Welcome to our guide to the best light tents for photography. if you're planning on shooting decent product images, perhaps for eBay or other websites, then a good light tent or light table is, quite simply a must-have accessory.
Good lighting is key to all photography, but never is that more true than when you're shooting still-life and/or products. If you're going to get the image right, you need to precisely control every highlight and shadow to make sure your subject looks exactly right. A good product photo can be the difference between making and missing the sale
So what kind of lighting do you want? Well, soft and shadowless lighting is definitely key, however there is more to it. In portraiture, you’d probably fit a softbox over your light source to soften it and make it more visually pleasing. But still-life subjects tend to be significantly smaller than a person, so you need to take a different approach. It's best to actually place the subject inside the softbox and shine in your lights from the outside. Hence, the light tent!
See also: Best light box for photography
While this generally works really well, the only disadvantage of a light tent is that its fabric construction can leave distracting creases visible in the background of your shots. To avoid this, it's possible to take an alternative approach by using a still life table – a studio accessory that is topped by rigid plastic, which curves from horizontal to near-vertical, effectively forming an infinity curve. With this, you can direct lights straight onto your subject, or through the table from behind to overexpose the plastic and create a white backdrop.
Choosing and using a light tent
With so many options out there, here are five tips for choosing the right light tent and or light table to suit your needs:
1: Be mindful of space
Still-life tents pack down easy. However, while some still-life tables can be foldable, their plastic tops mean they aren't terribly compact. Bear this in mind if space is limited, or you plan to travel
2: Remember your lights
Make sure you've got an appropriate form of light. Continuous lights work well, as do flashguns. Some light tents and tables are designed for professional setups, while others will be suited to cheaper options.
3: Change things up
While a white backdrop is best for neutral product shots, you can use a black or coloured paper sheet clipped to the surface of the table to give an image a much moodier feel.
4: Point of view
Shooting from low angles can suit certain subjects. Try using a small bean bag to rest your camera on the floor, or use a low-level tripod.
5: Take your time
Getting the right lighting, background and composition can require trial and error. Rush it and an even a smallest imperfection in the image can be distracting for a viewer.
Best light tents for photography
The Orangemonkie Foldio3 does away with a conventional table or tent design and instead uses a folding corrugated plastic construction. It’s a slim 60 x 40 x 6cm when packed, but opens to a versatile 62cm wide and 65cm tall, with an elegant magnetic fastening system making setup a breeze. One of the included black or white sheets can then attached via Velcro pads to form a seamless backdrop.
But what really makes the Foldio3 special are three strips of dimmable LEDs lining the underside of the roof panel. They create crisp yet soft continuous illumination, with no need to add your own studio lights or flashguns. For a little extra front or side lighting, we’d recommend adding the £35/$20 Halo-Bars: a pair of compact and dimmable LED lights that can be magnetically clipped to the side or base of the Foldio3.
Orangemonkie even offers an optional Bluetooth turntable so you can easily create 360-degree product images…
Think of the ePhotomaker as a collapsible diffuser panel on one side and a collapsible reflector on the other, tied at the top and spanned by a white fabric sheet that forms a seamless back/base. The design means you can use just a single light – a regular desk lamp is suggested – shone through the diffusion side of the tent, with the reflector creating a fill light on the opposite side of your subject.
The effect actually works rather well, creating attractively soft and balanced lighting. However, the fabric backdrop creases easily, and though a large aperture easily blurs any background creases, they’re clear to see in closer, in-focus areas. You could line the interior with a sheet of paper instead, but this is tricky to secure.
For some added value, Lastolite includes a cheap tabletop tripod, a daylight-balanced gel for your lamp, and a useful grey card. Everything packs into a very portable 52cm-diameter pouch. Opened up it is 45cm high with a width of 55cm at its base and 27cm width at the top.
• A small version of the Lastolite ePhotomaker Kit is also available - which is suitable for miniature subjects such as jewelry. Opened up it is 35cm high with a width of 35cm at its base and a 20cm width at the top.
Lastolite make light tents in a range of sizes - but for pro looking product shots, the bigger the light tent the better. This one gives you lots of room to ensure you can fit in a range of different subjects, and still get things evenly lit, and with enough backdrop to give the shot-on-white look that are essential for a professional finish. The cube measures 4 x 4 x 4 foot (1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2m). Smaller 2ft and 3ft versions are available. The cube twists to create a smaller, circular package for storage... however, there is a knack for doing this which some users struggle to master.
Where the Lastolite ePhotomaker is squarely aimed at a novice photographer, the Studio Cubelite is gunning for a semi-pro audience. Despite this being the smaller of two size options, it’s still a huge 150cm tall with a 70cm-square footprint; however it’s not particularly bulky when packed, as everything collapses into a 75cm-square bag. Setup isn’t the fastest, but it is dead easy.
The idea here is that the cube base is large enough to house a full-on studio lamp to uplight the table top. You then add another light behind the diffusion fabric backing cloth, which in turn is covered by a translucent plastic film for a crease-free, seamless backdrop. A hard acrylic disc is also included, to provide a rigid tabletop that’ll also subtly reflect your subject.
Assuming you have at least three good-sized light sources and plenty of space to arrange everything, you can get stunning results with the Studio Cubelite, and its elevated tabletop makes it very comfortable to use.
The Studio Cubelite is also available as a kit with lights – and there is the larger 100cm (39in) version too.
Best still life tables for photography
This still-life table provides a 59 x 37cm flat surface, transitioning smoothly into a 35cm-high backdrop. The table design has several advantages over a tent. Its metal frame elevates your subject off the ground, allowing you to place a light underneath to further separate the subject from the background. A semi-rigid translucent plastic sheet fastens quickly and securely to the support frame. It’s tougher than a rolled plastic film and isn’t vulnerable to creasing like fabric. With a combination of well-placed backlighting plus direct front and side illumination, you can achieve professional-looking results, with a beautifully smooth backdrop.
But there are downsides compared to a pop-up tent. The plastic backdrop is bulkier to store and travel with, and although the metal frame easily folds flat, it ups the combined weight to nearly 3kg. Then there’s the price, which is high for what’s just a basic tubular frame and a sheet of plastic.
NanGuang’s still-life table is virtually identical to Kaiser’s, but it’s the trio of well‑specced lamps that sets this kit apart. Two compact NanGuang CN20FC fresnel lights each provide up to 542 lumens of dimmable, color-adjustable front illumination. Then there’s the powerful CN8F to backlight your subject, with its adjustable lens able to create spot or flood effects. Each light has a mains adaptor, or can be powered by AA batteries.
Assembling the kit is easy enough, and the heads attach to the table’s frame via brackets with plenty of positioning adjustment. The result is a highly effective setup for product photography, as the lamps are ideally sized and more than potent enough for such close-range use.
The only issue here is pricing. Although the kit does come with extras like clamps, brackets and background papers, the table and lights can be bought separately – allowing you to buy just the components you actually need.
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