Taking Photos to the Next Level

When I was teaching a class at a Family History Conference, I was presenting the steps to creating a family history scrapbook. During the presentation, I discussed the need to photograph memorabilia that could be used in a heritage album. I showed these pictures that I had taken of some artifacts around the house.

Preserving Wedding Dress Digitally
Detail on wedding dress
Photographing Daily Moments
A favorite family recipe portrayed ‘in action’ rather than just scanned or typed into a document.
These pictures are actually pretty nice and taken primarily with an automatic setting on my digital camera with no flash. As you may know, flash negatively affects the quality of our photographs when used in the standard position on a point-and-shoot or compact system camera. Professional photographers use flash sparingly: When they use it they have umbrella things over them (think of your visit to a portrait studio) or can adjust their flash so it’s not pointing directly at the subject.
While many photographs can be taken by yourself with wonderful results, there are some things you might want to have a professional or a hobby photographer friend take. When I suggested this in the class, an attendee told me about a light tent that he picked up at K-Mart for about $40. It’s like a little white pop-up tent that comes with some lights. He said he’s taken wonderful, nearly professional, photos of small objects in this tent.
Cool! $40? I can spare some of my allowance to get a pop-up tent with lights to improve the quality of my photos. I will be visiting relatives, and their artifacts, and I’d love to have something that was portable to take on my trip. I also want quality photographs of my grandfather’s jewelry. I figured this idea was well worth investigating.
I went to K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and Target. I did not find anything similar to what the man suggested. Finally, I stopped by the local camera store full of gear for a professional or hobbyist’s studio. I asked about a pop-up tent system and they quickly directed me to what they had. It was about $100. Wow! Call me crazy but there is a big difference between $40 and $100 dollars for a ‘luxury’ photography item.
Not to be discouraged, I went home and surfed the internet. I found some systems that were about $50. Unfortunately, the reviews for them mentioned smoking lights that burnt out or burst. I’m not one to purchase something this hazardous for my home.
I was a little discouraged until I came across many Google links for DIY Light tents and light boxes. DIY? My husband is the handy one, so I thought with his engineering ability, perhaps we could make our own.
I came across an option that draped a white cloth over the camera and object to improve photos. It was so simple, even I could do it. Perhaps I could make this work, but I could see so many limitations with it.
The article following this example had some very creative options as well, but many of them would require my husband’s handy work. I kept reading more websites. My husband says he read numerous websites and watched many videos rather than just one when he was learning how to tile our bathroom. I put his wisdom in action. Were there more options for creating your own light tent? You bet!
One of the best DIY Light Tent descriptions I found was by the Darren Rowse writing for the Digital Photography School. His Article How to Make An Inexpensive Light Tent – DIY showed me step by step how to construct a light tent. The materials are less than $10, or free, depending on what you have lying around the house. Could such a cheap thing improve my pictures?

I decided to give this project a try, without my husband’s help. I made my own light tent out of tissue paper and a cardboard box. Here’s my own setup.

DIY Lightbox
DIY Lightbox and two desk lamps on an ironing board.

And here is a picture from my first attempt with the lightbox. I still have a lot to learn but, I can see where the quality of my pictures will be improving now that I have the ‘right tools’ for the jewelry

WW II Military Name Bracelet belonging to my grandfather
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Taking Photos to the Next Level

  1. Quite a noticeable difference in the quality of the photo of your grandfather's bracelet. It's a beautiful photo with a nice composition. Great job!

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