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Perfect product pictures on a budget

Want to sell your boards or (products in general)? Good product pictures are the first impression people will have about your project!

JanJan
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This makeshift-way of doing pictures in a light-box has been done a thousand times, but I think the use of an ceiling LED-panel is a good substitute to most multi-light setups!

Just a quick heads-up: This is not a professional guide. I am no master of photography or Photoshop-Pro. I just want to show you what can be done with relatively cheap equipment and free software.

This is just a quick guide to create those fancy all-white-background pictures of your PCBs or other products which present your stuff in a very clean, and unobtrusive way.

Good pics of your stuff (for example in the hackaday.io global stream!) really help people decide if they click or not!

It's quite quick and easy to do, so let's go!

  • 1 × LED ceiling panel preferably 5000 to 6500K, sizes vary. I used 30x30cm, 10mm thickness
  • 1 × cardboard box
  • 1 × sheets of white copy paper
  • 1 × (hot) glue
  • 1 × camera

  • Editing your picture with XNview (quick, easy, free)

    Jan02/10/2019 at 15:00 0 comments

    Introduction

    Here's our picture, uncompressed, out of cam:

    F11, shutter speed 1/40s, ISO100, 90mm

    I decided to change the angle yet another few degrees to show more of the board.

    Our goal is to have the surrounding space pure white (RGB 255 255 255). In the above picture it is not yet white enough:

    Option 1 - using the venerable XNview

    XNview has a few options to get what we want:

    image - adjust - levels (or just press L)

    You remember the screen popping up? It's our histogram from earlier on the cams screen! We move the right triangle to a position left of the peak until the background gets all white:

    Using the color-picker (CTRL+SHIFT+I) we can make sure all the outer stuff is pure white:

    That's basically it. Now, it could happen that your object itself is too bright or dark now. You can adjust it here:

    Use the Gamma slider to adjust to your needs. I tuned it down a bit to get more contrast:

    The final picture

    So, after doing all that in a few easy steps, the result looks like this:

    Easy enough, right?

  • Camera settings and taking the picture!

    Jan02/10/2019 at 11:42 0 comments

    Introduction

    Let me say a few important things here:

    • your camera doesn't matter (to an extent, see below for details)
    • the software you need is free (famous Photoshop not needed!)
    • correcting your out-of-cam pics is only a matter of a few seconds per picture
    • only the absolute basics here! There's sooo much more to tell which is not part of this small mini-series.

    Your camera

    Cameras you could use include: your phone*, your old DSLR sitting in your shelf, all the recent point 'n' shooters, ...

    Manual mode is absolute king for what we want to do here, but automatic modes work in most cases too.

    It's nice to have the following features / add-ons though:

    • histogram (info on your cameras screen)
    • live-view
    • tripod

    *Some digital cameras have problems with horizontal banding, which looks like this (image taken with my cheap phone camera):

    See the link in the above to see what causes it and how to avoid it!

    Camera settings

    Mode

    We'll go with manual here. This means the automatic brightness of your cam is off and you can choose aperture and exposure time manually.

    Don't be scared of this, your cam helps you by showing important info before/while taking pictures!

    ISO

    Even with an aperture of 11 and up (remember: the bigger the aperture number, the less light gets to the sensor) ISO 100 to 400 will always be enough. ISO 100 to 200 most of the time, really.

    Refresher: ISO is the light sensitivity of your "film" aka sensor. The higher the number the brighter the picture at a given aperture with the downside of more noise in the picture (because of internal amplification and the sensor heating up).

    Aperture

    Just a few quick hints here: The smaller the number the less definition you get in depth in your picture.

    As we photograph at an angle and the PCB laying flat we need the whole board to look crisp in our picture. I use F8 to F18 most of the time. It varies...

    Exposure metering

    Your cam uses sensors in different positions of the sensor to tell the brightness. It can measure in the middle, calculate an average of the whole picture etc...

    Lens and focal distance

    I use a Tamron 90mm F1:2.8 lens for my pictures most of the time. For this series I changed to the standard 18-55mm F3.5 - F5.6 (which is quite the standard for DSLRs which come with an lens in the box).

    There's lots more to know here but it isn't too important for this guide.

    Taking the picture

    Exposure times are quite small (aka short) when using such an bright light, so you could take pictures by hand. My rule of thumb is: When exposure time is at least double the focal length, the picture will be quite crisp (without automatic stabilization that is).

    Example: Your lens is set to 55mm, your shutter is 1/100 second. You can be quite sure to make a good picture. Of course there's a bottom line here. 1/25 or 1/50s exposure time is quite long which could get you a slightly blurred photo by hand...

    It's just hard to reproduce some exact angle/position with different camera settings. So I use an tripod most of the time.

    full setup
    aperture F11, shutter speed = 1/60s

    Here you see the live view of the picture which has a balanced lighting (the mark in the bottom [-2 ... +2] bar is balanced). The histogram in the top right corner has a massive peak on the right side. It shows us that there is a lot of brightness in the picture. Important here is: there has to be black/blank space right of the peak! Here we see why:

    aperture F11, shutter speed = 1/20s (= longer than before)

    The histogram brightness peak is bound to the right side. The whole picture is too bright, there's no way to get a good picture this way. The other extreme is this:

    aperture F11, shutter speed = 1/200s (= much shorter than before)

    This pic would be too dark. You see the mark of the "brightness bar" is close to the -2. No...

    Read more »

  • Arranging your products

    Jan02/09/2019 at 16:43 0 comments

    Preparations

    It's good to know what you want to achieve! Here's a few things to keep in mind:

    • get your product as clean as possible. Pics will show every spec of dust...
    • have your angle in mind. You want your pics show all the important details!
    • do you want a very sterile/flat picture or a more "organic" one with shadows?
    • (...)

    The making of

    For my example we take an off-the-shelf Arduino Pro Mini clone. I wanted a "shop-ready" picture which shows the whole board but doesn't look like it was manually free-form-selected in an editing program (which often looks very unnatural.

    So I set the board onto a M5 hex nut to get some distance for a bit of shadow:

    Of course you don't want to have that thing in your final picture. So you take your pic from an angle where you can only see the board and its shadow.

    This takes us to the next step:

    Angle and shadows (and how to influence them)

    Would you now snap a picture, it would look something like this:

    Notice the strong and quite "hard" shadow? We want to change that into something more smooth:

    Ah, this looks much better! How did I do this? It's easy. You need to brighten the front section a bit. I did it by simply holding up some white paper, thus brightening the front by reflecting light back:

  • Making the lightbox

    Jan02/09/2019 at 16:37 0 comments

    Introduction

    The lightbox is a really simple thing, it's no more than a cardboard box which suits your needs in size (bigger box for bigger products).

    Many tutorials tell you to make huge cutouts in the side panes, glue some diffusing plastic sheet to it and point some kind of lamp to it to light the inside of the box.

    We go a different route!

    The box

    Use whatever you have at hand and can easily cut into and work with. I used a shipping box which is white on the outside. I cut off 4 flaps and glued them white-side facing in back into the box.

    You want as much white surface inside your box as possible.

    The light source

    I chose one of those cheap LED-tiles for lighting rooms as the only light source. It is mounted inside, at the "ceiling" of your box. Search for "LED ceiling panel" or similar on eBay or wherever and get one :)

    I glued some cardboard stripes to the back to make some kind of ledge for the panel to sit on. The panel is held in place by two "cardboard brackets" in the front of the box, so it can't fall down.

    strip hotglued to hold the LED panel in place
    "bracket" inside
    "bracket" outside

    That's it. Really.

    A few words on the light color: I chose 6500K, there are lot's of panels with 5000 to 5200K as well. They all work. Your camera does the white balancing anyway.

    On a side note those cheap LED panels all come from China, no one knows what LEDs they use and if the have the color temperature printed on the box!

    The "infinity" cove

    This is just a sheet of white copy paper. It helps you keep hard shadows down to a minimum.

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Discussions

Mario wrote 02/13/2019 at 08:03 point

Cool guide, thank you! Any tipps for bigger objects (e.g. robots with the size of something like 50x50x40cm for example) which wouldn't fit into the box you built?

Do I "only" need a bigger box or is there a better way to get good shots? I'll try the things you mentioned here out anyways. Thanks!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jan wrote 02/13/2019 at 15:59 point

Thanks for your comment! It really gets more complicated and expensive when doing stuff of that size. My super basic lightbox is only for small and preferably flat and non-white stuff.
You can do a trip to Youtube and search for product photography there. Most of the professional shots include heavy editing and tweaking.
Plus the equipment is much bigger like heavy duty flashes, a really big cove, ...

I think a robot would best be pictured in its "natural" environment with proper lighting anyway?! You could use some of the above tips there too, like using a 90mm lens to get proper blur around your bot. This helps focusing on what you want to show and not what the background looks like.

Always a good idea to watch how the pros do it!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mario wrote 02/13/2019 at 17:20 point

Okay nice, I'll just look a bit more around and try out different stuff. I do have an EOS700d only with it's standard lens and a 50mm one, but i think those two should do more than enough for me.

I'll definitely give your box a try. Thanks for the write up again!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mike Szczys wrote 02/11/2019 at 23:24 point

Great guide! I suck at doing any tweaking to DSLR settings so I'll definitely give those tips a try.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jan wrote 02/12/2019 at 08:09 point

Thanks Mike! I've been doing photography on and off for years, it's really only a few basic concepts you need to have in mind. But most of the time I'm just plain lazy and use my crappy phone cam anyway...

More logs will follow pretty soon!

  Are you sure? yes | no

Mike Szczys wrote 02/12/2019 at 15:35 point

Yeah, I'm torn between DSLR and cell camera. Cell is always with me and photos are immediately available to share on the Internet (automatically uploaded if on WiFi). But of course you can't beat the optics of the DSLR.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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