When I first started out in product photography I was told a light tent is an essential bit of “must have” product photography equipment, and ultimately ended up buying one. Now I have been taking commercial product photos for a few years now I have reached the conclusion that the light tent was a total waste of money for the products I photograph, however because it may come in useful one day I am loathed to throw it away, instead leaving it to collect dust in my photography room.
When I first purchased my photo light tent I used it for every product shot I took, without really thinking about it. After a while, as I became more experience I started to question the use of the photo light tent, and as a test I started taking photos of the same products both inside and outside the light tent. Whether using the light tent was advantageous or not depended entirely on how reflective the subject was.
When photographing highly reflective subjects the camera and lens, the tripod, the lights and sometimes me, were visible and this did not make a good photo. In these circumstances the light tent was an invaluable bit of kit and it eliminated any reflections.
When photographing non-reflective subjects the light tent made no difference whatsoever, and there was little point in taking the time and effort to set it up. In fact, there were times when the light tent actually created problems since it restricted where I could place the lights.
THE BEST SUBJECTS FOR LIGHT TENT PHOTOGRAPHY
The best subjects for light tent photography are small reflective subjects and products, such as jewelry, watches, crystal, glass and the like. The photo light tent provides a cover and stops hot spots and reflections of the light source.
The cover provided by a photo light tent also stops the light, camera and lens, tripod and anything else that may be in the background from being seen on the subject.
If you sell unwanted jewelry, glass, watches or crystal items on ebay (and other popular online selling sites) using a light tent will give you an edge as your photos will be superior and will draw in more visitors and views.
Because of the size restrictions imposed by a photo light tent light tent photography is only suitable for small items, so this is also something you have to keep in mind before choosing whether to use one or not.
So is a light tent useful? The answer to this depends entirely on the subjects and products you are photographing. If the subject is reflective I highly recommend using a photo light tent. If the subject is not reflective there really is no point in using a light tent (although you can if you want to) and I can’t be bothered taking the time and effort in setting up a photo light tent if there is going to be no benefit.
GUIDE TO BUYING A LIGHT TENT
If you have decided you will benefit from a light tent you do need to take a bit of care when buying one. Don’t do what I did (I learned the hard way) and I was persuaded to buy the first light tent I saw in a local camera shop. The light tent I bought is a top branded light tent and good quality, however it was totally overpriced and far too expensive for what it is. I have since learned that you can buy a photo light tent for a fraction of what I paid and the quality and specification is identical to that of my light tent. You don’t need to spend a fortune on a light tent.
If you find a photo light tent supplied with different coloured backgrounds for a little more money do not be tempted in to buying it. The backgrounds are a pvc type fabric that is full of creases that are impossible to remove. These “extra” background are a total waste of time and you will not use them, so don’t be fooled in to parting with more money for them. The best backgrounds for light tent photography are paper backgrounds.
You can buy a photo light tent in a variety of sizes so make sure you buy the most suitable size for your needs. The large light tent takes up a lot of room, a lot more than you’d think, and you also need enough space around the photo light tent to place the lights. Before you buy a light tent make sure you measure how much room you have (remembering to allow for the lights outside the tent) and get the appropriate size.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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