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An End-to-End Guide to Light Boxes for Product Photography

Why Should I Use a Light Box?

When you are clicking pictures of small to medium products, using a light box is a good idea.  This will ensure that you have absolute control over the background and lighting of the subject.  When a soft background and diffused lighting are used, the product is highlighted beautifully and it has been reported that such pictures result in better sales and greater perceived value.

A lot of common light sources tend to be flawed innately to use for this kind of photography as they create uneven lighting, unwanted shadows and white balance that is inaccurate. The flash of your camera will mostly overexpose the subject’s front, while underexposing everything else a little. Typically, it will create some small albeit bright reflections in case there is some shininess to the product, like glass. Moreover, because the lighting is harsh and direct, it often creates dark shadows.

When clicking pictures of a product, bright, direct sunlight is better as the white color temperature tends to be more natural.  But, similar to your camera’s flash, it will create both reflections and harsh shadows.  This can be avoided under sunlight on a cloudy day, due to the soft and diffused nature of light. However, this type of light is not predictable and leaves photographers with extremely short windows for clicking photos.

Perhaps, the most problematic type of lighting is room lighting. Usually, the majority of rooms are equipped with lights of different color temperatures. The result is that ensuring apt white balance is close to impossible.  Moreover, there is typically inadequate lighting and thus, the subject tends to be underexposed.

Where Can I Get a Light Box?

You can find several light boxes being sold, which are of different sizes and prices, and the majority of them are relatively inexpensive.  But do note that in case you are on an extremely tight budget and/or there are several product shots you must get, you can create a light box on your own by spending just a few dollars.

The supplies required to create a light box are not excessive. All you need is a card-board box to hold your product, a fabric that is white and semi-transparent, tape and non-reflective paper.

You must place the box on its side and a large square must be cut out on the three sides. Remember to leave some inches around the cut-outs.  Ensure that the top flaps are left in place.  Then, cut the semi-transparent white fabric so it fits the areas that are cut out and attach them to the outside of the box using tape. Then, you must tape the non-reflective paper right from the top back all the way to the bottom front.  The paper must have a gentle slope. Ensure that you do not use wrinkled paper as they might be visible in the pictures.

How to Light the Light Box

The final step involves lighting the box and this can be done in many ways.  The ideal sources of light include two adjustable lamps with 100 watt daylight bulbs.  Note that these bulbs will resemble the sun’s color temperature, creating a natural white balance and mitigating the importance of post-processing.  In case there are no two adjustable lamps with daylight bulbs that are available, we have several other alternatives for you. You can use flashes on wireless triggers or leverage halogen work lights. In case you choose to make use of halogen work lights, ensure that you place them at a considerable distance from the light box for optimal safety.  They tend to heat up easily and are thus, a fire hazard.  Regardless of what you do, refrain from using the on-camera flash.  In case a portion of the subject is not under adequate light, shift the sources till it is illuminated.

Use a Tripod

As the on-camera flash or any source of light that is bright and direct will not be used, you must opt for a low shutter speed.  Thus, if you hold the camera as you shoot, it will definitely result in the shaking of the camera. This can be prevented with a tripod. In case you do not have a tripod, place your camera over a stable surface that aligns properly with the product being shot inside the light box.  This is a method that will definitely work. However, it is not optimal as you won’t enjoy precise control over the angles, which is allowed by a tripod.  In case you will be engaging in product photography, it is a good idea to purchase an affordable tripod. Moreover, you must also consider purchasing a remote for triggering the shutter as even touching the camera can cause some shake.

Camera Settings

As your product photos will include a lot of white, it will be quite hard for your camera to determine the proper exposure.  As a result, your pictures might be slightly underexposed.  This can be resolved by experimenting with a bit of exposure compensation at +1 and +2.

Moreover, a few cameras find it hard to work with auto-white balance when an incandescent light is used, making the result too warm.  In case you experience this, you can consider setting manual white balance to 3200k.  In case the picture is still very warm, decrease the white balance to 3000k.  One more method to tune the white balance is by merely adding some more blue till the issue is resolved.

It is important to opt for a long shutter speed as the flash is not in use.  We recommend setting your camera to aperture priority mode to ensure that it has preferred depth of field and allow your camera to determine the apt shutter speed.

Post-Processing in Photoshop

In case there is a need to adjust the settings even after all this, we have a few tips that can help you.  First, move to Image>Adjustments>Levels and select “Auto Levels”.  Many of the issues will be resolved with this. Typically, it resolves problems with tone, depth and color in your photographs.  A few times auto levels might cause more issues, like making the pictures look a little magenta, red or green.  In such a case, manually tune the color balance till it appears right.

Then, the band-aide tool can be used for eliminating spots and minor imperfections, including dust and background wrinkles.  In case the imperfection is visible over some edge or a seam, the clone stamp tool can be used, as it duplicates the selected area.

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