Photographers should forever be expanding our craft and trying new methodology and tricks to see what fits our creative and business needs. Clients and their personal visions never stop needing new and innovative tools but also simple solutions to common problems. One such solution is light box photography. Here’s a one-stop guide that will give you everything you need to utilize light box photography yourself.
What Is Light Box Photography?
Light box photography a method of product photography that utilizes diffusing materials to create a nearly nonexistent background for a clear and detailed product shot. The practice of light box photography offers a solution to some common issues a photographer may face in shooting items when there is inconsistent or harsh light and a distracting background. It also can make the editing process simpler to allow for more control over the final shot.
When shooting, one of the top concerns a photographer must always have in mind is proper exposure. Problems in exposure, or not adapting to certain lighting situations, will render amazing composition completely useless. This is important for all photos, but especially so for mid- to close-ups of subject matter that is on the smaller side. To achieve clarity for a small subject while ensuring even lighting, enter the convenient solution known as the light box.
A typical set-up in light box photography features a box with one side open, insides of a uniform color made up of a slightly translucent material, a subject sitting in the middle inside the box, a camera on a tripod facing the subject, and lighting shining in from the outside. A typical result would be a white background (other colors are options as well) that seamlessly makes the subject pop in great detail, and soft, even lighting.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT LIGHT BOX
Photography equipment can get pretty pricy. Although there are inexpensive light box options, if you are on a tight budget or just don’t have many product photos to do of this nature, consider a DIY version of light box photography. You can keep it as simple as you want or choose to get a little more involved as suits your needs, but you will basically just need a box, some white paper, and a light source.
There are so many ways to craft your own light box, but what you’ll want to keep in mind is that the background should be as unobtrusive as possible. You’ll have your light sources on the outside, facing the box, and the white material surrounding the inside of the box should diffuse this light softly. The backdrop itself should have a gentle slope so there are no visible edges. If you decide to purchase a light box or light tent kit, they are very simple to find; just keep in mind the size you’ll be needing.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM LIGHT BOX PHOTOS
This is not just shoot-and-point photography, and in attempting to generate a thoroughly perfect shot using light box photography, you will have to keep a few things in mind during and after your shoot.
First, and this is especially pertinent if you are capturing a small product, the shake from your camera could have more impact in light box photography. Other things that will have more impact than normal are dust, wrinkles, and even the slightest discoloration. Of course, editing will be easier, since there is intense focus on the product with little distraction; but if the white balance and lighting aren’t right during the shoot, it is possible you could run into some post-production challenges. This could potentially make your shot look unprofessional and dingy, especially on a website with a white background.
These are all important factors to consider when starting light box photography, and they have solutions that we will walk you through with some camera set-up tips, things to remember and be prepared for during the shoot, and then some potentially helpful tricks for post production.
CAMERA SET UP GUIDE
It is very important for light box photography that you use a tripod in conjunction with either a timer or remote shutter. It is an option to set your camera on something and use the timer or remote shutter, but this will limit your ability to change angles. The reason it is important to use a tripod is to ensure stabilization so you get the most perfect, crisp results possible. In most cases, you’ll also need to use a long shutter speed, meaning that shooting handheld would risk adding shake and detracting from the final quality.
As far as the camera settings go, you will want to use a low ISO; as low as you can. This is because grain would ruin this type of image and you should be well-lit enough to render that necessary. You will definitely need to white balance and maybe do some test shots for exposure, testing out which compensations setting gives you the best results with your setup.
Then, you can decide if you want every part of the product to be in focus and set a narrow aperture, or, if you want some blur, use a shallow depth of field to make a certain part of the item or product pop. In this case, set a wider aperture and focus on the part that you choose.
SHOOTING WITH A LIGHT TENT OR LIGHT BOX
It is a good idea to play around a little bit with the placement of the item in the box and the placement of the lights. You’ll generally want your product to be in the center, but shifting it forward or back within the box can change your resulting image. Other slight adjustments can also be made to give you the image that you want, such as adjusting your tripod for a lower or higher angle and finding the right angles for the light.
GETTING YOUR LIGHTING RIGHT
A baseline for lighting your light box is having two lights of the same temperature, one on each side of the light box, facing each other. With a DIY box, you could also choose to utilize natural light coming in from a window, although this will be harder to control. Play around with the placement of the lights once your box or tent is set up and see how angling them can do something for shadowing and whether or not it enhances the overall look of the photo.
DEALING WITH THE LITTLE THINGS
As was mentioned before, little things like dust, wrinkles, creases, and discoloration or blemishes will be much more noticeable when using light box photography. The bad new is they are all inevitable; but the good news is there are ways to deal with them. For a fabric backdrop, having a lint roller on hand and a way to secure the end can help with dust and wrinkles.
Fabric maintenance should be as simple as ironing beforehand, and carefully rolling into a cardboard tube after, with some lint rolling scattered throughout. Have extra paper on hand if the background of choice is paper and maybe even invest in a small blower for quickly clearing out dusty particles. Of course some blemishes can’t be lint rolled away, and for these, all hope lies in post-processing.
Post-processing should not be used as an answer to all of your problems, but is an important step in photography and a convenient way to fix some problems that may have arisen either unexpectedly or unavoidably. Proper exposure for your product may not always be possible while also keeping the background that perfect color.
Most photo-editing software will have tools for adjusting white balance. The histogram is a helpful feature which can allow you to clip the background while keeping your adjustments away from the subject. Another option to look at is adjusting the color balance: increase blue to counteract yellow light, increase magenta to counter green, etc.
You should also be using software that has a bandaid and/or cloning tool for getting rid of other minor imperfections where you can use another area of the photo as a referencing point for the fix. Another useful feature is the highlights/shadows adjuster. Be careful not to overuse this, though, as it can result in some weird spots for particularly overexposed sections; but it can help as a minor adjustment.
The best thing about light tent photography is that it makes quality results accessible to everyone, even if you’re on a budget and even if you’re not a professional photographer. Amplifying the detail and the focus on the product adds professionalism and sells the product better (if that is the goal), as the potential customer does not have any distractions and can see all of the details with crisp clarity.
Like anything else in photography, you will want to experiment to find what works best for both you and the subject matter of the shot. But knowing what the process looks like and tips and tricks from people already familiar with light box photography should be all you need to get started.