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The Pros and Cons of Light Tents | Are they Worth it?

If you are considering kicking it up a notch when it comes to your product and still life photography but are unsure if you should spend money on a light tent? If you are someone who has only leveraged natural lighting, you could find the various options available in the market to be overwhelming. You may be tempted to purchase a light tent, since they seem like a great alternative to click beautiful pictures easily. But is that the truth?

Firstly, what is a light tent? A common misconception is that light tents are shelters that are temporary where photographers live when dealing with bad luck. This is something that I learned the hard way.

A light tent is essentially a wireframe cube that is layered with a thin white fabric and it constructs a lighting environment with lighting that is soft and diffused. A specific side is open to place your camera and click anything that is inside. They are available in different sizes, with the standard ones coming with a width of one or two feet. This one, for example,  is 4 feet wide.

As stated above, photographers are typically attracted to light tents because of the promise of making lighting both simple and devoid of hassles. This is quite true. Light tents essentially function as huge lighting equalizers, and regardless of how the lights are placed around it, you will create a well-lit environment. In case you wish to click pictures with ambient lighting within your room, or leverage small lamps, several hot spots that would be created by these lights are eliminated by a light tent, creating a nicer look.  

PRO: Diffuses ambient lighting into a more flattering light.

Therefore, light tents are ideal for small business owners and photographers who are less serious photographers and do not want to deal with fancy lighting and merely wish to click pictures to show how a specific object looks. Many pictures for both eBay and other e-commerce listings leverage light tents, since it is easy to click  simple white backdrop pictures of products. For instance, I clicked two pictures of a GoPro, where one was in a light tent and the other leverages a couple foam-core reflectors around.

In the light tent:

GoPro in Light Tent

With custom set-up:

GoPro Photo

The two pictures look quite similar, although one can see a few differences because of the perspective and the lighting. In order to ensure that both look the same, a lighting set-up that is fancier would be required. According to me the picture clicked with the light tent looks better and the amount of time it took was lesser.  Thus, to click such simple pictures, a light tent is a good alternative. Moreover, it provides better consistency. In other words, if you do not completely alter the lighting placed outside the tent, the lighting in each shot will look quite similar. This is one more advantage for those who sell their products online.

PRO: Consistent results.

There is a great downside attributed to the light tent. Although it is not an important thing to consider for eBay sellers, this disadvantage renders the light useless for creative photographers.

What is the disadvantage? Light tents are nothing but boxes. Nothing can be done with a box as there is very little room and whatever is done external to the box is not relevant. If you want the picture to include a background, that cannot be done. Moreover, you also cannot leverage some amazing lighting tricks.  

CON: Light tents restrict creative potential.

In case you are genuinely interested in developing amazing pictures, you may find a light tent to be very limiting. When you are working inside a small box, you cannot manipulate light. Thus, you may find foam-core pieces, tracing paper for reflectors, and cheap speed lights to be better options.

Look at this example where a whiskey bottle is being used as the subject. The shot does not look very fancy or anything. However, reflective objects such as glass and jewelry may pose problems in a light tent.

In the light tent:

Whiskey in Light Tent

The picture aligns with the brand because it appears old and dirty. However, it is safe to assume that most people would like the next shot better, as it is clicked with a custom lighting set-up:

Whiskey

The mere difference is that there was adequate flexibility to position lights and reflectors in various locations. These are essentially places that would have been blocked by the light tent. When it comes to extremely reflective objects, getting a good shot within a light tent is not possible. There is a need for precise control when it comes to the position of each light and if you are working around a translucent box of fabric, there are way too many hassles.

Conclusion

Light tents are amazing tools for those who merely wish to showcase an object, and want to enjoy consistent lighting in different pictures. Thus, it is great for online retailers.  If there are photographers aiming to develop beautiful images showcasing the subject, it is safe to say that a light tent will cause issues. We recommend avoiding a light tent altogether and instead, purchasing some foam-core and diffusion screens. You can then understand how to create lighting set-ups that ensure best possible pictures.  

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