Join Seán Duggan for an in-depth discussion in this video Simple "studio" setups when you don't have a studio, part of Photoshop Compositing Project: Product Photography.
- For some types of product photography, you may need a studio environment, where you can have a simple backdrop, and lighting that can be easily controlled to create the look that you need. In terms of images that can be used in composites, the main thing you need is a plain background that will make it easy to extract the product so that it can be added to another photo. Unfortunately, not everyone has a studio, or easy access to one. And I count myself as a member in good standing of that club. I don't have a studio of my own, but I know a few simple tricks and techniques that I can use to create temporary studio setups, that give me the studio look for photographs of small to medium size objects.
The first technique that's pretty simple and inexpensive, is to use a large piece of paper outdoors to create a backdrop. For this, I like to use heavy weight art or craft paper, or thin stock poster board. This type of paper is flexible, but it still has some rigidity, so that I can create a gentle, swooping curve, to mimic that coved wall appearance that you find in many full-sized photo studios. When I set this up outdoors, I do so either in an area of open shade, so that I can have soft, even lighting on my subject, or this can also work on an overcast day, where the cloud cover acts like a giant soft box, to provide even illumination.
And that's the type of lighting that you can see here, in these shots of the old cameras. To support the paper, you just need something, rigid, that is wider than the paper width, and that you can either rest on, or clamp to, supports on either side of the paper. I've done this setup before using two light stands, and a pair of clamps, or if you don't have light stands, you can also get by with a couple of chairs, or even the railings on your back deck, which is what I did here.
I used the chairs to support a board, that I used as a flat surface where I placed the products. It doesn't have to look pretty, because no one will see it. After I figure out some way to hang or support the top of the paper, I'll create a gentle curve, for the transition from vertical to horizontal. This creates that coved or cyclorama look, that can be created in many, real photo studios. You can use the same setup in an interior location, but you have to provide your own lighting, whether in the form of constant hot lights, camera speed lights, or other forms of studio lights.
Another setup that can work well for small to medium sized objects, is to create a studio box out of white foam core board, that you can buy at any craft or art supply store. With this setup, you can make a box that you can fit a curved sheet of paper into, to create the curving seamless backdrop look. So these are really easy to create, and pretty inexpensive, too. For this version that I used, I started out with a sheet of 30 by 40 inch foam core board, which costs me, about $7, something like that.
And I cut that into four equal pieces, so then I ended up with pieces that were 20 by 15 inches, and out of those pieces, I began to tape together a box structure. So this is all very low tech, and the first knife that I was using to cut this was kind of dull, so the top edges are a little bit rough there, you can see, it's not going to win me any prizes, but again, nobody's going to see it. It does create a really nice environment, in which I can create that sort of studio look, for small to medium sized objects.
So you can see the base there, extends a little bit beyond the front edge of the box, that's in case I have a piece of paper I want to extend out a little bit farther. Now for the top of the box, I took another piece of foam core board, and I did have to actually get into another 30 by 40 inch sheet of foam core to finish this off, and I cut a hole in it. And the purpose of this hole is so that I could cover this up with some vellum paper. So there you see the box is on its side, and there is the vellum paper that has been added to that.
So the vellum paper will create a soft look for the light source that will be directed through it. Now this is especially important if you're using a bear bulb light source. And that soft light source, placed above the subject, will create a really nice diffused overhead light source for the product that will be placed inside the box. The light sources that you use can vary, but I've used a camera speed light mounted above the vellum covered opening, as well as compact fluorescent bulbs.
These bulbs are great because they produce a soft, even, light source, and they are sometimes available in daylight balanced color temperatures. They also don't generate a lot of heat that is typical for standard incandescent bulbs, which is pretty important anytime you have a light source that is close to a paper diffusion panel. I've even used an old day light balanced fluorescent light box, for viewing slides and negatives as a soft box, instead of the vellum covered opening at the top of my small studio sized box.
And that's the light source that is being used in this setup here, you can see I just have that small portable light table just placed above the opening there, shining down from above. The important thing to understand about this type of setup is that it is designed to create a simple and plain background that will make it easy for you to separate the product from the background once you start working with the image in Photoshop. Although if you photograph it right, you can also have nice shots of a product just on simple, white background as you can see here.
This shot was made using that same setup. So the important thing to realize about creating your own DIY setups to mimic the look of a studio product photograph, is that you don't need to go broke in the process. Understanding the components that contribute to the look of a classic studio product shot, can help you come up with ideas for using some simple and inexpensive materials to emulate that look. For more great DIY photo tips, check out The DIY Photographer series, with Joseph Linaschke.