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Blog entry by Andy posted 1638 days ago 2027 reads 10 times favorited 26 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I know this isnt a photography site, but since we all shoot pictures of our projects I thought I might share a few tips with you.
I often get asked how I go about getting my boxes to look good…besides the woodworking I mean.

Feel free to add your tips this blog.

I shoot with a Canon 20D and a 17-85 Image Stabilized lens, but most cameras now are plenty good

and will do fine as long as you take the time to understand how to get the most out of it.

I typically use a tripod and set the self timer, this prevents camera shake. A cable or wireless shutter release is another way to push the button and not wiggle the camera. Most SLR, DSLR and even some others have a setting to lock up the mirror and that is used with the self timer. This simply delays the actual picture taking until everything has had time to stop moving around. There are many styles and prices of tripods available and they are the ticket to good still photos. They not only help prevent camera shake, but they also help your work flow, the camera stays in one place and the project gets moved.
This allows you to take multiple shots from the same angle and changing either the aperature, the polarizer, the zoom, and then select the one you prefer. Get as good a model as you can afford, a sturdy one is a must for a heavy camera like an SLR with a big lense hanging on the end, but a fold up mini is great for a point and shoot. You will need to set the mini on a sturdy table or such, but it will still be a big improvement over most handheld shots.

I select Aperature and try several settings, a small # like f5.6 will focus on a smaller area and blur out the rest,
and a larger # like f16 will make sure the entire box is in focus. Try about f8 and shoot a few test shots, load them on your computer and see what you think.

I take several pictures from different angles using several f-stops.

Avoid a very wide angle to prevent distortion.

Turn your on camera flash off and use two lamps if possible to get enough light on the subject. With a tripod the camera will choose the shutter accordingly. This will take a little experimenting.

Set your focus to spot or single point if possible to ensure the camera is focusing where you want. Most blurry pictures are because of camera shake due to a slow shutter speed, and not knowing when to use a tripod, but can also be because the lens is focused on something past your subject.

I use non shiny, non textured cloth for a back drop. Usually black fleece or velvet, but maroon and green at times. This depends on the wood color of the box. Many studio work is done with a non glare white back drop. You cant go wrong with going to the fabric store and buying a mid-grade black velvet for about 12 a yard, and one yard is a good size for small projects like boxes. Fabric varies in width, but its typically 54’’-60’’.
After a while you will get a feel for what you prefer.

I like to use natural light when possible, strong sunlight filtered through cloudds or fog is best.
I also use a standard table lamp and play the light on sections of the box to add drama. Just experiment a little.

I do basic editing in either Elements or Photo Shop CS3. I crop if needed, remove any lint I missed, add a little contrast, correct the colors as needed and add sharpening. The better prep you do removing lint, wrinkles, and back ground clutter, means you will spend less time editing it out afterwards.
I reduce the size to fit the screen of my computer, and that makes it quicker to upload.
Thats it, no tricks.

You can use added filters for special effects if you wish, but I prefer natural.
I do strongly recommend a polarizing filter and for most cameras a circular style is perfect. Some point and shoot cameras dont allow for screwing them on, but you can probably add a Cokin style setup.

Here are a series of photos taken with my camera mounted to a tripod and the focus and aperature locked. The only difference is how the circular polarize is turned. As you can see, the valleys and ridges in the shaped surfaces of the box are revealed in varying degrees.

CP1

CP2

CP3

CP4

CP5

Photos #1 and #4 show off the shaping on the lid very well, but the contours on the front and right end of the body are pretty flat looking.
Photo #2 shows off the shaping on the front and right side of the body very well, but the details in the lid are minimal.
The polarizing filter is not a perfect solution, but will do wonders and give you options if you dont have several off camera lights.

This is a very simply outline of my approach, my goal was to answer in general terms how I photograph my boxes.
I have been pretty avid in photography as an amatuer for many years, but like my woodworking I have developed my own style and bad habits along the way, but they work for me. If you would like to learn more about studio photography I recommend checking out YouTube, and even your camera makers members forums. There are many sites than can do a better job teaching you than I can.
I do hope this has answered some of your questions and encouraged you to take the time to learn to take good pictures of your project. After all your hard work, we would like to see it at its best.

Thanks for reading,
Andy

-- If I can do it, so can you. www.artboxesbyandy.com



26 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112001 posts in 2180 days


#1 posted 1638 days ago

Thanks Andy good advice

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View Troy's profile

Troy

186 posts in 1666 days


#2 posted 1638 days ago

Great advice Andy. You were particularly correct in stating that there are so many exceptional works out there that fully deserve professional still documentation.
You certainly get great results maximizing your equipment combined with knowledge and experience.

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) || http://www.birchhillwoodcrafts.com

View OutPutter's profile

OutPutter

1194 posts in 2593 days


#3 posted 1638 days ago

Very nice Andy. I wish I had an aptitude for photography but it just overwhelmes me sometimes. I’m always hoping to find that magic camera that automatically takes incredible pictures at Chinese prices. ;-)

-- Jim

View Hallmark's profile

Hallmark

432 posts in 1709 days


#4 posted 1638 days ago

Great advice. The only thing I didn’t understand was (I typically use a tripod and set the camera to mirror lock up)

-- Style is simple, but not my execution of it.

View snowdog's profile

snowdog

1132 posts in 2585 days


#5 posted 1638 days ago

To output and others, try writing down what you do in each picture you take so you can see what works best for you. I mean take 10 pictures with different setting but write down the setting in order so you can see what each change makes. It is time consuming but well worth the time if you want to get better and have no natural aptitude. You will be amazed at how quickly you can teach aptitude when you approach it with a methodology (same with wood working :)

Great HOW TO Andy. Thanks for taking the time

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View tpastore's profile

tpastore

105 posts in 2419 days


#6 posted 1638 days ago

Nice article. Here is some more info too:

Taking better pictures

Tim

View damon's profile

damon

31 posts in 2220 days


#7 posted 1638 days ago

thanks for that- I can understand your desire for nice pictures when your material and detail is so figured. Nice pics – nice work.

-- Damon, Right Angle Construction

View _bp's profile

_bp

18 posts in 1870 days


#8 posted 1638 days ago

Good stuff Andy,

I just want to add a couple of things.

You are absolutely right about black velvet. If you want a black background velvet is the ticket.

If you are looking for a white background I recommend white paper. It lays a lot flatter and reflects light more evenly than fabric. In fact, this is what is used in most photo studios. You can buy roles in various sizes at a photo store. If you don’t need a wide role, you can pick up a smaller role at an office supply store.

About exposure. This can be a little bit complicated, so I will keep it brief.

A camera’s exposure meter looks at the world as an 18% gray and applies that to everything, so you often need to compensate. If you are wondering what and 18% is, sorry Andy, but it looks pretty much exactly like the sheet in your images.

If you want something white, you have to overexpose, usually by a couple stops.
If you want something black, you need to underexpose, usually by a couple of stops.

The exact amount will vary by camera and conditions, so it is worth experimenting.

About lighting. The sky is the limit depending on what you are going for, but for simply project documentation, it is hard to beat natural light on a cloudy day.

The more overcast the better, but just take you project out side set up your background and fire away. Shade works just as well. VERY important though is to make sure the light is VERY even. If you notice even the slightest variation in light you will notice it in the final picture.

I would be happy to expand on any of this if anyone is curious.

View Karson's profile

Karson

34861 posts in 3003 days


#9 posted 1638 days ago

Andy, some great points. Thanks.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware karson_morrison@bigfoot.com †

View Dale J Struhar Sr's profile

Dale J Struhar Sr

324 posts in 1733 days


#10 posted 1638 days ago

Great article. Now I just have to retain and experiment.

-- Dale, Ohio

View Andy's profile

Andy

1535 posts in 2511 days


#11 posted 1638 days ago

Hallmark, sorry for not making that more clear.
I went back and rewrote that paragraph and hope it makes more sense.
Here it is:
I typically use a tripod and set the self timer, this prevents camera shake. A cable or wireless shutter release is another way to push the button and not wiggle the camera. Most SLR, DSLR and even some others have a setting to lock up the mirror and that is used with the self timer. This simply delays the actual picture taking until everything has had time to stop moving around. There are many styles and prices of tripods available and they are the ticket to good still photos. They not only help prevent camera shake, but they also help your work flow, the camera stays in one place and the project gets moved.
This allows you to take multiple shots from the same angle and changing either the aperature, the polarizer, the zoom, and then select the one you prefer. Get as good a model as you can afford, a sturdy one is a must for a heavy camera like an SLR with a big lense hanging on the end, but a fold up mini is great for a point and shoot. You will need to set the mini on a sturdy table or such, but it will still be a big improvement over most handheld shots.
Thanks for bringing this to my attention, and hope this answers your question.
Andy

-- If I can do it, so can you. www.artboxesbyandy.com

View Andy's profile

Andy

1535 posts in 2511 days


#12 posted 1638 days ago

Thank you all for the kind words and adding your own input.
Photography is way too deep a subject to cover in a blog like this,
but hopefully our tips can encourage beginners to keep trying.
” Stubborn tenacity trumps natural ability”, so dont give up!

Your photos are the only link we have to your project.
This blog was intended as an aid, not a criticism in a negative way.
But we cant enjoy your project and really appreciate your hard work if the pictures are out of focus, etc…
So take to heart all these tips and try a few out at a time and see what happens,
just dont give up, you can do it too :-)

And you people with the photo skills, please keep adding your own 2 cents worth as you see fit.

-- If I can do it, so can you. www.artboxesbyandy.com

View SteveMI's profile

SteveMI

845 posts in 1897 days


#13 posted 1638 days ago

Snowdog made a real good point in documenting a series of pictures so you can compare the results, but I want to expand on it. Taking a bunch of pictures and then comparing them to a list can be confusing later. Write the f-stops, white balance numbers, distance of camera to piece and angle of camera to piece on paper and set it so it is in the picture.

Couple other points. First, each camera has its own personality and the f-stop setting for one may not be any good for another even in the same brand.

Second, while sunlight is awesome, the climate and weather in many areas don’t make that a viable plan for every time you need to photo something. One way is to make a tent frame out of pvc tubing (1/2”) with drilled wood corners and drape it with a white fabric over the top and vertical sides. Place lights outside on left and right so you won’t have shadows or glare. My tent frame is 3’ square and can break down in 5 minutes.

Steve.

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2251 days


#14 posted 1638 days ago

nice writeup.

what amazes me is that people keep on focusing (no pun intended) on the camera model, camera settings, and photoshop post production.

Photography is the art of LIGHT. if you have good light, you have a good base for good pictures – obviously it’s ‘art’ so composition, and techniques play a part in this as well. but I never looked at the camera, or camera settings as the major role player in good photography.

the only time I find myself in need to use photoshop, is if I want to merge photos, or add special effects.

here’s another tip –
is you MUST use flash, opt for an external flash and not the built in flash that pops out of the camera.

if you MUST use the flash that pops out of the camera – try putting a piece of thin white paper in front of it that will act as a difuser. you’ll get a better spread of the light, and not have the direct flashlight effect on your subjects/projects.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Rj's profile

Rj

1047 posts in 2234 days


#15 posted 1638 days ago

Andy Thanks for posting this!! We take the time to make our projects and have pride in them. Its important to show them off as best we can in our pictures I for one need to take more time in this area !!

-- Rj's Woodworks,San Jose & Weed Ca,

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