your own cheaper. Especially since I find you need stronger light than those kit lights usually provide. Besides. you might already have some that will work.
For my own setup I purchased some cheap gooseneck desk lamps from Target for under $10 each and then installed them with 100W equivalent CFL bulbs that were ”full spectrum“, ”daylight“ or ”Natural“ or the like. These will give you pics a color neutral light, most like daylight and often if you set you lights up write you can get that natural ”shot by the window“ light effect that so many handmade buyers love. One of mine is a clip on model, so I clipped it on a windowsill over my table and put the tent under it.
Digital cameras need LOTS of light, so plan on at least two lights, three would be ideal, but two will likely do it one for overhead and one to the side. (I use a clip on that I attach to a windowsill and and table top type.) The box itself will help bounce light around with it’s white sides so you wont really have a dark side With the white lights, and one to the side you can simulate that natural light pouring in from a window look that people love but in a reproducible way.
The next thing you need you can get online or in any photo department of department store - a table tripod - for just a few dollars. It’s really not a luxury. To take clear pictures, ones not blurred by handshake, you really should have a little tripod to steady your camera, or barring that a sturdy little box, beanbag or prop to take the camera’s weight. A can of vegetables covered in felt or cloth works nicely too. You will still have to hold it, but you will have a solid braced surface that will yield better pics.
Other handy items you will probably want, make a basket of your studio props and then they are all ready to go when you are:
LIGHT FILL CARD/BOARD:
If you only use two lights you will likely need one time to time. If you are using a light tent, the walls itself will often act as light fill for you, but sometime you need a little more help. You often see in movie or photoshoots on tv people using white or silver boards to bounce light to a darker side, to balance it out. You can to the same in your table top shots. Try using a small white piece of foam core from a craft store or with a added foot so it stands on it’s own, or even wrap a hardbound book in white paper or tin foil and use it standing on it’s side to bring a little more light to a darker side of your work. This tutorial explains it in pictures very well what it does. As does this one.
Remote control for your camera:
If you want to show your hands holding something you need that tripod and a remote that includes a timer button is handy so you can ht it and have a few seconds to get back in position. I’ve found most cameras these days can be used with remotes, but rarely come with them. Luckily, you can usually find remotes on photo and auction sites, just be sure to search with your camera model name. It might be a third party though, but don’t let that scare you off. Be sure it has a timer option, as you will need to hit it and reposition your hand in the shot, and you need time to do that.
This is my set up at home
The light tents will typically come with some plain color silky backgrounds that usually come wrinkled and never quite unwrinkle, so I suggest making your own. I made mine using stick on hook and loop dots and a textured embossed felt since I have it on hand and I just press it up to the tooth side of the hoop/loop dots I stuck to the inside corners of the box, the felt clings happily. But, you could just as easily just use straight pins or make two slits in the top along the wire framing to slide in two spring clothes pins to hold your cloth up. Try some pretty patterned scrap book paper, a slate garden tile, backgrounds are all around you.
Use leaves, teapcups, thimbles, vintage spools of thread, river rocks. Thrift stores are great for odd or pretty single pieces. Lay your necklace on a pretty plate, drape it over a little roll of fabulous fabric, hang those earrings on the edge of a pretty old book... mix it up. Br colorful and quirky. Have some fun.
Find a way to box up your tabletop studio stuff so it’s always ready to go. The easier it is to grab and go, the more you’ll use it.Once you have your tablestop studio set up, and found a method to keep it boxed up and on hand in a jiffy, you will find you don’t put off taking pictures like you used to. It takes me five minutes to set up mine and shoot something before I box it up for shipping.
Photography IS fun, you just need to learn how to needs to work, so you can get the shots you need. Practice makes perfect is cliche almost, but it’s true.
Don’t use blurry shots. They might look fine small, but when someone goes to look at a larger version it will look poor and your work cannot be seen as it truly is. In the digital age there is no reason to use blurry photos. Don’t take2 pictures, take 100, one is bound to be in focus and digital wont cost you a a cent.
Don’t force it. If you can’t get closer, set you camera for the highest resolution it will give you and shoot, then crop it down later to bring the item closer. It won’t be a true macro, but it will be better than being blurred.
Always shoot new shots. Constantly improve. This is the digital age, just because you shot that pic last year doesn’t mean you can’t shoot a better one next time. You might make the same item over and over again, as I do, if so you should make the point to take new shots every time or so. Your new pics will likely be better than your last ones. Use these new ones on your listings.
Have a suggestion, want to see other people's setups? Try this thread in the forums for discussion about this article.