DIY Scrim for great product photography

I have been dabbling in product photography ( Packshots ) for a little while now.  I have a friend who is a product photographer and when I showed him some shots I did he had a couple of good things to say and LOTS of bad.

I came to one conclusion, product photographers are in a whole different league with a couple of other groups of photographers competing for who has the most discerning (or picky) eye. Not saying this as a bad thing, it is just that they notice every single detail.  They are right up there (in no particular order) with food photographers and architectural / technical photographers.  Just a crazy eye for detail.

One thing he pointed out to me were my reflections.  While I was using lighting on the edge of my products to get a nice rim light he was pointing out how hard the reflection was and that I should use something in between the light (a scrim) to soften it out.  I did some digging and found that scrims are expensive, with that I decided to build my own.  You can follow my process below.

To get started let's talk about what a scrim that I am building is for.  When I am lighting a product from the side (let's say a bottle), the light is coming out of my light modifier (in this case a 12" wide strip box) and landing on the product.  While it is softer than a bare strobe it bounces of the product with a decently hard reflection.  I want to soften that up by putting a scrim with some type of translucent material for the light to pass through (diffusion) before it hits the product.  This should produce a softer reflection with a more pleasant gradient.

As I said, scrims are expensive, mine are not.  Materials were a total of less than $30 and I have material to build more.  My material list is below:

1) QTY of 4 - 8' 1x2's $.79 ea 
2) QTY of 8 - Angle brackets - $.59 ea
3) QTY of 1 - Roll of 24"x20 yard wide tracing paper - $7.30 (beinfang paper, available at Blick)
4) QTY of 1 - Roll of Gaffers tape $7
5) QTY of 1 - box of small screws $3.50

All in about $26 bux or so for 2, 2'x6' scrims.

Let's get started! 

1x2's clamped together to ensure even cuts, reduce construction time.

First thing I did was clamp the 4 1x2's together and made 1 cut a little smaller than my paper roll width.  This left me with 4 long boards (sides) and 4 short boards (ends) about 2'6 foot)

You don't have to clamp them together but I did to be as accurate as possible and cut down on construction time by cutting everything at once.

Next step was just as quick, I screwed the 8 angle brackets on (4 on each) and attached each of the sides and ends together to finish a complete frame.  This step took about 10 minutes total and once finished my frames were ready to attach the tracing paper.

Angle brackets attached to the ends

Angle brackets attached to the ends

Completed frame with tracing paper attached

Frames are complete and ready to attach the tracing paper.  This is easily the most difficult (not particularly difficult still though) part of the whole process.  I started by using a piece of gaffers tape, taping the top edge of the paper, rolling down and cutting with a razor at the end.

Next I started by aligning the top side of one frame, taping, then taping another section about a foot down by pulling tightly on the tracing paper and taping.  I would then switch sides, pull the paper tight to minimize wrinkles and make it as flat and taught as possible.  Then continuing this process until I was finished.

For my scrims I put the tracing paper / diffusion paper on both sides.  I want to really have a soft light coming through and this will help.

Finished scrim for product photography gradients, already you can see how it softens the light

After getting the paper  / diffusion attached I doubled around and sealed all the edges all the way around with gaffers tape.  To me this looked a lot more finished than just a number of pieces of tape randomly throughout the frame. You can see the completed scrim and how it turned out.  Really great for a total of about 1 hour of work, under $30 and something that will hopefully enhance my product photography.

Next entry I will show the before and after highlighting the results from these DIY Photography Scrims.