Friday, January 9, 2009

Close-Up Photography Tips: Using a Light Tent

If you're selling online, pictures are critical.  Customers can't pick up your wares and inspect them themselves, touch them, look at them from different angles.  Bad pictures mean no sales.  Good pictures mean your chances are vastly increased.

Once you've mastered the macro lens on your camera (the subject of another article), the next most important (maybe more important) consideration in photographing jewelry is your lighting.  You want a bright, large spectrum light, but not direct light, because that will cause too much shadow and glare.  The answer:  a light tent. 

You can find these critters on eBay, at Wal-Mart, and in a lot of catalogs for $40 and up, because a lot of people are selling online.  If you REALLY don't want to mess with this, feel free to buy one.  I have seen one at China Super Deals for $15.99.  (Not an endorsement, I know nothing about them).  But you could probably make your own for $5.  Well, a little more than that with lights.

A cardboard box
White fabric
A piece of posterboard
2 to 3 light-enhancing lamps; the clip-on sort used for reptile tanks works well
2 to 3 light bulbs, the wider spectrum the better
a staple gun

Here's how.  Get yourself a box that will comfortably fit your items width and length-wise.  For height, give yourself some extra height, in case you want to put it on some sort of display.  Plus, you want a curve, as you'll see in a minute.  Now head out to your nearest fabric store and buy some cheap white fabric that is opaque but allows some light through.  Typically light filtering stuff is made out of a nylon, parachute type material, but pretty much anything will work.  Don't get anything that you can see through.  Alternatively, tear up an old white sheet.  Cut the top off your box completely.  Cut holes in three sides leaving only about 1" of framework around the edges, so that you have the top and three sides open.  Leave the back and bottom alone.  Now staple your fabric to this framework so that it's taut, one layer, and covers the top, left and right sides of your box.  You can either leave the front open, or cover it and cut a hole in it so that your camera lens fits perfectly through it on a tripod.  Next, cut your posterboard to fit inside your box perfectly.  Make a "ramp" in your box that slopes from the front bottom edge of your box to the back top.  Staple in place  (this gives you a smooth background with no edges or corners in it).

Now position your lights one on either side and one shining down from the top. on the top (you can make do with 2 but 3 is better).  Set up your camera, set to macro, and shoot!   Consider picking up some scrapbooking paper in various colors, or with VERY subtle patterns as backgrounds.  You don't want something that will compete with your item, but it seems to me that items with colored backgrounds make Etsy's front page more often than white does, unless they're having a white day.

As you can see from the picture above, my setup is simple.  It sits on a chair so I have a place to clip the lights, and I sit on a footstool in front of it and shoot.  I normally use 3 lights, but a friend has one of them.  I also dropped the light on the left as I was doing this and knocked the filament out of the 100 watt bulb I normally use and had to replace it with a 60 watt.  Doh.

Anyway, that's it!  Cheap, simple.  And it'll make a huge difference in your photos compared to shooting in ambient light.  I plan on doing another article on using the macro lens, and then some on post-shoot editing.  Keep an eye here!