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-   -   New light boxes = MUCH improved photography (

Emily 2013-09-11 12:44pm

I was playing with my light boxes last weekend, and I'm having a terrible time getting decent focus. I don't recall having this problem before, but it's possible that my prior lighting setups were so poor that I didn't notice the focus issue. I'm using autofocus, and the camera says it's achieving focus, but when I look at the results, they're not good. I had my aperture at f11, shutter speed at whatever the camera decides (shooting on aperture priority), used a tripod and a 2-second shutter delay to avoid camera shake. Any suggestions? Should I try manual focus instead?

fjbremer 2013-09-11 7:02pm

Manual focus would be worth a try. I have found that works best for me.

Have you checked your focus points? Be sure that isn't focusing on the wrong part of the picture? I always use just my center focus point if I am depending on auto focus.

Still, I put my faith in manual focus.

Emily 2013-09-11 11:47pm

I think it was set for center focus, but I'll double check it.

AVTrout 2013-09-17 5:07pm

I got my 2 new lights and I love them! There is a learning curve, though, for photog noobs like me. I find that a lot of what I do is trial and error, and I error so often that when I finally take good shots, I can't replicate the set-up the next time. Here are a few pics I took that show the lights overlapping on the beads:

After re-reading this whole thread, I took more photos after moving the lights closer together. I found that moving them together had a huge impact on my photography success.

This was one of those days when I felt like I almost had perfection!

As for etched beads - these lights make them look simply fabulous.

One thing I'd like to know, though: if I add another light to the front, how do I take the photos?

Mike Jordan 2013-09-17 9:11pm

You don't need to add it right in the front, you can add it to one side or the other just a bit. Also, you can raise it up so you can shoot under it. You can also use something white as a reflector to bounce light back from your side lights. If you can, have a helper hold it for you and aim it while you look through the view finder and watch how the light plays across the glass.


shirts 2013-09-26 2:56am

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HI Doug - thanks for this!! Question re: silver when photographing. When I'm shooting finished jewellery with silver (earrings, necklaces, etc), often time the silver gets lost. If setting up reflector cards that were grey (medium grey? dark grey? black?), would that help keep detail in all of the silver (I attached a photo of one of my shots to give you an idea what I mean - there is detail lost in the top of the earring hooks)? My thought is that if there is a colour in the reflector card, it would be reflected on the silver.

I am reading through this entire thread to make a decision if I want to purchase these lights. They are a bit of an investment right now, but if they are going to solve my product photography woes, the purchase would be worth every penny!!



Originally Posted by Doug Baldwin (Post 4404620)
A couple of notes regarding how to setup the lightboxes:
1. Set them as close together as possible on your shooting table. You're trying to replicate a fog bank with soft all encompassing light. You want the lightboxes just out of the camera frame. The beauty of these lightboxes is that you can adjust the size of the set according to what you're shooting. If it's a small bead, move the lightboxes in close. If it's a larger necklace, move the lightboxes out accordingly so they are just outside the camera frame.
2. Fill in all the areas around the lightboxes, including the front, back and top gaps with white reflector cards. I use 11x17" white card stock for the larger gaps and 8.5 x 11" for the smaller gaps. I get the card stock from the paper store. You can also use foamcore, gatorfoam, white mount or mat boards. The idea is to completely surround the piece being photographed with the lightboxes and reflectors.

Here are two photos showing the effect of shooting with and without reflector cards. I've included a shot of the set to show how the reflector cards are sitting on the top of the lightboxes and in front of the tripod. They're also at the back, they just don't show in the setup shot. I've left a small opening for the lens to look through to the shooting surface.

Marble by Mike Hurst,

Doug Baldwin 2013-09-26 2:55pm

First, let's talk about exposure. The silver wire earrings with aqua beads are overexposed or too light. For consistent exposures, your camera should be set to manual exposure. Next, set the aperture or f-stop to f8 for items where you're flat on to them or where you don't need much depth-of-field. Then pick a shutter speed, let's say 1/30 and take a shot. Look at the preview and decide if it's too light, too dark or just right. If it's too light, increase the shutter speed (higher fractional number) to give a shorter exposure or letting less light enter the camera. Whatever shutter speed you're at right now for the earrings, I would say move the shutter speed 2 clicks higher or faster than 1/30 to darken the whole photo. With my Canon T2i that would now be 1/50 for the new exposure. Shoot again and judge exposure. Readjust shutter speed to get correct exposure.

I've attached a composite picture showing 5 different exposures of the same bead to illustrate over and under exposure. The middle photo is about the right exposure. To the left of center is underexposure and to the right is overexposure.

If you're using your camera on auto exposure, shutter priority or aperture priority, those 3 methods of exposure control are all automated, leaving the camera to decide the exposure. This is not a sound method of exposure control in the long run.

Second, in addition to the light sources, you should have fill cards around the set to fill in the lighting where the lightsources are not placed. This is referenced in the marble and lightbox photos I posted earlier. I use white card stock for my fill cards. You can use darker fill cards to subtract light or add darker reflections.

Third, you might consider placing the earrings against a darker background to get the aqua bead and bright silver wires to pop out better. Even with darkening the exposure, the silver wires will tend to disappear against the white background. Here's an example of a set of silver earrings against a gradient black to middle gray background. Notice how clearly the earrings stand out from the background.

Mike Jordan 2013-09-26 4:08pm

You shouldn't use the view image to determine exposure. It's too small to give enough detail and it's not going to give an accurate representation of the exposure. The histogram is the best way to judge exposure. I rarely have to use my flash meter unless I'm using multiple lights and need to set them individually for specific exposure settings. For single or two light setups I'll usually just use the histogram to dial in the exposure. It is very helpful.


Doug Baldwin 2013-10-07 8:43pm

The preview screen can get you close to the correct exposure. The best way to judge exposure is to import the photo(s) into the computer and view them enlarged on the screen. It also makes it a lot easier in judging highlight and shadow detail and edge separation. The camera's histogram will not be particularly helpful if the photo is predominantly lighter or darker tones. The histogram from those types of photos will skew to one side or the other of the scale and can be confusing in analyzing the exposure. As the photographer gains experience with their camera and lights, they'll be able to use the preview image and histogram to better advantage.

Mike Jordan 2013-10-07 11:05pm

If you know how to use it, the histogram is beneficial and will let you get your exposure as close as using a flash meter. This is a whole lot faster than taking a picture, downloading it to your computer, looking at it and then going back to take another shot. The pre-view screen is good for telling crop, looking for blown out highlights or hot spots and if you zoom in, focus. Learning to use the histogram is not hard at all and in this type of photography, you want the graph to be centered or slightly to the left. The peaks can be ignored, it's the ends that are important. The wider spread they are, the more tonal range you have. If the graph is way to the left with lots of space on the right, the image is underexposed so open up the shutter or increase ISO. If it's way to the right with space on the left, it's over exposed so stop down the shutter or decrease the ISO. Do one or the other one click at a time until it's centered. If it's smashed way over one way or the other do two clicks until it's moved out to the middle. Like like putting my histogram just left of center because slightly under exposed brings out the colors better, but different people like different looks.


Mitosis Glass 2013-10-08 7:40pm

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My AMAZING Doug Baldwin lights arrived in the mail late this afternoon, so I stopped everything to take a quick and dirty snap of one of my ocean beads. This pic was taken with no grey scale balance, or adjustment to the depth of field, no exposure adjustment or F-stop changes, no photo editing other than cropping, just a set-up-the-lights-and-shoot session. The camera is a Canon EOS-5D and the photographer is my 12-year-old son.

These lights did everything in one easy step that I have been struggling to do for years. I wanted something that would shed light on all the components of my ocean beads without causing any glare, and they did exactly that.

Thank you SO much for such an incredible product, Doug! Once I set up the grey scale and all the camera settings, I'll share pics that you'll be proud to post. I'm so excited about these, thank you!!!

Attachment 142885

Jamn! 2013-10-20 3:10pm

Help!!!! I am using a cheap point and shoot Sony Camera (Sony Cybershot) and can't seem to adjust it to get the back ground white. I know its my error but how do I get the background to white?

Just practicing with some czech glass leaves....

Jamn! 2013-10-20 6:22pm

Ok I got the back ground lighter....
This is nice. I picked these because they have a metallic sparkle to them and i thought that would be nice to practice with. I think this set up picked up the metallic sparkle very nicely!

Thank you!!

AKDesigns 2013-10-21 3:34pm


Originally Posted by Jamn! (Post 4437939)
Help!!!! I am using a cheap point and shoot Sony Camera (Sony Cybershot) and can't seem to adjust it to get the back ground white. I know its my error but how do I get the background to white?

Just practicing with some czech glass leaves....

With Photoshop Elements I do: Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Levels
Click on the dropper on the right that is "set white point" and then click on your background.

Jamn! 2013-10-23 10:54am

Thank you Amy! I like your photoshopped picture much better! I knew there was a simple fix! I am used to pointing and shooting outside! :hide:

deena 2013-11-17 4:33pm

I have a Nikon Coolpix 16 megapixel, do you think these light boxes would improve my photos (which are terrible). Is the camera just to bad to use?

Doug Baldwin 2013-11-25 7:48pm

You can use your Coolpix and you should get better photos with the lightboxes than what you're seeing now. You can start with whatever exposure mode you're currently using and see if that works for you. The lightboxes were set up in the classroom area at the 2013 ISGB Gathering in Rochester and many students took photos of their work with cellphones and were very pleased with the results. So I think you should see some nice photos with your Coolpix.

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