Veteran sellers know that the quality of a product photo can make all the difference in the world when it comes to closing a sale. Good product photography can also help to lighten the customer service load since a clear, informative photo that represents your products well can help to prevent misunderstandings between buyers and sellers.
For these reasons, high-quality product photography matters. The classic "good product photograph" has three basic properties:
It is evenly and brightly illuminated from all sides
The product is centered in and fills most of, though not all of, the frame
There is no distracting "background," but rather a clean, white field behind the product
In practical terms for independent sellers in particular, a fourth property is also important:
The photo must be achieved without too much difficulty or time invested
Lightboxes to the Rescue
A photography "lightbox" (sometimes also called a "light booth" or a "light tent" to differentiate it from other photography tools) is the time-tested device for producing photos able to meet the criteria above.
A lightbox is just that—a reasonably-sized box with one open side, a light source all its own that illuminates whatever is placed inside the box, and interior walls that are white to reflect and distribute light and to eliminate "background" detail.
Products are placed inside the lightbox, the lightbox is turned on, and then a camera is focused on the contents of the box for the photo.
The result is an image that is well and evenly lit and that shows no discernible "background noise," but rather an empty, white field around the product.
Once a lightbox is set up (say, on a dedicated table in an office or workroom), with a camera and tripod positioned to focus on whatever happens to be in the box at the moment, perfect product photography becomes simple: you simply place products in the lightbox one at a time and snap photos using the already-configured camera.
Snap, snap, snap.
Getting Your Hands on a Lightbox
As you might expect, a professional lightbox setup isn't free—they can run anywhere from fifty to hundreds of dollars for a complete setup—but they are readily available on many online retail marketplaces, including the eBay and Amazon.com marketplaces.
For day-to-day selling, however, there's another alternative: you can build your own. I recently put this alternative to the test, building and testing a lightbox at Terapeak before assembling the following tutorial.
As it turns out, building your own lightbox isn't as hard as it sounds. Hand-made lightboxes work quite well; by making one yourself you'll save money and gain the satisfaction that comes from a do-it-yourself job.
Building Your Own Lightbox: What You'll Need
Here's a list of the materials you'll need in order to build your own photographic lightbox for product shots:
Cardboard box (large enough to hold the products you want to photograph)
White poster paper
Clear packing tape
Mylar drafting film
One or several inexpensive desk lamps
Most of these items (with the possible exception of the box cutter) are likely available at your local office supply retailer. In some cases, mylar film is a special-order product. If you're unable to locate it, transluscent white paper or fabric are good alternate choices.
Building Your Own Lightbox: Step by Step
Once you've assembled the items above, follow these steps to assemble your lightbox:
Cut panels of mylar film to cover the sides of the box from which you cut the windows. Then, tape them to the inside of the box using packing tape. They should completely cover the windows and any exposed cardboard around the windows when you look at the inside of the box.
Cover the interior-back of your lightbox (formerly the inside bottom of the box) and the interior-bottom of your lightbox (the one box side in which you didn't cut a window) with cut-to-size pieces of poster paper.
Drape a long sheet of mylar drafting film from the interior-top-rear of the lightbox to the front edge of the lightbox bottom. Let the film curve gently, rather than bend sharply so that no seams or creases appear in your photographs.
Once you've completed these steps, your lightbox is ready to be used!
Using Your Lightbox
To use your lightbox for product photographs, follow these steps:
Place it on a table or other flat surface, open side facing toward you.
Position one or several desk lamps so that their light shines through the mylar sheeting and windows on the sides of the box, completely illuminating the interior of the box and anything placed in it.
Position your camera and tripod so that the area inside the box fills nearly the entire photo frame and no creases, seams, or other "background noise" items are visible.
Place your product(s) inside the box and shoot, shoot, shoot!
Lightboxes Large and Small
While there's nothing wrong with commercial lightboxes, which work very well, this do-it-yourself project enables the creation of custom-sized lightboxes appropriate to the product(s) that you actually sell, with the investment of just a few dollars.
As a final tip, you can adjust your photos after you take them to clear up any remaining background detail and/or hide any hints of seams or creases by using the curves or levels tool in any photo editor, or by setting your camera to overexpose slightly (use its "exposure compensation" function), making whites just a little bit whiter.
Matt Brossard is the Customer Experience Manager at Terapeak. He can be found online at: