Thursday, August 7, 2008

How to Create a Photography Studio in Two Square Feet of Space

How to take pictures like a pro, or at least trick people into thinking that you have a large, spacious studio.First of all, get the best camera you can afford. Bring a piece of your work to the camera store, and a piece of something that you use for a backdrop, and use the store cameras to take pictures. Play with the different settings, but pay special attention to our dear, beloved MACRO setting. Your camera can make you look like a total genius, or a complete newbie, so think long and hard about spending that extra $50 for image stabilization (it's worth it!)

My personal favorite is the Canon PowerShot SX100IS with a 10x zoom. The camera increased the quality of my listings so much, my sales picked up immediately, and I had the camera costs completely covered within two weeks. Talk about a good investment!
Second, you will need a West facing window if you are an afternoon worker, or an East facing window if you are a morning person (I've hear they exist, but I've never been up early enough so actually see one.) Then, you'll have to clear off some space on that desk or table that's under the window. (HAHAHAHAHAHA! - no, really. You need to clear that off. )

You'll need some sort of white scrim to filter out the light and soften the shadows, without making the space too dark. I like white silk dupioni, which you can get at any fabric store back in the bridal section. Get two pieces. One for your tabletop, and one for the backdrop. If you want to be really efficient, have an extra piece on hand in case you get a big smudge on your tabletop cloth and you have to go wash it. You can use the backup and keep on working.
You'll need a few extra bits, like some 20# printer paper to use as an additional light diffuser for things that are extra glossy (like cabochons and watch cases), and you'll need a few nice props. The mistake that most people make is that they think they need a zillion props to keep their pictures interesting. Your WORK should be keeping the picture interesting, and the props should be there to hold your work up to the light. Clear and frosted glassware are always good bets. A simple necklace form and hand form are essential. I've found that a wine glass is perfect for earrings. Cheap and easy props can be found at NileCorp
Now here's the tricky part. You have to wait for a sunny day, where the light hits your window just right. In the summer, I spend at least half my day taking pictures. In the winter, I can go weeks and weeks without being able to photograph a single thing. The you get a sun break, you go madly rushing toward your little studio, get your work out, get the camera ready (Oh no, the batteries are dead!) Rush around looking for batteries, and then the sun will go behind the clouds for another three weeks.

This leads me to my final point. Be Prepared. Keep everything that's waiting for pictures in one place. Keep your photograph area clean and organized at all times. Do not let grubby little fingers play over there, do not set your coffee cup there, do not leave yesterday's mail there.

One last tip. If you have pets who shed, keep a can of compressed air handy and hold it an an angle to your tablecloth. Give it a good blast right before you start work. Macro shots will pick up EVERYTHING in the frame, whether you want it there or not.

Click through my Flickr Group, and you'll get a feel for the kind of natural light that I prefer to work with. No extra lighting of any kind was used. Just what the sun sent in through the window and the fabric.


COGnitiveCreations said...

Psssst... if you're a night owl like me or just don't have much sun to work with, you can pick up one of those true light lamps (OTT-Lites). They're a little pricey, but work wonders at recreating natural light on smaller pieces so they're perfect for jewelry. Another investment that pays for itself quickly if you have trouble with lighting.


Grace said...

I have some natural daylight lamps for winter depression, but they cast the wrong color of light for photography and they are too bright.

Do you use a diffuser to prevent shadows? I've heard some REALLY mixed reviews on the quality and durability of OTT lights, so I've been reluctant to lay out the cash for one. (There are a lot of reviews posted at

I hear they have a tendency to die a few days after their warrantee runs out, and that the floor lamp models are very tippy and unstable.

Beth Lisa Goss, Wire Tree said...

I have a SAD light too, Grace, and the color is pretty bad. I've been taking my photos on white computer paper on my deck table with the umbrella up and it's working pretty well. I want to try your method too.

cinderelly said...

hi grace! i am cindy from etsy rain and the meetup site (cindytoo) thanks for the good tips for photos...not my forte!