Set up a DIY Studio Background
When you are first building your store you need to focus on getting it up and running so you can start making sales. Initially, until you have proven that you’ll be selling successfully, you don’t need brilliant product photography. It just needs to be good enough for customers to understand, in detail, what they are buying.
It’s important that your photos have a professional look about them, but that doesn’t mean you have to go to the expense of hiring a professional photographer – you can set up a studio in you own kitchen, if you like. What is essential is that you create a consistent background for your products, as it is this feature that ensures you achieve that professional look.
Of course, if you have the budget to employ a professional photographer and studio to take high quality photographs then this is the best option, but not everyone starting out does.
Setting up your own DIY studio at home is pretty easy, with most of the materials available around the home, and most of the rest easily sourced at your local office supplies store.
We’ve put together this simple step-by-step guide (below) to help up set things up. Once completed, then you can start taking good grade product photos at home.
In this article:
- Building a general purpose studio background
- Building a studio background for photographing clothes
- Photography tips: Lighting
- Photography tips: Shooting
- Photography tips: Shooting details
Time to complete:
- 15-30 minutes
- time to obtain the necessary items for your chosen setup
What you will need:
- 1 Kitchen Desk
- 1 Kitchen Chair
- 1-3 Sheets of Craft Paper
- 2-5 Bulldog Clips
- 1 Roll of Masking Tape
- 1 Length of Stick*
*The length of the stick should be about the same as the width of the craft paper. It should be thick enough to support the weight of the paper, but thin enough to be securely grasped by the bulldog clips.
Optional (for photographing clothes):
- A large piece of heavy cardboard, or a large flat board of Styrofoam
- Pins or needles
- A tripod (if your images are turning out blurry)
- Full spectrum lightbulbs (if you are forced to shoot under artificial lighting and aren’t happy with the results)
- Scissors, hobby knives, glue pads, blu-tack can all be useful in making a more customized setup
Place the kitchen table close to the window, but leave enough room for you to move around the table.
Use masking tape (blu-tack can help too) to mount the length of stick to the back of the kitchen chair. A good height at which to secure the stick to the chair is about half way, so that your craft paper sheets still have enough length to flow down onto the table below.
Good light is important so place the chair on the far side of the table, with the back facing the window. Place the sheet of white paper on the table between the window and the chair.
Fix the paper to the wooden stick with bulldog clips. To make sure it won’t slip, it’s best to clasp them together with three clips.
Let the paper fall onto the kitchen table. The bottom edge will likely be curved after being rolled up for a time, so use masking tape to fix the bottom edge to the table.
Now, your general purpose DIY studio background is ready. Place your product on the craft paper and start snapping. Of course, your camera settings are important too. You will find useful photography tips and sound practices further on in this section.
Photographing clothes for online sale calls for a somewhat more specific setup. So, here are some steps we would recommend you follow to build an inexpensive DIY background for photographing clothing.
Use masking tape to fix the sheet of craft paper to the cardboard or styrophoam board. We are using an unassembled five-layer cardboard box.
Place the board, with the paper attached, flat on the table and lay out the piece of clothing you will be photographing. Arrange the clothing the way you want it to be laid out in the shot.
Use needles to pin the piece of clothing to the background. You can hide the pins behind folds, being careful to attach only the back of the clothing to the board. Also, insert the needles at an upward angle so the clothing cannot slip off.
Once the clothing is secured to the background, place the chair on the table – again with the back facing the window – and let the background rest against it. A tablecloth will prevent the cardboard from sliding across the smooth surface of the table. Alternatively, use a strip of masking tape.
Now, your DIY studio background is ready to host any clothing you want to photograph.
To get the best possible results when using this setup, you should use indirect sunlight in the couple of hours before and after noon. This will ensure several key elements check out:
- You will have plenty of light to work with, which will allow you to shoot from hand and capture images that are both sharp and free of digital noise.
- By avoiding artificial lighting, you will avoid color casts and noise created by non-full spectrum lighting.
- You will achieve soft, unobtrusive shadows.
If you absolutely have to shoot with artificial lighting, then there are some guidelines you should follow:
- Try to avoid mixing different light sources, such as combining incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
- Using ordinary incandescent lightbulbs will produce mediocre results. Swapping ordinary bulbs with full-spectrum replacements will help you achieve more natural colors.
- Unless you are working with a large number of artificial light sources, you will likely need a tripod to help keep the camera steady and the images sharp.
You should aim to shoot the product at a slightly downward angle, and try to make the photo appear as if the subject was just below eye level. Take a look at these examples of good and bad practices:
Bad Practice Sample 1
This photo was shot using direct sunlight. Ample light makes sharp images possible even when shooting from hand, but creates hard, uncomplimentary shadows. Here, the camera is positioned too high up and is shooting down on the product at too steep an angle.
Bad Practice Sample 2
This photo was taken using only the camera flash while shooting from hand. The shadows created in this way are even harder and the image loses a sense of depth. This is because the highly reflective parts of the product bounce the flash light hard, producing over-exposed parts of the image.
Bad Practice Sample 3
This photo was lit using only a single 200W incandescent lightbulb and shot from hand. The relative lack of light produces images that are blurry and moderately affected by digital noise. The camera is positioned too low and is only effectively showcasing the side of the product.
Bad Practice Sample 4
This photo used a combination of a 200W incandescent lightbulb and the camera flash for lighting. The combination of two different light sources produces strange color casts of the entire image, most visible on what should be a white background. The image sharpness is variable, the shadows hard and the color shifted, and the image over-exposed where the flash reflects off shiny surfaces. The camera is also positioned too low.
Bad Practice Sample 5
This photo was lit with a single 200W incandescent lightbulb but was shot from a tripod. The results are better than the other bad practice samples since the image is sharp and evenly lit, but the shadows remain hard and the image suffers from some degree of digital noise.
Good Practice Sample — General Products
This would serve as a great main photo for the product. The camera is positioned in a way that showcases the side, front and top of the product very well in one image. It is sharp, free of digital noise and features soft shadows that do not affect the perception of the product. Indirect daylight around noon provides ample light, allowing shooting from hand with no worries about the sharpness of the resulting images.
Good Practice Sample — Clothing
This is the kind of result you can expect when adhering to our guide for shooting clothes. Use the couple of hours before and after noon to get that indirect sunlight which will very effectively bring out the texture of the fabric.
If you want to provide closeup photos of buttons, seams, or any other small detail of your product, start by locating the Macro switch on your camera. Most point and click consumer cameras produced in the last few years will have this option, and almost all semi-professional SLR cameras should. The Macro switch is usually marked by a flower icon.
Once you have activated the Macro mode you will need to approach the part of the product you want to photograph up close – the camera lens should be no more than a couple of centimeters away from the detail you are shooting. Try to approach the detail from a slight angle to the background rather than directly in front. That only puts you between the product and the light source, thereby creating a shadow. Here are the kinds of results you can achieve in this way: