Friday, August 6, 2010

Photography Tutorial

Although I am far from being a professional photographer, I've learned a few things over the years.  I've read a LOT of books... yada yada yada... I just wanted to share an easy method for taking great product photos for eBay, Etsy, or any number of other online shops out there. 

You definitely don't need to shell out a lot of money to create wonderful product photos, and you don't need a professional studio to do it, either.  All you need is a simple item called a light tent (or sometimes light box), and a lamp or two.  Oh, and a camera, of course.

Do you know how your product photos look better when you photograph them outside on a cloudy day?  In essence, the light tent acts as the "clouds" and and sufficiently diffuses the light source, giving you the same effect.  A simple white background is a favorite of mine, but you can add special touches like a textured fabric as background, or pieces of wood to drape your products on.  This would be particularly interesting for photos of jewelry items.

So you can get a better idea of what I mean, here was my setup for a recent photo shoot.

I used two inexpensive desk lamps I bought from Target, with G.E. light bulbs called "Reveal" that I found in the local grocery store, which are supposed to have cleaner, less yellow light.  I placed the lamps on either side of the tent:  The one on the left is slightly back pointing forward (as if back lighting), and the one on the right is above, pointing down.

Don't you just love my makeshift light stand?  Gotta' do what you can, right?

All you need to do to ensure you're getting the correct color balance is to set your camera's white balance to "Incandescent", or even better set it to "Custom" if your camera has that option.  Even some point-and-shoot cameras have that option today.  When you set it to "Custom", you'll have the extra step of shooting against a white or 18% grey card to set the balance, but it will be well worth the effort.  (So get out that camera manual and start reading up on it!)  I'd only use "Auto" white balance if you have no other options.  You still get a decent photo, but you may need to do some extra tweaks later in Photoshop (of similar) before you post your photo anywhere.

I like to post a number of photos for each of my products, one "glamor shot" of the whole item, then a few closeups using a macro lens.  Most point-and-shoots have a macro setting, too, so you can get some great closeup shots even if you don't have a DSLR.  One way to get the focal point exactly where you want it is to press the shutter down halfway (my camera chirps at me when it's focus has been set), then move the camera back a bit.  Keep an eye on your LCD screen, and snap the photo when you like what you see.

Here are a couple of tutorials on how to build your own light tent out of simple household items and some fabric, or even a blank sheet of paper:
How to make an inexpensive light tent
Here's a fun one made of K'Nex

Or you can purchase a ready-made one, like I did (yeah, I know I cheated, but my son wouldn't let me use his K'Nex set!):
Search results from

Happy shooting!
~@~ Gillian


  1. Hey Gillian,
    Another gal I know did opt out for the ready made box.. Looks nice, however I think your way works just as well... Will have to try this out.

  2. Great info here, but I just can't "see" the photo I'm trying to create. I'm resigned to snap shots, but I do love your work and the creativity of other accomplished photographers.