Introduction: Budget Photographic Lighting "tent".

Improve your table-top photography dramatically, at almost no cost, by modifying a cheap, readily available plastic bucket.

Step 1: On-camera Flash (strobe)

This is what most on-camera or built-in flash (strobe lighting) will produce. It doesn't show the product in a good light, literally. You can't see what this little ornament is really made of.

Mail order specialists and online trading experts all agree: good pictures boost sales.

You can improve your own photos of small items quickly and easily, using exactly the same principles as professional photographers, but you don’t have to invest in an expensive light tent to do it.

Step 2: Find a Suitable Bucket

Take an ordinary, cheap household plastic bucket, as near to white in colour as you can find. The thinner the better.

Mine cost one pound in England. You should be abe to buy one for a Euro, or a Dollar, elsewhere.

Step 3: Cutaway

Cut out a smooth, gentle curve to make the front opening. This is what you will be shooting through.

I used scissors: the plastic was very soft.

Step 4: The Setup

Turn the bucket upside-down. Drape a flat surface with a smooth, white cotton sheet. Flood the inverted bucket from above and behind with a light source. See how much better things are looking already.

The kind of light source doesn’t really matter, as long as you don’t set fire to the bucket, trip over the wiring or electrocute yourself. I used a studio lamp, simply because I already had one, but anything bright enough to punch through the plastic will work.

Try using electronic flash (strobe) if you have a separate unit. If you trigger it from the built-in (camera) unit, arrange things so that no direct, frontal light goes into the bucket.

The more powerful your light source is, the sharper your pictures will be without resorting to tripods, image stabilisation or other long exposure aids.

You can even add more lamps, because the plastic acts as both a diffuser and a reflector, preventing harsh, multiple shadows. Just don’t let any of them shine through the hole in the front of the bucket.

Colour temperature (white balance) is a factor. Match your camera’s settings to that of the light source if you can. Choose “tungsten” for example, if that's what the lamp is, or use “A” for automatic white balance if you can’t.

Keep unwanted light out of the camera lens: use a lens hood. If you don’t have one, ask someone to cast a shadow across the front element for you. If you’re working on your own, set the camera’s self-timer delay, to make time to do it yourself. If you can use both hands at once, work a cable release, or a remote control trigger, while you shield the lens with the other.

If you don’t like a white background, use something else, like coloured velour or black velvet. Move the lamp(s) to the side if the new background blocks too much light from the rear, shadowing the foreground too much. If you’re into computers, create a new background by using Photoshop or similar image editing software.

Step 5: Look: No Lamp!

Shang Peilin, a student in Singapore, on a low budget, asked me more about how to use my bucket tent.

I added this step to show that where there's enough natural light, a lamp is not necessary.

(You may require a tripod and / or image stabilisation (anti-shake), plus a self-timer (delay) to minimise the effects of a long exposure.)

No tripod? Use a bean bag, or Blu-tack, instead.