Introduction: How to Put Together a Cheap Photo Stand for Great Photos (documenting Projects, EBay, Collections, Etc.)
It’s helpful to have a dedicated photo stand to take high qualify photos, whether it’s to document your projects as you work on them, taking photos of valuable items in a collection, photos of items for sale, or other purposes.
The key features you want are a steady mount for a camera pointing down, a clean background, and good lighting.
I’ve got a semi-permanent setup in my workshop. It doesn’t occupy much space when it’s not in use, but is easy to set up and produces excellent quality photos, including most of the photos for my how-to projects.
Step 1 – the camera mount
I found a camera mount with a simple spring clamp, similar to the clamps used on inexpensive floodlights. If I didn’t have this clamp I would have built a wood arm and attached an inexpensive tripod. The spring clamp is mounted horizontally about 2 feet above the desk. It’s out of the way when it isn’t in use but ready to go when it’s needed. When I upgraded digital cameras I decided to leave my old camera attached to this mount.
Step 2 – the background and lights
A cheap piece of white oaktag is my background. It can lie flat on the table or curved against the wall depending on what I’m taking photos of.
Lights, lights, lights. The key to good photography is good lighting. Good lighting makes the difference between adequate photos and excellent photos. I avoid using flashes whenever possible – flashes have their purposes but they cast a very harsh light.
My photo setup has a spring clamp light mounted about a foot away from the camera, the desk lamp normally used for that desk, and another desk lamp. By adjusting the positions of the lamps and where they’re aimed shadows can be minimized – or accentuated depending on what I am trying to achieve. Right now I’m just using plain CFL bulbs but in the future I may make simple diffusers (cardboard boxes with tissue paper on the front) for softer lighting.
Step 2: Good Photography Techniques
After a stable platform for your camera, good lighting, and a neutral background the most important thing you can do to create high quality photos is good photography techniques.
Set your camera in Macro mode and make sure the image is in focus.
Set your camera on timer mode. When you press the shutter the camera will jiggle a little. Using the timer lets those motions dampen out before the photo is actually taken. Many digital cameras have a 2 second timer specifically to minimize camera motion.
It always helps to take multiple photos with different camera settings. Experiment with the placement of your lights and even how you position the object. Something that may not be obvious when you take the photos may turn out to be a pleasant surprise when you edit the images on your computer afterwards.
If I need to take photos of vertical objects I just use a tabletop tripod to support the camera. The oaktag background, lights, and camera settings remain the same.
Here's a photo I took for one of my other instructables using this setup.