(Cool Tools is interested in finding great online tutorials, like the one below. If you know of one, please tell us about it!)
If you want to take nice photos of objects that you’re selling on eBay or Etsy, of if you want to show off your art or other creation, consider making a softbox, which provides a soft light source that smooths out shadows and specular highlights. In this tutorial, Steve Hoefer (a frequent contributor to MAKE) shows how to make one for around $30.
A soft box is a must if you want to take nice subject photos without relying on fickle natural light. They soften shadows and provide a soft even light. They can hide blemishes and generally make things look more appealing. The different between a soft light and regular lamps is the difference between these two un-retouched photos. Left is not soft, right is with two soft boxes.
Left: Three bare bulbs with reflectors. Right: Two soft boxes.
Now the one on the left is not that bad of photo. (I’m not going to stage a bad one just for comparison.) The lighting is much more even on the right, bringing out the details in places that are murky at the left, like under the bed. The shadows at the left are much more noticeable. They’re big and hard, despite using more lights than the photo on the right. Probably the biggest difference is the background appears much smoother because the broader lighting smooths out shadows of the small wrinkles. (It also does the same to skin.)