Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Anatomy of a Photo: eBay Photos III

[This is the third entry in a series of simple eBay shoots. I recommend reading the first and second before you read this entry. And as usual, I should to reference the source: Strobist's DIY Macro studio.]

With my recent Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 USM purchase, it is time to unload my Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 LD Macro on eBay to clear space and more importantly, scrouge money for future purchases. And part of any eBay post is the pictures.

I shot the pictures on Sunday, and at the time, I didn't want to drag out the beat-up box I've been using for my eBay shoots. I wanted to put the Tamron and Canon side by side for the review, so I needed a little more room than I can get in that little box. And I didn't really want to take a lot of time to adapt another box that day.

Then I got to thinking about the Cooler Method (sticking the item in a cooler in the shade outside) but my cooler is pretty dirty. And I don't know where it is. So I was looking around the house for something else that would suit my purposes (large, white, boxy) when I saw the laundry hamper my wife had left by the washer. Perfect!

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, a laundry hamper is a large, tall basket similar to a garbage can with holes on one or more sides so damp cloths don't get moldy. Actually, a white kitchen garbage can would probably work even better than a laundry hamper, but my garbage can is off-white and happens to have garbage in it. Yuck!

My big criticism of the cooler method is that you can never bring the background up to full white and make the object look like it is floating on the page. You can with the box method, but you need to cut out the back of the box or aim a light at the background. A big advantage of the laundry hamper is the semi-transparency of the bottom which you can easily raise to full white by positioning a light behind it.

So here's the set up (see left, click to embiggen). I used my wife's sneakers as light stands (again, thanks for the idea, Stobist). I would have used mine, but I have stinky feet. You can see in the picture my trusty eBay radio triggers, a kleenex box to raise one of my sneaker/light stands, and my sweatshirt keeping the hamper from rolling off the table.

My SB-20 aimed at the bottom to make it white (see right for a view with only the background light on). It was zoomed all the way out and didn't need to be high at all, maybe 1/16 or 1/8 power (I never write that stuff down).

On the left side of the picture, you can see a piece of white cardboard I used as fill for the left side, and arranged my Sunpak 383 on camera right to go through the holes and hit the top of the hamper, in front of the lens. The Sunpak was also set pretty low, I believe 1/8 to 1/4 power. No gels were used on either lens.

That's it, not much too it. The raw image (converted from RAW) is at left -- note the holes that I needed to clone out for the image at the start of the entry. Not a big deal, and it might be possible to reduce the trouble further by using a garbage can or covering the holes with paper. To get the background white, there is a lot less dodging and curves required. In my images, I may have gotten the background too bright because I think there is a bit of blooming (light spill across adjacent pixels in the sensor) along the edges of the lens. That also may be reflection though. Either way, I found I needed to edit these images less than with the box method.

There are some drawbacks to the method, but finding the right hamper (or garbage can) would alleviate a lot of them:

  • The bottom of most cans are ribbed, making it difficult to bring them to a consistent full white without causing blooming on the edges of the object you are photographing.
  • The sides aren't flat, allowing it to roll off the table if you don't prop it (hence the sweatshirt).
  • Hampers aren't very wide -- in a perfect world, I'd like it to be at least 2 ft x 2 ft.
  • The holes in the sides are useful to let light in, but prevent light from bouncing. A white fill card will help, but you might have to clone the edges of the card or holes if you do a wide shot.
  • It can take some fiddling to get the light right, but that's true with almost any setup.
If you're looking for a quick set-up, grab your hamper (just warn your significant other first). And the translucent plastic offers many advantages compared to a box or cooler.

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