Table Top Studio
As the winter continues, I decided to create myself a table top studio so that I could take some photos indoors while the weather is less than great. I have started on a project called SHADOWS OF NATURE (pics found on my home page) all done from home. I found that you can create some really great studio looking photos without having to spend loads of money on expensive studio equipment.
All you really need is some card propped up against anything. I have a really thick bit of white mounting card as a base, which is just an off cut from what i use to mount my pictures after printing them. Then to add different background colours I bought various different coloured card which you can pick up really cheaply from art supply stores for a few pounds.
Lighting is what you want to capture in a table top studio environment so you will need some lights. So in a proper studio, lighting can be expensive as it is some of the most essential equipment in a studio environment. However as this is a tiny studio buy good lights with a tiny price. I have a couple of LED strip lights the size of a marker pen, which cost around £4-5 each. Hand held you can use one to create harsh shadows on your subject item and move the light around easily to make different shadows.
If you want different coloured lighting to create different moods or artistic effects just get some craft tissue/crepe paper to put in front of your handheld torch. I bought mine for as little as a quid for 20 different colours. It does diffuse the light source slightly when using this craft paper but you could buy some coloured acetate sheets for 6 different colour it maybe about £5 but you would likely keep the harshness of the light you are using.
Some stuff I already had such as a tripod which is almost an essential for me to make my photos crisp but if you don't have one you can easily steady your camera without a tripod just as long as the camera is on something sturdy.
Here is an example pic of my table top studio:
As you can see it doesn't actually have to look expensive and can be light years from looking professional. However you only show what your pictures depict. No-one will actually know whether you are in a professional studio or spent all of £20 on your set up.
You probably could just use the camera on your phone as the quality on some are really good but I don't know how the photos would come out. The photo above of my camera set up, was taken using my phone and it clearly didn't handle harsh lighting well. Most phones shoot in JPEG, although some now do shoot in RAW. So when shooting with a phone in JPEG which struggles with dynamic range and exposure, it is more difficult to adjust later. I'll come onto that in a bit though.
Personally I use a Zeiss lens with a macro ability up to 1:4. This gives me the ability to get closer if I need to and more often than not you really need to. The other thing I use to get really close in for extreme macro is a macro converter. You can get to see the fine detail. So things like bugs and plants like below.
Finally is editing. In many photography courses I have done, people ask "isn't editing photos cheating?". No, it isn't.
In film photography you wouldn't submit a roll of film negatives as the finished article. You would develop it. Think of editing as the digital equivalent of developing film negatives.
The majority of all photos out there by professionals and most amateurs will have been edited. If a picture make you go "WOW" its probably been edited. Now obviously you should still use basic photographic techniques and composition to make the picture look great in the first place. Editing just takes that great picture to the next level to get those wows. If you want to rely solely on unedited pictures then that is up to you. Photography and art is down to peoples personal opinion. Take photos for you, stuff you like. If anyone else likes it then that's a bonus.
Editing RAW is easier than JPEG and more essential. JPEG files do a certain amount of editing for you when shot E.g. sharpening, saturation, contrast etc.. So from the surface it looks like a more refined image but you don't have any control over what it initially does to the image. You have less control over how much info you can recover or change. JPEG files are also 'lossy' files, meaning after the adjustments it throws away what it deems not necessary to condense the file size. It will do this every time you edit it yourself as well, meaning after a few edit changes to the image and it throws away data the image starts to degrade.
RAW files are exactly as they suggest; ALL the raw data. None chucked away, no this or that done to the image. So basically this all means - creative control is all yours. Make it look how you want. Whether just enhancing the image to make it look its best or doing crazy stuff in Photoshop. I use Adobe Lightroom as I find it simple to use and well laid out. Google Nik is a great free alternative. Photoshop does simple and complex stuff great if you know how to use it properly.
Photography can be very expensive, but it doesn't have to be expensive. There are cheap ways to make nice photos. So try and do a table top studio and see what you can do. Try googling "great photo ideas at home" or something similar, the results will give you creative ideas on how to use your table top studio.