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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 12 of 20

LiveShoot: DIY Product Photography Part 1

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

12. LiveShoot: DIY Product Photography Part 1

Lesson Info

LiveShoot: DIY Product Photography Part 1

Well let's start. Let's take some photos here of the flies. I'll take a photos of the flies here, in the do-it-yourself tent, and then I'm gonna take some photos, just to show everyone, just to compare what it looks like in the kind of higher end product. And then we'll take some of this stuff. We'll take some of the jewelry. We'll photograph it there. And then we'll also photograph it over here, on the larger area, larger surface. Okay, so we'll start piecing this photo together. And I'm gonna turn the lights off so you guys can see how this all works step by step. And I'll leave that one on for now. The next thing is I'm gonna start, I'm gonna be doing some macro photography now. So I told you earlier that I love using extension tubes. So I'm gonna use these extension tubes. Typically when you buy the extension tubes, you buy them in a set of three. So you've got a 12 millimeter, a 20 millimeter, and a 36 millimeter extension tube. And which one should you use with your lens? I don't...

know. You're just gonna have to try it out. For this example because I'm gonna get fairly close to that fly I'm gonna use the thick one. Which is the 36 millimeter, okay? All right, which lens am I gonna use? Well, I've already got my 85 millimeter on here, so I'll just use my 85. And the way this works is it just goes in between the lens and the camera, nothing too fancy, just like that. Something you need to think through here though, is that when you put in an extension tube, you actually reduce the amount of light coming through the lens, so that means your exposures are gonna have to be just a little bit longer. Alrighty, I'll pull my tether tools table over so we don't knock anything down, great. So here's what I've got, we'll go with the-- let's do the GoPro view here on the inside so we can point this out in some detail. I've got a fly, as we see here, it's a little fly. And then I've got this fly, it's called a vice. Basically it's for people who tie flies on their own. So this vice is holding it, and then in the backdrop here, I just have a white piece of paper. Just a white piece of card stock, that's all it is. And it's just taped there on the back. I don't have to worry about the sides and I don't have to worry about the bottom, cause I'm actually not photographing the fly on the surface of the cardboard, okay? So all I'm gonna do here now is I'm gonna position this so it's centered on the backdrop, okay, great. And now I'm just gonna watch in there as I position my LED. Sometimes I want it a little forward, sometimes I want it back, depending on where I want the emphasis to be. In this case I generally want the emphasis to be a little bit more forward; so there we go. Let me just take a photo like we have here. Oh yeah, white balance, right? I'm gonna do a white balance just to show everyone. I'm always thinking about white balance. Now what can I use for white balance in this case? Well, anything in there that's white. I mean, it's all lit by the same thing and it's all the same color, and the subject, the tie, or the fly, is right here inside that scenario, so I'm just gonna white balance in this case off the background. I know I told you not to do that earlier but that was with a portrait. In this case it's all the same light everywhere in there, so I'm okay with doing the white balance off the background. If I didn't wanna do that, I could just take a little white card or a gray card and balance off the front. Alright, so I'm gonna push my WB button, my white balance button, hold it in for a couple of seconds. It's now blinking at me, saying, "Take your white balance." I fill the frame at the backdrop, and then my camera says good. I don't know if we have a camera that can show it, but it says good there, and now I'm ready to take the photo with good colors. Okay, take our first shot, get in nice and close. I'm gonna shoot these in manual exposure and just start piecing together the image step by step. One more thing, in fact there's gonna be a lot more one more things, but for now, one more thing. We're doing macro photography and so depth of field is a big issue. Limited depth of field is a big issue. So most of the times you're gonna be doing your close up photography at like F11 to F22, maybe even more. So I'm gonna stop my camera down here to like F16 as a starting point. And then we'll move on from there and see if I have to go to F22. The depth of field at F22, at this magnification, is probably 1/2 of an inch to 3/4 of an inch. So you don't get much room to work with when you're doing macro work. Okay, here we go, so I'm gonna get in close, focus, yeah, and probably need to use-- I do, I need to use a different extension tube, because I can't actually get close enough for this specific setup. Extension tubes don't actually allow you to focus from infinity to the closest position, they actually have these focus ranges that you work with. So this 36, it's too thick. So I'm gonna go and use my 20. There we go, that's great, okay. A lot of times when I'm doing macro work, I end up just focusing manually. I think most people find that's an easier way to focus. Alright, so I'm gonna focus on the hook itself. I'm gonna set my camera for F16, so I'm at F16. In fact, I can kind of show what I'm doing here on the back of the camera. So I'm at F16 and my exposure currently, it's hard to see here but my exposure's on the minus side, so I need it to be on the plus side, cause I'm photographing against a white backdrop. So there I'm at about a 15th of a second, at F16, and my ISO is currently at 800, okay? ISO 800. Now I'm on a tripod so I don't need to shoot that high of an ISO but I'm just gonna take it anyways, so here we go. Picture, and we'll throw it into the tethered system and just take a peek, see what it looks like. And I'm gonna zoom in a little bit, just so we can check critical focus. Good, so not too bad, that's great. What I'm looking at when I'm doing macro photography and product photography, is I'm looking at focus from front to back and side to side. So this is a product that the fly shop is actually gonna sell. They want everything in this image to be in focus, right? So being critical about this, I see that some of the feathers on the close side of the camera actually aren't in focus. So it's not good enough for me, so I need to shoot more, maybe F22. And there's another thing that we do, and we're not gonna cover it in detail in this class, but it's called focus stacking. Basically what you can do is you can take a picture on the front of the object, and then you rack your focus just ever so slightly, and you move the focus back a little bit, take another picture, move the focus back, take another picture. And over the course of maybe five to ten images you now have the whole thing in focus through an image stack. So we'll bring that into Photoshop, and then you use the image stacking utility there to get a high depth of field image. In this case, well, I need more depth of field so I'm gonna go F22. Oh, and you know what, this lens is my 85 millimeter lens. It won't go to F22, it just won't; it limits out at F16. So this is probably not the right lens to use for this type of photography. Maybe my 24 to 70, or maybe even like a macro lens. Some of those macro lenses go to F22, F32, F64, who knows. But you need a lens that gives you a little more smaller aperture. Okay, so there's our first photo. And that's just with one light. Check it out: light box, one light, nothing else. It's a really great shot for just a single image. We'll start adding in some other lights. Let's add in a top light, okay? So we'll click this one on. Great, and now we'll basically take the same shot with two lights now. Our lighting situation has changed. We've basically doubled the amount, or doubled the intensity of light that goes in there. So I was at a 15th of a second, so I'm gonna drop it down, or increase the shutter speed, a little bit faster shutter speed, and take that shot again. Okay, let's see what that looks like. Cool, so here is picture one. Let's zoom in so we can see that a little better. So here's picture one, and then there's picture two. So what changed? Well, you can see that some of the top of the fly is actually better exposed. Some of the shiny fibers in there actually came out. So again, here's picture number one-- Oops, that's not it. Here's picture number one, and then here's picture two. So just slightly different look, slightly. Aright, let's add in one more light and see what that does for us. So in this case I'll add in the third light on the side. Cool, I'm gonna back that up a bit, just so it's not so intense right on the edge. Okay, and we'll take that final shot. Make sure I'm still in focus, and again now I've gotta reduce my exposure, so I was at a 25th of a second. Now what I might think about doing, rather than just increasing my shutter speed, I might actually think about dropping my ISO to get rid of some of the noise and some of the grain. So I'll bring my ISO down to maybe 400. I'm sorry, yeah, 400, there we go. So that brought it down to a stop, and now we take the shot. Pow! Let's see what that one looks like. There we go, cool. So picture number three, picture number two, picture number one. Not a whole lot of difference, as you can see, between the three photos; it's subtle at this point. And that's really what I would say, that's really one of the advantages of shooting in a light tent, is you don't have to have a lot of gear to create a very nice looking image. We saw that even with just one light, the shot was usable and definitely a professional look. So, Mike, I'm wondering if this is something, cause I know there's quite a bit of money that could be made with catalog shoots, for example, or, you know, just for anybody who's trying to, like we said, put their stuff up on Etsy. Is this giving you a pure white color or does the number of lights give you that pure white effect or is there something you might have to do in post, after? Alright, cool, so I think what your question is, is the overall brightness, gray versus white, kind of that bright white look, is that what you're after? Yeah, so the key there has nothing to do with the number of lights you use. The key there has to do everything with your exposure. And without going into detailed exposure theory, here's the one rule that I'll tell you. And anyone who's ever been to one of my workshops has heard me say this. If it's a light scene, if the scene overall is light, like white or like a white sand beach or snow or something like that, you have to add brightness. You have to add light to your exposure. So let's take this same picture when my exposure is zeroed out. Let me show you what I mean by that. I'm gonna show on my camera that the exposure line here is currently on the plus side. It's at about plus one and 2/3. If I reduce my exposure, and zero it out, so now it's zeroed out, let's look at the photo I get. So a zero exposure means what? Well, it's a medium brightness exposure. So now we look at that image. It's a gray background, right? Why is it gray? Well, it's gray because I told my camera I wanted it to be gray. It's gray because my exposure is smack dab in the middle. So anyone doing this at home, don't just go by what your camera says to use for the exposure in your light tent, You have to add exposure to it. So in this case, I added one and 2/3 of a stop. So one and 2/3, and that's what gives me that nice, like this one there, that nice bright white backdrop. Cool, that was a great question. Yeah, you know, and that leads to, you know, this do-it-yourself movement. And the cool thing about it is, you can just experiment, experiment, experiment. It doesn't cost you hardly any money. And if you're not getting the results you want, just try something else. What happens if I do a longer exposure? And then all of a sudden you realize, "Oh, hey, I did that without having to buy more equipment. "I just did it with exposure on the camera. "That was a free move." Okay, well the next thing is maybe for a catalog, my client is looking for something a little more fancy, right? I mean white is cool; in fact, if you look online, if you look at fly fishing catalogs, most of their flies actually are shown against white backdrops. But, you know, as professionals we always want to do something better. We want to show our clients that we're thinking of them, that we're trying to sell their product for them. So let's come up with some other creative ways to make this have some spark and sizzle. Well I thought, wouldn't it be cool if we simulated what this fly might look like in the wild? What would it look like outside, with maybe a cool scene behind it, like a river scene or a sky? So what I did is I actually made in Photoshop a color gradient. And I pre-fabricated it here. It's super easy to do, okay? Super easy to do. Just open up Photoshop, and create a 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch document, and choose for your foreground and background colors, use green and blue, or whatever colors you want. And then draw the gradient basically from bottom to top. And then you've got this really neat gradient. Now right before we started here today, I was messing around with this piece of paper and I wrinkled it, so we'll see what the wrinkles look like. Try not to wrinkle your backdrop. It might produce some funky looking sky. But the idea with this was I wanted it to look like sky up here and grass in the background. And it's all gonna be blurry so that the fly kind of pops out from that backdrop. I mentioned the cardboard, so here's cardboard basically from the top of these boxes. So you can just keep re-using this stuff for all of your do-it-yourself fun. The next thing, real quick before I take that photo, you can experiment with all sorts of gradients. So maybe you wanna simulate a sunset and dark ground, or maybe you just wanna have a different color in the background, you can do a solid background. I just printed these out; I have a little Hewlett Packard office printer at home, that I use for business stuff, and I just printed this out on that. It works out great, so almost free backdrops. Let's throw this in there and see what happens. Just to talk through the nitty-gritty, I actually pre-positioned this at the correct height. I kind of, let's go to the GoPro view, I basically tried to measure how high my fly was and then put this so that the fly would be right-- I put the height of the backdrop so the fly is right smack dab in the middle between the green and the blue. Cool. So really, there's no changes here to the overall exposure. I don't really need to increase or decrease my exposure, cause it's the same amount of light coming into the box. The only thing I did differently now is I just changed the backdrops. So I'm still gonna use the same exposure that I used, I think it was two photos back, which I think was, I forget. 10th of a second, 13th of a second. Huh, let's use Lightroom; it'll help us with information. A 25th of a second at F16. Okay, got it. And I'll just ensure I'm still in focus. Oh, yeah, that looks really cool. You guys should see this photo; looks great. (laughter) Alright, and picture. Ready, set, go. There it is, neat. And so let me crop it a little bit. Just make the photo a little bit tighter, so you all can see what we're doing. Great, and we'll go full screen. Ha! Isn't that cool? Yeah, and the wrinkles in the background actually didn't cause us a problem. So there, we've just done something entirely different, you know? And it was so simple to do, again using Photoshop and the gradient, drawing green to blue for the background. Awesome, so that's a really good tip for y'all

Class Description

Getting started in photography and looking to go beyond natural light? Not every piece of equipment needs to hurt your wallet. Join Mike Hagen as he shows you how to create your own do it yourself home studio. He’ll show you to create a $10,000 DIY photography studio on a budget and how to utilize and still create quality looking images. 

 You’ll learn:

  • How to find and create grip equipment by shopping at your local hardware store 
  • How to create a tabletop studio in your home 
  • How to put together and light a portrait studio on a budget.
You don’t have to have your own studio space or purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment to build your portfolio of images. Join Mike as he gets you expanding your portfolio so you can gain the clients to eventually purchase the gear you want to own!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

DIY Schematics

Lighting Diagrams

Product List for DIY Home Studio

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I was so glad to see Mike! He taught my first DSLR class (Nikon D70 - then Nikon D300). I love his presentation style. It is so clear and he takes care of showing details that get in the way of actually 'doing it'. And I like the way he emphasizes good manners when dealing with a model. Well done Mike!


I've watched this class a few times when it's been on-air and I realized I really need to just buy it. I find Mike so likable and engaging, and I love how he talks you through the shoot while experimenting. Sometimes the experts show you the perfect way to do it the first time but it leaves you not really able to troubleshoot when you are doing it yourself. I already own a lot of gear that his DIY equipment is emulating, but it's really artistically inspiring to see his creative approaches.


This course is fantastic! You don't need a lot of money to start a studio or go on location. Mike shows some great easy hacks anyone can use to create a studio and create professional photographs that will earn you the money to then purchase more pro equipment. I got some great ideas I'll be using on my next shoot!