Photography #1: A Photography Studio In The Shop

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Blog entry by Todd A. Clippinger posted 01-01-2008 03:42 PM 3843 reads 12 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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The final act…

Buffing the final coat of finish is the moment of birth for a project. After that it is carefully wrapped and delivered to start its’ life with family, friend, or client.

One part of the woodworking process that most of us don’t figure in is the photography. I can tell you from experience that this a very important part of furniture making. It is not an option if you are planning on doing woodworking and furniture as a business, be it full or part time. The images that you have to show in your portfolio are going to help capture more work and the higher the quality the better.

I feel the same financial pinch that everyone does, but as professional I don’t have an option. Taking progress and finish photos is something that I have been working on myself. The computer (this is my first) and digital camera have been great tools to make this task easier.

The in-shop studio…

Here is how I set up a photography studio in my shop.

I bought a couple of canvas painter’s tarps and put grommets in one. I use shower curtain clips to attach it to a copper rod that hangs from the ceiling in one end of the shop.

I have a dozen parabolic reflector lights. I use the “Reveal” bulbs from GE for lighting. They cast a whiter light than standard incandescent bulbs and are easier to color correct in the computer.

Lighting is tricky and you can open a real Pandora’s box when you start casting light on a subject. When you throw light on one side it creates shadows on the opposite side. The brighter the light, the harder the shadow. The goal is to get even light. Your woodworking project is usually sitting still so a tripod and long shutter speed often works.

Besides shadows you will get hot spots of light reflecting from the surface of your project. Those seem to show up worse in the picture than with the naked eye. With practice and attention to detail, you will gain an understanding of the relationship between camera, lighting, and subject to prevent the hot spots.

Without writing a full technical manual these are the basics. The following images may give you some ideas of how to set up a photography studio in your shop.

1. Here is the section of shop I use to photograph.

Photo studio corner.

2. I keep all the tarps and lights in storage containers when not in use. Wash the backdrops and dry them on high heat to get a good wrinkle, that looks better than fold lines.

Unpacking backdrops and lights.

3. I hang the tarp and place one on the floor.

Hanging photo backdrop.

Laying out floor cover.

4. I start adding lights. Some are reflected off of the ceiling and some I like to wash down the backdrop which creates a texture.

Lighting & Backdrop

5. Prep the piece for presentation, you don’t want dust to make an appearance in the photos after you put everything away.

Ready the subject.

6. Here are the images from this shoot. These were color corrected in the computer. I rely on the tools in the photo software to make these corrections. These are some of the actual images that helped me get juried into the Western Design Conference.

Mahogany table.

Mahogany table corner close up.

7. Here is another project. The first image shows how I have lighting clamped all over the place. You will also noticed that this project is elevated. Some projects will be easier to shoot this way.

Shaker bench photography.

Shaker bench close up.

To take my photography to the next level I will be working on creating even lighting. When you cast a light from one side you have to counter it with another light to eliminate the shadows. It is a bit of the snowball effect and pretty soon you can’t believe how many lights you have bought.

In house…

The best advice for taking pictures in the house is turn your flash off and use a tripod. The slow shutter speeds will absorb the image and ambient light in the room can create a warm and desirable effect.

No Techno Geek Speak

This is not a fully detailed tech manual for photographing your projects, nor is it intended to be. I certainly am not an authority on photography. This is how I do it and I hope that it may give my fellow woodworkers some ideas for photographing your own projects.

Share the Love~Share the Knowledge

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

24 comments so far

View DustyNewt's profile


690 posts in 4065 days

#1 posted 01-01-2008 04:00 PM

Thank you, Todd. I am just beginning with my digital camera. Your tips will help. Gotta get a tripod.
Happy New Year !!

-- Peace in Wood ~

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4077 days

#2 posted 01-01-2008 04:29 PM

I think the “big nugget” in there is turning the flash off. That does require the subject to be lit by other means, as you described. By the way, great examples to show the lighting. I really like your work.

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 4142 days

#3 posted 01-01-2008 04:33 PM

Thanks for the lesson. My daughter keeps telling me I need a better camera and that the pictures I take don’t show well. One more thing the learn about if I want to progress.

-- Working at Woodworking

View mot's profile


4922 posts in 4239 days

#4 posted 01-01-2008 05:37 PM

The results are worth the trouble.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4165 days

#5 posted 01-01-2008 06:33 PM

Good info, Todd. I bought photo lights and backdrop paper. I really don’t like the paper and think I will go to clean tarps as you have. The lights are on stands and make great portable work lights. Except when they get knocked over by boards. I’m like that.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4363 days

#6 posted 01-01-2008 06:40 PM

great tutorial.

(can’t imagine where I’d get all that empty space though. Ha.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View David's profile


1969 posts in 4341 days

#7 posted 01-01-2008 07:20 PM

Todd -

This is an excellent blog on woodworking photography. I have a real intert in this area. I greatly appreciate your tips. Thanks!


View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4302 days

#8 posted 01-01-2008 07:26 PM

Don’t think that you have to have a big SLR type digital camera to get these results. I am shooting everything with my Samsung V700 point and shoot digital. The cameral is small and will slip into my pocket.

The key feature for me was that it has manual mode and you can override the exposure settings in program mode, which is what I use the most.

All my digital photography is done with this camera. The key is no flash, use a tripod, and long shutter speed.

This photo was taken with my point and shoot of Cooper’s house at night with a the shutter left open for about 5 seconds.

The Cooper House At Night.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 4194 days

#9 posted 01-01-2008 09:11 PM

Instead of the canvas tarps you should pick up some ‘seamless’ backdrop like this stuff $42 comes on a roll so you can hang it on some electrical conduit or pvc pipe and provides the look you get in catalogs where all you see is the item.

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Damian Penney's profile

Damian Penney

1141 posts in 4194 days

#10 posted 01-01-2008 09:12 PM

Here is a great tutorial for setting up a garage photo studio (not that your tips aren’t great too Todd)

-- I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4077 days

#11 posted 01-01-2008 09:22 PM

Great advice, Todd! Very informative and well written. It is so true that the photography is everything when you can’t show the piece in person. I have always been a photography nut but never indoor/studio shooting. About 99% of my shooting is outside and I have really gotten good at using natural light. But I guess the indoor stuff has always seemed a little mysterious because you have to create natural looking light. You have made it look easy. Thanks!

-- Happy woodworking!

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4302 days

#12 posted 01-01-2008 09:53 PM

Damian- Thanks for the links. I had to figure everything out on my own because I did not have many of these resources available to me. I did not have a computer at the time.

I was thinking of purchasing some seemless backdrop material too. Because the bar runs the same direction as the trusses, I had thought about a recessed area in the ceiling to roll it into.

This is what I love about the blogs, so much information comes back!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 4193 days

#13 posted 01-01-2008 11:53 PM

If I may then…Several things I do also is of course to use a tripod, use the cameras “timer” function to eliminate all motion (that’s why that night shot came out so beautiful Todd) and use a Photoshop program that you can understand easily.

I have Adobe Photoshop 7…it’s a $700.00 program that will do it all, and more, but way to expensive for the amatuer. I also have an Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 (came free in bundled software with my scanner) that I’ve found to be so much easier to use. Most of our digital cameras also come with photo editing software on the supplied disc. Check these programs out for adjusting your pics guys. Several times I have made perfect adjustments to a photo just by clicking the “Quick fix” button!

You can also try using a spot light to hi-lite certain areas in your photo. Sometimes just by spotlighting the backdrop itself throws a whole new effect to your project.

And another thing I always do is to take several shots of the same subject using different features in my camera. IE: Shoot a shot with the camera set to “automatic”, followed by several pics in “manual mode” using the camera F-stop set at different settings. Some cameras will also allow you to vary the intensity of the flash, backlite flash, etc. Try it.

So to sum it up, it’s all a big experiment. The nice thing about digital photography though, is that you can delete the obviously bad shots without wasteing film money.

Great blog topic Todd! I think David was doing something along this line as well.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4088 days

#14 posted 01-02-2008 12:39 AM

I have Photo Shop and it’s way to complicated for me. I use Irfanview and find it suits my needs and it is free. Quite a few people I know use it with great success.

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4302 days

#15 posted 01-02-2008 01:03 AM

Ah – more great input guys.

Dadoo – you are right about using the self-timer to let the camera settle down.

I have PhotoShop Element 4 in my Mac for $99. I saw that it came free with a Wacom Tablet and some printer brands (that I did not buy).

My Mac has iPhoto and the new version is much better than its’ predecessor and easier to use than PhotoShop Elements. I did just get a manual for PhotoShop Elements a couple of days ago, it is incredibly powerful for the money.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

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