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I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, but was prompted to sit down and do it by a Flickr mail asking how I take my beer bottle shots. I do all my beer photos this way but also this setup for other small scale still life shots.
Rather than buy a real light tent I improvise with a few bits of wood, foam board and some fluorescent lights from the local DIY store. It’s a flexible setup and doesn’t take long to assemble and dismantle. The only drawback is that it can be a bit unstable if I rush it. I start off with a couple of bits of wood or hardboard at a right-angle to each other – propped up by a bookend or a copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I then clip a thin sheet of coloured card to the edges to form a nice even curve as a seamless backdrop. The beers are all shot against a black background. I prop A2 sheets of foam board either side, held by a couple of slotted strips to stop them falling outwards.

For lighting I took the side from a large cardboard box and attached four fluorescent strip lights to it in a square. I found these in the local DIY store, when I was looking for light to mount under the kitchen cupboards and in the loft. They form a modular system where it’s possible to chain them together or use a distribution block to wire them up, so they’re quite flexible. I realised after I’d used them in the kitchen that I could use a few more to both light my still life shots and use them in a light box for viewing negs and slides.
DIY lighting rig
As you can see I arranged the strip lights in a square and then cut a hole through the centre for shooting, the idea being that this would provide a nice even light. However, each unit has its own switch so it’s possible to make the light more directional if necessary. This is where it gets a bit shaky though – I stand the cardboard up on its end on a couple of storage boxes and prop it against the foamboard. Here’s a couple of different angles; from the side, and above.


Once I’m happy with the subject setup, I lay more white foam board on the top of the two side sheets to stop light escaping out of the top. I then set up the camera on my tripod to shoot through the hole in the light rig, firing off a shot of a white card first to set a custom white balance for the fluorescents.

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