Home studio for product photography

Photography is dangerous and expensive hobby. There is no such thing as too expensive lens or too good camera. Even accessories like tripods, light stands, lights, reflectors and brollies ( umbrellas ) will take a bundle. However you can get great photos even with budget, especially as you are no longer limited to buy from local retailers’ expensive selection – but can use Ebay and other online stores to buy cheaper products with limited features and quality.

Limited features and lesser quality than in very expensive professional grade photography equipment is still better than nothing, and in most cases good enough for random photographers – who don’t make their living with their equipment and can’t put hundreds of euros into just one backdrop. If your gear is not part of the optic chain, then it isn’t worth to pay the top dollar. And even then, sometimes good enough is better than the best – at least on the bang per buck scale.

Word of caution though: price and reliability are proportionally related. If you need to rely on your gear and can’t retake your shots, you better cough up the necessary euros or dollars. Gear malfunction in the middle of rock performance, bmx-race or wedding reception is not something you want to experience. However if you do what I do, take portraits and product shots indoors – you can utilize also cheaper hardware to achieve just great results.

When it first came apparent that I would need to take product shots in the near future, I first started to search information on the subject and learn what was needed. As my photography history and hobby had been mostly taking photos of bands performing live and taking travel photos I quickly learned that there is much more to photography than pointing and shooting what looks nice.

As a geek with geek friends most of my photography discussions have been about different aspects of photography gear: camera body features, lenses and so on. Gadget geeks have always fussed about latest and greatest and we were no different. However we had – for too long – neglected almost completely the most important aspect of photography: light. I had thought that thinking and managing light was only for people doing real professional photography and it would be insanely expensive.

Friend of mine showed me parts from Bert Stephani’s Motivational light and I watched in awe how Bert dissected simple techniques with examples and discussed how different techniques could be used in real life with little or no investment. Similarly Strobist’s excellent blog and especially lightning 101 made me open my eyes and realize what a buffoon I had been for not starting to practice with light sooner.

Ebay helped me to find all the necessary gear for less than the price of a single good quality flash costs in Helsinki.

I already had a decent DSLR ( read: not enough money to buy new body ), lenses, just a basic tripod and Canon 420 ex flash.

In the first phase I got following things:

  • reflector
  • softbox
  • remote launcher
  • off camera flash cord
  • slave flash ( YN 460 )

All the items were and are readily available on Ebay for 1 – 35 euros per item, flash naturally being the most expensive one. For less than 100 euros I had got a decent setup to take product photos.

Slave flash was put on additional small tripod I had and main flash was directed by hand to create different effects into the softbox. Initially we tried to take photos without the softbox on top of a white cloth, but creating good light without umbrellas and proper light stands was next to impossible.

A word of caution also. When taking photos in softbox, remember to calculate what your depth of field will be like! Few photos turned out to be little quirky, because DOF was too narrow for the purpose. DOF tables ( http://www.dofmaster.com/doftable.html ) or calculators will help you with that. I downloaded one DOF calculator to my N900, so that it is conveniently handy everywhere.

See first batch of test shots here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/huimanet/sets/72157624419720431/with/4812609644/

I just ordered additional gear from Ebay for next photoshoots.

Shopping list included:

  • second slave flash
  • 2 professional light stands for slave flashes
  • battery grip to camera

I still need to get a better tripod, but the current tripod can do for now.

Though if anyone wants to sell or donate their Manfrotto pro-tripod to me, I will gladly accept it😀

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