A (very) poor man's light-tent-style backdrop
Lately I've been eyeing one of those new Sony VAIO SB laptops but I just can't quite justify plunking down the $899.99 (CAD) at my local FutureShop/BestBuy.
I took a good look around my house and among the video game consoles, servers and assorted tech items I have lying around, I found a Sony PSP Go that I've used once in the past two years. My idea was to get rid of it for cash and use that money to help justify the cost of buying a new Sony VAIO SB.
I ran into a bit of an issue though, when it came to getting decent pictures of the device.
This picture could be considered good enough for selling something locally on a site like Kijiji (regional differences may apply) but I wanted something that would make the items look new, shiny and most importantly have that high-gloss look to them. So I thought about how I could create some beauty-ring-esque photos without having to spend any money and most importantly by using items I have laying around the house.
The items needed for this setup:
Your least favorite band's poster of decent thickness (a Justin Bieber poster will work just fine in a pinch)
A laptop with VGA/DVI out or a desktop close to your shooting location (100 points to anyone that guesses the model of that laptop)
LCD monitor(s) of almost any size
RCA Lyra MP3 player circa 2000-something (wouldn't want to use anything too valuable!)
Wall-safe tape (painter's tape is recommended)
Black electrical tape or a permanent marker and some determination
MSPaint / Notepad / GIMP / etc.
Everything listed above, except for the scissors and electrical tape, came out of a bin in my closet. Since my 'home office' area is extremely crowded, I wanted something that would be easy to set up somewhere else in my home.
First step is to find a place with relatively neutral lighting and enough space that you can toss down a laptop and a monitor or two and a wall that you can place your poster against.
Use the painter's tape to secure the poster to you wall in a way that it will have the typical curviture of a proper photography background.
You may be skeptical at this point, but try to give me the benefit of the doubt!
Next, have a look at the OSD (on screen display) of your LCD monitor. We want to make sure that the brightness is set to an appropriate level for what you're shooting. For me I chose 100% brightness.
Once you've configured the OSD for the optimal soft and even lighting, turn your LCD around so that it is facing your wall/poster setup and connect your signal cable from your laptop to your LCD.
Then use your laptop's built in settings to either mirror or expand your desktop onto the external display.
Next, open up MSPaint/Pbrush on your laptop (or Notepad, or any other program you can use to turn every pixel on your LCD white)
For MSPaint, press Ctrl+E then set both fields to 2000 x 2000 or larger if your monitor has a higher resolution. Then click OK, use the paint bucket to turn the background to all white (should be set this way by default) then press Ctrl+F to full screen the image and you're good to go.
You should now have a setup that looks something like this:
It ain't pretty, but this is called "A very poor man's backdrop" Oh, and the PCMCIA 802.11B/G card is entirely optional.
If you have the extra cabling and a dual monitor output, you can also use two or more monitors running with a full-white background to get less directional lighting. For me this kind of lighting turned out to be perfect.
One issue I encountered, and the purpose of the electrical tape is to make sure your stand blends in with the items if you're shooting at a high angle or holding up multiple items with the same stand:
As you can see here, it's pretty obvious that there's something holding up the cases.
Electrical tape is a quick and dirty fix that solves all!
With that fixed, your stand should pretty much blend in to what you're shooting. You may want to try a different color if need be. Here are a few samples of the kind of images I was able to produce using only this simple setup and my iPhone 4 camera:
Well, there's my 15 minute zero dollar setup. Now you can make your shots look a fair bit better using some common household items and no one will be the wiser.
Any pro photographers out there have some tips for improving lighting in a home setup?
P.S. anyone want to buy a PSP Go?..