November 29, 2012

Building Better Photos

Well, here it is.


An effective, portable means of taking decent product photographs.

I've been meaning to do this for a long time. Does it seem as long a time to you?

(That's another issue with being my own boss that has come as a surprise. Just how long it takes me to implement things I want to do, or know I should do, or realize I HAVE to do. To top it off, there's feeling like I dropped the ball on the shop improvements I planned to implement in time for the holidays. Uh, the holidays are upon us and I haven't touched the shop. And that's OK, really, since I redirected my efforts from the Etsy shop to getting involved and up to speed with Art Shop, a local, cooperative retail space of 11 artists housed in our community arts center. I have a creeping suspicion that I've said this before, it's rather an unsettling feeling, but I wonder if I shouldn't do a regular Self-Help for the Self-Employed column or some such. But, really, I'm the one who needs help, so just who is going to dispense the advice? Is there a grammatical limit on how long a parenthetical aside can be? Enough for now. Will revisit some of these topics later. Whether it's on purpose or not.)

Right. So. What you're looking at in the photo above is my latest set-up for taking product shots. I followed the instructions here on how to build a light box. The only difference is that I didn't tape panels of fabric to the box. Instead, I draped a single, 2 yard cut of white muslin over the box and tucked the ends under the bottom of the box. This way, if I choose to shoot from above by positioning the camera over the hole in the top of the box rather than the hole in the front of the box (as pictured), all I need to do is reposition the fabric to cover the front and sides of the box. Versatility. Yeah, that's it.

With two (cheap!) reflector lights clamped to the backs of my kitchen chairs - I've had these lights for ages, but I believe I got them at Home Depot - I'm ready to go. Since I'm using regular light bulbs, I set my camera's white balance to incandescent. For this test, I set the aperture to f-16. In some of the test shots, parts of my wares were out of focus. I recommend setting your aperture to the smallest opening. On my camera, this is something in the neighborhood of f-22. Also, if you're aiming for sharp focus all around, move your focal point to the center of the depth of the object you're shooting. If the front edge of your object is 2 inches from the lens & the far edge is 6 inches from the lens, split the difference and focus on the point that is 4 inches from the lens. The little red rectangle on the screen below shows my focal point, on the front edge of the card wallet, by the odd bird studio tag. Do as I say, not as I do, a-hem. (Click on the image for an enlargement to actually see the camera display.)
The image above shows the photo straight from the camera, without any adjustments. Kinda muddy looking. If you have Photoshop, this is so super easy to fix. Go to the Image menu, select Adjustments, then select Levels. (You can also do this as a separate adjustment layer, if you want. Go to the Layer menu, select New Adjustment Layer, then select Levels, and click OK.)
In the Levels dialogue box that pops up, as pictured below, click on the right-most eyedropper under the Options... button. With the eyedropper selected, click on the part of your photo that you want to identify as the brightest area. For our purposes, this is the background.
One little click and that muddy image above turns into this bright thing pictured below. In my case, the image is now a little blown out (too bright). So, back to our Levels dialogue box, which will remain open on your screen until you click the OK button. But don't do that yet.
Under the Input Levels graph are three sliders. The one on the right is highlights, the left is shadows, the middle is mid-tones. (Photoshop might use different terms for these things, I'm using my own language here since it's not like I've actually read any user manuals or tutorials.) I moved the middle slider a bit to the right which changed it's value from 1.00 to 0.73. Play around with the levels until you are satisfied, then click OK.
Here's the result after cropping as well.
Before & After
Hope you find this helpful. Good luck in pursuit of better photos!


  1. This is AWESOME Laurie!!! Thanks so much for leading me here xoxo