Mar 292013

This has been an unusual month; I don’t often get sick, but caught some kind of virus that resulted in bronchitis, very little energy, and now laryngitis. Thankfully, I can still write even if I can’t speak well, so the result is this post after about four weeks of silence.

So, what have I been up to? This is the time of year when sales of crocheted scarflettes, fingerless mittens and headwarmers slow down. It’s no wonder, since spring is (hopefully!) just around the corner, and people don’t exactly want to wear cold weather apparel. It is also a great time to build up stock for much later in the year, and to take new photos of items already offered for sale. These are a few of the new items I added to JN Originals this month.

New products collage

On the subject of photography, I complained recently to fellow Blogging Business Artisans friends that inconsistent lighting conditions have been making it difficult for me to get consistent photographic results. Rose of randomcreative suggested I try using a light box. She made her own using inexpensive materials, and has been very satisfied with the outcome for her jewelry designs. You may wish to visit her post in which she describes the tutorial and tips she used to make her own light box, which you can see here. The idea behind a light box is that you shine light onto your product through a layer of fabric or paper, creating soft, diffused lighting conditions because the light source is outside the box.

Although you can purchase a light box from a camera shop or an online venue, it is often expensive. A do-it-yourself version is usually inexpensive and easy to make; just visit YouTube, for example, and you’ll see lots of videos about how to make your own light box. I have seen light boxes constructed from a cardboard box with sides cut out, a clear plastic tub turned on its side, and box frames made from PVC pipe. I even saw a stand-up light frame made from PVC pipe that stood in front of a product sitting on the floor. After I watched several videos and visited several blogs, I decided that PVC pipe would work best for me because you can customize your light box to whatever size you need, and you can take it apart to put away when you’re finished with your photography.

I enlisted my husband’s help to make a light box from PVC pipe that is tall enough to accommodate a manikin head.  It’s nothing fancy, but it works.


John cut PVC pipe in different lengths for me so that I can adjust the size of the box to fit multi-sized products. The pipes fit into 3-way elbow joints, and can be disassembled in a minute to put away, or reassembled just as quickly for a different size. He bought six half-inch-wide lengths of 5-foot long PVC pipe, and cut the pipes in lengths that measure 12 inches, 16 inches, 18 inches and 24 inches. He added 7/8 inch rubber feet to the legs so that they will not scratch my table. Costs were minimal:

  • PVC pipe (5 feet long, 1/2 inch wide), $1.07 x 6 = $6.42
  • PVC side outlet elbow (1/2 inch wide), $1.18 x 4 = $4.72
  • Rubber leg tips (4 per pack, 7/8 inch wide) = $2.19

On the inside of the box, I clamped an oversized rectangle of Bristol board to the rear horizontal PVC pipe, forming a smooth, curved background for product photography. I simply glued together 2 sheets of 19 in. x 24 in. board you can find in the art section of any craft store. If you prefer to use fabric or felt instead, this also works well. My Bristol board sheets, which are 100-pound weight, cost me about three dollars altogether.


I draped white swim suit lining fabric over the frame, and anchored it in a couple of areas with plastic clamps you can find at any home improvement store. Technically, you can use muslin or just about any fabric through which light shines easily. Before I snap any photos, I turn on the clamp lights and set the white balance manually on my camera. Be aware that some lights take a little time to warm up fully and reach maximum brightness. You’ll notice that my lights point both to the sides and on top of the box frame. Some people use a light only on top, or two lights only on the sides. Honestly, you’ll have to experiment with the number and locations of your lights to see what works best for you. I can tell you that a bigger box will need more light, and also that the amount of light given off by your light bulbs will be factors. I used 23-watt daylight spiral CFL light bulbs. Most of the videos and blog posts I read suggest using daylight or OttLite bulbs. I spent $9 on the fabric, $34 on four clamp light fixtures, and $5.57 on light bulbs.


You’ll notice that my lights are clamped to upside down T-shaped stands that John made for me from maple craft wood. This is an optional item, since technically you can clamp lights onto anything that is the right height. That might be chair backs, the lip of a heavyweight vase, or even a vertical kitchen towel holder. In my case, however, I was looking for a fixture to which I could clamp my lights at variable heights, since I knew I was going to be using differently sized light boxes.


This entire week, I have been experimenting with my new light box. I have discovered that lighting is more consistent, but also that I can’t entirely get away from using a photo editing program such as Corel Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop Elements. Some product colors present more challenges, and so does learning the individual features of your camera. I find that using the macro and white balance settings of my camera are important, as well as using a tripod. And the camera flash remains off at all times! Previously, I placed white felt on a bed and used the diffused lighting from a bedroom window for my product photography. Lighting conditions varied throughout the day, and from day to day, creating consistency issues. With a light box, at least you can control the lighting, and that makes a big difference, I believe, in the outcome of your photos.

© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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