It turns out that the studio lighting class at Rayko is actually a portrait lighting class, though it doesn’t say that anywhere in the workshop’s title or description. At least of three of my fellow students and I were there to learn product photography, so the instructor, studio manager Michael Schindler, said he might add a product staging workshop in the summer or fall. I will ask that my class fee be transferred to that future workshop or be refunded. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t learn anything in the workshop, but I didn’t learn anything that is directly applicable to what I’m currently trying to accomplish. If I were trying to take realtor photos or shoot milk ads it might be a different story.
One of the ways I’m trying to save on expenses (and possibly increase my income) is by taking my own product photos. There are lots of tutorials out there for making your own light box out of foam core, PVC pipe or a cardboard box, but I was particularly interested in this one by Drawings in Motion for making a collapsible light box. Space is at a premium in our home studio, so being able to make a stage that folds flat is great. I tweaked the instructions a little in order to make a 30-inch box rather than a 20-inch one (giant plush hams don’t fit in 20-inch boxes), and set up my utility lights exactly the way the author set up hers — shining in from both front corners. Then I put a tiny charm in the box and started shooting.
The photos were awful. I couldn’t get close enough to the charm to capture it in detail without creating horrible shadows in the box. Clearly, a 30-inch light box was not appropriate for a half-inch charm.
Using my leftover foam core, I constructed another box, 10 inches on a side. This seemed a much more appropriate set-up, but I had trouble fitting two big lights and a camera lens in the 10-inch opening in the front. Even when I eventually finagled everything to point in the right direction, the pictures turned out no better than when I would shoot onto a paper-covered table near a bright window.
Turning back to the web for alternatives I found many light boxes with their lights set up differently — some shining down from the top, some coming from the sides, and some coming from diagonal corners. This tutorial by Strobist, which lights through a diffusing material, rather than bouncing light off the interior walls of the light box, seemed to make a lot more sense. I cut large windows out of three of my 10-inch box panels, leaving one inch of foam core all around the edge. Then I taped some sheets of vellum over the openings and set up my lights on the left and right sides of the box.
The photos I got with this setup were okay, but not great. All of them were too dark and required editing, but some required minimal editing and came out quite nicely, while others required significant editing and still ended up looking a little off. The box setup is definitely an improvement over my “windowsill shots,” but I clearly still need help with some of the basics. That’s why on Sunday I’m signed up to take a studio lighting workshop over at Rayko Photo. I signed up early, which got me 25% off the price of the class, which seemed reasonable anyway. I like that it’s just a one-day workshop and doesn’t require me to commit two or three months worth of mornings the way many continuing education classes do, but I’ve never taken a class at Rayko, so I don’t know what the quality of the instruction is like. I’ll be sure to report back on my experience.