Monday, April 27, 2009

Basic Product Photography - Part 2

In the first part of this series we talked about the features that you want in a camera to take good product photos of your crafts. We will now explore what is needed to set up the pictures that you are going to take. But before we do, let's add one more thing to your camera.

All digital cameras should take a memory card of one type or another. One of the most common is an SD Card (SD for Secure Digital). You want to get a card for your camera with two features - one, that it is as large a capacity as you want to pay for and two, that it is a "fast" memory card. Memory these days is cheap. You can get a large capacity card for as little as ten dollars in the right stores. Two gigabites (2 gb) is the largest capacity that an SD card comes in. Some cameras that take SD cards MAY also take SDHC cards which are High Capacity Secure Digital Cards. These cards are always more than 2 gb - from 4 gb and way up. Some cameras will only work to a certain capacity card and you may want to look into this BEFORE you purchase a camera. Not all cameras that work with regular capacity cards willwork with high capacity cards. This is all common and easy to know by looking at the package when you are purchasing a card. The second feature is not so obvious and easy to know - the speed of the card. The faster the speed the faster the time is between the moment you press the camera shutter button, the picture is taken, and the camera becomes ready to take the next picture. For product photography this is not essential - but you paid enough for your camera to want to use it for other things, right? Not all of the brands of memory cards will even mention speed. Some do by describing the card as good for video - video needs a fast card. Some do by placing a number after model names - Ultra, Ulra II, Ultra III. Some cards will specify a rating. A "D" rated card is perfect for digital cameras and is fast. If the only card you can find has an unknown speed don't knock yourself out trying to find one, but if you can find a fast card get one. Now that you hvae your camera set up to take hundreds to thousands of photos - yes, higher capacity cards will hold thousands of photos - you are ready to get shooting.

In some way you need to create a photography studio - nothing elaborate but a place to take your photos. The simplest studio is the great outdoors. You can set up your object to be photographed outside which eliminates the greatest necessity for indoor photo shoots and that is proper lighting.

Taking product photos outside requires a clean table (picnic tables left out all year are not always the most desirable places to layout your beautiful craft piece), a place with a neutral background, and something that you can rig around the object you are photographing that will stop any wind from moving it. This last part may or may not be necessary due to the weather and the season - or your determining whether or not to shoot based on the wind that may or may not be blowing. You do not want to fight the wind when you are shooting a macro or closeup photo. Remember, from the first article - the slightest movement will blur a macro photo. Even with image stabilization if the wind moves what you are shooting you are not going to get a good shot. First, it moved - out of the position that you will take so much care in putting it into to take the picture. Second, the movement is going to change the picture - even if shooting with a fast shutter speed which can capture objects in motion - but generally with a price in quality.

Set your table up in a clear spot with attention to anything that results in a shadow falling on the table top - trees overhead, edges of buildings, etc. When you look at the surface of the table you should see a nice and brightly lit from the sun clear surface. The position of the sun will effect the shadows that may be created on your object. At noon the sun is overhead, but at other times of the day you may want to adjust your position by the direction that the sunlight will fall on your object and then the table. The sun behind you may cause unwanted shadows. The sun in front of you may cause a problem in the proper lighting adjustment of the auto adjusting camera lens. The best thing about a digital camera is that you can see immediate results and then with the simple click of a button erase those results, make adjustments, and start again.

If you are photographing an object that does not stand on its own you will need something to hold and display your piece on to photograph it. This is where imagination can come in or you can resort to standard displays - much like or exactly what you use to display your work for sale at craft fairs (presuming you do craft fairs). There are all types of jewelry displays, mannequins, etc. that may be used. You may want to step outside the common box and look for artistic things to display your piece on such as large rocks, shells, etc. Just be sure not to display your work on anything that is going to distract the eye from what you want the buyer to see most - YOUR WORK. I have seen many product photos that I have to look at for several moments until I figure out what is being sold . They are all very nice pictures, but I see the shell before I see the earrings. You can just get a piece of neutral color fabric and pin your work (if it can be pinned) and have that fabric placed over a cardboard or wood that is made to stand on the table. When you have set up your piece exactly as you want it on the display put it down on the table - or set it up on the table if moving it will cause it to move out of place. Now, look behind what you are photographing. What do you see? Do you see your neighbor's swing set? Do you see a trash dumpster at the building next door? Take a test photo and see if that item in the distance has blurred away to the point that is is unrecognizable - it should when shooting in macro mode. If it doesn't you need to move your work in another direction so that you have a non-distracting background behind your object in the photograph.

At this point you are ready to shoot and all you need to do is swap your items in and out of this position on your table to take your photos. Set up your tripod in front of the object (or get into a comfortable position with your Optically Image Stabilized camera with no need for a tripod), set your camera to Macro mode, set your white balance to sunlight, and check the distance that you are from your object. If you are within the macro range specified for your camera then you are ready. If not, then move your tripod or yourself to where you need to be. You might even want to use a ruler or tape measure to make sure you are where you must be.

Check each photo on the screen of the camera as you shoot each shot - look closely and you will see if you are ok or you need to make an adjustment. Always take several shots of each set up object. It costs you nothing and it is all disposable and you are only limited by the size of the memory card in your camera.

Outdoors, the perfect studio! Well, not really. As you can see on the clearest day you have to contend with shadows, a breeze, what is behind your yard, and where the sun is. Outdoor shooting is a great thing and many use it, but what do you do if you need to shoot pictures for a new internet listing and it is raining and the forcast has rain for days - or if you would like to shoot at night - or it is 98 degrees or 12 degrees outside?

No outdoors is not the perfect studio. Sometimes you are going to need to move indoors - and for that you must wait for our next installment....

To be continued...


Pfeiffer Photos said...

Wow, that's a lot of info--going to soak it all in and use for my *new* vintage shop on Etsy! Thanks!

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