Lightbox, shmightbox

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Original Post

bomobob says

Photo lighting made easy.

Not having enough light seems to be the #1 annoyance to most people when they’re trying to take nice photos of their items. And #2 is what to do with that light if you do have it!
We can’t post photos here, so I’ll have to keep linking to flickr, but here goes…

I guess lightboxes are cool. I dunno, I’ve never used one. I’ve sold lots of stuff on ebay and craigslist, and have a few things still listed in my vintage shop, and piece of cardboard and light bulb have always served me just fine.
Here’s what I call my 50 cent lightbox:

Yup, a sheet of Bristol board taped to the floor and wall. And today was a perfect day to demonstrate; cold, cloudy, blustery, and quite dark. What you see there is what you get. Not very good light. Big deal.

Enter the light bulb, or to be precise, the Ott bulb. These are cheap, easily available at hardware stores, and the best lighting invention since sliced bread. Even better in fact, since sliced bread has very little to do with photography.
Take one table lamp, remove shade, screw in Ott bulb, and put on stairs. What a difference!

Notice how the light is positioned roughly 45 degrees above the item, and about 45 degrees off to the side. If my space were bigger, I’d use a 2nd bulb on the left as well, to eliminate the shadows cast by this one. Oh well, I’ll just have to make it work. You can move the light around so that you don’t cast shadows where you don’t want them.

Now, stop here and take a good look. Those walls should be lighter. What’s going on? The camera wants to make everything a neutral tone, so if there’s a lot of light stuff in the photo, like here, it will try to darken it to get it to neutral. If I had taken a shot of only the white wall, it would have been even darker, but the floor is pulling the exposure up a bit.
This camera has “Exposure Compensation” which is used to essentially fool the meter. If I set it to overexpose by 1 f-stop, here’s what I get:

Much better. Some of the upper wall on the right is starting to get blasted now, but I don’t care.

So what’s that thing on the cardboard? It’s an ugly old, busted ceramic brooch. Can we make ugly look half decent?
Here’s a shot at floor level:

Not half bad lighting. Notice how only the front part is in focus. This is because the aperture is set to its widest (lowest number f-stop), so the depth of field (portion of the photo in focus) is very shallow. If I set the f-stop to the maximum (smallest aperture), it pulls much more into focus:

Maybe a bit too much detail for this ugly, dirty, broken thing. Buyer beware!

How about something much prettier? Here’s an AUTO shot of our next beauty contestant:

I’ve moved the light closer to the front because I like the illuminating better. Once again, everything is a bit too dark, but we know how to fix that. Here’s a closer shot:

Even darker! Why? Because there’s much more white in the picture, so once again, the camera is trying to pull that white towards neutral grey. So, we crank up the exposure compensation again, just like before, and we zoom in a bit:

The shallow depth of field is much more evident on this larger subject. The little diamond on the front ring of the lens is in sharp focus, but the rest fades into a blur. So once again, we set the aperture for a much higher number:

Now that’s a camera!
And two more examples using a macro:

All this with a sheet of cardboard and one light bulb on a miserable, dark day.
You don’t have to live in sunny California to take well lit photos, you just have to live close enough to a hardware store. And yes, all the item photos were taken on a tripod or with the camera on the floor. There’s absolutely no other way.

So what about White Balance? That’s next.

Posted at 1:47pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT


I've never used a lightbox either..I wanted to but never got around to making one/buying one. One good thing about the hot weather these days is that the sun is constantly out to take pictures.

I take my photos with as much natural light coming in as I can nearby a window.

Posted at 1:51pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

Thanks for taking the time to do this. Very nice and to the points.

Posted at 1:52pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

tarabu says

I love Ott lights - it's incredible the difference they make in a setup, a room and a project - try painting with a standard bulb and then work on the same painting with an ott-light. It's like going from a room with gauze curtains to a room with full sun, incredible!

Posted at 1:53pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

I eat up all your posts about photography.

Posted at 1:53pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

I use a homemade lightbox that I made myself with a cardboard box and tissue paper. What? I'm cheap! :D

I also use the bristol board as a background and the ottlite bulb in a desk lamp.

That was a really great tutorial though bomobob. Thanks!

Posted at 1:53pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

Gleeza says

I made a lightbox that isn't really a box. I have no room to store a lightbox

btw, thank you for all of your great tips, I've been reading all of your threads.

Posted at 1:54pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

I use a lightbox, mainly because I work another job and so I often do not get time for photography until the sun has gone down.

Posted at 1:55pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

once again, bob is the man. awesome - thank you :-)

Posted at 1:55pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT

MetalRocks says

Good info. I have a lighbox - cost be $10 bucks and a pair of cheapo lights on either side. Works very well, no fuss.

This should have a gazillion hits by tonight! :-)

Posted at 1:55pm Jul 1, 2010 EDT