There’s a reason tabletop photography is incredibly popular. Unlike traditional photography studios, it doesn’t take much to set up a tabletop studio that produces professional-grade images. Some of the best pros operate out of their own homes thanks to crafty tabletop setups. We asked CreativeLive instructor and New York Times food photographer Andrew Scrivani for a list of the materials you need to DIY your own home tabletop setup. Here are the five things you need, according to Andrew:
A lightbox, also known as a light tent, is a box-like mini-studio with translucent sides (often made of plastic) which allow light to pass through and reach a subject. Lightboxes are essential for eliminating harsh shadows and evening out the exposure of your subject. Lightboxes are extremely basic and can be built for a few dollars, using anything from cardboard to book binders to PVC piping. You can also purchase them on sites like Adorama or any photography gear site.
Unfortunately, you can’t just dust off that ugly table languishing in your garage. For a successful tabletop setup, you need a surface that has no horizontal line so that you can set up your camera directly in front of your subject. “You can buy a shooting table, but why do that when you can build one in under 30 minutes?” says Andrew. He’s right – all you need is some wood, translucent acrylic sheets (1/4 in thick), a few corner braces, screws, and washers. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own table, check out Andrew’s DIY Light Table course.
“There’s no question about it – a tripod is essential to any tabletop studio,” Andrew explains. Product shots frequently call for longer exposures to help capture crisp clear details. In these situations, a tripod is a photographer’s best friend.
The lights you need for tabletop lighting are not much different from the flood lights you find at your local home depot. However, priced around $110, there no reason not to buy the photography-specific flood lights which come with a porcelain ring that keeps the unit from getting too hot. “The great thing about these lights is they work as a clamp and can accommodate other lighting tools, such as umbrellas if you own those as well,” Andrew says. Andrew also advises having a few gels or scrims to help diffuse the flood lights.
All pros know that capturing top-notch images means keeping camera shake to a minimum — which is why simply mounting your camera on a tripod sometimes doesn’t cut it. You need a cable release, also know as a trigger release, to ensure that your shot is clean as can be — especially on longer exposures. A trigger release is essentially a cable that you connect to your camera, so that you can release the shutter without touching the body of your DSLR, thereby eliminating even the slightest possibility to generate camera shake.
To learn more about creative lighting photography, check out Studio Lighting Techniques with Clay Patrick McBride.