I am a hobbyist photographer starting to do some serious studio work and I need help deciding on lighting equipment.
To start, I run a website about collectibles. I find myself in a position of wanting to do "photo archives" of these collectibles, which range from very tiny Hallmark Christmas ornaments (1/4 inch in size) to very large items (3' long, 1' tall).
I started by using a fairly decent digital camera and the flash, or some desk lamps. I have slowly been upgrading my equipment and now have a Canon Digital Rebel XT, a hotshoe flash, and I bought a lightbox that shines light down on an item, and has white sides attempting to reflect the light onto the object.
It has mixed results. First, the box is too small for several items. Second, with the light being primarily from the top, the front of the item is often left in shadows.
Some self-links to photos to give examples of my current work follow:
One of the better examples of pre-lightbox photo
Picture from the lightbox; bright top, dark front
Overexposed from the lightbox
Circular items do poorly in the lightbox
Lately we've been photographing items and I think it's helped a bit
but we're not where I want to be.
So I am looking at a new lighting set-up. I'm driving to St. Louis this Friday to talk to people at camera stores, but I thought I'd ask here what might work best.
We were thinking of taping the gray fabric to a wall and setting up a table on which we can put items, but what type of lights do I need, and how many? I hear about linking strobes to a camera, but is that better than "always on" light rigs? Do I need diffusing umbrellas? Two lights (one from each side), or three (one from each side and one from the front?)
I'm willing to spend up to $500 on this if the need be (the less the better) but I really want to take ASTOUNDING photographs. I think I'm almost there, but can you help me figure out what is needed now?
(and while the still items are my primary concern, if I can also do portrait photography so much the better)
Finally, I've been primarily using the camera's autoexposure to get the lighting right; would a light meter really help? (I'm guessing I still need better lights IN ADDITION TO the light meter...)