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My low tech, lower budget
Photo Studio
© Frank Ford 2004; Photos by FF

Photography is all about light, and over the years I've experimented with a bunch of different kinds of lighting, coming to the conclusion that I would never get the hang of flash photography, and that incandescent studio lights are too hot and require too much electrical power. At one point I had 2500 watts of incandescent lighting, and that wasn't quite enough! I do virtually all my photos without a tripod because I can move really fast and not waste time setting up each shot. My digital camera (Canon 60DS) has image stabilization in its 28-135 zoom lens, so I can take reliable hand-held shots at 1/30th second exposure.
Here's the studio, upstairs in a cramped little area we use for storing banjo heads, various obscure parts and overstock book inventory. Narrow as the space is, there's just enough room for some side and overhead lighting. There's something less than seven feet of clearance below the roof joists.
The real turning point for me was the discovery of these twisty "100 watt replacement" fluorescents that draw only 23 watts each. I went over to Home Depot and picked up a bunch of cheap-o plastic ceiling light fixtures, and mounted them on a board, adding a couple of foil covered cardboard "wings" to deflect the light a bit.
I have two of these banks of ten lights on moveable stands, so I can position them at the sides of my subject.
Mostly, I just have them jammed over to the side as far as space will allow, which ain't all that far.
Overhead, I have a string of ten more lights hanging in an exposed row, and another row of ten more behind a white sheet suspended between the roof joists.
Each bank of lights is switched, so I can turn off the ones that are causing bad reflections. That way I have some measure of control over "hot spots." I put a regular spring wound timer on the circuit so I don't have to turn off the lights when I'm walking out of the area with my camera in one hand and an instrument in the other.
To further reduce the glare, I have PVC frames covered with thin white cloth sheets to stand in front of the side lights.
When the light is on, it's reasonably diffused.
The backdrop is a roll of the cheapest "seamless" paper from the pro section of our local photo shop. That's the only real photo gear I used in constructing this setup.
I hung it on a shop made roller, so it can be cranked up for walking clearance in the area. Most of the time, it just hangs there, though.
I made up this cheesy little table thing, kind of like the sort of table you'd see in an RV or boat. The back is on a hinged support and there's a single "leg" in front. It doesn't have to be particularly sturdy in this application.
When I lift up the table top, the leg swings back and is retained in that position by a magnetic catch.
So, working one-handed with a guitar in my other hand, I can swing the table up and out of the way if I want. That's useful if the instrument is too tall to hang above the table.
At the highest point the roof I have a little pivoting support. It has a pair of screw eyes, with a piece of nylon monofilament passing through one and tied to the other. Once the instrument is hanging, I can simply rotate the support to get the angle I want.
The free end of the line is tied to a spring clamp that's clipped to a nearby board. My moving the clip I can raise or lower the instrument easily.
I don't worry about the "color temperature" of my lighting because I'm using a digital camera most of the time. In fact, a regular pink fluorescent filter works well for taking regular photos with daylight slide film. Before a photo session I hang this white paper covered cardboard to se the color balance on my digital camera.
I'd like to use a tripod for some shots where I'm trying for extra good depth of field, but if I set up a tripod in this little studio, there's no room to walk around it to change the position of the instrument, so I made up a little compromise stand. It's an old microphone stand with a hunk of PVC pipe jammed on top to connect the tripod head. Not as rigid as a regular tripod, it works just fine if I use the self timer or a cable release.
The tripod head is a modest ball joint one from the camera shop with a quick release so I don't lose any time getting the camera on and off. Time is a big issue if I'm borrowing a customer's instrument for a quick photo op. I'll ask, "Can I take your instrument for a couple of minutes to take some pictures?" I've learned by experience that it really better be only a couple of minutes. . .

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