Product and Macro photography benefits from good light and that means in most cases creating the light. While many people get away with pretty mediocre photographs on eBay, to attract more and better buyers it helps to have good, detailed, well-lit products. When you move to product photographs for catalogues and e-commerce sites it is even more important. How can you do that on a tiny budget? Read on!
The whole point of a product photograph is to show the item in the best possible way. It provides information that you would ordinarily get from touching and holding it (Is it well built?, what is it made out of?, what buttons are there? Is it smooth and shiny or is it textured?) but as important it builds desire so the viewer will want to buy it.
Most eBay pictures fulfil the first criteria (just) of showing what the item looks like but very few build desire. I’m not saying by putting together one of these contraptions you will instantly be able to build desire, if it was that easy the expert product photographers wouldn’t charge so much, but at least you won’t be hampered by direct, harsh light.
I had been taking quite a few product photographs, starting with eBay for myself and others but increasingly for commercial use. Realising that I needed to up my game a bit I took a look at the strobist lightbox. This seemed to do what I needed until I realised I didn’t have a box big enough and it might not offer the flexibility I needed.
My problem was scale and mobility. I had been called on to take photographs of motorbike crash helmets. As well as being quite large they are very reflective. Rather than avoid reflections in such a product you want to work with them and show them off; they are an important aspect of the quality of product and show the shape off.
That’s when I remembered the Dean Collins DVD when he was shooting a Porsche; instead of a light box I needed some hybrid of a lightbox crossed with diffusion panels.
The diffusion box is born
For standard lightbox sort of mode where I am shooting small items I can arrange the pieces as a box, even putting a “lid” on. When I need to shoot something bigger I can open it up or because the “diffusion panels” are individually free-standing, even arrange the pieces any way I wish just like a real photography studio in miniature.
I took some large pieces of foam core art mounting board. In the pieces that would be diffusion panels I scored a vertical line one third from the end so I could bend it at a right angle. This bend will allow the panel to be free-standing. To create the diffusion effect you need to cut a hole and cover it in tracing paper or some light fabric. Remember if you are using more than one piece of tracing paper to cover the gap to overlap in such a way that raw light does not leak through. If you are using a scalpel or craft knife remember to cut away from yourself! Score from the back and cut from the front to avoid ragged edges and stray bits of torn paper covering. Once you have the sides you can create a lid if you wish. Assembly as a lightbox from there is a case of leaning and resting boards to create a box shape.
You can arrange the lights however you need, shooting through the sides for classic lightbox diffusion, put the lid on and bounce through the front to blast it in high key, or put a diffusion panel in the top and have the diffused light come from above. Using black paper I can have negative fill and using different colours and thickness of paper I can have varying seamless backdrops.
While I still need to practice laying everything out as you can see from this first test shot it is possible to get quite a nice diffused light.