Monday, June 18, 2007

Table Top Studio Set Up

As requested by Shaun Wong, an active 1/6 and 12" figurine collector, I have decided to do a brief review of my mock-Table Top Studio Set Up for toy photography. Shaun is intending upgrade his basic setup to a intermediate setup with the use of a light tent. The purpose of using a light tent is to have the light diffuse uniformly within the tent and giving milder shadows and less harsh highlights. Since I do not have a light tent, my setup usually involves the use of light sources being diffused by shielding with a piece of white paper. It works, if not the same, well. In the following mock-setup, I have used two sources of light, though sometimes I may use one source and sometimes even three.

Choosing the Lamp:
I am using two lamps which are acquired from IKEA. Lamp A has got a decently adjustable spine, while Lamp B has got limitations. The important consideration in choosing the lamp is the shade. As you can see, from the glow in Lamp B, the light is omni and not concentrated. The light from Lamp A is more directional due to the huge lamp shade. This directional light should be able to give a uniform cast on the side of the light tent. However, for Lamp B, it is harder to direct the light to give the same effect as Lamp A. The take home message is to choose one with a decent lamp shade (longitudinal lamp shades with good reflector works fine too) to give a good spread of light.

As you can see in the images below, Lamp A has got a max support of 60W while Lamp B has got a max support of 25W. But the household bulbs that you use will usually not exceed the maximum wattage.

Choosing the Background:
I recommend using a medium grey background and avoid using the dark and very bright tones, such as black and white. The extreme tones tend to 'fool' the camera and give over- or under-exposed images. You will also need a tripod to stabilise the camera since the light intensity of the diffused light will not be sufficient to give a steady shot while retaining the use of low ISO. Avoid using high ISO as you will not want to have noisy images especially when doing such close-up photography. A table tripod is good enough for a compact camera.

Choosing the right Bulb
The energy-efficient bulbs available from IKEA are all incandescent that gives warm tone (orange light). Although, you can correct this by using the right White Balance setting, I strongly recommend the use of the cooler tone, Daylight bulbs (6400K temperature). I have used daylight bulbs for both Lamp A and Lamp B. They are the same bulbs except that the size of the screw head being different. There are two available sizes in the market.

The mock Table Top Studio Set Up
I have decided to use Revoltech CONVOY as a subject. The picture of the setup is pretty much self-explanatory. Click on thumbnails to enlarge pictures. I have not adjusted the levels to present the actual differences between different setups. The captions in the pictures are self-explanatory as well. The results suggests that with diffused light, such as one from a light tent, the shadows are less harsh. With a uni-directional light source, shadows can be manipulated to bring the 3-dimensional features of the figurine (below pictures are not very ideal since the Revoltech CONVOY is too small).

Adjusting the setup and moving the lamps closer to the subject. The rationale is that the intensity of light changes as you move the light source closer to the surface of the light tent, but do note that the spread of light on the side of the tent might be affected. Results suggest that with the lights closer to the subject, the intensity is stronger, giving a brighter lit on the figurine. Even at such a close range, the shadows are not harsh as well, thanks to the diffused lights. The last pictures shows Lamp B shifted to overhead, which in turn cast a strong shadow giving high contrast. Creativity with the placement of the light sources can give different effects to the mood. Hence, you need to get a lamp with a flexible neck which can hold its heavy shade.

I hope that I have shed some light into letting you understand the cheapest option to fundamental toy photography (also possible for any small items).
I have earlier done another setup with a photobooth-cum-light tent, Photo Studio ver.2 (PS v.2) for fellow Gunpla modeller, Steven Yap. I have used a different type of lamp, a longitudinal lamp shade.

Do send an questions to me directly or via comments. I will be glad to answer them.

Have Fun!

All images are captured using Canon IXUS 40 compact digital still camera with standard default settings except ISO 100, flash suppressed.


Shaun said...

Thanks the the detailed post with lots of pix and coming up with this post in such a short time!

Avoid using high ISO as you will not want to have noisy images especially when doing such close-up photography

>>my images always suffer from this!


With a tripod, you can safely use the lowest ISO setting. Just remember to manually select the lowest ISO on your camera. DO NOT leave the ISO setting to auto, as it will still use the highest available to give you a steady shot since the camera does not know whether it is on tripod or not.

Laurens said... Pro Bro


dunch like dat say lah... i dun live up to the "Pro Bro" title lah.

SWFToys said...

This is a lifesaver! Thanks William for sharing this! For such a setup, I always have prob with white balance. I've tried diff settings but they turn out with either a bluish shade or yellowish shade. Any advice?


"...I always have prob with white balance. I've tried diff settings but they turn out with either a bluish shade or yellowish shade. Any advice?"

as a reference, you choose incandescent or tungsten as your WB setting (usually marked by a light bulb icon), if your lights are orange lights.
Choose fluorescent as your WB setting (usually marked by a fluorescent tube icon), if your lights are white or bluish light.

If all fails, do a manual or custom WB. Refer to your camera guide book on how to do it.
Note that not all cameras have such a function.
The concept of custom WB is to place a white object in the setup, aim your camera at the white object, fill the LCD preview screen with the white object, record WB setting. Doing this will tell the camera "this object is supposedly white, calibrate everything with reference to this white object." The camera will then adjust itself to give the correct colour tone.

Using my setup as a guide,
1. Aim my camera at my setup with all lights on,
2. Replace the CONVOY with a piece of white A4 paper (white reference object),
3. Switch to adjust Custom WB,
4. Zoom onto the white paper such that my LCD screen is filled by the white paper (now the white paper looks bluish in my setup because of the fluorescent lights shining on it),
5. Press 'SET' to record the reference object as White (now the white paper looks white),
6. the camera is now calibrated to identify what is 'truely' white, I can shoot with the correct colour tone.

Try it, hope that helps.