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How We Automate Taking Product Photos

Published by: JJ Hendricks on February 22, 2019 sells used video games for retro systems like NES, SNES, PS2, etc. Some of the items are 30+ years old and each one has a slightly different condition. Many of our customers are game collectors and they really care about the condition. The best way to show the condition is with high quality photos.

Taking photos can take quite a bit of time though and we have 500-1000 games coming through the warehouse per day.

A fully manual process takes about 50 seconds per game (take three photos, upload to servers, and update database with photo info). With 1000 games, it would take 14 man hours per day to take all the photos.

How could we give customers photos they wanted, but not spend so much time taking them?

We developed a multi camera light box and wrote a program to take multiple high resolution photos at the same time.

This setup takes ~5 seconds per item. 10x's more efficient than the manual method.

The code and box design process (and the various iterations that didn't work) took roughly 30 hours. So the project recouped the time investment with about 3 days of photo taking.

We're sharing how we built the light box and we've open sourced the multi photo software so you can do it too.

How We Built the Multi Camera Light Box

View inside 3 camera photo light box with no item

The light box we built only cost $10 for LED lights and $15 for the plexiglass, everything else was free and lying around the warehouse.

It works very well for smaller items like video games, but the same concept works with larger items too with a larger light box or camera mounts and no light box.

  1. Paint the inside of a box white - This bounces light off the walls to eliminate shadows
  2. Buy a sheet of anti-glare plexiglass - This is really expensive at framing stores, but I found it cheap on eBay
  3. Cut a thin strip out of the cardboard half way up both sides
  4. Insert plexiglass into holes you just made
  5. Tape USB light strips on sides of plexiglass - We used double sided tape and two lights pointing up and two pointing down.
  6. Buy high resolution webcams - You want webcams that can take 1920 x 1080 resolution video
  7. Place webcams in the light box where you want them - Use can use your computer's camera preview tool to line-up the cameras correctly
  8. Take lots of photos

Underside of photo light box with game on plexiglass

Multi camera photo station hooked up to computer running multi-photo program

Basics of the Multi Photo Software

The full documentation for the photo tool is on Github. It's open sourced with MIT license so feel free to use and customize as you want.

After installing the software, you double click the program and it takes one photo from each camera you have setup and stores them locally.

You can customize the software to use however many cameras you want. The only limit on the number of cameras is the number of USB ports you have. A 7 port USB hub or two will fix that problem.

We've modified the software we run in production to automatically upload the images to Google Cloud Services and update the database with SQL queries to our database.

Example Photos Taken with Multi-Photo Tool

Below are some photos taken with the light box and software. The source images are 1980 x 1020 resolution but they only uploaded here at 1600px.

Front of a video game cartridge

Back of game cartridge. Taken through plexiglass

Top label view of SNES cartridge. We need to adjust this camera to be closer.

It works for other items besides games too.

Top of measuring tape

Bottom of measuring tape

Side view of tape measure

If you have any questions about building your own light box let us know in the comments below. If you come up with clever ways to improve the setup, please share them as well.

Nintendo 64 Games | Playstation 2 Games | PS3 Games

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