A few years back I posted an article here on the blog about preparing images for posting on eBay. In the post I discussed the project idea of building a small macro studio for photographing products using really inexpensive materials like a cardboard box, duct tape, and sheets of mylar used for diffusion. I also used two Nikon SB 800s for lighting. This was really very primitive product photography, but it was cheap and fun. I got some great shots and sold everything I posted on eBay.
The solution worked really well for a few shoots, but it kind of fell apart over long-term use, and I ran into several problems with using the system. Where do I store this box so that I can use it again? It was big and bulky and took up a lot of shelf space. How do I protect the box over the long-term from wear and tear? The answer was I can’t. Even reinforcing it with duct tape and wooden slats did nothing to hold the solution together. Finally, what if I need to photograph larger objects, or what if I want to use different background colors or use different shelves to hold the products? That proved cumbersome at best. The solution did not scale very well. Clearly, I had to come up with another idea.
Above is the new solution. It takes the original concept and tries to incorporate the new requirements at minimal expense. I used 3/4 inch PVC tubing to create a rectangular box. I then velcro’ed sheets of Mylar cut to the dimensions of the PVC frame on the top and on the two sides. I also used black foam core board as gobos set on either side of the plastic frame to prevent light spill onto a black background seamless that was set up behind the frame.
I then set up two Alien Bee mono lights on either side of the frame to use as primary lights, and wired them up with a Pocket Wizard. (You don’t have to use monolights. You can use any light, really. Just set your white balance accordingly.) I didn’t have to use real powerful settings on the AB’s: between one 1/32nd and 1/16 power. The Mylar does a great job of softening light, and if I wanted it even softer I could set up a diffusion modifier like a softbox on either AB. I also used a sheet of white plexiglass to sit the product on. The plexi gave a nice subtle shadow and also served as a bounce reflector fill. The combination of the white base with the black seamless introduced a nice juxtaposition as you can see in the images below.
Once everything was purchased and set up the shoot went real well. Breaking it down for storage takes about 10 minutes. I can use velcro ties to hold the pvc tubing together and store them in a cabinet. I can roll the mylar up and store it in a shipping tube. The system is also very scalable. I can increase width by simply using different lengths of pvc tube. I can shoot light in from any direction, even from below (just put the frame on sawhorses and build a pvc platform to hold the plexi). I can use any color of plexi for a vibrant colored base. I can vary the background color by using a grey seamless and shooting gelled light onto the background. There are an infinite number of possibilities with this. It makes product photography a lot of fun.
Product photography is a nice bread-and-butter kind of activity for photographers. More and more and more we are using online services to market the goods that we have available for sale. Good decent photographs of products that are well lit go a long way towards selling an item online. Building one of these systems is a great thing to do. It doesn’t take too long, it’s not very expensive, and the reward is pretty great.