Shooting On A Budget
November 8, 2005 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking at constructing a large lightbooth for photography out of supplies found around the house. A friend of mine suggested using sheets and flood lights as reflectors and diffusers which seems like a pretty good idea. I was wondering if anyone has had any experience with this and what have you found to work best?
posted by loyd to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
I made something like this once. I was making a light "box" though, not a wraparound booth. But my experience will probably apply anyway.

I made a frame out of PVC pipe from the hardware store. Cheap, and easy to work with. I cut it with something like a bread knife. I didn't bother to use the solvent glue to glue it together, so it disassembles nicely.

I made something like a bedsheet out of several types of translucent fabric. Basically just fabric cut to the right size with elastic on the corners so it would fit over the frame. The first version was just safety-pinned on so no need to do the elastic unless you want to. Velcro would probably work.

So I'd set this guy up with a strobe behind it. Where the strobe goes (closer to the fabric or further) affects how much of a hot spot you get, as does the kind of fabric used.

In your case you'd probably make a wraparound frame, cover with cloth, and then move the lights around to where you want them. The kind of cloth that I used was light stuff. It was probably used as a backing material for things like drapes. I got offcuts from the bargain bin, lots of them, cheap.

Oh, and I was usually using strobes. The kind of light you're going to want to use is going to vary with what you're shooting and how. Most "flood" lights are incandescent and would need to be color corrected (if shooting in color). I think you'd probably pretty much just have to use incandescent corrected film since you're not going to be able to cover the bulb with a gel most likely, right?
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2005

I'm not sure what you plan on shooting but if I could only have one piece of lighting equipment it would be a outboard flash with a soft box. Hot lighting is a pain.

On preview, what Rusty said.
posted by Mr T at 10:45 AM on November 8, 2005

Great answer Rusty. I was planning on shooting packages, like gift packages for a christmas card, using my Nikon D70. The idea is to pay the least amount possible and get the best results I can from stuff found around the house.
posted by loyd at 11:51 AM on November 8, 2005

This article may be of interest:
posted by DannyUKNYC at 1:00 PM on November 8, 2005

Thanks DannyUKNYC! That's a great article.
posted by loyd at 2:20 PM on November 8, 2005

Believe it or not, the very best cheap lighting setup for that kind of thing is probably natural light from a north facing window, before about noon. This time of the year is great for it, also. Softest light you can imagine. I'd also employ a piece of posterboard or maybe some white cloth as a reflector. Have someone hold it and experiment with distance. The reflector is basically to get the constrast ratio you want between the shadow and highlight. here's an example of an image shot this way. You can acheive this affect using strobes, softboxes, etc, but for small stuff like this I just don't think there's an easier way than natural light.

If your packages are really shiny and you're trying to reduce reflection, then that's another story, you will need some kind of translucent enclosure. That's typically how jewelry is shot, and maybe that's the kind of thing you're going for? If so then my first message in the thread is probably about what you want, except you'd want to make the frame out of something smaller and lighter than PVC pipes. Copper wire from home depot would be perfect, just get something stiff enough to hold shape. Make a wire frame, drape translucent cloth over it, make a small hole to insert the camera lens through and your golden. Light source could be anything although I'd still opt for natural light. I'd take the whole contraption outside during the brighter part of the day, maybe. You can control the brightness by using posterboard or something to occlude some of the light.

Good luck!
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:45 PM on November 8, 2005

Oh, and the cheapest way to do strobe photography is to buy a flash that is intended to go on the top of a camera, and use an extender. The D70 might have a PC port, which is the easiest way usually, if not you can get an adaptor which basically fits into the hotshoe on the camera, and has a long cable, with a hotshoe on the other end for the flash to go into. Most of these will have a tripod mount on the bottom of them also so you can attach it to a tripod. If the flash has any "advanced" characteristics you'll probably lose them. I had a canon EX flash and I couldn't do any of the fancy metering stuff with it, but I didn't really care, I just used an external light meter anyway.

Biggest downside is power. Studio strobes are VERY bright. If you're shooting still life though, good news. Just turn out all the lights, hold the shutter open, and trigger the strobe as many times as you need to get enough light. Or, if the D70 can do multiple exposures, similar concept, just take the picture X times instead of holding it open with a bulb or long timed exposure. I used 16 bursts like this once when I needed to do an exposure at f/128.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:55 PM on November 8, 2005

Here's a link to the article where my friend got his idea. Sounds very interesting.
posted by loyd at 3:34 PM on November 8, 2005

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