Studio Musings

Monday, April 30, 2012

Updating my Photography Set up

Earlier this month I decided it was time to upgrade my photography set up. While I still like
the stone and old wood backgrounds of my patio and studio floor, there are times when
I want something a little more polished. Specifically, I wanted to be able to take high quality photographs of my work on light colored backgrounds.  To take clear, color correct photos of my work where they weren't overwhelmed by the white background had become something of a holy grail for me.

Fotodiox light tent set up on my dining room table.  Doesn't it look huge?
Now that I've had some time to play with my new set up, I thought I'd do a bit of a review.  First what  I purchased was a Fotodiox 20 x 20" light tent

It is quite portable; folded up it looks like a square, mid-sized portfolio. It even has exterior pockets to hold the lights and camera stand that came along with it, although I recommend emptying the pockets before you set up the light tent, since the pockets end up upside down as you set up the tent.

Crocheted lace on top of the white velvet drape
I've found a couple of different ways to set it up -  including two white sides with a black back & white top, and three white sides with a black bottom & open top.  In both of the set ups above, I'm using the white velvet drape.  It's fairly thin cloth, so you can see the black background and tablecloth shadowing through it in the left photo.  I find it works best to use a sheet of poster board underneath to make it more opaque.  It also came with additional black, red and blue velvet backgrounds.  I've only used the black and white - the red and blue seem pretty garish. 

I also haven't used the lighting much, preferring to work with natural light.  It's nice having them, though.  And I tried to use the tripod, but it wasn't adjustable enough to work with what and where I wanted to photograph.  Maybe someone else could figure out how to make that work better.  That said, I have been quite pleased with the purchase and the quality of the photographs I've been able to achieve.

All in all, I am really, really pleased with this investment - still have more to learn, but I can already see a marked improvement in the range of my photography.

Acrylic display tables & some attempts to use them, still working on this!

I also purchased a set of black and white acrylic display tables.  They're a bit more of a mixed bag as far as what I think of them so far.  The black in particular can be difficult to work with - it attracts lint like a magnet and is difficult to keep clean, the surface already had a small scratch when I removed the protective paper, and it's hard to frame the picture so that unwanted reflections don't appear in your image.  But, when you can get it framed right, and if you can keep the lint away (this would be easier if I didn't have a cat), the results can be pretty darned cool.

And then there are the two books that were listed in the "Customers Also Bought" section.  I wasn't ready to buy either of them, but curious, I wrote them down and borrowed them from the library.

The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos by Heidi Adnum, is geared quite specifically towards
people interested in selling on Etsy or other online craft sites, though it's suggestions are also suited for print catalogs. While The Crafter's Guide includes a brief introduction to photography, its focus is on storytelling. How to use backgrounds, props and lighting to create an emotional response to your work with separate chapters for fashion fabrics, bags & purses, knitting & needlework, jewelry, dolls & toys, art, ceramics, home accessories and books & stationery. As an added bonus, each chapter ends with a case study of an artist working in the field.

older photo with very short depth of field

For me, this was the more engaging of the two books, despite its less interesting cover and some odd feeling that I 'ought' to be more interested in the other. Its sections on camera settings are deceptively thorough. I say deceptive, because the language is simple enough that even someone like me who has always shied away from the mechanics of camera settings felt reassured and capable of experimentation. 

I especially enjoyed the section on depth of field - what range of the photograph is brought into the strongest focus and how this can affect the feel of the photograph.  Heidi also showed a number of ways you can use black paper to reflect shadows just as you can use white paper to reflect light.  Definitely something I want to play with.  This is a book I plan to add to my library. 

At first glance, Photographing Arts Crafts & Collectibles by Steve Meltzer, is far more focused on the style of photography used for submission to shows, where the focus is entirely on showcasing the pieces itself, its details and workmanship with only minimal emphasis, at most, to storytelling.

Photographing Arts seems to be designed as a manual for those who really want to get to know their cameras, and goes into far more detail on specifics such as apertures, white balance and depth of field.  Since I'm mostly a point and shoot sort of girl, I found these details a little intimidating.

I did get some good ideas from the book and the photography featured in the book is excellent.  I f your primary focus is shooting jury shots, then this might be the book for you, but it I think this is one I'm happy checking out of the library. 


  1. Thanks for the book reviews Karen. I have been looking at The Crafter's Guide to Taking Great Photos. I didn't even think about the library having it.

    1. The library is definitely my friend! I always try there first, then if I hate to return the book I know it's one I need to buy. :). Lots of layers of information in The Crafter's Guide. Just flipping through the pages I picked up a number of ideas. Picked up more reading through sections. Still plenty more left to learn.

  2. Thanks for the review of the ligth booth. I've been thinking of getting one and I'll definitely take a look at the one you have.

    1. I like its portability and it's size. And the fact that the front is completely open. I could wish it had four white sides instead of three, but it's working well for me.

  3. I love the way the fish looks against the black! A very artsy shot.

    Also, I love that bracelet. It's gorgeous, and it makes me want to skip breakfast and go right to beading this morning. :)