Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taking Pictures Part 2: Reflections

I've written before about my creative solution to taking pictures of small products, like the buttons and small crafts I sell from my Etsy shop. I know a lot of Etsy sellers use a light tent for this, like this home made one. But anything I do has to fit in my tiny townhouse so setting up a light tent and finding a place to keep the equipment when not in use didn't seem to be a viable option for me.

Instead, I use a couple of foamboards, scored and folded and set up as both backdrop and reflector. When not in use, these are folded flat and stored behind a bookshelf, conveniently out of the way. I made another makeshift reflector out of half of a large can, too, which works very well for small objects.

It's all about the light...where it's coming from...and where you want to put it.

One challenge for me was controlling reflections, since the buttons I make have a shiny surface. A little maneuvering, a slight change of angle and a healthy dose of trial and error can make all the difference.

But pocket mirrors were a particular challenge not only because of the shiny surface of the button, but also because of the image reflected by the mirror. After all, you want to show the mirror, not what the mirror sees. In this photo the reflection of my reflector (a foil-covered piece of foamboard) can clearly be seen:

That's not a photo I'd want to post in my Etsy shop, even after cropping out the edge of my background and the reflector set up on the left side.

Sometimes the best solution is the simplest. Here's what I did to fix that:

By tilting the angle of the folded piece of foamboard that was serving as my background, I made sure that the only thing reflected in my pocket mirror was the white surface of the foamboard.

Since I'm using window light, which can vary according to the time of day or weather, I usually tweak the brightness and contrast of these product shots with graphics software. (I use an old version of Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop Elements to do this, although free programs like Gimp or Picasa are favored by many Etsy crafters.)

Here's the final result:

By the way, the pocket mirror I've used in this example isn't available in my Etsy shop. It's a personal project for some friends of mine. But you can check out the Imaginary Bitches website and a very funny new web series written by Andrew Miller and starring Eden Riegel, Elizabeth Hendrickson and some other familiar faces from TV. It's getting some great attention from the press., including raves from People Magazine and TV Guide. Better yet, go to their YouTube channel and watch all the webisodes for yourself and if you enjoy it as much as I do, subscribe and share it with your friends.


  1. Great hints! :)

    Sometimes it's tricky to get just the right shot...

    Beautiful work! LOVE your shop!

  2. your photos turn out great - thanks for sharing!

  3. Good thinking and creativity...out of necessity is often the best invention.

    Very clean final photo.