How and When to Use a Light Tent

Whether you’d like to list all your old crap on Craigslist, Amazon, eBay, or you’d just like to take some photographs of things in a controlled atmosphere (lighting and background primarily), a light tent of some sort is a good option.  The tent is made of white nylon that allows enough light to penetrate to give your subject an even natural looking light (it diffuses the light).  Typically there are two lights on the outside, one on each side, and sometimes there is a third on top.

How to Use Light Tents


The light tent will come in a flat messenger bag like case (minus the shoulder strap), inside a kit you’ll find a couple of lights, your backdrops, a small tripod for your camera, and the tent itself.  The tent is simple to set up, you just unfold the thing and there should be a thin velcro strip along the edge to hold the flaps secure.  There is also usually a Velcro strip along the inside top that will secure your backdrops that came with the light tent.  After you’ve set the tent up and chosen what color backdrop your going to use you’ll want to set your lighting up.  The two lights are for the left and right side of the light tent, not the front.  If you use lighting on the front of the tent you will create harsh shadows and probably more than one if you’re using more than one light (we’ll talk more about front lighting later on).

The light tent I use is the one in the image above, the RPS Desktop Studio 16X16 Inch Tent – RPS RS-SIB from Amazon (technically I bought it from a local photo shop that charges $20 over Amazon’s price but I hope you’ll avoid throwing your cash away).

If you’re using the backdrops that came with your light tent you may have to steam them to get the creases from being folded out of them… I know it’s a pain in the butt but if you want your images to turn out nice then don’t be lazy.  You don’t have to use the included back drops either, head over to your local craft store and pick our some fancy paper or fabric that is cheap and use that.  For the image at the top of the page I used wrinkled foil to add some reflections to the image.

The light tent will not be super bright with two lights, you may want to get a light that can be directed at the top of the light tent to increase your brightness.  Whichever you choose, make sure you use a tripod to keep your camera steady and your photographs sharp (why go to all the trouble of setting up the light tent if you’re gonna half-$%# it now?).

Lastly, place your subject in the light tent and move the lighting either closer or further away depending on how you’d like your shot to look.  The placement of the light is entirely up to you, I typically start out with them about a foot from the nylon cloth and then move them closer or further depending on what I’m photographing.


When to Use a Light Tent

Light tents are pretty versatile, they fit into a thin little sac and you can take them just about anywhere.  The sizes range from as small as 8″ all the way up to the size of a small room.  Light tents are great for photographing product that you’ll list on the internet or put in a magazine.  If you have shiny objects that you’d like to photograph, like a metal silver toy plane, you can eliminate a lot of the bright reflections by using the light tent.  If you are photographing something that is visually softer then you might be able to get away with just setting up your backdrop and using direct lighting (without the “tent”).  A lot of product photographers swear by these because they are a great way to take multiple pictures of multiple products with a consistent background and lighting.

Where to Find One

There are plenty of D.I.Y. guides on the internet if you’re the resourceful MacGyver types, otherwise I recommend good ol’ Amazon.  I like to save a buck as much as the next person but after thinking about the $20+ I spend on materials and then the extra couple of hours to stick and tape that puppy together I opted for the quick and easy.  Amazon sells the same one I have for $55 and it’s really all you need, eventually you can add a light if you like.

Sometimes light tents are listed as “Desktop Studios” when you search with the Google machine.  As with anything, you get what you pay for… there is no need to get a more expensive one than the one I used but try not to skimp much more if your budget allows.  If you have a tight budget do a quick search for DIY light tents and there are hundreds of step by step tutorials out there.  Enjoy!

If you see something you like on this site click on the link and buy it from Amazon to help the site, it does not cost any more than normal and enables us to continue to add great content for your reading enjoyment.  Thanks!


Related Links

How to Photograph Children
How to Shoot Macro Photography
How to Win a Photography Contest

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2 replies on “How and When to Use a Light Tent”
    1. says: John Barbiaux

      Thank you for the feedback! It was a fun article to do, I like experimenting with the light tent and all the different backgrounds you can make. Merry Christmas!

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