Hi Steve,

I've recently discovered your photography section on Stickman and am always amazed at the pictures you achieve. I'm having some issues with taking a specific sort of photo. Basically I take pictures of things like gadgets, so they are still close ups. I'm using a light box with pro lights, plus a digital Nikon D40. The quality I'm getting is inconsistent with problems of background colour not coming out totally white.

I've played with settings but not a clue what I should be doing- i.e. I'm just doing trial and error and getting 99% error. Do you think I need a special type of lens to make it better?

Maybe you've done an article already which you could point me to, I'm working through your past articles and not really found the right thing.  Any help would be awesome, I'm new to photography and to be honest not

very technically minded.




Hi David -

I'm pleased you're reading the column.  I'm happy to answer your questions and usually if it's a good question like this I'll use it in the column under Readers Questions if that's okay with you?  Sometimes the questions take a bit of effort to answer, so the more people who might benefit from them the better.


Your question:

It would be helpful if you could send me some links to the type of "pro lights" ad "light box" as there are more than a few different types which can make real differences.  I'll leave this part of the question alone until I hear back from you and continue to answer the rest of your questions.

The D40 is more than adequate for small product photography.  Recently I've been corresponding with a guy on one of the local forums who has the same needs as yourself.  He was surprised to learn that a decent quality point and shoot would actually work better for his needs because of the deep DOF (depth of field) afforded by the small sensor, the built in Macro function, and with a hot shoe it can sync strobe lights as well.  The D40 will ultimately provide better image quality than a point and shoot, but its quality you might not notice, and to get the DOF you want you'll need a specific lens because compared to a point and shoot, the D40 has a huge sensor and achieving enough DOF can be difficult.

No, so far no articles on small product photography but we have been talking about one.  With eBay and on-line reselling this is a popular topic.  The problem is that it actually takes a decent amount of understanding about photography, or you'll need someone to design the set for you and then you can just operate the set.

Here's some general information which will always be true for small product photography using a DSLR such as the D40.  Get back to me on the exact type of lights and light box.. and I'll get to the rest.

1.  The camera should be set to manual mode.

2.  Shutter speed should be set to or under your maximum flash sync speed.  For convenience 1/100th will work fine.

3.  Your aperture should be as deep as your lens allows for maximum DOF (depth of field), a minimum of F16 and preferably F32-F64.

4.  Your lights output will then need to be adjusted for these settings.

5.  You should be looking for a lens with a focal length which allows you a comfortable working distance from your subjects, but at the same time fills your frame with the subject.  For a small subject like a watch, this will require a Macro lens.  Nikon calls them Micro lenses (no one knows why Nikon is the only manufacturer to call them "Micro")  Usually 100mm focal length will provide enough of a working distance.  The least expensive high quality Macro lenses start at 60mm.  60mm will work fine, but you might find yourself working closer to the subject than you like.

6.  If shooting against a white background, and you want the background 100% white, you'll need to expose the background roughly 2 stops greater than you expose the subject.  This "whites out" a white background giving it that clean "floating" look you'll see used often.

7.  Placing a piece of visquean over the white background (top of table or shooting platform) will provide a nice reflection which is a simple neat trick to make your products look better than the next guys.

8.  ALWAYS use a camera support (tripod) and external shutter release cable when shooting these types of subjects.

9.  Consider background colors like a dark grey, black, or colors that compliment the subject.

10.  Using flags (posterboard that blocks light, usually black in color) and reflectors (posterboard that reflects light, white in color) to shape your lighting is the standard technique for such subjects.

Once you get your settings the way you need them, the set.. set up properly, and the lights adjusted.. you can just leave everything in place and shoot your products as you add them to inventory.  Ebayers and on-line retailers maintain a dedicated set/camera for photographing their products.  They also find it helpful to "tether" their camera to their computer so they see the image immediately after its' taken, vs. removing a card and importing the image.

Let me know about your lights and light box, take a picture if you can.  I'll follow up with more specific information once I have this information.

I hope this helps.  If you like, it's possible to do a individual workshop just on this topic and get you set up properly.

Take care



Hi Steve,

Thank you so much for such an in depth analysis. I'm more than happy for if we can do something for an article.

It's going to take me a bit of time to process all that information and put it into action. What I'll do is keep you informed of and hurdles and the progress as I put it into practice. The light box I have is a very cheap pop up white one- probably worth a re investment there straight away!  The light are 2 x Interfit by Paterson 500w tungsten which aren't adjustable in power - not sure if that's an issue.

I'll look at getting a reasonable to good lens dependent on price. The issue on kit is we don't want to go and buy all top end stuff when we lack the experience to use it correctly...yet.

Very good point about keeping the 'set' all set up and not messing with it - will definitely be putting that into practice.

I'll let you know more as I get chance to put your great advice into practice.

Kind Regards

Dave B.



David -

There are some changes to what I told you based on your equipment.  It's almost always a mistake to get to far into the "how to" without knowing the specifics, but we try..  :)

Your tungsten lights are what we call "hot lights", or always on.  They won't have adjustable power so instead of adjusting the lights to the desired exposure, you'll need to adjust the camera to the desired exposure.

To do this you will set your lights as desired.  Set your ISO to the lowest possible (ISO 200 on Nikons), and your aperture to at least F32.. or as small as you have.  You'll get the most depth of field this way.  Then, you'll adjust your shutter speed for the best exposure.  It's that simple.

However, you'll need to have the camera mounted and locked down in a tripod, employ an external shutter release, and set your lights properly.

When you say "light box" are you talking about a small product "tent", one of the cheap translucent tents used to photograph small items like watches and jewelry?  If so.. these are okay for a quick start, but later you'll want to replace it with proper equipment.  You probably bought the light box and lights together as a small product lighting kit?  These can be used effectively.. but with a bit of work and a trip to the hardware store you can do better.  It's just a matter of experience and progression.

Don't hesitate to buy a good used lens.  You can save a lot that way.  Lenses are generally very reliable and last for many years.  If it works on inspection, it will probably work for a long time.

Take care David.. good luck


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