Getting a great picture of something you want to sell on eBay, etsy or elsewhere isn’t as easy as you think. In this tutorial we’ll share our best product photography tips and show you a simple way to use a light tent for soft, even exposures.
Not every picture you take has to be beautiful or artistic. Many of the images that we take are just record shots. A great example of this is the pictures that we take of the things we want to sell online, on eBay, Etsy or on our own website.
Such product photography may seem simple to take, but this technical type of photography is much harder to do well than you might think. That’s why there are professional photographers making good money shooting top-quality product photography.
After all, good pictures will help sell your homemade products or unwanted possessions that more easily.
The key thing with product photography is to show as much detail as possible, and this means minimising the amount of bright highlights or distracting shadows in the frame. For this you want soft, even lighting.
There are lots of ways of achieving this, but one of the easiest is to use a light tent. These are made of translucent white material, which surrounds the subject, diffusing the light sources which are placed outside the tent.
The even lighting effectively recreates the sort of light you get outdoors on a cloudy day – the sort of day where it is difficult to pinpoint the position of the sun.
Light tents can be bought, but if you look online you’ll see that it is possible to make your own.
Most ready-made tents are collapsible affairs that pop into the right shape, but then take some fiddling to make sure everything is straight and creases are eliminated.
The most convenient form of lighting is to use a couple of desk lamps and light your set from both sides.
The great thing about this setup is that once you are set up, you can shoot a whole range of subjects in quick succession, with only minimum changes between shots.
How to set up your light tent for perfect product photography
01 Take a solid stand
Erect your tent, and ensure the material is as crease-free as possible. Place the lights so the illumination is even. Use a tripod – this allows you to use a low ISO and small aperture, and means you can make small changes to the lighting and composition without having to start from scratch.
02 Set up the camera
It is best to use manual exposure and set an exposure that is approximately one stop brighter than the meter suggests to allow for the large expanse of white in the background. For our setup, we were getting exposures of between 1-4 secs using an aperture of f/11 at ISO100.
03 All bright in the right places
Check the exposure for each setup by taking the shot. The histogram is of limited use as the white backdrop means there is always a peak on the right, so look at the Highlight Alert. It doesn’t matter if parts of the background blink, you just don’t want key parts of the subject itself to burn out.
04 Set the colour balance
We used tungsten bulbs, so set a manual Incandescent White Balance preset, which gives roughly the right colour. Shoot in RAW so you can fine-tune the colour balance later. Cut out as much daylight from the room as possible to avoid strange colour casts caused by mixed lighting.
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