Pop goes the perfect background
Have you ever tried to find a simple or white background when you’re just trying to get a close-up of an item for sale on EBay or your latest epicurean masterpiece?
Sometimes you want the item that is being photographed to be in it’s natural environment, but when you’re trying to highlight an individual, small subject, a simple background is the best way to go.
Finding that clean background location with great lighting isn’t that easy, especially if you’re shooting photographs at night.
The great thing about this photography problem is there’s an affordable way to solve it.
My first choice was a tabletop pop-up Cowboy Studio 30-Inch Photo Soft Box Light tent with four backdrops for $35.
This is a white translucent cube made for photographing small items, which allows you to light from the side without any harsh shadows. With the help of Velcro fasteners, you can attach four different backgrounds: white, black, red or blue. The translucent sides give you a nice soft-box effect using lights or a strobe. Because the lights are so close to the subject, you don’t need a lot of power.
I chose this style because I wanted something that would fold back into a small package for storage. Keep in mind that it takes a little work when it comes to remembering how to reverse the process of the the pop-up design.
I did have a hard time deciding on the size of soft box to order. I picked the 30-inch size, but I found it too large and cumbersome for shooting my small Kodak Brownie cameras or my daughter’s cupcakes. It’s the size of a small doghouse.
Later, I ordered the 17-inch version.
You get what you pay for; I went with the cheapest I could find. The 17-inch version I bought doesn’t stand up perfectly straight and has a very small tear at the seam.
I think for most people, the 24-inch version would be the best compromise.
I also ordered the Cowboy Studio Photography Table Top Photo Studio Lighting Kit from Amazon. It includes two mini-lights, stands, reflectors with sockets and 30-watt 5000K daylight balance fluorescent light bulbs for $43.03.
The background came folded in small packages so they needed to be ironed or steamed — that is, if you don’t want the fold creases to show. I recommend low heat and a towel between the iron and removable backgrounds. I’m not sure they are the highest quality material.
I set everything up on a banquet table in the garage, but your dining room or kitchen table would work fine. The advantage of this lighting setup is the built-in diffusion from the translucent matter of the side of the pop-up light tent. It should produce a shadowless product shot.
Your exposure will vary depending on the power of your lights and the distance to the subject. Be sure not to move them too close to the fabric. Normally, the lights should be set on opposite sides, pointing down at about a 45-degree angle with your subject matter at the bottom of the light tent.
It’s a very quick setup. If you have strobe lights, you can use them instead. They should produce a much brighter light and will get you much more depth of field.
The trickiest part of the operation was folding the cube-shaped photo tent back into the much smaller round flat case.
Those looking for a little easier and cheaper set up might try a trip to the fabric store and Home Depot — just a nice piece of fabric and two clamp lights, which cost under $14.00 each. I would buy daylight balance florescent lights. They will give you the cleanest look and are cool to work with.
If you’re using your cellphone, you won’t have a lot of control over color balance, but most of the advanced camera apps let you pick your focus and exposure points. This is important; you may have a lot of white or a solid, darker color that may affect your exposure.
You’re DLSR or compact point-and-shoot is a better option for this work. My Canon 7D and a macro lens work perfect for this operation, but any DSLR should work fine with the kit zoom lens you received with the camera.
It’s a great time to pull the DSLR out of the closest, read the instructions and figure out how to use the manual white balance exposure. This will give you the best opportunity to get a properly exposed and color-correct photograph.
Now for the cheapest solution: light from a window or door and a roll of craft paper. Maybe I should have thought of this first. Window light is one of my favorites, although it may give you a warm cast over your photos. Also, make sure you use enough of the paper and don’t have the subject matter too close to the background. Also try to have a nice smooth curve in the paper from the foreground to background.
I am assuming you’re shooting digital here, so give yourself plenty of variety, changing your angles along with zooming in close and far.
Remember, a little more work here might bring you a better price on EBay or make your food look a little more scrumptious.
March 1, 2013, 7:39 am
Another option? Photoshop, Paintpro or a stock picture image.
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