Making a light tent.

A light tent essentially spreads light out so that it is soft and diffused thus eliminating shadows and making it easier to see detail, this can be taken to quite extreme levels as you probably see in studio shots of products, or it can be a fairly basic effect (like most of my camera shots).

Clear, easily interpreted photographs are pretty necessary (or at least a very good idea) if one wants to sell small objects online (like in auctions), A good photo makes an enormous difference when selling items – Blah blah blah. Anybody who’s studied photography at all has heard all of this stuff before. Here’s how to make one with a cardboard box and some sheets.

Take one cardboard box and paint the inside with white paint and then let dry. I’ve just painted the corners as I’m going to cut out the panels where the diffuser screens will go.

Cut out panels on both sides (also top and other sides if you want more options). I added the side diffuser panels before taking the next photo, but it’s pretty easy to see whats happening.

Attach white sheets, tracing paper, translucent fabric, or as I’m using, frosted mylar over the cut out panels, this will be your diffuser, which will spread the light out evenly – you may need to brace the edges. In the next image you can see how the diffuser creates soft light inside the box, after this I just added the top panel of diffuser (not needed generally), and set up the lights.

I’m using strobes (flashes) in the next images but the same lighting effect can be achieved with a couple of matched bedside lamps, the reason I’m using flashes is cos they’re much more powerful, I had them handy, but also just cos I can and it’s neat to geek out.

(Yes, the one on the right is sticky taped in place, in fact the flash rig is made from a couple of old mouse cords and some hotshoes pulled off plastic cameras, all soldered and duct taped together by yours truly, works a treat).

In the above show you can probably (just) make out the sheet of card inside the light box (it’s properly a light tent). This is called a cyclorama (well a big one in a studio is, this version I’m using is more properly called a bit of card, but I digress), it’s function is to give a seamless featureless background, this can be white, black, or any other colour you wish for. Light works better for photographing dark objects, and vice versa.

In the above shot you can see how the cyc works in the background, the lights here haven’t been fully worked out, the get them better balanced I’d move the left hand light closer and lower whilst retaining the position of the right hand one, and maybe moving the camera itself an inch or two to the right. Moving the lights closer or further away obviously adjusts the light intensity and moving them around in relation to the object being photographed will adjust where the highlights and shadows are placed. Without any diffuser the shadows will pretty much do as they do in the next frame.

Blown out highlights and wierd shadows al over the shop, but with the diffusers they are much more controllable and softer, as in the following image which unlike the rest of the images here has been digitally edited slightly for clarity – just auto levels, it doesn’t need much when you get the lights right.

You can use a bunch of other techniques here to reflect or soak up light, a white object will bounce light (as will tinfoil or anything else that’s shiny), and a black surface will soak up light – A coloured sheet will bounce coloured light. Moving one light twice as far away will reduce the light intensity to one quarter from that side (inverse square law), thus the effects of light or shadow can be manipulated considerably within the constraints of the light box.

All in all not too shabby really, considering that the whole thing cost me maybe 50 cents in paint – all other materials scavenged or dumpster diven.

Sidenote; In the shot with the bedside lamp above the light is very strongly orange, this is quite avoidable, and not an issue if you wish to use lamps for lighting instead of flashes – all you need to do is to set the white balance on your camera to custom and take a white balance reading from a white surface (sheet of paper) within the light box.

However the thing that will be an issue is the need for a tripod – in realistic terms to get hand holdable shutter speeds with hot (continuous) light sources you’d need something like 500-1000W of light on either side, which gets uncomfortably hot really fast and isn’t entirely safe in a confined space (fire risk). With a more normal lamp at 50-60W you may need a shutter speed of a second or more, hence my saying that a tripod is necessary. it’s also a good idea to use the self timer to avoid jolting the camera as it operates.