Monday, March 16, 2009

Photography: Macro Part 1

The photography on this blog has never been that great. Occasionally I'll get a nice shot, because I was actually ready (and/or remembered) to pull the camera out before the sun set. Flash photography is for the birds (that I know for sure), and our house has extremely poor lighting (as an aside, one of our next household projects is removing the 80s vis-a-vis the awful light fixtures).

Anyway, I know better. I have a nice camera (actually a nice film and a nice digital camera), and I took many photography classes in high school and college. Though, this was before the accessibility of digital photography and my forte was always on the processing side in the actual darkroom. This is not to say that I was ever exceptionally good at photography; no - just that I enjoyed it and have always had at least a working knowledge. But over the years I've gotten lazy. And for some reason it never occurred to me that the principles remain the same whether you are using film or digital.

But that's going to change, I hope. I'm going to make a conscious effort to improve my skills, and will share any new knowledge I come across. With camera in hand, and newly installed Photoshop, I'm hoping things will change. First step is macro photography. For the most part, if I need a close-up of a skein of yarn, a cupcake, etc., I rely on the south facing window in my kitchen. This of course requires that I actually take the photo when the sun is pouring through said window.

In that grain, last weekend, I took on a small project: a DIY lightbox. I really wanted to buy a tabletop Lowel EGO light - actually, I wanted to buy 2 of them. But at $90 each, (a) I'm not sure I'll get that much use out of them, (b) I'm trying to save up (a.k.a. justify) a new lens (and/or a small loom), and (c) why not see what I can do for a bit cheaper. I decided to go a decidedly lower tech.

Using this Strobist post (from way back in '06, which got a lot of blog play at the time)and this Instructable as my starting point, I got to work.

Foam Core (to build the box)
Poster Board (for backdrop)
Duct Tape (I used white)
Fabric (a couple of yards of a thin white cotton)
Work lights (with 27 W Daylight CFL*) (desk lights would work too)

It was actually easier to build than I anticipated. And the cost was significatly less than what the 2 lights would have cost me. Had I used a recycled box it would have been even cheaper.

The set-up:
DIY Lightbox 2

The result. Very nice pictures. These are taken on Auto setting without a flash.

DIY Lightbox Yarn Test

DIY Lightbox Test

The drawback, however, is the size. I should have built it smaller, but I used the scale of the foam core as the base. Unfortunately, this is too big to be practical, because I just don't have this kind of space. So, I slit the side seams, and collapsed it down. It folded up fairly well, and is still able to be re-assembled.

With the size issue, I decided to try a couple other options as well with the leftover supplies. Parts 2 and 3 up next.

*I really sort of hate compact flourescent lights. I really really despise them. I think, in general, they give a really poor light quality. I know they are supposedly "better" for the environment because they use less energy, but what about that mercury and the disposal. And once one started smoking and scared the crap out of me. As a friend of mine said in college (in his Christmas light lit room), "Flourescent lighting is only good for performing surgery."

9 comment(s). Tell me what you think!:

Abby said...

For a year or so I have been thinking alternately about making and buying a light box - now you have inspired me! Thanks for going first and showing me how simple (and inexpensive) it is. Great photos!

Libby said...

It was really cheap. The sound of the exacto knife and duct tape made Nola crazy, but it was easy. Of course, I went a little big. I came up with a couple of other solutions that I will probably use moving forward. More posts Tuesday and Wednesday or on Flickr now.

AndreaLea said...

Are there any books you would recommend for a complete novice (me)? I'd really like to learn more about photography and taking a class isn't really fitting into the schedule now.

That is really scary about the smoking light.

Sarah said...

I've been kicking around the idea of building a light box for a while now. This seems much better than my current method of moving lamps from different rooms around a large white gift box lid. (More professional as well...) Thanks for the instructables link!

Debbie said...

I'm on a mission to improve my photography too, though I'll still be working with a simple point-and-shoot for a while. I've dithered around the idea of a light box but have always been put off by the storage issue -- I just don't have room to store a box, and a sort of fragile one to book.

One DIY box I saw (I can't find the link at the moment - oh wait,here's one version) used one of those translucent storage tubs (i.e, Rubbermaid or Sterlite) set on its side with some white fabric draped over the sides and back (and a poster board backdrop and lights like you used). You can then use the tub for its intended purpose, storing stuff (like the lights and the fabric) and it can just be shoved in a closet without much worry that you're going to smash it.

You've prompted me to get going on this project -- I think I have everything but the lights!

Libby said...

Debbie: I tried the storage bins, and it did work. I didn't take the time to tweak it but I can definitely see that it is a viable solution. Check in tomorrow for that (or look on flickr for my results.)

Debbie said...

And then I checked your photostream and saw you had already tried the plastic box route!

Ruby Banshee said...

Super Cool!!!

Meg said...

wow!this looks fantastic! great work!

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