Sunday, April 12, 2009

Setting Up a Mini Photo Studio on a Budget - Guest Post by Ebony @ LoveBug Studios

By now, you all should have located your owner's manual and learned how to use the 6 features I outlined in my first post. To read about those features, click here.

Today's little tutorial is a tour through my makeshift photo studio, and some information and tips on how to create your own mini photo studio on a budget.

So many of you might be thinking... when do we get to the part about actually taking the photos? Well, without the right tools & instructions on how to use the tools, your results are going to be mixed, and you may not see any improvement. Think about what you did before you got a rotary cutter & ruler. How did you ever cut a straight line? And how straight were your rotary-cut strips before you learned to fold the yardage properly & line up the grain? So that's why I am talking about the tools before we get to the actual photographing.

Design Wall / Hanging Space
My first tip is to find a place with pretty good lighting where you can hang a giant piece of white felt. I prefer felt instead of a sheet because the heavier felt drapes better, doesn't create as many shadows, and you can hang heavier items from it without creating a lot of wrinkles. The felt is also a surface that "grips" so you can sometimes just press an item up against it, smooth it out, and it will hang there without pins.

I am very fortunate to have a dedicated space where my felt hangs. Even if you just have a wall in a spare bedroom, and you have to keep taking down the felt, that is okay too! If you can set it up so that the felt bends at the floor and extends out, that is even better. You can get 72" wide craft felt at JoAnn's for around $5/yd; if you wait for a sale or use a coupon, you can get it for around $2.50/yd. You will need about 2.5 yards (to make a hanging that is 6 ft wide by 7.5 ft long). Cost: $6.25 - $12.50.

Lint Roller
A lint roller is an invaluable tool... keep one in every room where you are taking pictures or put one in your camera bag. You could even use a roll of masking tape in a pinch. Quilts are always picking up lint, and once you start taking better pictures, you don't want to replace your fuzzy pictures with fuzz on your quilts! Cost: $3.50

Light Box
I know... nothing beats the natural light of day, but when you are indoors and can't help it, when it is night time, or raining, or you just plum don't feel like getting dressed to go outside and drag all your equipment with you, nothing beats a light box. You could spend tons of money buying a light box, or you can make one practically for free.

I'm not going to go through step by step and tell you how to make one yourself, but I'll give you a link to a couple of sites that show you how at the end.

At its simplest, a light box is essentially... a box, with giant holes in it, that you put your item in & take a photo. :)

My light box was made from a moving box I had in the garage, some white tissue paper that I had from wrapping presents, and my trusty roll of masking tape. Since my box was made from items around the house, it was basically free. I also bought a couple of sheets of poster board, in white & black, to use as the backdrops. Those were $.35 each.

This is my light box with the white poster board as a backdrop. When you use the poster board, do not put a crease in it, because that will create a definite "line" in your photos. This way, when the picture is taken, you have a continuous background at all angles. My box is an 18" cube; I do have to get creative with my camera angles, but for the most part, everything in my shop is photographed in this box! Cost: $.70 + found objects

I would have to say, aside from my light box & camera, this is the best investment I have made in my studio (and the most expensive in this tutorial.) I bought a couple of tripods for my camera - one that is a standing tripod that can be extended from 20" to 53", and another one that is flexible and can be attached to just about anything. My standing tripod was $25, and the flexible one was $14. If you can't do both, get the flexible one first. Since it is flexible it will allow you to get many angles and set the camera down on an uneven surface & still get a great shot.

Here is a picture of mine, taken inside my homemade light box! If you can't get a tripod right now, you will need to get something sturdy to set your camera on, or something you can rest your arms on while you take the photo. You would be amazed at how much vibration your camera can pick up when you think you're standing still! (I have also been known to just prop my elbows on the table that the light box is sitting on to do close-ups, so it is NOT the end of the world to not have a tripod - just makes certain things easier.) Cost: $0 - $40.

You could spend a fortune on lights... or you could just comb your house for lamps you are not using, or head out to ***mart for some cheapies. The most important thing about the lights is - make sure ALL the lamps have the SAME bulb type in it. I would say, the daylight bulbs are best, followed by CFLs, and at the very bottom would be regular incandescent bulbs. I personally like the CFLs because they don't get very hot so you can position them very close to the box without worrying about starting a fire. :) Ideally you would have 3 lamps - one for each side, plus the top, so the box is flooded with light. I only have two lamps myself & make do. I scrounged them from around the house - I have a bunch of these flexible lights that I can attach to the table.

This is a photo of my complete set up - the light box, set up on a portable cutting table; the two flexible lights (one on each side) and my standing tripod in front. These desk lamps (called "Swing Arm" I believe) run around $10 - $15 each if you buy them new. CFLs can run about $10 for a 3-pack. Cost: $30 - $40

So all told, your mini photo studio can be completely free (if you scrounge items from around the house) or run around $100 if you have to buy everything brand-spanking new. My cost fell in the middle since I had most everything laying around the house.

Here are a couple of links to instructions on how to set up your studio (I don't have any affiliation with any of the links posted):
Digital Photography School
The Strobist
Joby GORILLAPOD Flexible Tripod
Compare Prices on Swing Arm Lamps

Please let me know if this information was helpful, and in the next article, we will TAKE PHOTOS!!!


Pam Geisel - For Quilts Sake said...

Great ideas, here! (And I love the Rebecca Barker Quiltscape painting in the background of the photo with the lights!)

Jabaro said...

Thanks for posting this tutorial. I very much enjoyed reading it. Now to check for the painting FQS mentioned in her comment. Thanks again for the ideas.

Needlelove2 said...

That was very helpful! Thanks for taking the time to share this with us, I appreciate it!

Ebony Love said...

The "painting" in the background is actually a puzzle I put together - presumably made from this print. :)

Cathie said...

Thanks so much for the info. I spent Sunday afternoon making myself a "light box" and preparing to re-photograph some of my items.

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Amazing! Thanks for the ideas and the tutorial. I'm going to try this in my own home. Keep posting! Great job!

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