Budget Photographic Lighting "tent".

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.



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    21 Discussions

    NICE!!! I will go and get one of those cheapo dollar store buckets because I'm sure they will be thinner and cheap :D

    Witty, thanks. I'd like to know how the econoimcs of "free" web hosting works. Who pays for it?

    The Advertisers pay. The site, for example, photobucket, contacts certain sites, sometimes as an Affiliation. So photobucket will put an ad up for other websites, lets just say mmatch.com. In exchange for an Ad on photobucket, Match.com will pay photobucket for link related statistics. It all depends on the "affiliate" site; some base it on how many views were on a page containing their link so if you visit photobucket and an ad is displayed for match.com, then photobucket is credited by match.com some base it on how many times the link was clicked (or like those ringtone ads, how many people interacted with it) like if you were on photobucket, and saw an ad for match.com and clicked on it, going to their site some base it in a referrall way, as how many people were linked to the site and then registered or purchased something on the site your on photobucket, you click the match.com link, and sign up. or linked to amazon, and bought something most of it is in linking, There may be other ways to earn money, I wouldnt put down any other ideas of how money is generated, but Im pretty sure the primary way is linking,


    11 years ago

    Semi - related question. Where did you get the guitar clock?

    1 reply

    It was probably from a local gift shop. Send me a private message if you want me to look into getting you one.

    Nice- much better than the one gallon milk jug I was using..

    1 reply

    I never saw one of these until my first trip to The 'States. Then I really understood that "Joey drinks a gallon of milk in 10 seconds" scene from "Friends". (Our UK gallons are larger than USA ones).

    This is a really great idea and especially useful for some of the other members of this forum for demonstrating their work, i will certainly be trying this out, although I do not have a posh lamp like you. On the subject of colour temperature and the use of tungsten and fluorescent light. When i was younger I used a blue filter for tungsten and a pink/red for fluorescent. Will the colour of the bucket make a difference or is it best to do filters from the lamp or from the camera?

    3 replies

    Thank you. You don't need a posh lamp: people only ever see the end result. As for colour balance, as long as the bucket doesn't produce an obvious colour cast, a digital camera ought to make an acceptable picture. With film, it's more important to match things, so some filtering may be needed. Filters are cheaper when used at the lamp head (use only heatproof gels, allowing plenty of room for ventilation) or more expensive glass over the camera lens (optical quality). Using mixed lighting, where two or more lamps of differing colour temperatures are on (say an angelpoise lamp using a tungsten bulb, together with a fluorescent source) obviously cannot be balanced with one lens filter. If you use film, perhaps you could use a video camera or your phone camera beforehand, just to get a rough idea of how the setup is behaving.

    Oops, just noticed my new invention: an angelpoise lamp. Sounds heavenly, but that should, of course, read "anglepoise".

    Thanks I was a keen 35 mm camera hobbyist for about 25 years before I got my digicam but was more landscape, so this is a great tip.

    P.S. No lamps required, if you're lucky enough to live in sunny climes - just take the bucket outside and position it appropriately!

    1 reply