Tabletop Product Photography
Sooner or later the kids fly the coop, you find yourself an "empty-nester" and there you are with an attic filled with tchotchkes you know you'll never use again. Even if you haven't reached that stage in your life, there's another school of thought that says if you own more than 100 things, you've got too much. Ring any bells? If so, it's time to set up a tchotchke-shooting table, photograph the stuff and sell it online because you know somebody out there is desperately looking for all those gewgaws you've been tripping over.
Setting up a small tabletop studio is easier than you probably believe, and you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune assembling one that gives far better results than snapping your knickknacks by the light of an end-table lamp. Most of the following tabletop lighting systems are designed around a small box or tent-like container usually made from flexible translucent panels that allow you to illuminate your subjects without harsh glare and/or reflections.
Most of these shooting tents feature small openings through which you can shoot. Depending on the size of the objects you are shooting and the size of the openings, you'll have to experiment to figure out the best shooting distance and focal range at which to shoot. Do keep in mind it's always a good idea to shoot with a longer focal length lens because longer focal lengths distort less than wider focal length lenses and, as with portraits, tend to capture more flattering representations of your subject matter. Shooting with longer lenses also allows you to avoid getting your own reflection into the picture, minimizes unnecessary background detail and allows you to bring your lights in tighter when necessary.
A good starting point for those looking for an "all-in-one" solution for photographing small to mid-size items would be the Impact Medium Digital Light Shed Fluorescent Boom Kit. This kit consists of a 15 x 15 x 23" translucent Impact Digital Light Shed, three (27/30W) cool-to-the-touch fluorescent lamps, three 12" aluminum reflectors, three 6' light stands (black), and a 5' 4" boom arm with 1-lb counterweight. The whole kit costs well under $200 and folds up for easy storage when not in use. And if you already own lights and stands, the Impact Digital Light Shed can also be purchased separately.
If you're just looking for a good set of cool-running lights for photographing larger items, framed artwork, or other items that do not need the diffusive qualities of a Light Shed or tent, you might want to consider an Impact Fluorescent Two- Floodlight Kit, which consists of two 30W fluorescent photoflood lamps with two 8' cushioned light stands ("cushioned" means they won't come crashing down if you don't secure the locking clamps properly) and two 12" aluminum reflectors.
A similar, higher-Wattage tungsten-based lighting system is the Impact Digital Light Shed Kit, which in place of lower-wattage fluorescent bulbs features two 250W daylight-balanced (4800°K) lamp heads with two cushioned stands and 12" reflectors, and a 15 x 15 x 23" Light Shed—all for a nickel under $120. Other Impact Digital Light Shed Kits stocked at B&H include a 1000W Two-Lamp Tungsten kit and a Three-lamp (90W total) Fluorescent Lamp kit.
Lastolite is another company well known for easily stowable studio products. The Lastolite 4' Cubelite Kit consists of a 4 x 4 x 4' self-contained, collapsible shooting tent that allows you to shoot mid-size products in a clean, shadowless environment. Fast and easy to set up, the Lastolite 4' Cubelite Kit also includes a 500W tungsten floodlight, a light stand, three gray shooting surfaces and a case to pack it all away in when you're finished for the day. Also included with the Lastolite 4' Cubelite Kit is an EZ Balance Set that helps you establish optimized light exposures and white balance.
A similar Lastolite product for shooting large and mid-size items outdoors is the Lastolite Outdoor Cubelite, which is made from the same materials used on the 4- Cubelite, but with stainless-steel hardware for outdoor use. Standing 3' tall, the Outdoor Cubelite can be lowered over heavier items, and you have the option of removing the base and back of the unit when necessary.
For shooting items less than 2' across, under a foot-or-so tall, and not terribly reflective, the SP Systems Desktop Shooting Table makes a handsome shooting platform. Consisting of translucent white Plexiglas with a gentle upwards sweep that can be lit from below when desired, the SP Systems Desktop Shooting Table has a horizontal shooting area of 23.25 x 17" with a curved vertical rise of 23.25 x 14.5".
If you'd like a lamp or two to go along with your SP Systems Desktop Shooting Table we offer the Impact One-Lamp Boom Desktop Studio, which includes a boom-mounted 90W fluorescent Impact VA902 Flood Light (bulb included), and the Impact Desktop Studio Shooting Table Two-light Kit, which contains a shooting table and two 180W (total) Impact VA902 Flood Lights with stands.
The MyStudio Seamless Tabletop Background Sweep Cyclorama measures 32 x 32 x 16" and allows you to "float" small to mid-size tchotchkes in a white, shadow-free environment. Made of washable ABS plastic, you can easily remove the occasional-but-inevitable scratch using 400 grit sandpaper.
If you've ever tried to shoot straight down onto something using a "normal" tripod, you know how difficult this can be, not to mention downright ugly if your camera comes crashing down on whatever you're trying to photograph. A solution to this daredevil form of product photography is the Photek Tripod Extender with Lateral Side-Arm and Ballhead. Easier to use than pronounce, the "PTEWLSAB" (Nice acronym, huh?) mounts to any tripod (preferably a sturdy one) with a 1/4-20" or 3/8" mounting stud and extends outward up to 38". Designed to support a 35mm DSLR or lighter weight medium-format camera, the PTEWLSAB contains a built-in counterweight for safely positioning your camera over your subject at a 90° angle to the tripod.
Lowel's Ego Digital Imaging Light Kit consists of two wedge shaped, free-standing light sources that prove to be valuable lighting tools for photographing reflective objects. Because they're narrow profiled and do not require light stands, Ego Lights allow you to illuminate large and/or tall objects in tight quarters. Along with two Lowel Ego digital Lights (5000° compact fluorescent bulbs included) you also get a Lowel Ego Sweep, which consists of a corrugated plastic sweep with hinged support easel and ten 24 x 36" colored paper backgrounds. For those who'd prefer the option of mounting Ego Lamps on light stands, the Lowel Digital Imaging Kit is also available with a set of compatible light stands.
Another table-top lighting system worth investigating is the Cloud Dome Infinity Digital lighting Kit (right) which consists of a pair of 13W (compact fluorescent, 5000°) Flip-Lights and an18 x 28" flexible matte white shooting surface. Each lamp is 19" long and folds up nicely, lamp side in when not in use. The angle of the seamless shooting surface can be adjusted and is scratchproof and washable.
For shooting small objects and jewelry on the run we carry the Interfit Attache Photo Box Shooting Tent. Essentially a 20", fold-up shooting sweep in an attache-style carrying case, the Interfit Attache Photo Box Shooting Tent features sidewalls made out of Perspex diffusion/reflector material and a removable blue background.
For photographing more pedestrian items you can always go the down-and-dirty route of simply setting up a basic seamless paper background using Savage's Port-a-Stand Background Support system. Easy to set up and break down, the Savage Port-a-Stand Background Support system consists of two support stands, a telescopic crossbar, a travel case and a "starter roll" of white seamless paper. The Savage Port-a-Stand can support rolls of paper measuring 4.5' to 9', weighing up to 25 lb.
And, needless to say, we stock the full range of Savage seamless papers.
Photographing jewelry, precious stones and other small reflective and detailed items requires shooting stations of a different design. A powerful triple light source solution for shooting precious gems and jewelry is the MK Digital Gem E-Box Fluorescent/Tungsten/LED Lighting Kit.
Able to leap small buildings in a single bound, the MK Digital Gem E-Box Lighting Kit, contains a 5 x 7" shooting platform and can light jewelry and precious stones evenly and precisely from a choice of fluorescent lamps located on the sides and bottom and two tungsten side lights. To produce pleasing "sparkles," there are also six daylight-balanced LEDs. The MK Digital Gem E-Box features a bracket for mounting your camera from the side or top of the light chamber and allows you to photograph any number of small objects with controllable, even lighting and seamless backgrounds.
Similar in concept is the MK Digital Direct Photo eBox Fluorescent and LED Lighting Kit, which features a 10 x 13.5" shooting platform, four on/off fluorescent lamps, a 1" long, 8W LED lamp for the sparkle factor and a 7.5 x 3.5" opening on the top and a 6 x 2.5" opening on the side for the camera lens. A copy of Catalog Producer software is also included for tracking and editing your images for print Web needs.
A handy set of shooting tools for jewelry photographers can be found in the MyStudio 12-Piece Prop Kit, which consists of a selection of black and white acrylic necklace stands, earring stands, bracelet holders, two black bounce cards (with easel-style backs), a clear watch stand and six 1-inch squares of positioning wax.
For photographing detailed 360-degree product shots of items weighing under 25 lb, we have the AC-powered Otery PhotoCapture 360, which allows you to capture up to 200 images per rotation using a variety of compact digicams from Canon, Ricoh, Olympus and other manufacturers. ( Click here for full list).
Note: Before ordering any of the above tents and shooting platforms, it would be a good idea to measure the largest item you plan on photographing. For good measure, order a product one size larger when possible, because sooner or later you know you're going to need those extra few inches. Am I right, or what?