How to use a light tent

When you’re photographing shiny things and you don’t want everything in the room to reflect in them, you need a light tent. Here’s how to use one.

Sunbeam Ironmaster model A-4A, circa 1939


Sometimes you find yourself photographing shiny things (really!), and you don’t want everything in the room to reflect in them. You need a light tent.

For this exercise, I used my trusty c1939 Sunbeam Ironmaster flat iron (model A-4A for those who care). As you can see it has shiny curved surfaces, as well as a somewhat shiny black plastic grip, just to make it fun.

If you don’t happen to have a light tent on hand, you can create one out of white bed sheets, tarps, or pretty much any fairly lightweight white material. You need a light source. In this example I’m going to try to use the sun. You can use off-camera flash, a fairly bright lights, or if you’ve got the time and are desperate, a candle. The basic concept is to create an enclosed space which is large enough to hold the object you are photographing and enough empty space that it doesn’t show up clearly in the reflections. Newsflash: Your camera will still show up. If that bothers you, you’ll need some Photoshop skills to clone it out of the shot.

Illumi light tent in bag
Illumi light tent in bag

My light tent is a large-sized model from Illumi which I got on sale at half price for $75 CDN. I went for large because, why not?  It’s one of those wonderful spring supported twisty things you need a ten year old to put back into its case. They’re incredibly light-weight, easy to set up, and when I’m putting them away, I feel suddenly very old.

I put it on a piece of drywall on my soccer table, because I had a piece of drywall hanging around, and the table is beside a bunch of windows. I wanted to see how it would work with just sunlight to illuminate it. In short, my windows cast too many shadows to make it viable, so I added one of my studio flashes to compensate.

Tent by window with one flash
Tent by window with one flash

My tent came with a red, blue, white, and black backdrop nicely folded inside. Bring an iron along.

Slot for the camera to poke through
Slot for the camera to poke through

The point of a light tent is to universally reflect light so that whatever’s behind you (and you) doesn’t reflect in any shiny surfaces. So there’s a nice shield that fits over the front. It has a convenient slit about halfway up so you can poke your camera through.

Final image from tent in sunlight with fill flash
Final image from tent in sunlight with fill flash

This setup gave this image, which approximates a two flash setup. If you look carefully, you’ll see the camera lens slot reflecting at the front of the iron. I wanted to see what the differences would be in lamp placement, so I moved the tent back to my usual bench and tried various light effects.

 

Typical bench setup - dual lights
Typical bench setup – dual lights
Single light source on the left
Single light source on the left
Dual light sources (left and right)
Dual light sources (left and right)
Single light on right
Single light on right

While the single light source has drama, my personal favorite is the dual light source image.

This blog is published every Monday at 9:00 am, Eastern Standard Time. If you have comments, questions, or can think of a better approach, feel free to leave a comment. I’ll try to get back to you with a pithy answer.

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Author: Pete Cramp

I’ve been crazy about photography since I got my first camera in 1970 (I was eight), and went to Niagara College for radio/television/film production. My career took a strange detour into Information Technology, where I coordinate IT disaster recovery plans, but I’ve taken 2016 off to establish my photography business, in preparation for retirement. My passion is documentation of historical artifacts and antiques, shooting anything from pocket watches to antique tractors. Through my company, “Artifact Photography” I offer photographic services to collectors, museums, and small businesses.