I know some of y'all don't want to read a very technical and very lengthy tutorial on setting up some crazy lighting or program workflow just to take a decent (and DD-able) photo of your artisan crafts. I know some days I don't so I'll try to make this as simple as I can.
Think about this:
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SPEND COUNTLESS HOURS
ON A WORK OF ART ONLY TO CHEESE OUT ON THE
PHOTOS AND MAKE THAT THING LOOK LIKE POO?
The tl;dr express list of what you need to focus on (hah!):
- Clean the camera lens AND whatever you're photographing
- Pick a good background and good props
- Light! Outside on an overcast day*
- White balance (this shouldn't be a huge issue if you're shooting outside)
- Focus on your thing. YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT IN FOCUS smdh
- Crop it nicely.
*(I'm not covering any form of studio lighting here because I want everyone, regardless of gear or skill, to be able to take a pretty snazzy photo of something they've made. If you want to set up a dedicated lighting system check out strobist.blogspot.com/ Almost everything I know about studio lighting I learned there.)
Go ahead and scamper off if you honestly feel like that short little list is all you need to improve your photos. If it's not enough or you want to learn more, keep reading.
For all the photos of the flower bead and patch knife in this guide I used a very abused Canon PowerShot A2300 HD. This is one of the worst rated point and shoot cameras still being sold. Half the time the lens doesn't even open. Most phones have cameras infinitely better than this old hunk of poo. Using anything even slightly better than this camera should get you decent results when photographing your art.
Oh yeah I used green mode (full auto) and let this dumb little camera try to crap on every single frame.
Clean the lens and your art. Google how to clean a camera lens. Most have coatings that are very fragile and will flake/scratch if you go at them with any old rag or towel. INB4 I am not responsible for you brillo-ing your lens to death.
Having a dirty lens will cause little ghosty shadows and spots floating in your image. You can try to get these out in post process with a healing brush tool or something similar, but that's really a waste of time and doesn't always look great. Just keep your lens clean.
Why clean the art?
Because look at this pendant. It's dusty
and nasty and doesn't really scream
'PRETTY SHINY GLASS THING'
2.) Background and props
There are two main ways to photograph a thing: without a setting and with a setting. Think about graduation photos with their plain backgrounds and lack of lots of props. They have no setting. They're just capturing the human in them in a pleasing manner. Now, think about wedding photos: pretty gardens, lace and champagne glasses, peacocks....whatever crap is in fashion. Point is, the setting and props are telling a story.
Does your art need a story? Will adding props and an environment honestly enhance the presentation of it? If the answer is no or if you're on the fence about it, keep it simple and leave props out. You can always take a series a photos with different props and backgrounds and decide later which you like better.
A big issue I see all the time is that people pick distracting and ugly backgrounds for their stuff.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR BACKGROUND
pendant in that mess. Now I see it.
This is a travesty. The background is
camouflaging the object I tried to capture.
is kind of outdoorsy and manly and all that, but
again the focus of the photo, the knife, is fighting
for attention with the leaves.
Golly, why'd she put light down three times? Because: IT IS IMPORTANT. Please...if you take anything from this whole rambling crapfest I'm vomiting out, let it be this point. Unless you're really good at lightboxes, managing white balance, flash photography, and studio lighting (if so why are you even reading this? Go away), just shoot your stuff in diffused natural light. It's plentiful, easy, and is the quickest route to a presentable photo of your art. If it's raining you can shoot on a porch or on a windowsill (even a table near a window). You can even *gasp* wait to take the photos.
By diffused light I mean a grey cloudy day. Early morning and near dusk on a sunny day are also good but be careful: the color of the light can be odd at these times of day. It can create really stellar photos or really not-so-right photos. Great thing about digital cameras is that you can take all the photos you want until you get it just right (and you should).
While these photos are ok, a lot of details are lost
where the full sun has blown out the highlights in the
upper right image. In the lower left there's not enough
directional light on the earrings and too much on the
leaves behind them to give the surface of the glass
much of a three dimensional feel.
Good diffused natural light:
day. There's a nice soft light on all the sushi.
There's still contrast in the individual hunks but
not so much that the shadows or highlights
are lacking detail.
I really shouldn't need to explain how bad
this photo is and why.
Same day a few feet away in the shade:
one above it. All I did was walk to the other side of
the barn where there sun wasn't directly illuminating stuff.
5a.) White Balance
I'm grouping this with lighting in general because lighting affects white balance. Sure, if you're savvy with photo editing programs you know you can kind of fix this post process. It wont be the same as getting it right in camera, though. Nothing is. Always get as much as you can right in the camera before you even think about editing later.
Without going into a lot of technical stuff I'm going to define white balance:
White balance is the overall color tint a photo has based on neutral colors, like white.
The goal is to have your neutral white, 50% grey, and blacks just that: neutral.
This means that anything white in your photo should look white. Not yellowish white and not bluish white. Just. White. If your white is neutral all the other colors in your photo are going to be pretty damn close to correct.
Bad white balance from indoor lightbulb-type light:
That background is a white piece of printer paper. Is it white
in the photo? No. Because I let my camera pick and adjust the
white balance. My camera assumed I was outside. I was not and
now my photo is yellow-tinged. I'm sure there's one photo out there
where this color balance looks ok, but I've yet to find it. Please
avoid this scenario at all costs. It's fugly and sinful.
Bad white balance from the on-camera flash:
to use the flash (also I have nasty highlights). It should have adjusted
for flash but since it's a crappy camera, it once again just metered for
outdoor light. Everything has a blue tint to it that wasn't there when I
took the photo. This is bad. If this was a living thing it would look dead.
Good white balance midday:
Skin tones look natural. The brass looks like brass.
Good white balance sunset:
The colors are still natural, though they do have warmth.
The object looks like it did when I took the photo. The warm
tones work nicely with the wood.
Rainy day blues:
Every rule has exceptions. This is one instance of an exception.
I wait to shoot a lot of my weapons and glass until it's really
dreary and rainy. The natural light, a bluish tone, works really
great for photographing steel and glass. The point is I am still
maintaining a natural color balance within the photo.
(Compare this blue tint to the one above from the flash shot indoors)
This shouldn't even need to be said. The art you're photographing needs to be in focus. Most 'low-end' point and shoot cameras and camera phones will make this easier for you. You're going to be stuck with a pretty basic set of scary variables such as aperture and depth of field. You don't really have an ability to change these settings on point and shoot/camera phone so don't freaking worry about them. Learn HOW your camera focuses and learn how to use it best to your advantage.
You want to have as much as the object in focus as possible.
If this is not easy to do due to your camera's limitations,
focus on a key point.
not entirely in focus.
The photos still have a narrow depth of field so the entire
object is not in focus.
If you're stuck with a narrow depth of field
make sure the important parts are in focus.
Nothing is in focus
Absolutely no details are in focus.
SHAME ON ME
pretty good focus and details within all layers of the glass
can be seen.
Cropping means that you're removing all the dead space and unnecessary junk in your photo and focusing on the object. You don't have to have the thing dead center filling the frame, but you definitely should not have it struggling to get the viewer's attention amidst a massive picture.
Too much dead space:
is in the center.
Ok crop, but not great:
and the pendant is getting lost as a result.
Not a terrible crop, but not the best.
If you practice these few basics every time you photograph a thing you made, you should end up with better photos. Even with my crappy point and shoot I fought to make really bad photos. Try using different cameras if you have them. I'm super impressed with the cameras that are on many smart phones these days. I see artists cranking out scads of killer shots with zero PC editing. I admit I'm a little jealous of the Instagram gurus.
Just work with what you have and always be looking to improve every aspect of your art, including the photography.
Skin by Dan Leveille