One of the biggest frustrations with craft blogging can be to take decent photographs, as photography is so light-dependent. Using the camera flash is too harsh, and using your interior room lighting will give you dimly-lit, orange-tinted photos. The best solution is good natural light (out of direct sunlight, otherwise you will see dark shadows behind your object), but if you’re in the middle of one of those weeks where the sun never shows its face, what can you do?
The professional solution is to use a light tent (aka light box) for product photography. They are available to purchase commercially, but cost hundreds of dollars. If you google ‘light box’ or ‘light tent’ you will find people who have made their own light tents, including Bill Huber’s popular tutorial at PBase, made from PVC plumbing parts and a white bedsheet! In the comments following his tutorial, I noticed that someone had bought an IKEA Antonius laundry bag stand to save them from building their own frame for the light box, and woohoo, the frame is still available and only costs $7!
If you’d like to make your own light tent, the simplest form I have seen only requires a large cardboard box and some fabric, so don’t be put off by the idea of making a frame or finding a convenient IKEA!
Here is my prototype; I just draped the frame with a $1 white plastic tablecloth, and it works! I have attached a clamp lamp to each side of the frame so that the lights shine through the fabric and into the tent. I also used a desk lamp to add additional lighting through the top of the tent.
I was a bit worried that the plastic might melt under the lights, and the draped tablecloth didn’t look very tidy, so I bought some cheap white fabric, sewed 4 panels (two sides, a back and the top), and then sewed them together to form a fitted cover. I purposely left the final seams on the outside to leave a snug fit around the corners of the frame. You can also probably see a little silver blob on the left of this photo – I had some rare earth magnets lying around, so I used a few to keep the front edge of the fabric stretched out nicely over the metal frame:
I used a white bristol board inside the light tent to give a seamless backdrop, but of course I can easily swap in another backdrop to add more colour. And here’s the finished tent:
Now for a photo comparison. Firstly, some piggies in nice natural lighting. This is about as good as it gets under normal conditions. Looks pretty good; there is a little shadow in the middle between the pigs, but the picture is fine, really:
And now for the light box photo:
Huh? There’s not really any difference, you say? That’s the whole point… because I could take the exact same picture in the middle of a thunderstorm, or in the middle of the night! No sunlight required. And that is the beauty of the light tent.
A few notes:
- You can use any directional lamps for a light tent, but make sure you use the same light bulbs in each light source, otherwise your colour balance will change across the photo
- Unless you have very special bulbs (mine are GE Reveal – they are supposed to be natural daylight coloured, but for the purpose of photography they are nowhere near!), you will have to set the white balance on your camera if you have that option, or adjust the colour balance of your photos in your image editing software. But it’s a 1-click fix in most software, so it’s really not a big deal.
- You can easily adjust the amount of lighting coming from each direction by moving each lamp closer to, or further away from, the light tent. I find that using the side lights brightly and the top light a little further away works nicely.
UPDATED 18/11/09: I have since added a fourth light, pointing into the front of the box. It’s not filtered by the tent, so I keep it further away (behind the camera). As zabacorporation mentioned in the comments, my example pig picture would have been better with a light source illuminating them from the direction the camera sees (i.e. the front). The light tent then serves to reduce the shadows caused by that direct light. I’m still tweaking the exact configuration!