Before I get into the equipment I purchased for my “home photography studio”, I need to make it clear that I’m not approaching this article as a professional photographer – I don’t photograph people or charge a fee for taking photos of people or products. I’m very much an amateur photographer, doing this as more of a hobby, than as a professional career.
The reason why I chose to invest in this sort of photographic studio equipment is because I did want to see if I could make my hobby pay for itself, by creating a website using my photographs as content, which would be monetized by Google adverts; and, potentially, by selling stuff on either eBay or Amazon, using my camera to take photos of products I might happen to sell. Due to my living situation at the time, there weren’t any rooms in the house where I could take photographs WITHOUT any of the background clutter getting in the way of the shot. I needed a way of being able to quickly set up my camera and have a nice, clean background without anything else in the house creeping into the photographs, and so this is how I ended up with the following array of studio equipment.
My home photography studio setup is basically divided into:
- Stuff for taking photos of small to medium-ish sized products (no larger than a typical desk lamp, for instance);
- Stuff for taking photos of larger products (while I wasn’t necessarily thinking of photographing people, I made sure that I would be able to photograph things human-sized, just to keep my options open).
Okay, so here’s what my “amateur” home photography studio kit includes:
Home Studio Kit… For Larger Stuff
1. Professional Photography Background Kit… I toyed for some time as to which background kit to get. Prices varied from under £30 (US$43 approx.) to £200 (US$288 approx.). In the end, I opted for best quality – something that will be reliable and not start falling to pieces after a few uses. I felt that this is one of those purchases you only want to make ONCE. I ended up buying a kit from Creativity Papers (based in the UK), who also sell on Amazon (UK). The kit came with two tripod uprights; a multi-piece crossbar (allowing you to have different widths, depending on the size of your room – I only use two of the four bars, so it fits nicely in my 3 meter wide room); and one roll of arctic white paper. I also purchased a roll of ultra black paper and a cherry red color (this last one I’ve NEVER ONCE USED; I thought I was going to be all creative with using different backgrounds, but when it comes to taking the photos, I find I just want to get it done with the minimum of fuss, either using a white background for darker colored objects, or a black background for lighter colored stuff).
2. “A Clamps”… The backdrop kit that I purchased actually came with a couple of metal A Clamps, which are used to secure the backdrop paper to tables, as the rolls of backdrop paper have a natural tendency to try and roll themselves back up. If your backdrop kit doesn’t come with them, you may need about four of them (at minimum). If I’m just hanging the backdrop straight down and not flowing it over a table, I will use a couple of metal A Clamps to weight-down the paper, so it can’t unravel. However, the weight of the metal A Clamps has a tendency to continue unrolling more paper; so, to fix this, I clamp two additional A Clamps into the roll of backdrop paper, where it hangs on the crossbar. I actually purchased a pack of about 8-10 of these A Clamps, “just in case” I need to use more. But, for the most part, I tend to only need a maximum of four clamps.
3. External Flash / Speed Light… When using a DSLR camera for product photography (especially if you have access to a tripod), there is a temptation to try and get away without using an external flash, by just using a longer exposure time – just enough until the image isn’t either too dark, nor too bright, but somewhere in between. However, the problem you’ll soon find is that some detail, in most non-flat objects, will be lost in the shadows. If you’re taking photos of products for eBay or Amazon, for instance, you want to show off as much detail as possible, for your prospective buyers. Using flash DOES make a positive difference. There may be a temptation to try using the pop-up flash (if your camera has one), but things do look better if you can take the flash away from the central position and over to about a 45 degrees angle to your subject. Being able to move the flash about your subject helps to maximize the results.
4. One OR Two Tripods… If you’re going to be using an external flash to illuminate your subject(s), you may need two tripods – one for the flash unit and the other for your camera (some of the time I find myself happy to take photos just handholding the camera; other times, I like to give my shoulders, arms and back a rest, and set the camera on its tripod). You don’t necessarily need a lightweight carbon fiber tripod for indoor photography work, as you’re not hiking about with the thing. Carbon fiber tripods cost more than the comparably heavier aluminium tripods. I have an aluminium tripod (MeFoto Roadtrip) for my external flash and, because I do take my camera outdoors, I have a carbon fiber 3LT “Brian”, which is very versatile.
5. Portable Photography Reflector Kit & Tripod Stand… While having multiple external flash units is probably ideal, it IS an expensive route to go (if you can afford it, or believe you’ll be able to justify the cost, then it’s a great option). However, a more economical option would be to set up your single external flash unit (pointing at your subject from the front, albeit off at a 45 degree angle) and then, directly opposite the flash, have a reflector angled so that it will throw otherwise lost flash light, directly back into your subject, illuminating some of the detail on the side that the flash light can’t directly reach. For this task, I purchased a portable photography reflector kit that came with its own tripod stand (so I didn’t need someone else to hold the reflector – meaning I could get on with my photography projects, without having to nag a relative to do the job… I certainly didn’t have the funds or inclination to pay someone to do the job. This kit solved the matter).
Home Studio Kit… For Small to Medium-size Stuff
1. Otamat Photography Light Box (26″)… I purchased this “light box” after getting a bit narked about having to set-up the large photography backdrop kit for even relatively small products – which formed the majority of the stuff I needed / wanted to photograph. I hunted around on Amazon for something more compact and, like buying the larger backdrop kit, I stayed clear of some of the cheap and flimsy light boxes (and totally avoided those fiddly collapsible photo “cubes”) and plumped for one of the more premium light boxes. I must admit, when the 26″ Otamat Light Box arrived, I was expecting something that looked more robust – it’s made of some sort of plastic-like material, which you fold together like some sort of cheap Christmas nativity set. However, don’t let this put you off; the materials chosen, plus the way it has been engineered to fold and slot together, results in a super-lightweight light box, which is a doddle to take down from my shelf to put on a table, and then put it back when the photography is complete. What’s more, you don’t even need to use a flash to illuminate your subject, because this particular model has 4x bulbs incorporated into the front of the unit, which provides a nice, even light both directly onto the front of the product(s) and, indirectly, as the light is reflected off the walls and ceiling. This is one of the best photography purchases I’ve ever made.
2. Epson Matte Paper (Backdrop replacements for the Otamat Light Box)… The Otamat Light Box came with a single sheet of paper to use as a backdrop – it’s large enough that it covers the entire back wall and the floor of the light box, with the paper curving up so that there is no hard line where the wall joins the base of the light box. When you photograph stuff with this backdrop paper, you just see a nice, seamless and uncluttered background (just what you want, so that your products take the starring role, with no background distractions). Unfortunately, the manufacturer of the Otamat Light Box didn’t create the box so that it would take ordinary sized A3 or A2 paper (it’s some other dimension). The best alternative, which works perfectly well for me with this 26″ Otamat Light Box, is a roll of 61cm x 40cm Epson Matte Paper (single weight). I just used the original Otamat paper as a template, rolled out the length that I needed and cut it off.
3. Velcro Pads (To hang the replacement backdrop paper)… In case you were wondering how the backdrop paper is attached to the Otamat Light Box, it’s done via two sets of Velco pads – in with the kit, you get two large Velcro pads that have a sticky adhesive underside. These stick onto the rear wall of the Light Box. Then, you take the two smaller Velcro pads and stick them onto the backdrop paper at the corresponding height, so that you can press them onto their Velcro counterparts. Because of this, you will need to invest in extra Velcro adhesive pads, as I found out the original Otamat pieces aren’t really reusable. It’s only a relatively small extra cost and it’s really worth it to keep using the Otamat Light Box, for the simple reason of how speedy it is to set up and get on with the task of photographing stuff for eBay or Amazon (or wherever you intend to sell your wares).
Home Studio Kit… Universal Equipment For Stuff Both Large & Small
1. Height Adjustable, Portable Folding Table… Now, you might not need this. However, it wasn’t exactly convenient to lug my kitchen table all the way upstairs to my bedroom (where I store my photography equipment), and I didn’t fancy having to take all my photography equipment down to the kitchen every time I wanted to photograph something. So, I purchased a split-folding, compact, height adjustable table, which I’m able to store neatly out of the way in my room when not in use, and which is a doddle to set up quickly, so I can either plonk down the Otamat Light Box, or use it with the larger backdrop kit, by letting the backdrop paper flow down over it, before securing it to the table with a couple of A Clamps.
And that’s pretty much it – I have kit to photograph all sorts of products, whether something small like rings or watches, and I have kit that enables me to photograph larger, people-sized things, if need be.