Why You Need a Light Tent

So, the question is “why do you need a light tent?

Well these are used for small articles, food dishes, still life photography, when you’re looking to produce high quality images. In a nutshell, it gives you more control.

wedding rings taken using a light tent
wedding rings taken using a light tent

What you’re doing is setting the object or objects in a perfect setting with controlled lighting to create a near perfect image, that looks vibrant and three dimensional. That’s our objective.

What to look for when choosing a light tent

Light tents are generally small and can be cheap. But we would advise and better quality light tent, which will be more sturdy and durable over the long term – you want something that’s going to last.

Better combinations, come with there own lighting. This is a good choice as these lights complement the light box in terms of size and power. Here are a few of the besting selling light boxes to date.

still life - light tentQuality of light

It’s all about the having control over your lighting. The white translucent surround of the photo tent act as diffusers, giving a soft even light. This is important and it transforms your photos into powerful images.

Setting Up

You would normally have to spot lights, placed either side of the tent, shinning in. They shouldn’t touch the tent because of the heat they generate and also you won’t get the soft even light. You can place one light further away, just a few inches to give more light to one side of the scene than the other. Experiment to enhance your creativity.

By leaving out the back drop, you can place one of your lights at the back. This back lighting works really well if you take shots of food dishes.

Check out this short youtube video for a quick demo

By placing a color filter over one of your spot lights you can create interesting affects. For this to work well the light with the filter should be placed further away from the tent to reduce its intensity. As well as color filters you can place a patterned filter in front one light. The pattern needs to be bold otherwise you won’t see it due to the softening effect of the photo cube.

Ambient light, as long as it isn’t direct sunlight, makes little difference in the shoot. So whether your shooting in a dark room or a room full of light, the difference is quite small. Those small spot lights overpower any ambient light in the room.

Typically your assemble your photo tent on a table. This makes sense as the items will be small in order to fit into the tent.

Place the items that are going to photographed, in the middle of the tent. experiment with moving them away from the camera or closer to the camera to alter highlights and shadows.

Setting up the Camera

You need to set the camera up on a tripod. Use of a cable release (either cable or remote) is ideal but if you don’t have access to these, you can set up the shutter delay for around 2 seconds.

The normal approach is to set the camera up head on, that is along a centre line through the photo tent and onto the camera. But you try other positions, off centre to get more of the light on one side of the object. Also try lower camera positions to add drama to the shot.

Most cameras will have some form of image stabilization system, you need to switch this off. The button is located either on the camera body or the lens.

Set the camera’s ISO number to its lowest setting (normally 100). This will allow you to get the best image that the camera can produce. Also shoot in “raw” this will produce an image with the most detail, which is beneficial for any manipulation we do later.

All dSLR cameras will allow you set up the camera’s white balance. This is normally done by places a white card in the scene your about to shoot (the light tent in this case), take an image, then us the camera’s internal menu to set this as the white reference point. The camera then adjusts any images against this reference.

White balance can be achieved in the post production software but most of the time it’s preferable to do this in the camera.

You can use the camera’s bracketing feature. This is where the camera takes one image one the ideal settings (aperture/shutter combination). Then takes another shot with a higher shutter speed on one at a lower shutter speed. Sometimes the alternatives work best, you usually find this out later when you take another look at the images.

Other considerations

  • place objects in the centre but experiment, by moving them around you can change the shadows
  • Ambient light makes little difference but avoid bright sunlight
  • Use timer or shutter release, image stabilization off
  • The F stop, ISO 100 (food low F stop, products higher F stop)
  • Shoot raw, utilize bracketing
  • photoshop to sort out black and whites – sometimes pure white can’t be achieved use a border
  • Use a whitecard to set the cameras white balance
  • Histogram for extreme black and whites the background
  • Photoshop

Even though We’ve set up our tent, lighting and the camera’s mounted on a good tripod. You may find that the image is lacking something? A certain amount of punch. The colors could be crisper.

This is where we can use image manipulation software such as Photoshop. Although this isn’t a Photoshop course, you can find one here. Having even basic skills will help sweeten your images. There is a good free alternative to Photoshop called GIMP (you can find it here).

Sometimes blacks come out a dark grey. It’s similar with situation with whites, they can look like a soft gray. When we use the histogram function of the software. The histogram shows us the tonal range from pure white on the left to pure black on the right. The histogram should be evenly spread from one side to the other. When it isn’t, we see soft blacks and soft whites.

Use of the histogram allows us to stretch the tonal range and this improves the blacks and whites in the image. Changing the settings for white so that the graph starts in the bottom left hand corner. We same thing for black, accept this affects where ther graph finishes, in the lower right corner.

Check out this great article for more info on using light tents in your photography

We can also use the histogram to clip the black and/or the white. We do this when we want, say a white background to just disappear. by adjusting the setting for white we can set the pure white higher up the scale. What this means is that we set the white point to a low gray value, anything in the image with a gray similar or below that level becomes white.

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