Easy Peasy Product Pics: The Photography Studio

To recap from the last blog post, when I started my website, I realized that I would need customized photos for some of my articles. I wanted the photos to be of reasonable quality, but I did not want to spend a fortune either hiring a professional or buying fancy equipment. I did a lot of research, and I came up with something that I think is cheap and flexible but still produces photos close to professional quality. This article focuses on the studio space you’ll need to produce high quality photos.

Set Up the Light(s)

Light is important in photography. You can either use natural light or artificial light. It is not always easy to control the quality and quantity of natural light, and of course you must shoot during the daytime. So, the lazy and easy approach is to use artificial light, which is easier to control, not very expensive, and allows you to shoot any time in the day or night.

To set up an artificially lit studio, you will need a lamp and a light bulb that gives off as much light as possible. I grabbed an old desk lamp with a flexible neck and a light bulb I already have around the house. I like a well-lit room, so my light bulb is 1,600 lumens. If you can find a brighter one, use that one. Don’t go too much under 1,600 lumens. Total cost so far: $0.00.

My studio setup uses one light because I think this is easier, but you can use from one to three lights. The one light setup requires a reflector (discussed below) while the two or three lights setup do not. If you want to experiment with the two or three light setup, then you will need 2 more lights. See the photo below for light placement. The main difference between the number of lights is in how the shadow is cast by the object being photographed.

Set Up the Work Surface

Next, you will need a surface area for your lamp, your backdrop, and the product. I use a foldable table that I bought a long time ago, but the only requirement for the table is that it has to be large enough to hold the lamp, a diffuser, a reflector, the backdrop, and the product. Place your table against a wall or some other vertical item with a large surface area. For my setup, I still had spent $0.00 so far.

Position the Backdrop

You can use cloth, a large roll of paper, or even a poster board to create that curved effect, but one of the best options is using a semi-flexible sheet of plastic similar to the photo to the right. You can buy a vinyl sheet from a home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowe’s where they sell vinyl sheets for covering kitchen countertops. Get the white one because standard product photography uses a white background. (You can experiment with other colors later, of course.) Mine cost about $15.00.

Clamp the vinyl sheet to your table just like the photo above. I had some clamps around my house, but if you don’t have any, you can buy inexpensive ones at home improvement stores or Walmart.

As an aside, you can dispense with the sweep if you use a light box/light tent. You can buy them commercially or make one yourself, but because it is a box, you can only place small items in that box. It is also not always very portable. This is why I recommend a larger setup with a separate sweep.

Get a Diffuser and a Reflector

The next items you’ll need are a diffuser and a reflector. The diffuser goes in front of your light source and the reflector goes on the opposite side of the light source, with the product placed in between. Both are used to soften the shadows on the product for better picture quality. Here’s a good article explaining why you’ll want to use both.

If you are using a two or three lights setup, you will need a diffuser in front of each light. You won’t need a reflector.

You can buy commercial diffusers and reflectors, but you can also make your own. Mine cost a little over $2.00, which was how much I paid for the cloth I used to make the diffuser.

I found an old cardboard box, separated it into four pieces with flaps, cut out one of the sides to one of the pieces, and glued a white bandana to the opening I cut out. As for the reflector, I recycled the part of the cardboard box I removed and glued some white printer paper to it. Total spend for the diffuser and reflector, $2.00.

The End Product

So that is basically all you need for your home-made photo studio: a lamp, a table, a sheet of vinyl for the backdrop, a diffuser, and a reflector. My homemade photo studio looks like this.

As to the photo quality, after minor editing with free software (which I will discuss in a future article), I can get a product to look like this:

I’m sure a professional photographer can do better, but I don’t think the photo looks too shabby for an amateur with a $20 studio setup.

Laziness Scale

I rate this photo studio Lazy Worthy. The parts you need are easy and inexpensive to obtain, and it takes about five minutes to set up or take down. The photos taken with this setup are of fairly good quality and definitely sufficient for a webstore like eBay or Etsy or for use on a blog for DIY demonstrations or product reviews. So, because this photo studio fits the three requirements of the Laziness Scale, it is Lazy Worthy.

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