Back to the light tent – sort of

Some of my most regular blog traffic comes from a short series of posts I wrote a year ago, about building a tabletop light tent. I also sometimes receive questions and comments about it.

The most recent query appeared over in my guest book, from a gentleman called Buzz Coren. He wrote:

I’ve already built my light box and have been fooling around a bit with different lighting setups….I’m getting very fuzzy results and wondering if I might need a higher MP camera than my 5-year old Canon 2.3 digital elph. Comments?

In the spirit of open communication, I’m going to reply to that question here, as well as dropping Buzz a line directly.

The first thing to say is that I’m probably just as new at this – light boxes and lighting – as Buzz is! In fact the photos on his website look as though he’s probably spent a lot more time on lighting than I’ve ever done.

I took a look at Buzz’s site (which is really nice by the way – I like the “made on a Mac” part especially!) and to be honest, the photos there look fine. They are obviously not very large size, so I can’t assess how noisy / fuzzy / grainy they are. I don’t know whether they are taken with the 2.3MP camera? They are pretty good if they are!

My view is that yes, you’ll certainly get better results in terms of definition, detail, fuzzy/grainy-ness if you move up to a newer model of camera… most compacts start at around 5MP now, and the IXUS / Digital Elph I own has 7 (I think) which has been superb for outdoors photography and snapshots, although I’ve not used it in the context of the light tent. Here’s what I wrote about it back in May.

I’m not sure what Buzz’s precise problem is, though. With these kind of images you will also get better results if you can use a tripod, and a timer or remote release to avoid shaking the camera. Lighting is key too, I think even the lamps I got for the light tent were a little under-powered.

To be fair, I have not done a huge amount with the light tent but I have found that shots are noisier, and I put this down to lighting and the length of exposure. Someone else who contacted me about the light tent articles suggested trumpet bulbs, which are apparently available on eBay – these are supposed to be pretty good for this kind of photography too (thanks to Fiona Sands for this tip, which she shared with me back in September).

The moral of the story is, now that I’ve got a nice macro lens and external flash, I really ought to invest in some more bulbs and pop the tent up again! It’s fantastic that my articles attract so much interest.

2 thoughts on “Back to the light tent – sort of”

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with “lighting” The more light you can throw on the better, as shorter exposures mean less noise and little to no camera shake. Also, you can stop down to a smaller, sharper aperture and therefore greater depth of field.
    I’d suggest you experiment with the speedlite bounced off a large reflector to avoid it being too harsh and directional close up – or think about a bit more DIY?

  2. Hi Andy,thanks for such a detailed reply and compliments on my website. Practically all the photos were professionally shot…the photos I myself had taken and had a problem with weren’t on the website. I tried a different setup today, fooled around a bit with the camera settings and got better results using the macro feature, setting the white balance a bit lower (and higher) and using flash. Instead of positioning lights on either side of the tent I used three 65W indoor spots that are conveniently located about 18″ above the tent where they illuminate a table I use to frame my wife’s work , if i can add a little plug for her work. I plan to buy a few “Lowe’s” lights soon and fool with them. I agree with MartyC, that lighting is everything. When I’ve watched a photographer shoot my work, they’re always tinkering with light positioning, softening, shadow lessening etc., and I’m basically a point & shoot sort of person. Again, many thanks for the input!

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