Achieving good 3D print photographs is not an easy task. You need to have the right tools to produce photos with the finest details. Today, Tom and Tracy Hazzard is joined by Aaron Johnson, the Founder of Shotbox and co-inventor of the Cricut, who shares some tips for taking 3D print photographs. Introducing his creation called Shotbox, Aaron describes how it functions and how you can operate it to produce quality and shareable photos.
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Tips for Taking 3D Print Photographs with Aaron Johnson
Anyone involved in 3D printing is likely printing a lot of small objects and wants to document them for their own record or want to put them up online on Pinterest, Instagram, or Thingiverse, and it is very hard to get a good 3D print photographs. We looked up a lot of 3D print photographs last month when we reviewed the contest, the Maker Milestones competition. The 3D print photographs there were terrible. There were a lot of entries that did not include 3D print photographs. It boggled my mind.
It was so shocking how bad they were. We know Aaron Johnson who is our guest today. His company is Shotbox and he is the founder and the owner He is also the co inventor of the Cricut. That is a vinyl cutter or cutting device. Crafts people know this. It is very popular and it has a huge ecosystem community. We talked to him and found out that it was interesting that they done something very similar to 3D printing. They have embraced the community of creators.
Cricut has a very similar creator generated community of how to use the machine and sort of tutorials and go the things that goes with it is very similar to the way on how 3D printing is going. He has the experience and background. The Shotbox is an invention of his coming out of this. It is about photographing of all of these things, which can be used to get great 3D print photographs.
Thank you so much for joining us today to talk about taking 3D print photograhs. We have been looking forward for this.
Thank you, I appreciate being here.
We met at CEO Space International which is an organization that is a business networking and education organization. We heard about you and your product many times without even realizing exactly what it was. I saw you carrying it around a snap which is like the fast speed dating for networking at CEO space. We saw you carrying it around and we thought that we should see this thing.
You saw that, I am sure. I spent a year or more carrying it around, even as the heavy wood prototype.
It was lighter when I saw it.
It got a little bit lighter by the time we saw it. When we realized what it was, we realized that this product is very relevant to our world of 3D printing. I would like you to explain to our audience what the Shotbox is, as you saw it for use in your market. I want to talk about how that relates to our industry.
It is a personal photo light studio. It has a lot of versatility as it uses any camera. We did optimize it for the use of smart devices. DSLRs or any other camera works great too. It sets up an immediate self contained lighting environment. It is very portable. It weighs 5 or 6 pounds all in. You can plug it in and pop it up. You are good to go with lights without any stuff, shadows, or bright spots. These are normally issues that you will encounter in rooms. You would also need to have a much more involved setup with the light tents and backdrops, and different kinds of lamps
This is a way to contain that all in. It is very simple and quick. It includes top down photography which replaces the scanner so we get into the scrapbooks and photo albums as well as journals. These are very difficult to scan because they are just too big. Because of the side in shot or horizontal shot, it is great for object photography for staging a scene or for doing anything from merchandise to artifacts, and heirlooms. Any object that needs a very clean shot, this is perfect for that. Imagination is the limit.
That is fantastic. You intended that initially for the Amazon market where people sell products there. Is that right?
That is a side benefit which is natural to it. My personal interest specifically was for the family history side of things. I come out of the craft industry for the last 20 plus years and the Cricut years. There is always a need for oversized scanning, but without a big or expensive scanner and the technical know-how, the household and consumer could not do it. The box is sized specifically to capture 12 by 12 with a smartphone. The Amazon side of things is potentially the biggest market we have and one that we definitely are aggressive with in launching a recent initiative with that area. Even though it was not the primary reason that I invented it, it was definitely for object photography as well. Personally, my family has a barn in Price, Utah, full of decades and generations of objects. This is coming from a mining family that collected a ton of stuff through the years. That is the family heirloom side of things.
Getting a good image of capturing something that you are collecting or selling or that you care about, is extremely important. We can archive those, share them and we can print them back out. We can make our businesses look better whether it be a restaurant or online merchandise menus. This is anything from small and medium sized objects.
I like the idea that this modern technology of the internet and eBay, Etsy, Amazon, and all of these different channels where people are buying or selling things has given birth to a physical consumer product that you have created which is kind of an irony.
I think so. We are getting interest from eBay as we knock on doors to just say better photography is needed. Amazon and eBay is improving their requirements for better photography. They realize that their sites reflect the consumer generated images, whether they look good or not. eBay is packing good photography at the beginning or when you get on their site in general. Once you dive down into the sellers, their photography – it gets worse. It is fun to grab those and show the before and after. Good photography will sell better. Inside the box, we are developing a spin table to capture more 360 graphics.
There is no reason you can’t make a little video out of it. You can do that in merchandise and in 3D printing. They are requiring better photography. We make that easy and we help any amateurs who has a smartphone to look like a professional. They can tweak it out with their fingertips or thumbs to the Photoshop level. They can then just upload it within just minutes.
The fact that you can use your smartphone to take 3D print photographs or craft photograhs is interesting. I had a lot of experience in my life, starting as a teenager taking photography classes and extracurricular ones in learning the old school photography with the film and developing the black and white ones, I learned to produce a good photograph. In recent years, everything has changed so much. In recent years, I had a younger kid who was 21 years old who do a lot of video editing for us. He has told me that when it comes to taking 3D print photographs, the camera in your iPhone is a very good quality camera if you got it well lit. It took me a while to really come to accept that that was true. Understanding now and believing that that is true if you have it well lit, the importance of how you display and how you light that product becomes greater.
Anything 8 megapixel and above, so an iPhone 5 and beyond does it well. S4 has a good camera for Galazy. If we pay attention to the megapixel, iPhone 6 is a 12 megapixel, the new S7 of Samsung is incredible and remarkable and potentially even better than the iPhone. They are going to make it better and I refer to them as having billion dollar cameras in our pockets. Billion dollar companies trying to fight for that space even more so now. iPhone commercials are literally just a few seconds of some consumer generated iPhone 6 video. They pop at the very end and shot with an iPhone 6. It says a lot.
It makes so much sense if you are someone who needs to take a lot of photographs like these 3D print photographs. You don’t want to spend a lot of time doing it. Having a quick setup with the proper light and having it that, a smartphone makes it easier to transfer to your computer or to just upload it completely to your phone to your image library where you use it from. It is logical. It makes using a DSLR where you take the SD card and load it on your computer seems to be more complicated.
The smartphone is making a lot of sense.
We don’t exclude the DSLR or digital camera users. If they are set in that, they cand do the typical SD process. Maybe if they needed something quick and easy, they would opt to smartphones. It comes on the purest level of it.
We can do it both. It is faster to take the photo with your iPhone or S7 and send it to Instagram so that you don’t have to transfer and deal with all of it. We did both at the same time. Over time, we realized that our iPhone photos and S7 photos are just better.
This has great application for our audience of 3D printing students, enthusiasts, or users of all kinds. They are always taking designs that they have done and taking 3D print photographs and putting those photos of them on sites like Thingiverse or Pinterest or Instagram. It makes so much sense because the build volume of most desktop 3D printers produces objects that are ideally sized for the Shotbox. There are smaller ones than 12 x 12.
Table top photography is also interesting because you use photographic elements and skills to really make it small scale photography. Our tagline is “Thinking inside the box.”
Some of the challenges we have with 3D print photographs is the texture and quality you get with the material. How does the lighting capture the differences in textures and materials. How well does the lighting do with that?
What is new about the box is that you get lots of options of what to do with the light. We have a switch on there that is basically two feet of lighting with a high quality sealed LED light. It can get very bright and dominant. We put the top of the switch to where you can dim it down by half. There is a dimmer switch on there. I tend to just take it with full strength and then do some intensity and brightness management on the screen of my iPhone. We also put a device called the sight shot. It hangs on the side of the box. It has its own lighting structure that you can control to where the key light comes in to get in that fill light.
This comes out with a little bit of floor board lighting as well. You can really control it. The essence of Shotbox is light control. We need those other elements; you have to good software, camera, and user. This is the four elements of photography. You need to be creative in the light. We create it in a way that you can control that in every way that you need to.
That is a lot easier to control than from the traditional methods. No matter how you light your set up, you always end up with shadows in areas that you don’t want to be left dark. The Shotbox eliminated these problems.
It is right. All of that configuration to do with the light is what makes it exciting. The backdrops create an infinity corner. We have more colors available coming out. We are also introducing what I call panels or Shotbox panels. What those are, are printed out backdrops that we can put in there very easily with the structure that allows the user to choose a basic stone or tile or even dirt or grass. It is a print, but it looks real when the photo was taken. The back itself could be wood or it could be texture. It could be a scene. We really want to create this way to kind of blow up the creativity into things that have never been seen before.
When you are dealing with, it is not just light, it is the environment. Those things really look awesome. It is unbelievable that it is all inside the box and not photoshopped.
It is one thing where we can get a lot of silhouette photography in with the requirements on those sites like eBay and Etsy. You need to have a glamour shot of some kind. The more artistic it is, the more appealing it is, and more likely somebody is to click on your ad or Pinterest or image wherever it might be.
I agree with that. It really color attracts our eye. Amazon wants to have everything on white backdrops to make it crisp and clean. Maybe we will be the ones to let them change their requirements, “It has to be on white unless you use Shotbox.” We would love that endorsement.
I wonder if you could go and get them to approve certain backdrops or at least in certain categories. Some things do not photograph well in silhouettes. It just does not look good with all the white products that can be out there. How do you handle photographing white on white?
That is a challenge and it is an issue. Sometimes, you want to control that intensity and brightness, but I did exercise it year ago with eggs. I did white on white on white. It was all about white. I did it only with my phone. I did have to post edit, it was just on the tools that was on the iPhone app. That was a good study. They looked great.
You have taken undoubtedly 10,000 photographs here with your Shotbox over time. What are some tips that you can give our listeners to about setting up a shot, just like the placement and the angle for their 3D print photographs?
This is why I like the idea that this is not just a casual photography. This could be a curriculum to teach photography. To show design, we have interest within home schooling and in the classroom setting. In stop motion animation and some videography and those sorts of things, it is fun because you can take it everywhere. You can set it up everywhere. In a sense of how to design and learn some of those designs in photography and graphic are nice. If it is too big for the box, there is no reason to take the full picture. You can use crop photography and you can balance it.
Do you have tutorials that you are putting out with your program?
We do. We have a handful of good user generated ones as well. That is one of the things which I have not provided as much as we should. We want a creative environment so people can explore. We need to do better on the tutorials. I will admit that we have a few of them out there. We are working on them. I am going to do a campaign here in a month. I will do a contest for the first 50 videos of somebody that says on how this is how I shoot and use the box, and do a quick consumer video.
There are going to be requirements. I feel that the best tutorials come from users themselves and the people that are doing it right there on the ground. By the end of the summer, we will have too many. It won’t be a problem.
That comes from your Circut background. There are great tutorials There.
Social platforms now make it easy. We have some unboxing videos that they unbox it a little bit strangely. They are still great because the user is so passionate. This is why I love creating tools that people can really take and do things that I never envisioned with. You are watching the stuff come back to where we see it and just marvel it on how creative it can be. Another term that I want to start using is photo crafting.
Photo crafting is where we use photography in our cameras to accentuate what we do with paper crafting or scrap making or carve making. Back into the world of Cricut, where we want to say on what does Cricut have to do with a photo box? To me, it has to do with the very direct thing itself. It is about the pay off.
My mom is a fine artist. She is an abstract artist. It is a big challenge when you photograph something flat. It is always an absolute challenge. What are some of the tips or things that you found because you originally started this with a lot more flat craft ideas with the home family history ideas. What were some things that worked a little better to get the full effect of what you were seeing?
This goes back to the heart and memory of what we want to capture. Nobody else in the family might even know about a journal that mom or dad had. To get it digitized and scanning it is very slow and tedious. That is the only solution we had. Making a very hands on fast way of Snapshot of pages in sequence is nothing more than a scanner that is 25 times faster. That challenge was there. The solutions have never been developed. That is why we are succeeding so well in the family history sector.
They see it immediately. Whether it be scanned or software photography, it allows lots of usage once that photo is taken. One of the biggest challenges of that is glare. When you have something that has a shiny surface or glassy photo or a sheet protector, we avoid pulling stuff out sheet protectors that can damage the photo or the page. That is the most frustrating part of the transition of scanning.
Sometimes, it is just obviously physics. But, that is where all that glare control comes in bouncing the light differently in controlling where the spots are. That is all there. That is all controllable. Those things when I call it flat photography really come in to play, obviously to get those things in other people’s hands.
It seems that sideshot accessory comes in a bundle in some ways that come with the Shotbox is that it is a modern thing for your cellphone. Does it also provide lighting?
It does, it have the same LED light in the back side of the foot of lighting. It is a platform and it hangs off the edge on the top of the ceiling. You can fold it up and you can latch it and place it a little bit. It holds the smart phone right there ready to shoot. It is hands free. Samsung has a built in voice control so you can talk to your phone to take a picture. We also sell a shutter cable that you can plug in your phone. Your phone can just be there and be in place the whole time. That is the fun thing about side shot. The lighting is key as well. You can change the angle of the lighting and change the position of the platform there in relation to where it shoots in the box as well.
I think this would seriously simplify our photography environment and equipment, and also produce better shots. I am dying to get my hands on one. We are going to go and buy one for sure.
Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I think that the 3D print photographs application has so much in there in terms of quality of texture that you are going to capture, as well as the glare assistance. We have a lot of glare problems sitting into parts and into places. Your product just solves that for everyone.
I think it is perfect.
Thank you so much Aaron, we appreciate your time today to talk about taking great 3D print photographs and sharing all the details of Shotbox with us. We will be sure to make sure that all of our audience knows where they can find it.
Thank you very much.
Tips for Taking 3D Print Photographs – Final Thoughts
I really am impressed with this product for taking 3D print photographs. I first saw this one year ago at CEO space and I bought one for our photographing and 3D printing it.When you think about the different things that you have to buy separately, they have bundles on Amazon where you can buy a kit of a small studio setup. It is bundling a lot of different products from a lot of different companies, and it is not easy to set up and to operate. Even when you do, it is not perfect. It does not do the best job. We find that there are a lot of hotspots or dead spots.
I think it was over $100 for a kit. We initially bought the $50 one, and then we realized we needed more. It was about $100 to $130 total, on an imperfect product. Aaron’s Shotbox is completely self contained. It lists at $149 and $190 for a whole kit thing. You can get into the very base model for $129 but you inevitably need more pieces. $199 is what you need to spend to get everything. I think that Sideshot for taking pictures of 3D printed object is ideal. You need to have a different perspective on it.
How far has the smartphone camera come? It is amazing. I have to admit in recent photos where I took photos of our 3D printed coffee sleeve to post up on Thingiverse. I used my cellphone for that. I did not totally love the shot. There were lots of shadows and darkness.
His thing of being able to up light from underneath and some of the features that they are going to add is very effective and helpful in eliminating it. It makes so much sense. LED lighting is just so much more reliable and also you can control it better. Having the lights inside the box as opposed to shining through the box really makes sense. This does not take lots of space. I think on how to be efficient and more professional in our environment. This is our office and we want things setup all the time and is ready to go. For us, we have typical angles on when we take things. When we Wi-Fi and put it on the cloud, we can then have Wi-Fi access.
You just bring in your next version as they come off the printer. When we do a series of things especially when we do reviews of products, we also want to get a photograph and get into the review. That is a really efficient way of working. The cost for that is no brainer for me. When you spend $200 on something, there are some printers that are $300. The reality is, for the value that you are getting to be able to set up photos makes it worth it.
We have done so many products on Amazon and so many places; the effect of product photography in the sales of items is tremendous. It has sometimes as low as a 40% push difference. When you have a significantly better photograph, we can do 80% better than the next product. The effect of spending a little bit money getting your photographs right so that they are consistently better than the next person’s product is tremendous to your bottom line. This is not only a better product, but it also is a more professional seller. That says reliability and delivery and all those things go to people’s minds. It reinforces their visual connection to it.
We are not making anything in talking about this product to you, we just think that this is a great product that everybody in 3D printing can use. It is a good product and we like to highlight to you good products. If you go to the Shotbox site, you then go in and add one of the items to their cart, they have an entry level of $129, up to the deluxe bundle which is $199. If you enter in the discount code WTFFF30, you will get $30 off in whatever product that you buy. You get a discount on just being a listener of the WTFFF?! podcast
I really like the story. It makes so much sense on why he did that after the Cricut. He wanted to preserve documents. It makes so much sense to be the next project. It is a great fit for us who do 3D printed objects. It is very cool. I like it.
- Hazz Design on Instagram
- Hazz Design on Pinterest
- Hazz Design on Thingiverse – coffee sleeve download
- Maker Milestones Contest held by Makerbot
- A Study in White – How to take quality photos of white products
About Aaron Johnson
Like many strapping young teens, I earned my coin mowing lawns, grounds keeping, and as a janitor. Somehow I found flipping burgers at McDonalds an improvement and finished out those years working there. From there I served a Mormon mission in Tokyo. Awesome experience. I came home, entered BYU and got found by an awesome wife; now of 25 years. In my early twenties I left a good job at Wordperfect and formed my first full-time company called Stratus Design. I focused on digitizing artwork and fonts for artists in the craft/scrapbooking. In a nutshell, I did a LOT of cute stuff. This business evolved into pcCrafter and partnerships with Randy Benson and Jason Brinkerhoff. Incredible individuals. We formed a long-term alliance with Provo Craft and Robert Workman, where we focused on retail art and font CD’s for over 70 artists and developed a successful online subscription club. Out of this relationship came the opportunity to co-invent the Cricut Electronic Cutter. This product did phenomenally well and eventually led to a buyout by Sorenson Capital. After a bit of a journeyman’s approach to my next big thing, I am now launching a decade-long desire: Shotbox and its surrounding tools. www.shotbox.me.
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