Sunday, 3 December 2017

Behind the Scenes: Photography and Building a Lightbox

RTL-SDR dongles, preamps and tools of trade are small. Here's what I came up with for little money, and why it works for me.
Tips are also applicable to small product photography, and so on.

Build a lightbox

Using one, two or three lamps results in shadows, which take aeons to remove in Photoshop, and I simply have no time. Enter a lightbox, which is a cardboard box with lamps for optimal illumination, watch Youtube videos here, here, and here for inspiration just like I did, common trait is having a box and lights on the side, the more the better, first result:

Product image wasn't bad:

1. Lights shines into camera and my eyes, and looking into thousands of lumen is not fun.
2. No reflective surfaces, less light reaching object.
3. Unacceptable shadows on the left hand side.

Improved lightbox

All light sources covered from camera, easier on me eyes:

Same with less shadows:

Being able to look at an object is worth more than more light and white speckles swimming in my vision.

Lumens and color temperature

Lumens: how much light emitted by bulb, written on packaging. Also given as W at the bottom (how much power bulb uses). The more, the better, 50 W combined from LED and fluorescents is more than enough, or 4-5000 lumens light output.

Light sources must be distributed for an even coverage and to get no shadows. I put two on top, two in the top left corner, two at bottom corners. Connections are easy-peasy, cut a hole, screw in bulb.

Sidenote: Some might say cardboard, paper and a heat source is disaster, and I totally agree. Do not use incandescent lights, floodlights or HID lights, if in doubt, test: turn off = touch with hand then hot, auch = don't use. Fluorescent and LED give more light and cooler to touch.
Color temperature: that's the number before the K on the bulb above, LED and fluorescent lights are used interchangeably, not on purpose, simply I could buy them for cheap. Most cameras are great sensing color temperature, if really skewed, can adjust in Photoshop:

Note that Auto Color (Ctrl + Shift + B) does a good job, but all image adjustments in PS should be done as adjustment layers like above. That said, for lesser images I do Ruler Tool, then Crop (C), then Ctrl - Shift - L, then B, be done.


Sony DSC HX9V, a compact point-and-shoot. Images below are straight from camera, no Photoshop.

Automatic mode does not do the job, that's the green setting, result is dismal:

Program mode, multi-AF and multi-metering with flash:

Usable, small shadow on right for depth perception, would add +25 brightness after cropping.
Smartphones: work for on-the-go images, and great for family photos, but ultimate quality is nowhere near a dedicated camera, I use a Samsung J5 2016. Shoe from a cobbler.


Don't. It's better and ultimately less time to set up a lightbox, even when you play with camera for two days to find the best settings, than to spend hours in Photoshop adjusting sliders down the line, plus it's easier to get it right the first time, taking care in - great image out, 5 minutes with an image (which is more like 30 minutes once the rush for perfection overcomes you) when a post contains 20+ images is time wasted.
Do. Before a post with images goes online, I check images on a 49" screen to find any faults, invariably, there's something to improve. Deciding what needs to be completed and knowing when I gotta wake up for work leads to compromises.

Connectors and macro photography

Must crop and do post post-processing, before and after:

Ensure background is evenly illuminated, so magic wand (W) will work efficiently. Looking closely, you'll see that grooves are not cleaned on this F-connector, Eraser tool (E) is my least favorite command.
I tend to take multiple images then choose the best one, as hand shaking, distance to subject and lighting differences will make or break the final image.


  1. I regularly utilize the 80-200mm f/2.8 focal point and set it to 145mm. page

    1. I also use 100-120mm equivalent zoom, DOF is too shallow beyond 140 for my liking.