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.
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)
*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!
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!
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).
Just a few quick hints here: The smaller the number the less definition you get in depthin 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...
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.
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:
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:
This pic would be too dark. You see the mark of the "brightness bar" is close to the -2. No...
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:
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!
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.
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.