Thursday, November 27, 2008

Photographing Your Work Part I

If you're selling your handmade products online your photos are the best way for your customers to judge your work. So you need the photos to be good. This first of 3 parts on photographing is about how to set up to take good photos, Part II will cover composing the photos against a backgrop and with props, Part III will cover editing.

Cameras

Digital cameras have come a long way and now even a fairly inexpensive digital camera can take good resolution photos. The only requirements that are a must is a minimum of 4 megapixel resolution, a macro setting, and basic manual white balance settings. I also prefer a time delay setting, just 2 seconds is enough for me to get my hands away from the camera to prevent shaking.
  • Resolution: It's best to take your photos much larger than you need them so you can more easily edit and crop them, then resize down the the dimensions you need.
  • Macro Setting: Macro usually indicated by a flower icon or button and is for taking crisp photos are 3 feet away or less. This is essential to photograph any products smaller than about basketball sized.
  • White balance: This is how your camera processes the lighting when you take a photo, you need to set this to match the current lighting or your colors will be off. For example if you try to take photos in incandescent lighting with sunlight selected for white balance everything will have a very yellow cast, alternatively take photos in sunlight with incandescent light selected and everything will be very blue.

Tripod

And absolute must is a tripod or some other way to stabilize your camera such as a box or stack or books. When taking closeups with the macro setting on any tiny shaking in your hands will make the photo blurry.

Lighting

Lighting is the most essential part of taking good photos. Here are some tips:
  • Don't use flash. Ever. Flash will wash out your photos and cause bright spots anywhere that reflects.
  • If possible use natural light. A room with large windows is great as is taking your work outside if the weather is favorable. A few things you should avoid though are bright direct sunlight, early morning and late evening light (it will give your photos a colored cast).
  • If using lamps you need to diffuse the light. The best way to do this is with a light tent for small objects which can be easily built. Large objects you'll want diffusers, these can be made with milk jugs, paper, or fabric. I'll include links to tutorials on light tents and diffusers at the end of this article.
  • The best light bulbs I've found for lamps are daylight compact florescent bulbs, the color is close to natural light.
  • How many lamps you need depends on the brightness of your lamps and the size of your object, small jewelry may only need a single lamp while a large ceramic bowl may need three. Generally though you will not need more than three (see links for info about 3 point lighting)
Obviously this is only a basic overview of what you need for taking good photos but if you're just starting out this is a good place to start. Experimentation with your camera and lighting is the best way to learn what works best for you.

Resources
Taking Successful Photos of your Artwork
Tips for Photographing Your Handmade Jewelry
Making a Soft Light for Virtually Nothing
How To: DIY $10 Macro Photo Studio
Making a Soft Light for Virtually Nothing
DIY Light Panel Diffuser
Build a photo studio - Collapsible Light Diffuser Frames

Photographing Your Work Part II
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