Closet Photography Studio

Posted By Jake Easton on November 05, 2009

Closet Photo Lighting Studio: Build a low-cost studio that saves space, stays organized, and is ready when you are.

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If you sell or review products, like to tinker or develop new projects, or occasionally need a high quality photograph without having to dig out your lights and tripod for the setup - the closet photography studio might be for you.

The easy-to-make closet photography studio is always set up, and only requires a small portion of a spare bedroom closet. With the flick of a switch, you're ready with the proper lighting and tent setup to create those perfect studio-quality photographs every time.

If you shop around, you should be able to build the closet photography studio for about $100.

Closet studio fold-down flex camera mount
Closet Camera Mount

For those who want to save the time and space of setting up the camera tripod, you can also make a convenient drop-down camera mount that features a flex arm for quickly positioning your camera. See bottom of page for instructions on how to build the drop-down camera mount.

Building Your Closet Photography Studio

For the tent base, you can use an end table, short bookshelf, or whatever you have available. In this case, we used an old audio cabinet. This provided several shelves for storing the cameras, lens, fabric backdrops, Acrylic risers, chargers, tripods, etc.

The tent size is dependent on your closet size. This closet has a 24" depth, so a 20" square tent fit perfectly. Even if you think you only need a small 12" tent, go with the largest that will reasonably fit in the space. A good 20"x20" diffuser tent will cost $30 to $50, and comfortably accommodate objects as large as 12" square.

For the main side lighting, we used two 10" photo flood lights (with tripods removed) and 30 Watt Trumpet Daylight Balanced 5000K high CRI compact fluorescent bulbs from TableTop Studio.

If you buy the parabolic reflectors and build the lights yourself, you can probably make the pair for less than $30.

Closet Lighting

Most closets already have a top shelf that makes it easy to mount the main side lights.

First, remove the round clothes hanger bar, or cut it in half if you plan to use the other half of the closet for hanging clothes.

Determine where you want your lights positioned after the tent is placed on the table, then use threaded 3/8" rod - or whatever size your light fixture base requires, to mount them the proper vertical distance from the shelf. We had some large 6" threaded-end hex standoffs that worked fine, but the threaded rod is probably easier to pick up at your local hardware store.

For the top lighting, we used a cheap adjustable arm light from Harbor Freight (about $15.00), and added a narrow-profile 40 Watt Trumpet bulb. The light fixture comes with a magnetic base, but we just used a C-clamp to mount it to the shelf.

Most of our requirements require soft lighting from the side lights, so the top light is not often used. It does come in handy when some extra diffused - more harsh - lighting is required (like the watch, below). In either case, you will want to disable the flash on your camera with a setup like this, since this is all the light you will typically need.

For diamond jewelry or chrome, for example, you may want to use a spot/sparkler lighting tripod in front. Using front lighting in conjunction with a small strip of dark cardboard can create impressive contrast shadows on bright metals.

When the lighting configuration is in place, you'll need to add one or more switchable outlets to the closet photography studio. This provides quick power-on for your lights, and handles the power for any camera/battery chargers or other electrical devices you commonly use.

Proper Lighting Makes the Difference

As any good photographer will tell you, good lighting is as important as a good camera - and arguably more important - so having your lighting configuration ready to go is a real time saver. And while Photoshop can cure a lot of photography problems, proper lighting often gets it right in the first place.

To show the importance of proper lighting, the following couple photos were taken using a cheap Samsung S1050 digital camera with the objects photographed in the closet photography studio. As you can see from the examples, the photos turned out pretty well for an older camera that cost 120 bucks (Thanks Woot!).

Unretouched Photos:
(Photos Taken with a Samsung S1050 Digital Camera)

Photo of JVC Video Camera Using the Closet Photo Studio
Sample Photo - JVC Video Camera

Photo of Invicta Watch Using the Closet Photography Studio
Sample Photo Invicta Watch

Closet Photo Studio - Door Open
Closet Photography Studio Door Open

Closet Photo Studio - Door Closed
Closet Photography Studio Door Closed

Closet Studio Door Camera Mount Up and Out of the Way
Closet Photography Camera Mount Up

Closet Studio Door Camera Mount Down
Closet Photography Camera Mount Down

Building the Drop-Down Camera Mount

Closet Camera Mount

While the closet photography studio will save a lot of time, you can also save some time by building a drop-down camera mount.

Closet Camera Mount Down

It is designed to stay out of the way while you setup your shot, then conveniently drop down to take your photos. With a front spot/sparkler lighting tripod, there is very little room - particularly in the closet photography studio for a camera tripod. So a sturdy, yet flexible camera mounting arm is the perfect solution to save space.

The flexible arm with aluminum mounting bracket is easy to make. You will need some 1/8" x 1" aluminum, a hacksaw (or bandsaw), hand drill, and file. In addition to scrap aluminum, you need a Flex arm that is 10" to 18" long, depending on your closet configuration (about $10.00 from McMaster Carr), a Threaded knob ($2.00), two 1/8" NPT couplings ($2.00), a hollow 1/8" nipple ($1.00), an 1/8" NPT nut ($1.00), a lag bolt and some paint. Total cost with 1" square aluminum is about $20.

Camera Mount - Cut Aluminum

First, cut some slots in one end of the 1/8" x 1" aluminum to accommodate the 1/8" NPT pipe coupling (just wide enough so the coupling is flush with the top of the bracket), drill a 1/4" hole for the camera bolt, then on the top side, drill down about 1/2 way with a 3/8" bit to allow room for the e-clip to slip over the knob threads.

Camera Mount Bracket

You can also drill a couple 1/2" holes for weight reduction, but isn't really required, since the flex arm will hold horizontally fine with a couple pounds on the end of the mount, and most amateur cameras weigh less than a pound. If you are using an expensive professional camera that is much heavier, purchase a commercial-grade bracket.

After the aluminum is cut and drilled, and the 1/8" NPT coupler is mounted with epoxy, the next step is to round the corners with a file and sand all of the surfaces.

Clean the surface, then apply several coats of Plasti-Dip rubberized spray paint. This protects the aluminum and most importantly provides a firm, yet flexible base for the camera to sit on.

Camera Mount - Painted

After the rubberized paint is cured (usually overnight), push the threaded knob through the bottom (1/4") hole, where the threads are exposed through the top.

With the e-clip, push it onto the threads at the base of the 3/8" recess, and lock into place. This allows the threaded knob to stay flexible and the e-clip is recessed slightly to seat the camera flush with the bracket.

Camera Mount - Flex Rod

Finally, make a wall-mounting bracket using 1" x 1" x 1/8" aluminum angle. Cut to 1", then drill a hole for the flex arm on one side (about 3/8"), and 2 or 3 smaller holes for the screws you use to mount the bracket to the wall.

Camera Mounting Bracket

When you're done, you'll have much more room to work on your photography projects, and can easily move the camera and mounting arm out of the way, while you make subject or lighting changes.

Some Photography Lighting Resources:

More Photos Using The Closet Photography Studio:
Photos Taken with a Samsung S1050 digital camera

Jewelry courtesy of Aerogem.com

Update: Using Glass for Reflection

One of the posters mentioned in the comments to use glass on a black cloth, rather than a black Acrylic riser. Using the same watch and S1050 camera, I took a few quick photos to compare against the photo taken last week with the black Acrylic.

Without taking much time for the setup, the results were still pretty good!

Watch photo using 8" x 10" (.065" thick) picture frame glass on black cloth background
Invicta Watch on Glass

Setup: I arched some black board to eliminate the white reflection from the top of the tent, and used Samsung's standard Program mode with Auto Exposure Bracketing (3 photos). The resulting shutter speed was 1/108 sec., F/3.6, Exposure Time 1/125 sec., exposure compensation -1.1 step, ISO-200, and Spot metering.

Invicta Watch Glass Setup

I would prefer the subtle reflection from the glass over a mirror. I believe a double image would be too distracting, whereas a gentle reflection is complimentary.

I'll try the glass with black cloth backing. Glass from an 8" x 10" picture frame should work - and I don't have to track down the Acrylic. I'll give it a whirl. Thanks for the tip!

One problem with using the glass as a reflecter is the double reflection, one from the top surface and one from the bottom surface. It does not provide a clean image. A mirror with the reflective surface on the front would work much nicer, but be careful of scratching it.

But how did you get the reflection on the watch photo? What are you using under it?

I used a black Acrylic riser from TableTop Studio (about $18.00). You could probably use any shiny black surface - or see if you can find a 1-foot square x 1/4" piece of black Acrylic at a home store or McMaster Carr.

You can get the same effect using a piece of glass laid on top of black cloth of any kind.

I shoot a lot of photos for products I put on eBay.
This is PERFECT!