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Digital Photo Shoot Basics

Space Requirements | Ambient Lighting |Camera Settings |Composition

Space Requirements

With the exception of our Table Top Studio Kits for small product imaging, the least uninterrupted floor space you will need is approximately 12 feet x 15 feet (4x5m). You may be able to setup in a smaller amount of space, but moving the camera and lighting for optimal results may become difficult. We recommend 20 feet x 20 feet (7x7m) when possible. Select an area that is mostly painted white, gray or a neutral color. A room painted red could add a red tint to your photos. This tint could be removed from the image, but it is better to start with a neutral color image. A hard floor is recommended over a carpeted floor. It is not desirable to roll background paper over carpet. Light stands and background supports will not be secure on a carpeted floor.

Ambient Lighting

Be sure to examine the lighting in the room before constructing your shoot. Excessive ambient lighting can have an undesirable effect on the color accuracy of your images and could cause tinting. Turn off most room lighting, but leave enough light on to be able to see all of the equipment. If the room is lit with fluorescent or sodium vapor lights, assure that these lights are off. If the room has substantial daylight entering through windows, either mask the windows or shoot at night. You will be attempting to light your subject with pure studio lighting so that the camera can properly adjust for bulb color temperature. Take some test shots and preview them on a quality calibrated computer monitor to make sure the ambient (room) lighting is not casting an unwanted tint. Laptop LCD monitors are not as good as CRTs in representing colors, so we suggest that you connect your laptop to a tube, if possible.
If you can't sufficiently reduce ambient light, look for another location for your shoot.

Camera Settings

Digital cameras' auto exposure and focus modes are optimized for vacation photography, shooting people outdoors or with a built-in flash. Setting your camera for studio photography with artificial light requires intricate knowledge of your cameras control features. We can not emphasize enough the importance of studying your camera manual related to the features and settings discussed below.

White Balance: Light has a wide variance in color temperature which will effect the overall color tint of a digital image. Digital Cameras provide adjustability to compensate for variation in the color of light, and this function is referred to as "White Balance".

The optimal white balance setting is captured by the camera and is typically available on most 4 mpix and up digital cameras. This feature allows you to custom set the white balance using a white card placed in front of the camera. This feature is frequently referred to as "custom" white balance. This option will provide near perfect color reproduction when using artificial lighting. Study your camera manual for procedures on setting "captured" or "custom" white balance. (Nikon refers to this feature as "pre-set white balance"). If your camera does not provide "captured" or "custom" white balance, you should consider upgrading your camera.

The second choice is selecting a "preset" white balance. Study your camera manual for procedures on setting a "preset" white balance. Many cameras today provide several presets for fluorescent lighting. If your camera does not provide several fluorescent presets, then use "daylight" white balance with the ALZO Cool lights.

Using a "preset" white balance may not reproduce perfect color but will always be consistent when using a specific light source. A consistent color shift is easy to correct in software, and once you get the correction parameters set, you will use this adjustment on every image and get excellent results. Using a preset is a better choice than "auto" because you can consistently correct the color shift.

"Auto" white balance is your last choice and should be avoided. "Auto" white balance can cause random color shift depending on the subject, and this color shift will require individually color balancing for each image in software.

Color correction with the QP Color Kit is the ultimate solution for perfect color reproduction. This software solution will always guarantee color fidelity, no matter what white balance options are available on your camera.

Focus: Use "Auto focus" for most shots and use "manual focus" for close up macro focus of very small objects. Most digital cameras have very sophisticated focus controls and are perfect for objects more than 1 foot from the lens, and in most cases better than your eye. Always use manual focus for very small objects when you are in "macro mode".

Auto Metering: "Spot" or "Center Weighted" metering is preferred for most objects, especially when shooting with a table top studio or tent. When shooting with a white background, the averaging light meter of a digital camera will darken the object and produce a gray instead of white background. Spot metering on the subject will produce far better results. If your camera only provides "averaging metering", you should consider upgrading your camera.

Exposure Compensation: We have found that most digital cameras require "exposure compensation" when using studio lighting. Exposure compensation provides the ability to influence the auto exposure control of the camera, and allow you to correctly expose a subject on a white background. Typically when using "Spot" or "Center Weighted" auto exposure control you will set the exposure compensation from +1 and up to +2.

You will need to experiment with your camera until you get satisfactory results, and then leave the camera set to the necessary exposure compensation setting.

Manual Exposure Control: Manual control of exposure provides the ability to manage the aperture of the lens, which is very important for maximizing depth of focus. Small apertures (larger numbers like f-8 of f-11) are the most desirable settings to maintain sharp focus over an entire 3-dimensional subject. Setting the camera to manual exposure control or "aperture priority" will allow for the selection of a small aperture. When using "aperture priority", the shutter speed will be selected by the camera and in manual mode by the photographer. In many cases, with small apertures, the shutter speed will be slow and a tripod is essential.

Shutter Release: When photographing objects, we use a tripod and the camera self timer, shutter release cable or remote control shutter release to assure a rock steady camera. Even mounted on a tripod, the motion of pressing the shutter button on the camera can reduce the image quality.


It is best to almost fill the camera's viewfinder with the object. Many digital cameras' view finders and LCD displays do not display the full image captured by the camera. A light touch on the zoom adjustment will allow for fine adjustment of framing the image. For some cameras with limited zoom you will have to re-position the camera to fully frame the subject. In addition, the aspect ratio of the frame of the camera should be utilized when shooting tall or wide subjects. A camera tripod that includes tilt rotation allows the camera to be rotated 90 degrees to the side to shoot vertical aspect objects. Using the full frame of the camera will produce the greatest image detail, particularly after cropping the image. It is best to keep the camera away from the subject and zoom in on the subject. This will assure accurate perspective of the subject. If the camera is too close to the subject requiring a "wide angle" zoom lens setting, this can distort the shape of the subject.

Suggested Equipment Configurations and Usage

Table Top Photography Options

ALZO Sparks Light
ALZO Small Product Imaging Kits

Table Top Studio

Continuous Lighting

ALZO 600-EX Continuous Portrait Studio
ALZO Porta-Flash Ultra Light Location Kit - indoors room
ALZO Porta-Flash Ultra Light Location Kit - indoors hall and outdoors