I promised you last week that I’d show you how I have things set up for my photos now.  I’m lucky enough to have recently gained a spare room, albeit at 8ft x 14ft, it’s not a particularly large room!  I had always intended to paint it white so that I could use it for neutral photo backgrounds, but after I went on the Product Photography Course with Welshot Imaging, run by my friends Lee and Eifion, I came home with a renewed sense of purpose and an idea how I could achieve what I wanted in terms of product photography.

I’ll start by giving you a quick tour of the room, then take you through each area:

This is looking from the door down the left hand side of the room – please note I have a very wide angled lens that allows me to get this shot, you wouldn’t be able to see it all with a lens starting around the 17/18mm mark.

And now from the left hand side looking down the right.  The lampshade is being replaced just as soon as I put the kit together!  As you can see, the storage units here are nothing to do with photography, and everything to do with needing somewhere better for my bag and clothing fabrics, plus other random things that needed a home!  On top there’s Christmas decorations, hangers for holding up quilts in photo shoots, bubble wrap and related items to stuff bags with to make them look nice and full when being photgraphed, and a couple of storage things from B&Q with buttons and eyelets and things from my scrapbooking days.  The further away unit has all my craft and photography books, plus a few travel ones, and all my printed off maps and walking routes of areas I love to visit.

So how do I use all of this?  Well lets see.

This first area is for taking photos of larger things.  I have a relatively large floor to ceiling space here, and at the very top of the wall I’ve installed a cheap extending curtain pole from B&Q which I can use to hang quilts from.  In the foreground you can see Diana on the left, who can model clothing, in the centre are my studio lights, and on the right a pile of assembled photo props, including a trunk, wicker basket, old fashioned phone, wee oil lamp, a mystery washday thing I picked up in a charity shop, and on the floor, in her case, is Fiona.  I also have a couple of chairs, but they’re being painted at the moment.  Also, behind the quilt top are some almost invisible command strips for holding up hook panels for hanging bag shots.

Now with this area, it’s miles from the window, and really, with all the other stuff in between too, it needs studio lights of some sort.  I was lucky enough to be given some money by my gran for Christmas, so I invested in some Bowens Gemini lights with a remote trigger (which means I can move around without being tied by a wire to the light units)  Don’t faint if you look up the price for them, there are other options which I’ll discuss later on.

This is actually, technically, my guest room, so I have a day bed in here.  Above it you can see my Stitch Tease Quilt, hung from another curtain pole, but this one is threaded through the hanging sleeve.  The day bed itself can be used for cushions or draped quilts as required.  Really though, it’s so that my guests have somewhere to sleep!

Now this slightly inauspicious looking setup is actually my most frequently used area.  This is where I now take my progress shots for patterns/tutorials, show off small finished items, and I can also hang smaller bags from command strips here too.  The step stool lets me stand above to get good, clear shots downwards onto what I’m trying to demonstrate.  This leads to less distortion in perspective than standing at floor level pointing down at an angle.  You can also see a couple of small daylight lamps, and a couple of pieces of foam core board which I use for my backdrop.  On the floor is my wee camera bag with lenses and flash guns and things in it.

One thing you might have noticed is that the window has no covering (I’m actually working on that to put a Roman Blind in there), but even without one you can already see darker spots and shadows from the window supplied light.  Today was relatively okay weatherwise – not bright sunshine, but not raining either, however I can assure you that on a rainy day this spot does not get huge amounts of light!

So what would be the best thing for you to get…

To answer that question, there’s a few things that you need to consider (my answers come first):

  • Do you have access to somewhere that you can easily take full sized photos – eg quilts etc, as well as having a suitable climate and ability to get outside during daylight hours?  
  1. I have absolutely no outside options for anything other than quilts – I have no garden, it rains here about 50% of the time (meaning that if it isn’t raining, it’s a good chance things are damp), and I have a full time job that restricts my ability to get out during daylight hours for a large chunk of the year, especially when we’re down to the 5 hours daylight midwinter days.  My only outside option for quilts is a multi storey carpark near my office, which I can theoretically nip out to at lunchtime, if the weather’s behaving (it rained every day from late November until about a week ago here)
  2. If you answered no to the above, can you at least claim a patch of wall space the width of a quilt, where you can install some kind of hanging mechanism high above?  This may require you to move a little furniture, or use a little ingenuity, but if you can, then you could consider getting some studio lights – I’ll go into more detail on them below.
  • Do you need to take photos of smaller items, such as pouches, quilt blocks or the making of things in progress?
  1. This is something I do all the time, yes all the way!
  2. If this is the sort of thing you need, it can actually be achieved quite cheaply with a window and/or some desktop sized studio lights, plus some sheets of foam core board from the local art shop and something to stand on to get a good angle if you can’t set things up down low.  Be aware that what seems like a bright light to the naked eye when indoors may actually be rather dark for the camera!  Our eyes cover a vast range on the brightness scale that a camera couldn’t even begin to compete with.
  • Do you have a camera where you can set the white balance either in the camera or during photo processing afterwards?
  1. Yes, I have a DSLR where I can take either option.  I usually set it during post processing.
  2. If you aren’t sure, it’s not something that’s exclusive to DSLR, many compacts and bridge cameras offer this option too.  Whilst not 100% necessary, it will help you a great deal to capture the true colours in an image.
So when I talk studio lights, what do I mean?

Studio lights come in many different types, sizes and price ranges.  Here’s a breakdown of each sort:

  • Continuous lighting setups. These lights, as the name suggests, stay on all the time without flashing when you take a shot.  They are perfect for static objects, such as quilts, bags etc, but not really for moving objects, such as clothes models (well, ones that aren’t a dummy anyway).  The reason for this is that usually these lights require a longer shutter speed, and moving people often move faster than that, blurring the image.  If you’re happy that things are still (and if necessary have nailed your model to the floor) then continuous lighting may be for you.  The only thing you need to remember is to make sure they use daylight bulbs.
  1. Large sized setups – it’s possible to get a set of larger lights in a kit on Amazon for under ยฃ100, which will include the lights themselves, the stands, and, depending on the kit, modifiers such as soft boxes (which make the light less harsh and more diffuse) or umbrellas (similar idea but different way of achieving it).  All I would suggest is looking at the reviews to establish which ones are likely to be the best buy.
  2. Desktop sized setups – you can get a pair of these for under ยฃ70 on Amazon, and you’re looking for bulb wattages in the 35-40W range.  You can also get these in kits with light tents, but I will admit to finding them a bit too much faff!
  • Flash lighting setups.  These range from the wee flashguns that you attach to your camera, all the way up to the big lights like in my large setup.  They allow you to capture fast motion, making them ideal for those working with wiggly child models.  Flash guns are also by far the most portable of lighting options.  The downside is that you will require some kind of modifier so that the subject does not get hit with a burst of light.
  1. Large sized setups – I will not lie to you, these are pricey options to go for, but on the other hand they’ve been around for years, and come with a large range of accessories for all sorts of lighting effects, plus they often have the ability to be takes outside for use with battery packs.
  2. Small sized setups – flashguns are tricky little buggers, which invariably need some kind of modification of the light (I’m sure you’ve been that person blinded by the flash of your friend’s camera on a night out).  Although I do use flashguns, I think we’ll just discount them for now unless you know what you’re doing with them (in which case, by all means go for it, and why on earth are you reading all this?!)
I hope that this has helped a bit for those of you who have been wondering what to get and how to do things, but if you have any questions, drop me a line :o)
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