How to create amazing product shots for under $50 bucks

June 28, 2014


You’ve definitely seen it before. An apple iPhone or Macbook floating in a white cloud, with a diagonal reflective line down the center.

Recently we needed to take a few shots of SnapJet and I couldn’t help but wonder if we could snag that effect for our printer. We decided to experiment a little and…


It turns out the effect is really easy (almost too easy!). You can also do it with your smartphone for under $50 bucks in less than a day. Here’s how:

1) Get a (cheap) light tent. ($17)

The “floating on a white cloud” effect is cake using a light tent. This is a wire-box with stretchy nylon or polyester fabric on each face. It diffuses incoming light to eliminate shadows and specular reflections. I can’t see any reason to spend more than 20 bucks on this, unless you need a giant one. We picked up a “Neewer 24x24x24″ tent for $17.45 on Amazon: 

If you really want to go cheaper than that, you build the tent using this excellent guide: 

Personally, I didn’t want to spend a day running around for parts and putting this whole thing together just to save $17. I also wanted something I could collapse and put away. Here’s our setup:


2) Get 2 full spectrum bulbs. ($14 or $24). Lights are probably the most important part of the setup. We chose $12 dollar 65 watt bulbs just to be on the safe side, but I’m pretty sure you can go lower if you don’t want to spend that. You’ll want full spectrum fluorescent bulbs. Here are two options: 
or slightly higher wattage:


3) Get 2 clamp lights ($14)

Don’t need to get fancy here, just plain old sockets from Home Depot with clamps will do. There is some issue with dimmer switches to be aware of, but any sockets will do. These are $7 a piece:

*note* if you don’t want to hassle with DIY lighting and are willing spend $40, you might want to consider a lighting kit like this instead of getting bulbs and clamps separately:

We clamped ours to some high chairs, but as long as they face the sides of the light tent you can place them however you like.


4) Put aluminum foil around the bulbs. Yes, aluminum foil. This is a DIY reflector to guide all the light onto the face of the tent. Our shots certainly didn’t need any expensive reflectors, foil works wonderfully. Yes it looks a little tacky, but who cares since its not in the shot? You can also fiddle with the shape if you want a narrower or wider beam.

5) Cut out 1-2 rectangular black cards

This is the secret to those cool diagonal reflective lines. Got this gem from a good friend at the USC film school. Basically you tape strings or wire to each end of the any old oaktag or construction paper. Then adhere them to the top of the light tent. You can now position the cards so that they selectively block out a square of light on your product.


I found the very best way to adhere the wire to the tent is to use two small magnets on either side of the fabric that clip together. This way you can move the cards in all directions until you position it precisely where you want it. (Taping makes it hard to move around, and you’ll probably do a little shuffling before you get it right.) I also put a knot in each wire that I can pull on to raise or lower a card.



Poof, that’s it. You now have everything you need to get those sleek Apple-like product photos.

We used a table vise like this to steady the iPhone while we shot some spinning movies:

But that’s optional. For still images you’ll get great shots with just a phone camera.



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