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I'm trying to set up a table for product photography (mostly shoes but clothes might be added in the future). We've already built a "table" (see attached images) and on top of it we're thinking of adding plexiglass and horizon-less photographic paper on top of that.. I've been searching a lot but I cannot find a definitive answer on whether I need clear plexiglass or opaque (milky) for better lighting. Also, I cannot establish just what kind of watt output my lamps will need.

Note that the distance between the lower level (lamp level) and the top level (plexiglass level) is 18cm.

Please let me know if you need any further info. I appreciate any and all help, I'm stomped.

Thank you all in advance.

P.S (the broken plexiglass was leftover and we were doing testing, and we noticed the current lighting will probably be insufficient.

First Second How I want it to look like

  • What, exactly, do you want your work to look like? – Michael C May 16 '15 at 0:41
  • Edited the post with a picture of what I want it to look like – Dimitris Preketes May 17 '15 at 19:40
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The key to getting that look isn't really about what materials you use at all. It is about making sure there is enough light on the background to completely blow it out while keeping the light on the product 2-3 stops lower so you don't blow out the details of the product as well.

This has been covered quite well in other questions. Please see:
Why can't I get a decent white background with product photography?
How do I properly do shadowless product photos?
Why hasn't buying powerful lights improved my lightbox images?
How do I improve the results of photos taken in a light-box?

Along with all of the questions with a [product-photography] tag.

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I'm confused about some things on your question, but I'll answer the options I understand.

Plexiglass as a background

Don't use a reflective glossy white background. Acording to the laws of phisics regarding the conservation of energy, if you have a glossy material some of the light will bounce in an angle oposite of the light. This means less light on the difuse layer of the material... The white background will become gray, with bright reflections which are a pain to get rid off.

Always use a difuse background. That is why a paper is prefered.

A good exception is having a flat (really flat) glosy or reflective base, like black acrylic or a mirror.

Plexiglass as a difuser

The plastic transluscent materials are NOT white. They cast a color tone, magenta, purple, blue. The thicker the material you will have more of this color. In any case you must white balance your exposure.

A white difuse material will bounce more light than the one that it let pass. So you need to make your math there.

A softbox has two thin layers of fabric and has a reflective silver box to bounce the most light again into the front part.

You need to have some reflector. If you simpy use a tube lamp, some empiric math:

  • 1/2 will go directly to the roof and the other half into my dufusser. (1-1/2=1/2)

  • 1/2 of that (1/4) will bounce to the roof again.

  • 1/2 of that (1/8) will be absorved as heat in my matherial.

  • I have 1/8 of my original output.

Plexiglass as a translucent base and background

Yes. This is a case where it is a good option. The glossy one resist more the dirt and scraches than the matt one.

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Alright, I'm answering this on my own as I figured it out and the answers available aren't exactly spot on.

Opaque glass is the way to go. The reason for that, is that clear plexiglass will simply allow the light to pass through completely, without "spreading it out" to create the light surface I was seeking. Opaque plexiglass on the other hand, a.k.a the "milky" one, does exactly that.

Adding bottom lighting at the distance mentioned (>=18cm) is also ideal in blowing out all shadow from the bottom of the product. Just make sure you use powerful lamps as the plexiglass will absorb a lot of it (and even more if you add paper on top, I didn't in the end).

For this table I used 2mm opaque plexiglass.

  • Probably your question was not as clear as your plexiglass. I did not understand you meant "transparent". You mixed the idea of the plexiglass with the seamless paper = background, not source light. Just try to concentrate in having a nice ilumination instead of just blowing the shadows. That can be done in post pro. – Rafael May 18 '15 at 13:24
  • The "Ideal" distance is not 18cm. That distance is relative to the area of the difuse light. If you have a bigger light you can increase that distance. – Rafael May 18 '15 at 13:26
  • I'm glad you found a solution to your problem =), but didn't I suggest to start from clear plexiglas and make it more and more opaque with sandpaper, until it has the desired effect if the paper does not provide enough diffusion? – null May 18 '15 at 13:48
  • Rafael, I did not completely understand your comment, but replying to what I did, blowing out the shadows in post production is outside the parameters of the assignment I was given. Also, "ideal" referred to this particular setup. Of course it would vary according to the lamps, however describing this specific setup, I am noting this to be the "optimal", if you will, distance for the lamps to be. null, your suggestion was excellent, however I was not given the option to do so by my employer (they paid for everything). – Dimitris Preketes May 18 '15 at 16:08
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I cannot find a definitive answer on whether I need clear plexiglass or opaque (milky) for better lighting.

but you have an answer right there:

horizon-less photographic paper on top of that

If you add paper on top of it anyway, I don't think it really matters what kind of plexiglas you use.

You best bet would be to buy clear plexiglas and some fine grain sand paper. If the clear glas does not work (maybe because the paper doesn't diffuse the light enough), then sand the glas with the sandpaper. You can gradually increase the opaqueness of the glass. You can even buy multiple glas plates and sand them differently. You say you built this table already so a bit DIY shouldn't be a problem.

Also, I cannot establish just what kind of watt output my lamps will need.

The subject doesn't move, which allows you to lengthen the shutter speed lot. That's why you do not need to be that precise with the power output. Of course you don't want to expose each image for 20s to get a proper exposure.

I'm a bit confused here: Why are you asking for the power output of the lamps if you already bought them? Are these dimmable lamps? If the power output of those lamps is adjustable, then the brightest setting is probably what you want to start with, because you want to keep the shutter speed reasonably short.

What I can imagine is that if the lights are too strong, you will not get an even lighting, because the diffusion material (paper + plexiglas) just cannot diffuse the light enough and you will get brighter strips of light where the bulbs are.

There's no definitive answer for it. Try to experiment with different settings.

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