Photography comes up a lot in the Etsy forums, and I find myself repeating to lots of people how easy it is to make yourself a light box setup so you don't have to wait for perfect weather to go outside and take well-lit photos. I don't know about you but I've got a day job and two crazy kids, so the only time I really get to take photos is when I'm up at 4am with my to-do list on my mind and that's not when the sunlight is, uh, anywhere.
I use cheap $30 cameras I buy off Ebay to take my photos. The camera, I've found, is not that big a deal. You can spend $3000 on a camera and your photos might be better than mine, but not 100 times better than mine, despite the staggering cost difference. What matters the most is the environment you're taking the pictures in.
So here's my setup:
It's pretty darn basic. You could use almost anything to accomplish this. My light box is made from:
1) PVC pipe, for the basic structure
2) White ripstop nylon to bounce and reflect light around inside
3) Poster board background
4) Clip on lamps
5) Full spectrum compact fluorescent light bulbs
6) Assorted props for photo time
The lamps are from a few places. First I got some clearance desk lamps at Target, but if they hadn't been clearance they might have run my budget up quite a bit. They're okay.
I experimented with several backgrounds - white curtain lining fabric, projector screens, all flavors of more expensive stuff. The cheap white posterboard turned out to be my favorite.
If I had it to do over again I would do it with just these shop lamps, which I got at Home Depot in the electrical section and I just adore. They're cheap, aluminum, and will take a bulb up to 100 W (try that with a desk lamp!) And the clips really hold them in place. Not as pretty but much more functional!
Don't laugh at the whole at the top of my nylon there... it's to stick my camera lens straight through the top and take pictures from above. Works awesome!
The one place I would not cheap out is on the light bulbs. I special ordered full-spectrum daylight compact florescent bulbs from 1000bulbs.com because they don't get as hot as incandescent. I can put a "120 W equivalent" in my "under 100 watt" lamp because when you use CFL, it only actually uses 32 watts! These light bulbs run $6-8 each but they last a long time and have a wonderful effect:
And finally, I keep my photo props handy inside my light box at all time. I wrote before about how at least one of your five photos must give your customers a sense of scale, so I have things like a ruler, cards (because I make card holders), and sometimes coins or markers around to show what the item I'm selling looks like in comparison to everyday objects.
Then it's photo time! Afterwards, I'll still retouch my photos in GIMP to get a really white background. But my light box gives me a great start!