Further to my tutorial article on my own hand made – for free – lighting diffuser for product photography, I have added some features which I’d had in mind for a while and thought I’d pass the ideas on.
If you want more information on photographing small objects in this manner, I also have a more general tutorial on the photography process itself, in respect of small items.
I had reason in December, when taking some product shots for a client that were a little large for my usual diffuser, to utilise a larger bucket I’d saved for such purpose, to make another larger one. I incorporated the new feature ideas I had in mind and liked them so much, I added them to my regular small diffuser too. I now alternate between them, depending on the size of the piece I need to photograph, or the set props I want to squeeze in. The new features have been really indispensable, so I wanted to outline them for those that found my original tutorial useful.
The basic premise – and I do recommend reading the article linked to above first – is to use an upturned translucent bucket (mine contained fat balls for wild birds) as both a lighting diffuser and reflector, for small item photography. By lining the side opposite the light source with scrunched aluminium foil which reflects a great deal of additional light back onto the subject, I can get away with using a single light source – although granted mine is a daylight fluorescent ring, so the light is quite spread already and a good colour.
I already have a magnifier light clamped to my work bench to use when working on small and fiddly things, so I developed the original diffuser to make use of this and minimise the set up time when I need to take photos – for many years I’d been over-complicating things using multiple lights and my DSLR and it was just no fun taking photos at all – once I cut out most of my gear and started using a compact camera, it became much more workable.
and shooting it from overhead, using the hole I cut in the top for this purpose.
Further to the original tutorial, I have added 4 features to my bucket diffuser:
- Some background paper inside the bucket to give me a safe shooting zone for lower angles;
- A small slot cut in the top/bottom to take a clip to hold additional background papers;
- A hole drilled in the side to allow a dowel, twig, rod or wire to be passed through to hang earrings off;
- I’ve lined the lid with scrunched kitchen foil to use as an additional diffuser and protect from reflections.
1. The original bucket was lined on the light side with tracing paper to diffuse the light and the opposite side with scrunched aluminium foil to scatter and reflect the light back from my single light source. The lighting just needs to be diffuse enough to soften any harsh shadows from your light and prevent any unwanted reflections from items outside the bucket. I still like to retain some soft shadow to give the subjects form. If the light is too diffuse and too flat, items can start to look a little unrealistic and lacking in shape.
My original bucket worked pretty well, but I had to be mindful of my angles taking the photos and keep above the subject, so that I didn’t catch any of the inside of the bucket in the background. But occasionally, you want to shoot something as though it were at eye level and this perspective requires a suitable background behind. So I tacked a fairly narrow piece of vellum textured white card opposite the opening I take photos through to give me a small region of safe background to align myself with when needed. As most of my subjects are small, it doesn’t need to be very wide. Using white as a starting point didn’t impact on the light levels.
2. To supplement this, I also cut a slot in the top (what was the bottom) of the bucket to allow me to use a small stationery clip to hold additional backgrounds in this area. I made this slot by drilling a row of holes parallel to the edge and then cutting the spare plastic out from between them and sanding off the rough swarf.
I tend to use long thin background papers with this clip, to allow me an infinity sweep type background behind long earrings etc. If I attach it at the top and let it naturally curve behind the subject and onto the base, I have no ‘joins’ and this increases my space visually.
3. As you can see in the photograph above, the earrings are hanging on a piece of dowel. My third new adaptation, was to drill a hole in the side of the bucket so that I can poke a rod, dowel, wire or twig through the hole – clamped securely outside of the bucket – and hang earrings and other pieces from it. Previously I had a stand I used within the bucket, but this is much simpler and works much better for me – I found the earlier incarnation to be clumsy in use.
4. After trying to trace a bright yellow reflection in some polished silver one day, I realised that the open top of the diffuser bucket is quite a vulnerable spot when taking photos of flat reflective surfaces. The hole in it (cut to allow overhead photographs to be taken) offers no protection from reflections – my yellow spots were from something small on a shelf above me – so I lined the lid from the original bucket with the same scrunched aluminium foil and just sit this over the top of the bucket to kill any overhead reflections and to further reflect a little light back in – I found that I have gained a third of a stop exposure just from using it and it makes the overall light that bit more diffuse too. So I just leave it in place unless I need to access the top.
I can easily lift it off when I need to use the hole or clip papers in place, or just use the overhead hole for wrangling my subjects. I actually lined the outside of the lid as it had a lip which stood proud and this allows it to sit in place over the smaller base.