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All Photos Courtesy of Jeff Mellody

The world of professional photography is filled with challenges and roadblocks. Every time you pick up a camera there seems to be another challenge to overcome. Recently I encountered a problem that did not have a readymade solution. Sometimes more gear is not the solution, it just takes making your own trap to catch the mouse.

The Problem

How to photograph small subjects with consistent lighting. Small items by their very nature require delicate lighting and often require lights in close or small reflectors that have to be adjusted for each item which makes for looks that don’t match. My solution is a DIY project that takes a small amount of time but created a great deal of satisfaction in the end result.

The Solution

The easiest way to photograph small objects is with a light tent. Light seems to comes from all directions, great for reflective objects and no unsightly shadows to distract. But why spend $100 dollars or more to buy a light tent when you can make something even better with Savage Translum? There are so many uses for Translum that there is no reason not to keep a roll lying around.

The Supplies

  • roll of medium-weight Translum material
  • straight edge at least 24” long
  • protractor
  • clear packing tape
  • 2 A-clamps
  • scissors
  • utility knife

The Instructions

The following instructions are not for a light tent but for a light cone. This is so much easier and can be made in about 15 minutes.

1. First you need to cut a strip off of a roll of Translum that is 22 inches long and will be 60 inches wide since that is the width of the roll. The 60 inch edge needs to be cut with a straight edge.

About in the middle of this edge mark a small dot which all of the measuring will be based from.

Now for some grade school math class. You need a protractor. Bet you never thought you would use that again.

2. Place the straight edge of the protractor against the straight edge of the Translum and center the zero mark over the dot you made on the Translum. Find 87 degrees. Draw a line starting from your dot at an 87 degree angle to the far edge of the material.

3. Now we are going to draw two curved lines. One will have a radius of 8 1/4 inches and the other at 20 5/16 inches. For metric users that is 205mm by 515mm. How to draw curved lines you ask? The easiest way I have found is to use a piece of string. Using a long ruler I just pinch one end of the string with my left hand and grip a pen and the string at the desired length with my other hand. Placing the left end of the string at the small dot, you draw a semi-circle from the edge of the material to the 87 degree line that was just drawn on the Translum. Repeat for the other semi-circle.

4. Next, take some scissors and cut along the semi-circles and use a straight edge to cut the 87 degree line.

5. Assembling the cone is made easier with a couple of A-clamps and an ironing board. Line up the narrow end and attach an A-clamp. Do the same for the other end.

6. Slide the wide end over the narrow end of an ironing board and allow to lay flat.

7. Attach a strip of clear packing tape to secure the cone.

8. Remove the A-clamps and put a piece of tape on each end of the seam and you’re done!

The finished cone has a 4 inch opening on the top, a 10 inch opening on the bottom, and is 12 inches tall. The top opening is large enough to accommodate most macro lenses with a lens hood attached.

For the most even lighting I would suggest 2 lights spread 180 degrees apart. The type of lighting is not a concern. Studio strobes, speedlights, or fluorescent bulbs would work fine. The light produced is very even and is great for subjects like jewelry. It cost me less than $6.50 in Translum material to make the light cone.

Jeff Mellody

Jeff Mellody is a Los Angeles based commercial photographer with 35 years experience. After graduating with a degree in photography, he worked as a catalog photographer for 10 years. The next 20 years Jeff was a contract photographer for the US military. For the last 5 years he has been an advertising and food photographer. Jeff is a walking encyclopedia of photography knowledge and is looking forward to helping photographers of all levels of experience. Check out his website here.

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