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Lighting Small Objects Made Easy
A review of the Cloud Dome

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By Larry Berman and Chris Maher

Another great lighting tool for small objects, especially jewelry, is Cindy Lichfield’s Cloud Dome. It’s a ten inch high white Plexiglas dome with a camera mount on the top.

One variation of lighting with the Cloud Dome is to use daylight florescent lights to create a soft diffused effect as shown in the photo below.

Lighting using the two daylight florescent
Cloud Dome arrangement
Jewelry by DK Solomon

Highly reflective items like jewelry are not easy to shoot. They can act like a mirror, reflecting everything around them. Your lights become glaring hot spots, while darker reflections make the surface details hard to see. The professional solution is to “tent” the object, so its surface reflects the soft even illumination. That kind of setup can take up a lot of space, and be time consuming to build. The Cloud Dome, on the other hand, is small and quick to set up and use.
Shooting can be as simple as attaching your camera, setting the item to be shot on a suitable background, and centering the dome over it. Ideally, the soft diffuse light surrounding your subject will then flow beautifully across the reflective surfaces.
Getting great pictures is rarely that simple however. First, you will find it makes quite a bit of difference how you light the outside of the dome. We have found that using spots of light, rather than a wash of light on the outside of the dome gives much more control. Also, cutting sheets of diffusion material or white tissue paper into pieces and strategically taping them to the domes surface can work wonders to tone down hot spots.
Some items, especially jewelry that has both shiny metal and faceted stones, need a mix of soft and hard light to look their best. The snap of a diamond dies under flat light, but you can bring back the sparkles by using a small mirror to bounce a direct light right on the stone. This tough to do when the Cloud Dome is totally covering the item, but easy if you rotating it 90 degrees and suspending the jewelry in front of it. An added advantage of this approach is the ability to easily create out of focus backgrounds that can make your subject stand out beautifully.

Out of focus backgrounds are easy when you rotate the Cloud Dome
Jewelry by Annette Morrin

A small mirror can return the sparkle to faceted stones
Jewelry by Annette Morrin

To see how Chris shot these pictures of his wife's jewelry
click here or scroll down

If you are shooting larger items, you can buy Extension Collars in two sizes, raising the Cloud Dome by seven or twelve additional inches. Another useful accessory is the Angled Extension Collar for shooting three-dimensional objects from a more oblique angle.

The Cloud Dome starts at $169 with the universal camera bracket for prosumer digital cameras and $189 with the Pro “L” Bracket if you have a DSLR body.

Both the Lowel Ego and the Cloud Dome are designed to make it much easier for any photographer to take professional photographs of small items. They compliment each other, with the light dome being best for smaller, highly reflective objects, and the Ego being really useful for items up to about 14” tall.

More information about the Cloud Dome and the Lowell Ego can be found on their respective web sites:

More photos taken with the Cloud Dome

Lighting using the two daylight florescent
Cloud Dome arrangement
Jewelry by DK Solomon

Working with the Cloud Dome suspended vertically
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The Cloud dome is attached to a vertical brace, and aligned with the D70 on the copy stand. The camera is tethered to the laptop with Nikon Capture. Three lights, including a snooted overhead I only used to illuminate the mirror that bounced light into the faceted stones. Note the flash unit on the floor, projecting the spot of light for the background glow.

The jewelry was attached to nylon threads strung between a large U-bolt. A light stand arm was attached to a cranked shaft tripod head, holding the jewelry the right distance from the lens. The mirror at the bottom was angled to best illuminate the different stones.

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