bang for the buck studio photography kit

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harrisonaero

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Maybe some of you with pro or semi-pro studio photography experience can offer advice here. Even better if you know a lot about industrial photography. Or maybe you have a spouse that takes a lot of Ebay item photos?

Recommendations for a <$350 light setup for taking pictures of products and manufacturing/shop photos? Don't want to hack something together from Home Depot- just want to buy a complete and simple setup with everything needed like lights, filters, soft boxes, umbrella reflectors, whatever. Probably buy from Amazon, Ebay, Adorama, etc. Doesn't have to be name-brand or super high quality, can be made in China/etc, because I won't be using it much.

If you don't have recommendations on exact kits then what are the minimum must-have items that should be included in my kit?

Lights can be hot since I'm not taking pictures of people though if it makes sense to go with newer technology lights that last longer or have other advantages then that seems reasonable. Lights should be always-on because I want to use them for some video too. Lights don't have to be portable.

Some of the pictures I've seen the pros take use colored lights reflecting off different parts of the equipment to give the shot a more professional look. Ideas here?

And any simple and quick resources for boiler-plate recipes for setting up the lights? Especially the colored accent lights. Don't have time to do a lot of research to get perfect shots- just want something that's nice and looks better than average. I have a strong background in news and outdoor photography from college, just don't know much about studio work.
 
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Topaz

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I don't have direct advice on equipment or setups - I'm an amateur photographer at best - but I can say a couple of things on the subject of product photography based on working in the next office bay from a very good product photographer when I was at Quiksilver (the clothing manufacturer, not the ultralight company - note the missing 'c'), and being on the receiving end of his shots and those of other product photographers over the years.

Unless you're going to do a lot of this kind of work, or if you really don't mind a mediocre product, batch stuff together and hire this out. By the time you buy all the equipment, subscribe* to and learn how to use all the software necessary, you'll have so much time invested that hiring a good product-specific photographer is totally worth it. Sounds like this is for a part-time "side job" sort of thing (eBay selling?) but, even so, unless you have a lot of time to learn all the product-specific aspects and tools of this niche, you're probably better off setting up a bulk-discount deal with a local photographer who does this kind of work.

For product photography, there is one key to long-lasting success: Repeatability. Whatever downstream use you have, you'll want similar products to show up the same, even over seasons as you update and replace them. The photographer I worked with at Quiksilver kept this big notebook where he wrote down every detail of the setups for a given product or product category, not only the exposures and processing setups, but all the lighting, distances, angles, and backdrops. Everything about the shot. That way, two seasons down the road, when the company added another product to a given lineup, he could open up his notebook and duplicate the original setup exactly, and the shot would match, exactly. My team and myself used his photography to build marketing materials for the company, and you have no idea how much of a time- and money-saver it was that his shots always matched so precisely, both across a line and over time. In your case, if you're really doing eBay, it'll make you look much more professional. I've worked with other product photographers who didn't do this, and it really messed us up downstream.
 

harrisonaero

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Great advice Topaz, thanks. I'll be shooting shots of my own projects and equipment and these will change over time so I can't batch them. But totally agree about having matching shots. That's why I want to get my own setup, dial it in fairly well, and then use it over and over.
 

Topaz

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Great advice Topaz, thanks. I'll be shooting shots of my own projects and equipment and these will change over time so I can't batch them. But totally agree about having matching shots. That's why I want to get my own setup, dial it in fairly well, and then use it over and over.
Okay, then also be sure to log your setups and "developing" rules in either Lightroom or Photoshop, whichever you end up using. That'll save you a heap of time, too.

Sounds like a fun adventure. Good luck! :)
 

skier

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Topaz has some good advice there. What type and size of products are you trying to light. How reflective are they? Metals, Plastics, Glass, etc? What type of backgrounds are you trying for? Black, Grey, White, Colors, Textures, Patterns, etc?

Maybe post some links to the type of work you're trying to emulate?

I'd recommend different modifiers and equipment depending on what you're trying to do.
 

harrisonaero

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Messages
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Coeur d'Alene, ID
Topaz has some good advice there. What type and size of products are you trying to light. How reflective are they? Metals, Plastics, Glass, etc? What type of backgrounds are you trying for? Black, Grey, White, Colors, Textures, Patterns, etc?

Maybe post some links to the type of work you're trying to emulate?

I'd recommend different modifiers and equipment depending on what you're trying to do.
Most of the pics will be of dull, non-metallic parts, most of which are carbon composite. Background will either a soft white (with soft gray shadows) or possibly the manufacturing facility (CNC machines in the background, etc.).

Photos and videos of the facility should have some color in them. At least that's what I've seen when I've seen industrial photogs come to places I've worked in the past.
 

Topaz

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Keep the product shots about the product, and facility shots about the facility. Showing the facility in the background of your products just makes for a distraction, unless you're talking about a strictly marketing shot that's not about that particular product. Shoot carbon components against a light- to medium-gray background, so your camera doesn't latch on to the highlights and completely fill in the dark shadows on your parts. Not even the best digital cameras have the dynamic range to do good shadow detail against a bright-white background and, with black and dark-grey parts, you need as much shadow detail as you can get. You'll thank me when you get to post on them, and again if you ever print any of them on paper. If you absolutely must have a truly white background with some surface texture (paper fibers, whatever), you can shoot white background separately with the same light/position setup at the correct exposure for the whites and then mask that together with the part in Photoshop later You get the best of both worlds that way, and it's not terribly difficult to bring the original product shadow in with the masked part and overlay it on the "new" background in a realistic way.

Facility shots are done with colored lighting usually to help "liven up" an otherwise deadly-dull-looking facility, hide some dirt and stains with complementary color, etc.. Less is more, however. I've seen some shots where the photographer got so "artistic" with the lighting that it looked like a cartoon or Rio in the middle of Carnival. It's not the '90's anymore. Subtlety is your watchword for color lighting.

Hit me up on PM if I can be of any more help. This is pretty OT even for Hangar Flying, but if we move to PM I'll be happy to help however I can.
 
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skier

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I agree with a lot of what Topaz said above, especially about separating the facility shots from the product shots.

Very dark/black parts can be especially hard to light. I'm not good at it at all, so I'll let others give you pointers there.

As for the backgrounds, you can make a white background in photoshop as Topaz suggests. The easier (in my opinion) way to do it is by hitting it with a lot of light and moving your object fairly far away from the background. In that case you need lights for the background and the object. If you want to get shadows, you can put the object on clear glass or plexi supported above the seamless background. If you want the background to appear black, again you position your product far away from the background, but this time light up just the object.

Personally I'm not a fan of umbrellas, though a lot of people like them. I prefer softboxes. Smaller ones will give harsher shadows and larger ones will give softer shadows. Moving the light further away from the object makes the shadows harsher, while moving it closer will make them softer.

"Light, Science, and Magic" is a classic book on photography lighting. It may be old, but it has great information.

I'm not a big fan of umbrellas, but some people like them. I tend to prefer softboxes, but they are bulkier. I can't help you with suggestions for continuous lights, but $350 seems like a pretty low budget for any sort of photographic lighting setup. At a minimum, make sure the lights you get all have the same color temperature. I only have 1 strobe and 1 speedlight with a single remote trigger. I find a single light a bit limiting and it would probably be even more-so for a lot of product photography shots (depending on what you're trying to do).

If you want more input from people who are more qualified, you would probably get better responses over on: http://photography-on-the.net/forum/
 
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