A simple setup for better
By Charles Platt
A friend of mine used to take the photographs for the sales catalogs printed by
Sotheby’s, the old-school auction house. Since many of the items up for sale
were worth tens of thousands of dollars, they had to look good.
When I’m selling little items on eBay, I think it’s still worth taking a little trouble
to enhance their appearance instead of just using a flash photo of something
sitting on a kitchen table. The main thing I learned from my friend is that if you
place an object on an elevated glass plate and use a large, diffuse light source,
your object will seem to float in space instead of sitting on its own shadow.
1. GET THE GLASS
From a hardware store, buy an 18" square of window
glass or clear polycarbonate such as Lexan. Don’t
use acrylic, because it scratches too easily. Even
polycarbonate will pick up scratches if you’re not
careful — which is why, personally, I prefer glass.
2. SET UP
Set up your photo area on a low table. This should be
a clean area, free from intrusions from pets or family
members, especially if you’re using a sheet of glass,
which can hurt someone badly if the person walks
into it without noticing that it’s there. If you don’t have
any photographic lights, work near a window on a day
when a cloudy sky creates a neutral, diffuse glow.
100 Make: Volume 16
3. SOFTEN GLARE
If you do have lights, you’ll need to soften their
glare. A reflective umbrella (about $30 from a photo
supply store) is one method. A softbox is another
option. This is a collapsible black fabric hood with
a large, translucent white panel at the front. I use an
umbrella about 4'– 6' away to create sharp highlights,
and a softbox up close, just 12"– 18" from the object.
I use incandescent bulbs because an electronic flash
is expensive and unnecessary for small objects.
4. RAISE THE PANEL
Raise your glass or polycarbonate panel at least 4"
above the background. I placed mine on 4 inverted
Photography by Charles Platt