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Transform the iPad into a Mobile Tabletop Studio

Editor's Note: The moment I heard how NYI Student Tom Freudenstein was using his iPad as a lightbox, I knew it would be something that would interest our readers.  Tom was gracious enough to write about his experience creating a mobile tabletop studio. The results are stunning. - CC

I was fascinated by the lecture on light tables in the NYI Pro Course and then had the idea to use the iPad 2 as a mini light table. My camera set up was the Canon 50d with a 24-70mm 1:2.8 L lens. Because of the rather long exposure times (between 1/3 and 10 seconds), I needed a tripod and a 2 second shutter delay to avoid shaking the camera when pressing the release button. All pictures are large JPEG and the ISO is set to 100. I started with a couple of pictures taken in P mode and then used these values as the basis for manual changes to aperture and time.


The application Soft Box Pro can be obtained through the App Store. It is free for iPhones and $3 USD (2.39 Euro) for the iPad. The app offers a variety of light options. For my setup, I used the simple white full square light and varied the intensity from time to time. I did not want to place any objects directly on the iPad. Instead, I took the glass out of a picture frame, the size of the glass being a little larger than the iPad. I placed four small wooden logs (from my sons toy drawer) around the Pad and placed the glass on top. There was my mini light table. 

I bought an image cube backdrop through ebay ( It is a small cardboard backdrop that can be set up on the dining table or even in a cluttered hobby room in the basement.
The objects I chose for my still life photo were a glass of dry sherry, a few grapes and a cork - very simpe. I added the bottle towards the end of the session. I tried to make the grapes look fesh and wet by adding drops of water in some pictures. I followed the instructions of the Pro Course and first applied some glycerin and then sprayed the water.

I came across a number of problems. My first setup was on the dining table. I found too many reflections from various windows to be a little disturbing. I could close the shades on one side, but not on the other. I have played around with a reflector and two household flashlights. One of them was directed at the backdrop, which created a nice separation but did not really help with the reflections. Then, I relocated the set to the hobby room in the basement. Because of some reconstruction, we store a lot of stuff there and it is absolutely cluttered and full. But only one window which could be covered with a dark cloth. Now I had full control of the lighting. The iPad light from below, two flashlights and a standard floor lamp did the job.


Another problem was the small size of the iPad and the backdrop. Depending on the angle of the camera, the frame included the iPad or the wood logs or something else I did not want to have in the picture. This is clearly a disadvantage of the small setup and a problem that does not exist with a pro light table. I moved the camera fairly close and zoomed in to solve this.

 Finally, the depth of field was an issue. To make the background nice and soft I first used a wide aperture of 2.8. The depth of field often was too shallow, which was nice in some pictures but not in others. The other extreme at f22 created a sharp and crisp image, but also showed every little piece of dust, dirt or roughness of the backdrop. I finally ended up with f 6.3 as a middle ground that felt and looked right to me. I really like the "sparkle" at the side of the sherry glass, which I have created by pointing a flashlight from behind the set at the glass and using a small aperture.



To see more of Tom's photography, visit online here.


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Reader Comments (1)

Although the iPad w/ software certainly works, so would an old slide viewing lightbox, which probably is gathering dust in the closets of many of us.
July 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaurie N.
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