Irritation is the Mother of Invention

You’ve heard the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”? Well, sometimes irritation is also the mother of invention. In both cases, that can be a good thing.

Being creative often leads to a less costly solution. Sometimes it even leads to a better solution than the first thing that comes to mind. More importantly, being forced to invent a new solution helps us learn that there are alternatives to automatically spending money whenever we encounter a problem.

Take this example of automatically thinking of buying something as the solution: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things along the lines of “My car needs new brakes and it’s going to be super expensive! I think it’s time to go car shopping..” (Never mind that a new car is a whole lot more costly than a brake job…)

When the first thought that pops into your head when something breaks stops being “I need a new one!” and becomes “What are some other ways I could solve this?” or even “Is this something that needs solving?”, your financial life usually ends up looking much better.

It can also be fun to come up with a solution of your own, which was the case for me yesterday.

(Thus ends the money-related part of this post; the rest is just for anyone looking to quickly solve a photography problem. Feel free to keep reading though if you want to see my MacGyvering.)

I needed to take photos of some book covers. Unfortunately, these were books with shiny silver lettering embossed on plain covers. Have you ever tried to take photos of reflective surfaces? It’s not fun, especially if you want a bunch of silver text to stand out crisply with no reflections showing.

But I didn’t want to go buy a light tent. It’s not very often that I need to take photos of items with reflective surfaces, and it’s not like I sell stuff on etsy or anything that I need to make look good. If I bought one, it would just sit around taking up space for probably a year or two before I’d use it again. If I could remember where I put it. (We don’t have a ton of space, so it might end up somewhere odd.)

So I dug around in my closet and came up with a thin white blouse. Then I taped the bottom of the blouse to the floor with some painter’s tape that I had on hand, making an improvised light tent that looked like this:

I left one side untaped so I could slide a gray card and the book inside. Then I stuck my camera and head through the neck of the shirt and my arms through the sleeves, and shot the book cover.

Here’s an example of what the inside of the light tent looked like (using a different reflective object):

To show you the difference this makes, a shot of the item in all its reflective glory taken outside the makeshift light box is on the left. The version shot inside it is on the right, and it looks much more true-to-life.

In this instance I actually like the reflective version better, but if I were going for realism — or, you know, shooting silver text that needed to be legible — the one without all the reflections is the way to go.

And instead of running out and spending $30-$60 for something I’ll almost never use, I peeled my shirt off the floor 5 minutes later, removed the tape, and hung it back up. (Hey, it was still clean.)