Circular Polarizers, Tools and Tips for Photographing Products for eBay

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 38, 2007

Q:   I do product photography (antiques and collectibles) for eBay, currently with a point-and-shoot.   I photograph everything from antique cars, collector swords, glassware,   to wood radios and furniture.   There are shiny/Glass/Chrome objects.   I believe that a Polarizer will help.   Do you agree, and will a polarizer work with a Pentax K100D?  

Louis Putnak, Pittsburgh, PA

A:   A polarizer is a good tool for any photographer to have.   Be sure to buy a circular polarizer, as other types may interfere with the camera’s metering and focusing.   That said, if you want to get good product pictures, it’s all in the lighting and I will try to steer you in the right direction.   (Given the amount of business transacted on ebay, a lot of people will benefit from your question, so thanks for asking!)
 
For small products a “light tent” is indispensible and makes small product photography very easy, even with a point-and-shoot.   A light tent is a small, tabletop box made of translucent material, usually a white mesh fabric.   You place the product inside the tent , which softens and diffuses the light, yielding near-perfect lighting effortlessly.   You can use tabletop reading lights to add extra illumination, and some light tents even include a couple of lights to make a complete kit.   Curiously enough, one of the best places to get a light tent for ebay photography is ebay itself!   A search under “light tent” will yield hundreds of results, some with a “Buy It Now” price as low as $16.95.

Bigger objects such as swords, furniture and cars requires a different approach.   A shoe-mounted flash will make a big difference, but to do a superior job you need stand-mounted, AC powered flashes that will allow you to modify and shape it to your needs by using reflectors, umbrellas, and softboxes, just like a professional photo studio.   If this sounds intimidating and expensive, it shouldn’t be.   You can put together a nice starter lighting outfit for the same price as your K100D.   You simply put the flashes on the stands, attach your umbrellas and softboxes and use the modeling lights to preview the image.   Then you adjust the camera and flashes, take a few test shots to set exposure, and you are ready to go.   You can use the gear to make nice looking portraits at home, too.   For anyone who loves photography and wants to take it to the next level, having lighting equipment will open up a whole new world for you.

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