Introduction: Quick & Easy Tabletop Photo Studio

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Whether it's to document your collectibles, for the photo hobbyist, for Esty, Ebay, Instructables or some other project that requires halfway decent photos of small things (or large - this project scales up or down), having an easy way to take quick, clean photos is not only handy, but in the case of Etsy or Ebay, can make all the difference in sales (or lack thereof). This project utilizes basic household items to create a tabletop photo studio in under ten minutes, with about $10 to $30 worth of supplies if you actually have to buy the lamps, paper, frame or paint.

For the purposes of this demo, it cost nothing but the time time spent rounding up the odds and ends of the finished product - a pair of mismatched desktop lamps, a roll of parchment paper out of a kitchen drawer, an old photo frame and a big binder clip. The results are pretty impressive, especially considering the photos were made using a cellphone camera.

Step 1: Materials

For this version, the following were used:

  • Two desk lamps, preferably goose-necks
  • 8x10 free standing photo frame
  • Parchment paper
  • Big binder clip
  • A can of Navy blue spray paint (Optional)

Plus a handful of little things to photograph, and a Motorola G cell phone

Step 2: Build Your Mini Parchment Cyclorama

The big curved backdrop you see in photo studios is called a cyclorama. A Cyclorama or, cyc, looks like a big (usually white) slide, sometimes curved at the sides, and set with a variety of lighting to give the illusion of infinity, or the sky, or something big and seamless. The parchment paper we're using here creates a mini version of cyclorama.

The effect can be achieved with poster board and roller blinds, as well, but the parchment paper is inexpensive, super easy to use in a variety of configurations, diffuses light beautifully and is also easy to spray paint for a a variety of effects.

To make your parchment cyc, just tear off a piece of parchment paper about 1 1/2 times the height of your photo frame or other support device. Attach one end to your support, and gently drape the paper so that it curves out from the support and onto your tabletop.

Step 3: Creating Multiple Backdrops

You can lightly spray paint a sheet of parchment for some background variety. In this case, a very light Navy blue coating provided a soft blue matte finish to one sheet. Clip additional backgrounds to your framework so you can flip between them as desired.

Step 4: Set Up Your Studio

Set the item you want to photograph in the center of your paper, right about where it curves, then turn on your lamps. Goose-neck lamps are best because you can move them around to get the desired effects more easily. You can get some good effects even from a pair of mismatched lamps like these, but you can also cobble together some decent DIY studio lighting (one example) .

Step 5: Exploring Backdrops, Lighting and Positioning

By moving the two lights around and adjusting the positioning of your items on the parchment, you can get a wide range of effects. You can also add a third light, if desired. The differences in the little dog figurine, photographed with just the two desk lamps, are subtle but significant. Very slight adjustments can highlight different aspects of the object being photographed.

Step 6: Experiment!

Complex sculptures and figurines respond differently to lighting changes than smooth surfaced items. Bringing lighting in from one side creates long dramatic shadows. Add some lighting (even via flashlight) from behind the parchment for a backlit effect.

Step 7: Store and Go - or Just Go!

You can either leave your mini-cyclorama attached to a portable frame, remove your parchment sheets and roll them up to store them, or dispose of them properly in the recycle bin and make new ones next time you need them.

Have fun! And share back your own desktop studio shots. Love to see what you create.

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