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Simple Photo Studio at Home

More DIY

May 28th, 2011

Taking pictures of products, isolated on white background is something I do a lot, which you may have noticed from this blog. Achieving good (or, at least decent) results is actually much easier than you might think, and costs basically nothing. No special studio lighting or reflectors are required, and the setup is simple. Read on for how to set up your own little photo studio at home for product photography.

Step 1: Get a white background

Okay, you might fancy some other color but I like plain white. As a background, I use the back of a regular poster. The bigger, the better.

Got this poster for free from the Porsche museum in Stuttgart. Any poster will do though.
Got this poster for free from the Porsche museum in Stuttgart. Any poster will do though.

Step 2: Find a location and set it up

We need soft, even light for this shot. Shooting outside in the shade works, and so does shooting indoors using a window with indirect light. Direct sunlight will cause harsh shadows, and unless that's what you're going for, should be avoided.

A location with good lighting. Find something to place one end of the poster on and let the other end sit on the ground. Place something on top to keep it in place. I used a stapler, the latest in paperweight technology.
A location with good lighting. Find something to place one end of the poster on and let the other end sit on the ground. Place something on top to keep it in place. I used a stapler, the latest in paperweight technology.

Step 3: Place the product to shoot on the poster

Today, we shoot pens.
Today, we shoot pens.

Step 4: Start shooting

With the product placed on the ground, you need to get down there too. A few things to think about:

  • White balance: To get the white balance right, take a shot of the empty white poster and set as custom white balance (refer to Google on how to do this on your camera).
  • Exposure: The white background often turns out grey-ish. To avoid this, experiment with the exposure compensation setting. +1 EV is often good.
  • Focal length: You are probably close to what you are shooting, but try to move away a bit. I usually keep the focal length around 50mm or so. Shooting close at wide angle will distort the product (it does look cool in some cases though).
  • Aperture: Typically, you want to have the whole product in focus, so close the aperture a bit. Try f/8 or f/11 and take it from there.
  • ISO: Keep that ISO down - if you can keep it as low as 100 - great, higher than 400 is typically bad.
  • Shutter speed: Keep it low, ideal is 1/60th of a second or faster, but 1/30th and a steady hand or 1/15th and image stabilizer is still ok. You may also consider using a (possibly improvised) tripod or experimenting with ISO and/or aperture.
  • Clean! Dust is everywhere, and glass (if that's what you're shooting) just loves fingerprints. It may look great in the camera, but you will notice it later in the computer.

And there you go. Small random thing, isolated on white background.
And there you go. Small random thing, isolated on white background.

Optional: Editing

If the background didn't turn out white enough, or if the blacks are not deep enough, we can easily fix that using Photoshop or Gimp. I usually use the levels tool in Gimp (Colors -> Levels).

This one turned out a bit gray.
This one turned out a bit gray.
The spike (blue ring) in the histogram indicates the gray background, which we want white. Drag the right slider (red ring) left of the spike and the background magically turns white. Try the left slider for deeper blacks.
The spike (blue ring) in the histogram indicates the gray background, which we want white. Drag the right slider (red ring) left of the spike and the background magically turns white. Try the left slider for deeper blacks.
After using the levels tool. The color balance was a bit off too. using the Auto White Balance feature in Gimp (Color menu) took care of that. You could also shoot RAW, of course.
After using the levels tool. The color balance was a bit off too. using the Auto White Balance feature in Gimp (Color menu) took care of that. You could also shoot RAW, of course.

Conclusion

It's not perfect, but it's simple and it works for simple shots. The biggest problem is probably the background. In a studio, you would usually illuminate the background enough to be completely blown out, but we need to overexpose and cheat by using Gimp instead. Maybe I will have a look at some DIY studio lighting further on to try and solve that, or to get some more dramatic lighting.

November 5th, 2017 14:08
Gunther

thank you for your interesting suggestions refering to product shooting!

I have to take photos of objects outside, like houses, and fixed interior. Do you have any simple suggestions for nonprofessionals for that?

November 8th, 2017 00:06
Erik

Hi Gunther,

for interior shots, usually an ultra wide angle lens (starting at 12 mm or so) is a good choice. To get decent lighting, have all available lights turned on and use fill flash. Put the camera on a tripod, keep the ISO low and shoot with a remote trigger. Experiment with taking several shots with different exposure settings, then create a composite image with Photoshop.

For architecture photography, you might want to look into tilt-shift lenses. They are usually quite expensive, but they can do cool things like parallax correction and let you capture tall buildings without perspective distortion.

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