As with most things you learn to do they get better over time the more you learn and the more you practice.
When I first started photographing things I would take them to a park down the street from my house on a nice day with good sun. The sun
provided me with a strong light source, but I was never really happy with the whole process because I had to rely on good weather, haul things
around in a box, and I was never really happy with the outcome of the photos. At that time I had a really inexpensive camera and I didn't know
anything about cropping or editing, so the photos I produced were pretty much as they came out of the camera. I don't have any examples of
these photos, but it's easy to imagine what they looked like.
The next phase involved me taking photos inside my house, and for some reason I thought that taking them at night on a glass table under
common household lamps gave them a nice warm feeling. It solved my problem with having to rely on good weather and it prevented me from
having to haul things to the park in a box. I didn't have a lot of space in my apartment to even think about a better setup. Looking back on
those photos now I wonder what the heck I was thinking, but it worked for me at the time. I had improved my camera during this time, but my
editing skills still left a lot to be desired.
I decided that it was finally time to try and make some changes to my photographs, so I started doing a little experimenting and researching.
The first couple of things I tried worked a little better, but they were still not what I was looking for because the color in the photographs was still
off and I didn't like the backdrops I was using.
In 2006 I talked to a photographer named Scott McCue who does a lot of photography for dealers, and has done some photography for books
and some magazines that deal with Tribal art. He gave me a few pointers that helped and a friend also gave me some advice that he got from
the person who does the photography in his office (which made the biggest difference). I gave the new (to me) ideas a shot and I was really
pleased with the results. My new "photo studio" was far from a real photo studio, but it was a setup that I could use in my office in my new home,
which had more space, and it made it really easy to take photographs and come out with consistent results that I really like.
I went to a local camera store and bought a roll of photography backdrop paper in a light to medium gray. For lights I went to a hardware store
and bought a couple of daytime florescent shop lights that had an output light temperature of 6500k which is around the temperature of the sun
(5000k to 6500k) on a nice day. I draped the backdrop paper over our ping pong table and put one of the shop lights on either side of the
object I was photographing. Usually I'd attach one to a tripod while I held the other one in my hand so I could move it around to get the lighting I
desired, and then I'd use my free hand to take the photo of the object.
At that time I didn't really know the importance of using the tripod for my camera and I was doing handheld shots with my camera on "auto"
mode. The thing about the shop lights I was using was that they produced a nice natural light which didn't need any color correction, but the
whole setup was a little cumbersome since I was holding one light in one hand and taking a photo with the other hand. I was happy with the
results though so it made it worth it.
Below is a photo of one of the shop lights and the setup on the ping pong table, along with a couple of examples of photos. The whole thing
cost me about $100 if you don't include the camera and the ping pong table.
The overall quality of the photos was a little better, but still not perfect. I used this method for many years though and was pretty happy with it.
The next thing I experimented with once I got a little more knowledgeable with photo editing tools was playing around with backgrounds. I wanted my
photos to have a consistent look to them as far as color and feel. In hindsight I should have left things as they were.
I started using a photo editing tool called 'Paintshop Pro" and it had a feature on it called 'background eraser" which would allow you to remove the gray
background and any stands or shadows that were in the photo and then you could place the image on any kind of background you wanted.
I first started out with an all gray background that was kind of a gradient, and as you can see from the photos below it gave a fairly consistent result
compared to the 2 photos above, but this process was time consuming and wasn't always easy depending on the object you were removing the
background from. It sometimes left strange areas that didn't match color-wise, and sometimes in the process of erasing the background I'd erase parts of
THE BLUE PHASE
Then, for some reason, I went through what I like to call 'the blue phase' which was the worst phase of them all. I had taken my gray background and
played around with it and came up with this blue one. I thought it was unusual and no one else was using it and it would help make my photos stand
out. Well, it made them stand out for sure, but not for good reasons. Different colors interact with objects in different ways, and they will play tricks on
your eye affecting the overall appearance of the object you are focusing on in the photos. I was still photographing objects against the same nice gray
backdrop but then changing the backdrop to what you see below.
I seriously regret the blue period and wish I could go back in time and take it all away. I am slowly going through things and re-shooting them but it's a
Currently I have a dedicated studio space set up in the basement of my house. It is next to my object storage so it's nice and convenient.
Over the years I have upgraded my camera and my photography and editing skills considerably.
Sometimes the camera on your phone will be the best camera you'll need. Iphones and Android phones have really advanced cameras these days,
much better than any of the cameras I started off with. So if you don't have a nice DSLR then using your camera on your phone is certainly not the
worst thing you can do.
However, if you have a nice DSLR at home and are fairly comfortable using it then you'll get your best results with it.
1) Use a tripod!
2) If your camera is in 'auto ISO' mode turn it off and make sure your ISO is set to 100. A lower ISO means less noise while a higher ISO means there
will be more noise in your photograph. 'Noise" is the graininess in a photo. A higher ISO makes the sensor in your camera more sensitive to light which
will allow for a faster shutter speed in lower light conditions without getting any blur in your photos, but having your camera on a tripod and setting your
ISO to 100 will provide you with the best results.
3) White Balance - you can leave the white balance setting in your camera to Auto and your camera should adjust and give you the appropriate color
balance with the setup below. White balance is always adjustable in post-production though.
4) Use a remote trigger if possible, or if you don't have one then set a delay on your camera to 2-3 seconds so pressing the trigger won't add
movement to the camera which will give you a blurry shot.
5) If the lens you're shooting with has a vibration reduction feature on it and you're shooting with your camera on a tripod then turn the vibration
reduction feature OFF.
6) Aperture - This is important because a lower aperture like f2.8 will give you a shallower depth of field (area of focus) and a higher aperture like f11
will give you a wider depth of field and more area in focus. I usually shoot in f11 if my camera is close to the object I'm shooting because it will mean
that more of the object should be in focus. If I had my camera close to an object and set the aperture at f2.8 then any area behind or in front of the
section I focus on will be out of focus. This can be ok depending on what kind of effect you're after, but something to be aware of.
7) With the settings above you'll usually get a shutter speed of 1 - 3 seconds depending on how bright your lights are. This is why it's important to use
a tripod to keep your camera steady for that amount of time for a sharp photo.
8) Depending on how comfortable you are with editing I would always suggest shooting in RAW instead of shooting in JPG.
When you shoot in JPG mode for your file type your camera will do its own in-camera editing on the image and compresses it when it saves it to JPG
mode. Then if you take that same photo and pull it into an editing tool and further edit it to match your desired outcome and save it again it will
compress the photo again. Each time you edit and save a JPG like this is degrades the quality of the image. It's a 'destructive' process.
If you shoot in RAW then your camera doesn't do any in-camera editing at all and gives you the full range of colors and tones to work with and it
doesn't compress the image at all. You'll need to use an editing program light Lightroom or Snapseed (for mobile devices) to do your edit on the RAW
file. RAW files don't look good coming directly out of the camera, but you have a LOT more data to work with in order to make the photo come out
exactly as you want before you save it as a JPG to put on social media or your website.
You don't have to use a nice DSLR camera to get nice results. Using your iPhone to take photos is perfectly fine if that is what you are most
comfortable with. The most important thing is to have good lighting and a background that isn't distracting. When I want to share a photo or two of an
object with someone quickly I'll put it in my studio setup and snap a few photos with my iPhone.
Another setup that is great is called a lightbox. It's a small collapsable setup that allows you to place an object in and light it and take photos in. It's
great if you only have small objects that will fit in it, but it's not usable for larger objects.
If you are going to shoot in RAW then you'll need an editing program like Adobe Lightroom in order to process the RAW files. Lightroom is fantastic
and a nice way to organize your photos. There are mobile versions of the program that fully integrate with the desktop versions if you have an Adobe
Lightroom will only take your photos so far though, and sometimes that's good enough. But if you want to get the most of you your photos then it's
often good to take them into another program for finishing touches. Adobe Photoshop is good if you're familiar with it, but it has a steeper learning
curve if you're not familiar with it.
I honestly will admit that my entire photo editing workflow is mobile-based. I download the images from my camera into my iPad or iPhone and then
upload them to my Lightroom Mobile app. Once they're uploaded to the Lightroom cloud then I'll delete them from the camera roll on my phone. I will
then edit them in Lightroom Mobile and once I'm done I'll pull each one into a program called Snapseed (made by Google after they acquired the Nik
Collections software). It's a very powerful mobile editing program with a lot of functionality and the best part is that it's non-destructive. It allows you to
save your photos without compressing them which allows you to keep the quality of your photos high.
If you can't use a setup like this then a few guidelines would be:
Never photograph things in front of a window! The harsh light of the sun in the window will really make the photo unusable and make the object too
dark in areas while blowing out the areas on the edges.
Try to avoid using soft-white or cool-white bulbs when photographing an object if you want to get a more true-to-life representation of the object.
The three primary types of color temperature for light bulbs are: Soft White (2700K – 3000K), Bright White/Cool White (3500K – 4100K), and Daylight
(5000K – 6500K). The higher the Degrees Kelvin, the whiter the color temperature.
Don't use a flash if you don't have to. Sometimes that is the only option for you, but a flash on your camera on your phone will really blow out details
on the object and make it unattractive. The flash was made for filling light in rooms or areas of rooms and will provide an undesirable effect if focused
on an object or person most of the time.
Below is the photography paper holder I bought. It's nice because you can adjust the height and you can also break it all down to store it in its case if
you don't have the space to leave it up all the time.
Also a photo of the lights I use. They are LED and have a remote so you can adjust the brightness. They are 5500k which is daylight and the
umbrellas diffuse the light a bit which helps evenly distribute it so you don't have any hot spots. It's an inexpensive setup for under $200.
Nikon D850 using a 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 lens
Shot at 62mm, 2.5 second exposure, ISO 100, aperture at f11
Nikon D850 using a 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 lens
Shot at 45mm, 4 second exposure, ISO 64, aperture at f11
Below are a few photos that were taken with the setup above along with a nice DSLR camera on a tripod.
I've included the settings I used on my camera for each photo. The length of the exposure will vary based on your aperture and focal length. If
you use a PRIME lens (fixed focal length) then you'll have more consistent exposure lengths but won't have the ability to zoom in to frame your
shot or highlight a specific area.
As you can see in this image I did not remove the background
like I mentioned I used to do, and I left the shadows which can
sometimes provide additional interest.
This particular mask was on a stand when photographed, but I
left the background as it was for the image. However, I did
remove the post from the stand which I'll talk about below.
Nikon D850 using a 28-300mm f3.5-5.6 lens
Shot at 135mm, 2.5 second exposure, ISO 64, aperture at f11
As you'll see, I shot this one with a little larger focal length of 135mm which allowed me to zoom
in on the subjects since they were small instead of using a fixed-focal length lens where I would
have had to crop the image to isolate the subjects I was shooting. Again, the shadows add a
little something to the photo in my opinion.
The focal length of the lens is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the
subject is in focus, usually stated in millimeters (e.g., 28 mm, 50 mm, or 100 mm). In the case
of zoom lenses, both the minimum and maximum focal lengths are stated, for example 18–55
Even though I am leaving the background as-is these days I will often times remove things from a photo that are distracting and cause
you to not focus solely on the object. In this case it's the post from the display stand I have this particular mask on. It's not horribly
distracting, but it's not part of the object itself so I choose to use the healing tool object removal tool in my photo editing program to
remove it from the photograph so the end result is the object only. If you're selling something it is good to have a photo of the object on
the mount/stand as well though so the buyer can have a good idea of what it looks like all together, but I feel that if you can remove any
parts of the stand/mount that are visible it will help to keep the focus solely on the object being photographed.
I am a passionate and serious amateur photographer and I photograph a very diverse range
of subjects and also use a drone to capture different perspectives of things.
While I'm still working on a photography blog website to document and share my travels I have
a couple of other ways for people to see my photography:
My commercial website is: www.RAND.photography
This site contains various types of photos that are arranged into different collections. Link will
open in a new window.
I also share quite a bit of my photography on Instagram and you'll see a lot more there than
you'll see on my website. I also try to provide a little background on most images I share there