Lightbox “Stuff” ….. a bit of testing

Ugh….. they are predicting snow for tomorrow!!!  Knowing Calgary, though, it could go a couple of different ways.  It might be short lived thing and this fab weather will stick around – or not….

I’m not sure how many have gone to the extreme of setting up a light box for doing stills or “product” type photos, but this is an area that I have had a lot fun with back in my 35mm days.  I’ve been monkeying with one off and on for the last year with mixed success.  One of the big problem for me, or maybe a couple of problems, is the fact the for starters I only had a limited amount of space to work with.  Very limited.  The other side of this was that I wanted this to relatively permanent.  I simply don’t want to be setting up each and every time. 

I’m sure that all of us have shot stills of smaller objects – with varying degrees of success, of course.  The more advanced we get, the more sophisticated we get to get that “perfect shot”.  If you have the money and the space, getting a full fledged light box is a no brainer.  I looked at several setups but each one I looked at, including the home made ones, required one to shoot thru diffusers.  Sure this is the ideal way, but I didn’t have a way to do this easily – space, again, rearing it’s ugly head.  I had to get around this limitation.  In the future, that’ll change pending me finding work Smile  AND breaking some more space loose.  So…. onward…

A Bit of History

When I started to catalogue my knife collection a couple of years ago, I used a table and a couple of lights, but the one thing that was a pain in the butt was setup and takedown each time I did a session.  To make it worse, time was usually a constraint.  It sill is – hence having something that I can set up in a few minutes and start shooting.

One of the big things I’ve found with light boxes in general, is that there were a few limitations in lighting.  Mind you, in saying that, IF you have the money, getting the lights with tripods gets around that pretty quick Smile  BUT if you don’t then it becomes a little more complicated.  One of the big things, is having a way to have a light from the top.  I’ve seen a couple of ways to do this but there wasn’t anything that turned my crank – it wasn’t always easy to set up or something as simple as getting a clamp light and FINDING a way to put that light there easily…. Well, you can see where I’m going with this.

One day, I was shopping in one of those dollar/bargain basement type stores and I happened on one of those garden seat things.  The difference here, was that this was made from metal and it folded out!!  It was around $15, but IF I could strip off that foam seat, which I found I could in the end, this could potentially form the base frame for my light box!!  Now this thing was a little on the shallow side being only about 8 inches deep. Overall dimensions on this was about 16×24 inches and 8 inches deep.  Overall size was good.  Depth was a whole new issue.  I got a small table and cut a piece of plywood that I could use for a back drop support. The metal frame would allow for some good light adjustment. 

Because I didn’t have the space to diffuse light easily, I got around this by using daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs which tend to be slightly flatter.  At the same time,  I found a table cloth at this store for a mere $3 that I cut up.  I’ll show some shots taken with it and then some with a construction paper backdrop, plus some others a little later. So… what does this thing look like?

Lightbox2

Note here – the lights on the left, I found at a garage sale earlier in the year, the one on the right came from Home Depot.  It was around $20.00 which I wasn’t fussy about, but when I looked a studio lights…. ugh…. 

Back to “Today”

At this point in time, this is a little primitive to where I want to go with this, but this is also just a step in the learning process. 

Equipment – it depends Smile  Once you have your light box ready to go, we get down to the “picture taking” stuff.  Unless you are looking at really really really professional stuff, I’ve found that if you have “something” that goes at about 10 megapixels AND a tripod, you can probably get some pretty good pics.  Note that I said megapixels not sensor size or anything beyond. I’m probably going to tread on some toes here, but really, when you get down to it, what you are after, is something that looks good for YOU – not anyone else.  Sure better equipment will ultimately get you better results, but you know, you can get some pretty good shots with just your pointy shooty in full auto Smile  Remember – you are shooting in an environment that is very close to daylight, if you have a tripod, your pointy shooty can zoom in, all likelihood – so what’s the problem here?  Been there done that.  I started my cataloguing with my Pentax P70 and a table top tripod in the digital space. 

To stop a bit here – I sometimes think that it’s not necessarily such a bad idea in today’s world to start with something like your pointy shooty.  Heck a lot of people I know, use their phones.  IF one is so inclined, they’ll start to “progress” and go looking for something better. What baffles me endlessly, are those people that jump straight to a DSLR.  Many of those people simply don’t need to got there.  BUT that’s me… and it’s not my money either.  Heck, I”ve spent enough on my travel cams that I could probably have gotten a mid range DLSR with a couple of extra lenses.  I just didn’t want to go there.

It’s recommended to use a tripod to make sure you have a solid base.  I started with a Pro Master ball head, and it was fine for my smaller cameras, but I found that with the Panasonic GX1 and Nikon 1 J1, I got a bit of slippage.  I upgraded to a Milano Ball Head to fix that.  Why a ball head?  Mostly for speed of set up and ease of adjustment.  For me, the ball head is just easier to use is all.  If you have a good tripod, it does help. 

Onwards…  Still photography in it’s own right is a BIG space.  I mean at some point or another, we’ve probably all done something in this space, whether it’s a group shot, a flower shot, some sort of object shot and on and on.  Light box stuff kinda falls into it’s own little niche.  We are now in a space where the lighting is very controlled.  Color “balance” starts to come into play so getting that light “right” or close to right at the outset becomes quite important.  Daylight balanced lights will get you close, but again, depending on what you are planning to do, you may ultimately have to use software to do a bit more.  For me, I try to get as close as possible from the get go. 

Subject Matter & Lighting – A lot depends on the what part of this.  In other words – what are you going to photograph? Product and catalogue type shots typically tend to have fairly flat lighting and try to bring out as much detail as possible.  There might be a bit of shadow or slight change in intensity of lighting to enhance  brand names.  Something along this line:

Nirk_backdropDSC_0316_edited

CFSageP1000936_edited

 

The camera ones are using the table cloth and perhaps would be better with a non patterned background.  White is normal, but patterns can make them a little more attractive.  I use different coloured backdrops depending on what I’m taking photos of.  For my knives, for instance, I’ll use white or some other color that will separate the handle color. For the most part, my stuff has black handles and a steel blade so white isn’t always the color I’ll use.  This is very much so a “depends” thing.  Mostly, though, I use white if it’s going to be a reference shot.  If I’m going to post or perhaps show the pics, I’ll use a different backdrop.  A different coloured backdrop can really impact how the photo looks.

Props – I was recently doing a stained glass piece for my wife’s friend (sorry..can’t show this – proprietary) and despite angle changes, lighting changes, etc., the photo had no “character”.  Despite the fact it was an absolutely gorgeous piece of work, I couldn’t give it any “life”.  Perhaps you’ve done something like this and you look at the shot and “blah”….It’s missing something.  Despite everything, it still looked 2 dimensional – no depth….  I happened to be outside and noticed our mountain ash, grabbed a few sprigs of fall leaves plus some berries and used those:-) to “decorate” the piece.  Bingo!!  Suddenly the photo had that “snap”.  I shot a small series and had my wife show them – she was just amazed at what she got Smile 

For me, one oif the things I love doing, is using props to enhance a photo.  These types of photos can be a lot of fun to do and you can typically use items from around the house.  “Staging” might be another term.  I try to match similar itehere possible but depending on subject, I try to steer the eye to the primary object.  This is something I’ve been finding a lot of fun with over the last little while.  It’s also a nice break from job hunting, as it forces me to do a mental shift which gives me a refresh of sorts.  Anyway, it also forces a bit of a creative streak as well.  You have to think of backdrop, lighting, angles, plus your main object and props and try to come up with an effective shot.  If done correctly, it can make for some very interesting and attractive photos.  I like trying to keep items that are related, or follow a them of sorts.

The following shows some of this:

JapanF800_backdrop

DSC_0321_nirkX10 (2)

S9400LX7 (2)

For all intents and purposes, your creativity is your limit Smile  Have fun with this…..

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About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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