A legitimate studio set up is a huge time saver, but not so much a money saver.
I manage an online store selling a variety of products, many of which are small accessories. I also do my fair share of selling on eBay (I recently went through my shoes and it involved a few painful goodbyes). The most important part of Ecommerce is presenting a good photo of whatever you are marketing. The product photo has to be clear, and a true representation of the item's color.
I also have a day job, and the little time I have to do photo shoots is at night. The lack of daylight is a big problem when it comes to a great photo. I don't want to spend a ton of time on photoshop either. My eyesight is already going bad from working on the computer.
So this is what you do when you're short on cash and the sun has set.
Step 1: Supplies
This is your grocery list to a frugal product photography set up.
1. Kid's Art Paper - 75 foot roll
I got mine from Michael's in the kids and hobby section. Full price, it is 5.99 and with their weekly coupon (50% off) it is only 3 bucks. You can't beat it. I'm sure you can get this elsewhere, but you can't use Michaels coupons elsewhere...And who doesn't want half off.
Plus, having a large roll of paper lying around is a lot more useful than you'd think. I just made a "Welcome" banner for my friend's new classroom for the coming school year.
2. Wooden Dowl - At least 3 feet long OR Kid's Ikea Art Paper Dispenser
Again, available at any craft store. Use a coupon!!! No excuses now that we have smart phones with internet access. I think mine was 99 cents.
The paper dispenser from Ikea was a great find. It is the standard size of most Art paper rolls for children that you would use on an easel. It's $7 and makes this project a whole lot easier.
3. 2 Ottlite Desk Lamps, or 2 "Daylight" lightbulbs
For my purposes, I used mine and my mother's Ott-Lights that we keep at our desks. They are supposed to mimic the look of sunlight.
If you do not want to invest in this very specific (and kind of expensive) light, I suggest buying Daylight bulbs. They are available at any hardware store these days, and are very long lasting as compared to traditional bulbs. Get the highest number of "lumens" that your lightbulb sockets can handle. (Lumens is a term they came up with to compare how much brightness a daylight lamp produces in comparison to a traditional bulb).
4. 2 Desk Lamps sans bulbs
The desk lamps with the bendable neck are the BEST but really anything will do. Find something sitting around your house or in storage ;)
NOTE: This one is only if you do not have Ott lights set up
5. Two "Hook Screws"
I am not sure of the technical name for these things, but they are literally a hook with a screw on the end of it. I found mine at Home Depot. Just make sure that the size of the hook accommodates the wooden dowl you have.
Step 2: Paper Dispenser Set Up
Using a roll of paper, rather than vinyl or a fabric backdrop has its advantages. No, it's not very green, but it will take you a VERY long time to use the whole thing. It also saves a TON of time for photo editing. You no longer have fabric wrinkles to worry about (which I end up having to photoshop out for my clothing photo shoots), or stains. It's a blank, perfect backdrop each time.
These instructions are for the dowl and hook screws afore mentioned.
It's pretty easy and self explanatory!
These hooks are convenient for everything you want to hang. I love them.
Screw one hook about 3 feet above the baseboard of your wall, in an area that gets good sunlight during the day. Also make sure that you have an outlet nearby for when you are shooting at night. If you do not want to put holes in your wall, then get a large/thick piece of wood. measure the length of the paper roll you are using, and add about five inches to it. Screw the second hook into the wall/wood at this length away from the first. Use a level to make sure you're set up won't be crooked.
With the paper roll already on it, slide the dowl into the two hooks. It's kind of like a toilet paper holder.
Step 3: Lighting
Setting up light sources from multiple directions is the key here.
I do so many of my photoshoots at night after I come home from my day job, and the photos are useless without the right type of bulb to imitate sunlight.
I've attached a photo of a dress form was taken under the typical bulb in a household. Seriously it doesn't get worse than that. It's dark, yellow, and needs a lot of photoshop to make it anywhere near usable. It makes you look tan! But it makes your photos look horrible.
So, like stated in the Supplies section of this tutorial, use a "daylight bulb" or an Ottlite. Anything that is made to mimic sunlight should work. It eliminates that yellow overtone and brings out the true colors of whatever you are photographing.
Using a soft box set up would be ideal here, but I am a relatively broke (and very cliche) college student and don't have the funds.
Step 4: Photography
The best part about this set up is that it is so versatile.
I haven't done this yet, but I have had the idea of painting watercolor backgrounds onto the roll of paper to use as an easy pop of color for items that are white (often hard to see against the purely white paper).
The solid color background also makes it incredibly easy to manipulate in photoshop! In about 60 seconds, I can change the background to grey or black or blue. I am actually posting a tutorial about creating a white background for any photo in just a few days... stay tuned!