Any good way to take pictures of calculators?


I am able to get decent pictures but sometimes I get flashes on top of the keyboards. Thanks.


IIRC, Dave Hicks made a tent with white sheets in his driveway to get non-directional light with no reflections.


I've only photographed a few of my calculators, but have spent some time photographing my transistor radios.

I've used a separate flash from the camera aimed backward into a white umbrella. It diffuses the light. You have to be careful of shadows. I use a remote trigger for the camera to eliminate any shadows I might make from pressing the shutter. You can also try putting a diffuser over the flash. You can make your own out of a half sphere of white plastic. Just tape the diffuser over the flash.

Another method is to aim the camera slightly off-perpendicular, This will keep the flash from coming directly back into the camera lens. But you need to have some manual control over the camera to get the required depth of field to keep it all in focus. A camera with manual foucusing is helpful.

You can also try a polarizing filter over the lens. If the light is bouncing back at a different angle, then a polarizer can help filter some of the reflection out. But the polarizer may also filter out the display, if you are trying to show what the display looks like.

The background you use is also important. Also how you suspend the object you wish to photograph. Sometimes I'll balance the radios so they are floating above the background. It gets rid of the hard edges that can appear or hard shadows at the edges.

The nice thing about digital cameras, you can experiment with hundreds if not thousands of photo arrangements.



Although generally your camera is the least important factor in making a good photograph, a DSLR helps a lot. As noted, avoiding flash is the key, but the tiny sensors in point-and-shoot cameras require more light to get decent photos. Outdoors in bright cloudy weather is your best bet...


Back in February I watched a nice 15C go for about $400 on TAS.

I asked the seller how he had made is superb photographs, which I thought had been a strong factor in his realizing such a high price. (I don't think that I saved those photographs, but perhaps they're somewhere on my hard drive. I'd have to do some learning before I could post them here, but be assured that they were very good indeed.)

Here's what he said in reply:

"On the camera, I am using a Nikon 12.1 megapixel DSLR mounted on a tripod. My lens is a manual focus Zeiss 100mm makro-planar T* f/2.0 lens. I usually shoot at f/16 or so on a 6-10 second exposure which is no problem on the tripod. I could shoot with less time, but I would need a brighter light and that might case more shadows - putting it farther away or putting a diffuser on it helps the light be more even. I have three foot wide black paper for the background from a roll that I've placed along the table and gently curved up onto the wall. The key of all of this has been manually focusing my lens, in my case a 100mm Makro-lens. Using live-view on the camera, I can get 100% of my images razor sharp. This can be done with autofocus lenses too I am sure, but to get it perfect every time, I would switch it to manual focus, then use the Live-View feature and LCD screen on the back of the camera to get the focus perfect. I hope this helps."

The black background to which he refers was the background to the 15C itself. The image was quite dramatic because of it.


I bought one of these cube light tents. It usually comes with the tent, some base to put the item on, and a couple of lights, and a small tripod.

The tent gives very good even illumination, but the camera needs to be on a tripod, mainly because I stop it down all the way to get a good depth of field.

Also, adjust the white balance manually, and clean clean clean the calculator. Bracket the exposures.

Here's an example. Note all the specks of dust and lint. I didn't clean this one all that well. Some of this can be cleaned up in PSP or Photoshop, but its best to start as clean as possible.


Google or search YouTube for

product photography tutorial


tabletop photography

You get plenty of suggestions and this will start a new infection of incurable I-need-to-buy-this-and-this-and-this-electronic-product-itis!

I have it! I know!

Contact Photoholic Anonymous! ;)


I used to do quite a bit of product photography. If you have a DSLR (or even better, a proper film camera :-) ) then as some other members have said, a tent type soft cube works well. These can be expensive for larger ones though useful if you want a group of items in the shot. I prefer to use continuous light with these lighting from both sides. A roll background and studio flash with a softbox is nearly as good but doesn't totally eliminate reflections. If you have a simpler camera with built-in flash then you can make a diffuser very easily by placing a paper handkerchief or similar thin white paper over the flash unit to create a diffuse light. This can work surprisingly well. A white sheet can be suspended over the subject to make a simple tent to eliminate reflections from the side while bouncing light around the subject to give fill in for the shadows. I hope this gives you some ideas.


As already discussed here, the key to suceess is proper lighting. Direct, frontal light (either flash or continuous light) is not an option. The problem is not the flash - that's a great light source with many advantages, virtually every professional product photo is lit by (studio) flash. The point is: you must not use a tiny in-camera flash that points directly onto a shiny surface. ;-)

However, there is a another option that has not been mentioned yet: Want a plain vanilla picture of your calculator? Simple put it on your scanner. Most devices have sufficient depth of field to keep the whole device in focus.



Are you hoping to do just a few calculators, or is this likely to be an on-going project?

If the latter, then some modest effort to put together a good set up will be worth your while. You want the most diffuse light possible, mostly from the sides and top - and just a bit from the front.

The suggestions by Alexander Oestert would be a good start. There is lots of stuff on the web about how to do this.

You can make it all yourself. I use PVC piping to make frames that hold diffusing cloth (which can be white fabric of various sorts bought at Walmart or sewing supply stores). Plain light bulbs (in a reflector from the hardware store) work fine.

As noted by somebody: white balance is very critical for the best shots. Small apertures are best for good depth of field. (but generally not the very smallest: below about f/11 or f/16 diffraction actually starts to make resolution worse - this is hardly ever mentioned in the photo magazines or elswhere!! For a given camera, this is also INDEPENDENT of lens focal length, despite occasional claims to the contary. It does depend on the actual image size in the camera - the bigger the image frame, the smaller aperture you can use before diffraction effects start to get you. An 8 by 10 view camera will do fine at f/44 or even f/64, a la Ansel Adams!!!!!)

Polarizing filters might help - but to get the best benefit, you also need polarized light sources, and diffusers wreck the polarization. I'd skip this.

(From an occasional teacher of Intro to Digital Photography, at the university level.)


or is this likely to be an on-going project?

If you really, really want to learn a bit, immerse yourself in Lighting 101 on the Strobist website!


I do not think white balance is crucial. All digital SLRs I know of support a raw image format. In this case the white balance can be set and fine-tuned in the raw image processor - without the slightest disadvantage compared to setting WB on the camera beforehand. It may work even better.

The more crucial point is exposure. White backgrounds may lead to underexposure if the user relies on auto exposure. However, within certain limits even this can be corrected afterwards when the camera is set to raw.

Diffraction, on the other hand, is a common subject in photography groups. ;-) As you mentioned, the critical f-stop depends from the image format, i.e. the size of the image sensor in a digital camera.

For those who are not familiar with all this: it's quite simple. As the lens is stopped down, depth of field increases. In other worde, f/16 will render a wider area in the image in sharp focus than f/8. That's fine for this kind of photography, where more sharp details of the subject mean more information.

However, there is a downside. As the lens is stopped down, another effect become more and more dominant - diffraction. In simple words: at small apertures the picture becomes more and more blurred. First you barely notice it, then some fine detail is lost, and finally the picture is evenly sharp from the front to the background, but the level of sharpness is so low that it can hardly be considered sharp anywhere.

So, there must be an optimum somewhere. Up to a certain point depth of field increases, then the whole picture gets less sharp until it's no longer acceptable. This point, the critical aperture, depends from the image size. As a general rule of thumb you can say that the maximum f-number should be roughly the (diagonal) imsage size in millimeters, or, if possible, preferably only half that.

So, if you're using a regular 35 mm camera (film or digital "full frame") where the image size 24x36 or 43,3 mm diagonally, the absolute limit is something like f/45. But if possible don't stop down further than f/22. Most digital SLRs use smaller sensors with a diagonal size of 27 or 28 mm, so it is best to keep the aperture below f/16. Typical compact (point and shott) cameras finally have extremely small sensors, usually something like 7 mm, which means that you should not stop down further than f/4. But since most of their lenses are not good enough to be limited by diffraction, f/5,6 or in some cases even f/8 do not make much difference. That's exactly the reason why virtually all compact cameras with manual aperture setting do not allow the user to stop down further than f/5,6 or f/8.

The interesting point finally is this: Yes, you should keep the aperture wider open the smaller your camera's image sensor is. But, and that's important, although the aperture now is wider, you will not lose any depth of field. Due to certain physical reasons, f/16 in a typical digital SLR and f/4 in a common point and shoot camera do not only show the same amount of diffraction, they also (ceteris paribus) will produce the same depth of field. In other words: you do not gain or lose anything, regardless which format you use. The same result (in terms of both DOF and diffraction) is only obtained at different aperture settings.

That's also the reason why 8x10" field cameras have no problem with f/64 or more. Since their image format is roughly 8x as wide and high as that of a "usual" camera, f/64 results in the same amout of diffraction (and also the same depth of field) as f/8 with the latter.


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