Tuesday, January 18, 2005

My Light Tent

I spent MLK day building a light tent for photographing miniatures. Read on...

I was looking through the light tents for sale on eBay, and saw one with a frame of PVC tubing. I went to Lowe's and bought six 5' pieces for a dollar each, and some 20 cent "elbow with outlet" pieces to form the corners. The outlet is threaded, so I had to also buy similarly cheap thread to socket converters. I sawed the PVC tubes in half with a hacksaw, and had a 2.5' square frame. I went to Jo-Ann Etc... and found some white fabric for about $3 a yard, and bought four yards of it. I draped it over the frame and back around the rear. It's not too pretty since it's not cut and sewn perfectly to fit, but it works just fine. I used some paper binders I had laying around to secure it to the frame. Total cost for the entire tent was about $25, and it will break down into a very small area when not in use.

I had two old photography lamps I used to use, but they were big, hot and the clamps for the reflectors were too weak to hold them up. I went to Lowes and Wal-Mart and bought some cheap aluminum reflectors. I bought three smaller ones, 6-8" diameter, with good clamps to hold 100w bulbs, and two larger ones, 9-10" diameter, with a grill for 150w bulbs. I have the 150w on the left and right sides. Two 100w bulbs are clamped on top of the tent, aiming down into it. The last 100w is to the rear, near the top and aiming down. You could probably make do with fewer bulbs of higher wattages, but I don't like getting burned and worrying something will catch on fire.
I found a very nice third party Nikon Coolpix 950 user guide. It discussed setting the camera into aperture priorty mode to increase the depth of field. With these few improvements, I was, I think, able to greatly increase the quality of the pictures I take of my miniatures. Compare these pictures, some I took with my old set up:

Now look at the new pictures I took using the light tent, and aperture priority mode with my smallest aperture:

While the details of these pictures look good to me, I need to work on the colors a little bit. They are on a dark green felt, which looks grey in the pictures. My next experiment will be to play around with the white balance to see if I can clear that up. All the other colors look reasonable, though, so maybe it has something to do specifically with it. I don't know yet. They could also use a bit more thought into the background scenery, and something like a low backdrop to block off the white light tent in the background. Still, this is an improvement.

1 comment:

  1. Just read your page on light tents. I am looking to build one. I see you have the background color problem as well. I am NO expert at all but my wife works at a jewelry company and they sugested on top of setting the white balance, putting different colored post it notes to the left and right of your picture, supposedly it helps the camera "figure out" the colors for the background. I haven't tried it, just passing it along.