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Photography doesn’t have to be all about fancy gadgets and technology. (Though sometimes it’s more fun that way.)
Like a master chef or Jackie Chan in a bar fight, it’s all about knowing what to do with whatever you have on hand.
If you just want some great-looking product shots for your Etsy shop, or tutorial photos for that Instructable you’re writing, you only need a simple home studio.
If you’ve got a tripod, a flash and a window, you’re more than halfway there already. Read on for how to make an inexpensive, so-simple-it’s-practically-zen photo setup.
p.s. We’re hiring in and out of San Francisco: web developers, photographers, product buyers and sourcers, and writers!
Really? Only 5 Things?
Sure, you could get fancy studio gear, but why spend money when you don’t have to? You get the same results and nobody ever sees what’s outside the shot.
Here are the basics:
- Set up near the window
- Position the camera on the tripod
- Use the flash as a secondary light
- Make the background either interesting or inconspicuous
- Fill in shadows with the bounce card
Don’t have a flash or a tripod? That’s OK, you can still manage. Keep reading.
1: The Window
The window will be your main source of light. If the light is too bright or harsh, white curtains will diffuse and soften it. If you have no curtains, shoot at a time of day when your window gets less direct sunlight.
Position the studio area so the light hits it from one side. Sidelight looks nicer than shooting into the light or with your back to it.
2: The Tripod
- It lets you take advantage of the window light by using longer exposures, and
- it allows better control of how you set up the shot.
Once you get your light, background and fill set up, you won’t want to keep having to adjust the camera angle and where you’re standing. Use the tripod so your mind is free to do other things.
Don’t have a tripod? Get one, they’re cheap! You can make do by propping your camera up on a stack of books, or setting your shutter speed to 1/60th or faster so you can shoot handheld.
But seriously: get one. Even a cheap little tabletop one is totally useful and awesome.
3: The Flash
The main thing your flash needs to have is a movable swiveling head. Those white plastic diffuser caps are good to have too.
Use the flash to fill in the shadows cast by the window light. Swivel it around to bounce off the walls or ceiling until you get a look you like.
We generally default to firing the flash directly behind us; it fills in nicely without creating ugly glare or highlights.
(p.s. If you want to know anything (ANYTHING) about lighting with flash, check out Strobist’s Lighting 101. We <3 that guy. We totally hope he's a millionaire by now.)
4: The Bounce Card
Use a piece of white mat board, or tape a piece of copy paper to a piece of cardboard. Done.
Prop the card up next to the side of the object, just outside the shot. (Pick up a couple of L-brackets at the hardware store to use as supports.)
Adjust the angle until the reflection from the card lightens the shadows. It’s the simplest trick there is, but it makes a huge difference in how good your photos look.
You can make brighter bounce cards by wrapping a piece of tinfoil around a piece of cardboard. Keep a white card and a foil card around, and you’ll never fret about shadows again.
5: The Background
We keep a stash of colored art paper to use as backgrounds–the 19×25 sheets you get at the art supply store.
They’re relatively cheap, they come in billions of colors, and they make a good-looking but unobtrusive background.
If the item you’re shooting is very small, try placing it on an old book or map. It adds interest, but if you keep the depth-of-field shallow enough it won’t be distracting.
Tips for Shooting
- Don’t forget to white balance, especially if you’re using a colored background. Use a coffee cup lid as a DIY white balancer!
- If you like the look you get from window light, you don’t need to use flash. Just tip in a bounce card to fill the shadows and go nuts.
- Want more tips on shooting small? Check out our guide to shooting for eBay, Etsy & Instructables!