Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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Last night I was doing a product shot for an eBay listing of a black case that had been sitting around collecting dust for a while (hence the eBay listing). I used a normal dust cloth first to try to get the dust off it, and that removed a lot, but left trails of the dust behind that looked like scratches. It also generated bunch of static electricity that attracted all the cat hair in a 3' radius. So next I tried a damp towel, but that left bits of lint behind. In a moment of insanity/desperation/inspiration I grabbed a kandoo wipe. (For those not familiar, they're toddler bathroom training wipes... sort of in between baby wipes and toilet paper.) It worked perfectly! No dust left, no lint left, no cat hair left, and no static electricity generated. Now I'd never think to use one on my camera, but when it comes to wiping down black plastic objects for product shots... appears to be a winner!

That got me wondering what unusual/unlikely household items others have put to photographic purpose?

(Let's Comunity wiki this... say one item per reply?)

share|improve this question
Been Wikified... – jrista Feb 15 '11 at 17:58
This is really really really on the edge of what I'd consider a valid question - as your example was little more than what product wipes off black plastic well and it happened to then be used in a photograph. – rfusca Feb 15 '11 at 18:01
it might not be the best example to get rolling with, I'll agree with that. But I'm hoping folks out there have better ideas. If not, I'll be the first to hit the delete link. (unless enough of you vote close before then. :) – cabbey Feb 15 '11 at 18:50
Hey, it is a real fun question. – labnut Apr 5 '11 at 17:55
Put me on the side of "on-topic". It's clearly useful for photographers. Let's not be lawyers about this stuff. – Reid Dec 5 '11 at 5:18

12 Answers 12

I have used a washing basket from IKEA as some sort of light diffuser:

Combined with a few regular printer papers, manual white balance and manual exposure it serves as a pretty cheap and useful setup for simple product photography. The resulting image from the above setup:

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That's great! I've jury rigged a few product tents, but I never even considered something like this. – John Cavan Feb 16 '11 at 1:15
Your glasses are broken... ;-) – ysap Feb 19 '11 at 22:42
I use the $1.99 Ikea Fniss and $10 Sortera as light tents for small items, but they've stopped making them in the translucent plastic. Suppose a Samla might work, now. Mostly inspired by a set-up shot of Ming Thein's. – inkista Jul 7 '15 at 22:15

Before I bought an external flash for my camera, I found that I can reproduce the same effect of flashing to the top by placing a card (for ex. credit card) below the internal flash. It looks like this:

Picture taken from

With increasing a flash power, ISO to high values (800+), and opening aperture, it allows me to shoot faces without a light reflection and ugly shadows. Cheap and strict ;) Only a lack is that the picture might be noisy

This technique is also useful to trigger an external manual slave flash with the pop-up flash in a situation where it is not desired that the pop-up flash adds to the exposure.

The credit card/mirror spreads the light and weakens its influence on the overall exposure, but it is still strong enough to trigger the external slave flash.

share|improve this answer
Small mirrors work pretty well for this too, and lose less light. You're less likely to be handed a small mirror by a stranger, though. – Evan Krall Feb 20 '11 at 11:04
Is this picture yours? Looks like it was taken from, so there may be a copyright issue. – Evan Krall Feb 20 '11 at 11:07
@evan-krall Look closely, the image titled with "Picture taken from". And yes - this picture is not mine. – Genius Feb 21 '11 at 6:24

When shooting close-ups of flowers, I sometimes use pipe cleaners to hold the flower in place, or to pull other flowers away from the subject flower. They're flexible, hold their shape, don't damage the flowers, and they're cheap!

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When photographing some insects that are dangerous(such as brown recluse spiders) I keep them in drinking glasses to allow me to light well, and restrict them. This works well because the camera can go into the glass also and get very close for macro.

However, sometimes I want to do other than top down shots, so I have to set the glass on it's side and put the camera parallel to the table. This leaves a small gap, and certain adventurous critters can escape, crawling onto my camera and sometimes out. To avoid this I have used a dirty sock to wrap around my lens, making it closer to the width of the opening so the spider is sealed in.

Another solution is to use a cloth coffee cozi on my lens.

I will post a picture of the setup later, and a picture shot with it.

share|improve this answer
Thats a neat idea! – rfusca Feb 19 '11 at 21:02
@rfusca thanks! It was all I could come up with in a pinch(no pun intended). – BBischof Feb 19 '11 at 22:11

I've used black t-shirts as flags, when doing closeup work with off camera flashes, to help control bouncing light in a small apartment.

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A bag of beans makes a good portable tripod.

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Well not exactly... ;)… Check #3. – Robert Koritnik Apr 5 '11 at 15:47

they don't call a Swiss Army Knife a Swiss Army Knife for no reason, it really is :)

Tighten loose screws, cut bits of string, cut away a few blades of grass or dead leaves when shooting flowers and plants, etc. etc. Or use it to clean the grime from under your fingernails before meeting a client.

Don't leave home without one.

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Windex Microfiber Cloths. Better than any lens microfiber cloths ever made. A soft open-weave mesh traps dust and grit instead of pushing it around on the lens surface. So inexpensive that you can cut each sheet into 4ths and have enough to dispose of after only a couple uses.

Not exactly a household item, but invaluable for macro-photography. Skate-boarder's knee and elbow pads found in any kids' sporting section. You can follow a snake, spider, skittish butterfly or beetle, turtle, frog, or anything that moves, for hours if you need, to get the right shot. Without flinching at the very last moment from a sharp rock or stick in your knee or elbow and scaring said rare critter away. Not to mention the amount of new-clothes purchases this has reduced. They pay for themselves in saving just one pair of pants from edge-of-swamp-mud stains.

A bungee cord, securely attached at its midpoint to the center bottom of a compact tripod. I can latch that tripod securely to nearly any object.

My hand. Works better than any lens-hood I've ever tried to use. A finger or two blotting out the precise ray of sun causing a flare.

Two free pocket fresnel lenses (given as swag with advertising on them), when stacked and attached in front of a camera's own flash unit (with the correct sides toward each other and the flash), can be used to focus the flash to distances of 100 ft. away for tight zoom photos with perfect exposure.

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Today's odd item to be used, an ironing board. I needed to adjust the height of an object to reduce the reflections from the room. Worked perfectly and relatively easy to work with.

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Used the back of an ACDC poster, $2 plastic floor (from home depot) and an inverted stool to construct a lightbox for some quick product shots for a catalog :) Have also used baking trays and car sun screens as reflectors..

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As a lot of people, I use a business card to bounce my sb-600 flash. It's perfect and super cheap enter image description here

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I use a rubber bulb (sold cheaply for the purpose of lavage in local drugstores here) as a sensor cleaning tool.

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Two problems with that. First, it may be a dust/gunk generator itself as bits come off the interior. Second, the nicer bulb blowers meant for camera cleaning have a filter on the air intake, so you're not just sucking in dust from the air and blowing it back out again. – mattdm Feb 15 '11 at 21:55

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