A peek into the studio


— 12:20 PM on September 28, 2006

We get compliments on our photography a fair bit here at TR, and when asked how I captured the latest money shot for a review, I'm almost a little embarrassed to admit what I'm using. You see, I'm not much of a photography buff; of all the pictures I take, probably 95% or more are for reviews and articles. Most of the others are blurry cameraphone pictures of random weirdness or friends doing obnoxious things while intoxicated.

When I am taking pictures for TR, I rely on a Canon PowerShot A60 that's served me well for years. The A60 is a little long in the tooth, so it doesn't have all the megapixels and fancy features of the latest point and shoot cameras, let alone prosumer digital SLRs. Still, with a few relatively affordable accessories, it takes great pictures of motherboards, hard drives, and other miscellaneous hardware.


Melamine—always classy
The first of those accessories is a basic 2' x 2' melamine board I picked up at a hardware store for a couple of dollars. I've used sheets, cardboard, and paper for backgrounds in the past, but having something more durable and easy to clean definitely helps.

More important than a clean, crisp background is good lighting. That's something I've struggled with in the past, but for a while, I was lucky enough to live in a suite with an all-white hallway that had a skylight. Daylight would bounce off the white walls, providing surprisingly even lighting with minimal glare. The environment made taking pictures an, er, snap, but it only worked during the day, and then only when it was reasonably bright out. That was fine during summer's extended daylight, but it wasn't ideal during the winter when Vancouver surrenders to dark, overcast skies and regular rainfall. Then, on a good day, I'd have a couple of hours of lighting decent enough to take pictures, if that.

Carefully scheduling my photography sessions wasn't too much of a hassle, but eventually I moved into an apartment, losing my all-white hallway and coveted skylight. Lighting finally had to be addressed, and it ended up being much cheaper than I'd imagined.

After poking through a few amateur photography threads online, I settled on a relatively ghetto, but surprisingly effective solution—industrial work lights. For $100 CDN, I was able to get my hands on a total of four 500W halogen monsters that combine to offer fearsome blinding power. The lights come two to an adjustable tripod, and although the beam they cast isn't perfectly uniform, bouncing 2000W off the ceiling gives me remarkably even lighting conditions for product shots.


500W of blinding glory
The only problem with using halogen work lights for amateur photography is the fact that they get really, really hot. Fortunately, it's a dry heat—think more of a sauna and less of a sweatshop. Given the cost, that's something I can live with.

So for just over $100, I've been able to squeeze surprising life from a relatively simple camera. Taking multiple shots from each angle and picking the best hasn't hurt, either. Neither has Photoshop, or perhaps more importantly, the fact that we currently shrink all our pictures down to 600 pixels wide. Still, I've been quite impressed with how a couple of relatively simple purchases has made it much easier to take good product shots for reviews, and improved the overall quality of my hardware pr0n.

   
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