I am Trying to figure out the best, least expensive way to take great pictures of inanimate objects and also live models for an online gift store. Is there some kind of inexpensive kit i can purchase with a backdrop, lights, tripod, etc? What are some of the necessary components I should look into? Please advise. Thanks.
You're looking for a simple single solution that applies to a lifetime of experience. Each of the different type of photograph you want to tale requires specific equipment and practice to do correctly. If you were to say you were interested in shooting small objects, I could easily recommend something like the Lowell Ego. Or if you want to shoot people, you need a lighting kit like Alien Bees. Besides having the proper lighting equipment, you also need the experience in using it and communicating with the models during the shoot to get excellent results.
You could also try http://www.owens-originals.com for light/background kits.
The kits are fairly easy to come by. It's familiarity with using those kits which will give you trouble. I take a lot of product shots and have grown very familiar with both the equipment and with the people at the place where I shoot.
Here's a recommendation: When you get the equipment, set it up at your own place and see how everything works. Then haul it to the place where you're taking your shots, bring lunch for the folks who'll be modeling, and set up your equipment to take pictures of them while they eat. This will take the focus off of you and let everyone get used to the new situation. You'll get some great candid shots too.
The real trick is to get everyone (including yourself) comfortable before you start shooting "for real". There are many ways to do this, but this has worked well for me.
I realize i'm asking a lot. The problem is that i'm usually the model And the person who has to set things up (this is very much an amateur mom-and-pop situation)...typically i have to rope a totally inexperienced person into taking the photos because no one else will model. The live model equipment doesn't need to be extremely portable. I'll probably set it up in a corner and leave it there for quite some time -- but it has to be extremely inexpensive and fairly well-performing. I think i'm a bit of a hopeless case. Thanks on the lowell ego and owen's links!
Well that's certainly an unusual situation. I'd recommend using a tripod and a remote shutter release. This way you get total control of the situation, though the learning curve will be a bit steeper. My Canon Digital RebelXT has some nice software which will allow you to view what the camera sees on a laptop screen. I suspect that all of the Canon DSLRs come with it. It'll work perfectly well with a desktop computer too, though that would be a bit more cumbersome. It wouldn't surprise me to discover that all DSLR cameras some with some similar software package.
I've got to admit that being both the photographer and the model must give you a degree of freedom that most of the rest of us don't know. Have fun and let us know how it goes!