DIY lighting tent for glossy subject, top-down shots

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography by alex kolskov

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography

Recently we did a shoot for a long term client of ours, Anisa International. You already know what its for, right? Yep,  chrome cosmetic brushes.  This time the client wanted the brushes to be photographed directly from the top (top-down shot), which brought up an interesting challenge for me.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then  you’ve seen that we’ve done many other shots of very similar glossy reflective cosmetic brushes (see them here), but none of them were from a top-down perspective of mirror-like brushes.

It’s obvious that flat diffuser panels, which I use in many situations won’t work here.  It will be impossible to get a smooth transition between the flat panels and the camera.  A cone-like sphere won’t work either, as it won’t create a uniform gradient across the brush, even if highlighted with stripbox (because of its spherical shape). The brush is a cylinder, therefore the light modifier should be cylindrical as well.






It took me 10 minutes to build this lighting setup:

DIY shooting cylinder for tabletop photography lighting setup

DIY shooting cylinder for tabletop photography lighting setup

As you can see, I’ve used a translucent sheet of plastic (this one) mounted on plastic PVC pipes (any construction store like Home Depot has them) with scotch tape.  I then bent it to form a half-cylinder shape and fixed everything with the wires. Then I cut an opening for a lens in the middle of  my DIY light tent and mounted the whole setup using diffuser holder arms.

I won’t say much about the lighting. It should be pretty self explanatory: two strip boxes, one  on either side, to form the desired gradient, one spot light for the bristles. The brush’s bristles absorb much more light than the handle, therefore it should be lit with a more intense light.

This is the view from inside:

DIY shooting cone for tabletop photography

DIY shooting cone for tabletop photography

A few notes here:

  • The camera I was using (my technical camera, best for focus and perspective tricks) was not necessary here, but I had to use it because my Canon 5DMKII  USB controller stopped working and I couldn’t shoot tethered with it.
  • The piece of scotch tape inside was a fix for a crack in the plastic. It did not affect the picture, as the tape is transparent:-)

The resulting images looked like this:

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography by alex kolskov

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography

The image came out as perfect as can be in this situation. A nice and smooth gradient (where needed) over the brush handle and the only thing left for post production was a tiny reflection from the lens (it is the line on top of the brush).
I had strip boxes close to my DIY light tent, so that the bottom edge of the box was almost touching it. This formed a bright line followed by darker line at the bottom of the brush.  This was needed to show the reflective nature of the brush’s surface.

Another brush done with the same setup:

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography tutorial by alex kolskov

Chrome brush tabletop studio photography tutorial

If you look closely, you’ll find that I forgot to turn off the hair light (which wasn’t necessary here) and it added that  bright highlight on top edge of the brush. I had 6 “normal” brushes and only one brush-less. I simply did not think about that hair light.
Therefore, a tip for all of us: always re-evaluate the lighting setup, even when switching to a very similar product:-)

If you would like to learn more about how to work with and create DIY light modifiers, check out my upcoming workshop. It may solve many of the issues your are dealing with in the studio and show you the way to become a successful jewelry photographer.You’l be surprised how much jewelry photography costs clients:-) Do not miss this opportunity:

Jewelry Photography Masterclass: 17th of February 2013, Atlanta

Hope it was helpful.  As usual, I wish the best for you and your photography:-)


About The Author: Alex Koloskov

The lighting magician, owner of AKELstudio, Inc.

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26 comments to DIY lighting tent for glossy subject, top-down shots


    Alex, you mentioned in the past you don’t like lighting tents, like those sold as kits with continuous lights. But your DIY with Translum is just like a lighting box. Is there any difference? For the non-technical person, say someone making and selling jewelry, would a lighting tent kit make sense to get similar results for maybe spending $100?

    • Howard,
      Well, if you are talking about tents which are similar to what I’ve build they will work for sure. I was referring to cube-like light tents, frame covered with translucent cloth: these won’t work. The idea is not to have those corners..

  • Andrew Cheung

    Hi Alex,

    Same question as JW, what kind of surface you used to have the brush lying on? Thanks and always great to learn from your brain-opening tutorials!

  • J W

    Hi Alex, thank you for the great tutorials. Can you provide a link to the white surface that mounts to the tripod in which the brush is sitting on? Thank you!

  • Arthur

    Thanks for the reply. That’s what I suspected, I just wanted to be sure since I now have an 18′ by 4+ft roll in my studio and didn’t want it to be a waste. I agree, the low price was very surprising to me and you’re right in that it holds its shape well. I just need to buy some more PVC piping after using it up when I built my large diffusers with ripstop nylon.

    BTW–I emailed you a couple of times the last few months but haven’t gotten a reply, I’m not sure if you had a chance to check. I was hoping to show you a few more examples of what I’ve got now compared to earlier.

    Your time’s always greatly appreciated!

  • Arthur

    Great stuff as always Alex. Could you explain why you used this diffusion material instead of say, frosted acetate or ripstop nylon? Thanks!

    • Artur,
      I am not sue I have frosted acetate or ripstop nylon in my studio, so I’ve use what I have. On other side, this is easy to cut and bend, it is more flexible than frosted acetate (if I am right in thinking what it is) and more rigid and hold shape better than ripstop nylon. It is easy to clean, it is non expensive too:-)
      Thank you!

  • Matt


    I was looking for something like this for a while. Thanks!
    The link you provided to the sheet is broken. Can I have the correct on, please?


  • thanks for the wonderful examples.
    Have question – how about the mascara… I saw some mascara, the brush is beside the tube.

  • Hi! Thanks again for the examples you post. I have 3 questions, on the Einstein that is direct with the reflector, is there a honeycomb on it? And the modifier that have flaps, is that sold by PCB? Last one, that is what you are using to hold up the tent, you bought that on B&H?

    • Yes, Einsteins accepts PCB honeycombs for standard reflectors (two sizes are available) , as well as it can be mounted on a barndoor frame. I suggest you to dig paul.c.buff website, they have pretty much everything for einsteins.
      Yes, it is cheap diffuser holding arm, it should be in one of my wish lists there. Check Equipment section on mastering splash, Wish list is there.
      Thank you!

  • Nathan Shanahan

    There is still a very obvious black strip down the middle of the brush from the camera and celing reflecting. If you had of moved the center of the lens to the top of the brush ( and cut a much smaller hole for the lens) you could have hidden this.

    • @Nathan Shanahan, Well, it won’t hide, it would be smaller. Plus. I needed lens right on top of the center of the brush.
      In any case it was needed post-production, and it it does not really matter 100 pixels line or 30 to be cleaned out:-)

  • Thanks for showing us, your work is really great to look at and we learn so much from you with these blog posts. Thank you so very much!

  • What a great shot Alex and congrats on your DIY skills as well as composition and ingenuity. Can I get same effect using speed lights with screen panels?

    • @Peter Dudek, Any lights would work, you just need to make sure it is evenly spread on the diffuser.
      Screen panels? Not sure waht do you mean.. I did this cone just because screen diffusers did not work:-)

      • @Alex Koloskov, Thx Alex. I just love these high lights and they are so smooth, sharp and even. Excellent job Alex and I believe that there is so much to do in post to get it right :]. I am using constant light at the moment and cant get same effect, close but not the same. I.m getting YN speed lights for Christmas :], we will see where this will go… Have a good one M8.

  • Yet another post showing why those desiring to buy $1000 dedicated shooting tables are just all wrong. Every object on white presents its own challenges.

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