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My Journey As A Scroll Saw Pattern Designer #77: A Day of Learning

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 1337 days ago 2259 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 76: Fretwork Cross Candle Tray and Charms Part 77 of My Journey As A Scroll Saw Pattern Designer series Part 78: Another Skating Figure Complete - Meet "Sonja" »

Yesterday turned out to be a day of learning. For me, those are always good days. I had originally planned to take some quick pictures of the new project and one that my partner was just finished with and then spend the rest of the day drawing and working on the next one. That just wasn’t how it turned out to be.

One of the best thing about being your own boss and keeping on schedule is that it allows you the flexibility to deviate from that schedule most of the time. At least for myself. As those of you who know me know, I tend to ask quite a bit of myself and set the bar high in the production department. Although I don’t always reach these goals, I do often get close. I tend to err on the side of over shooting rather than under achieving as I feel it pushes me to a higher production level. It also allows me days such as yesterday where I can totally go in another direction without negative consequences.

Although the morning began a bit overcast and foggy, as the day progressed things began to brighten which made for a better environment for shooting pictures of my project. The picture that I used on yesterday’s post was scanned in after a few failed attempts at shooting it with a camera. It was simply too dark.

I had worked previously with someone who was very much into photography. He had many photography lights and diffusers and although under certain circumstances I realize that this equipment is very useful, I just don’t have the means or storage space to start investing in it. I watched him pour hundreds and hundreds of dollars into different equipment only to see marginal improvement in his photography.

When I submit my projects for the magazine, my editor has come to expect several step-by-step photographs of the process of building and creating the project. I usually send him anywhere from 15 to 25 pictures, from which the editorial staff at the magazine chooses from. Most of the time they use about 10 of them, but there have been times when they decide on using more and I have had projects which take up to five or six pages of the magazine. I always send the project itself to them, as they always take the final presentation photograph for the article. That mainly leaves me to take the pictures of the process and also I need to take photographs of the final project for my own presentation on my site and on the pattern packet.

I have a decent camera which cost me around $300. It is approximately 8 megapixels and I feel it does a fine job. I have learned to work with it and even my editor says that my photography has been getting better and better and that there is little that they need to do before the pictures are printed. In most cases I feel that the pictures look fine, and I have been having a good time in ‘presenting’ my final projects for my site and the patterns. It is rather fun to make them look attractive.

One thing my editor asks me is to greatly minimize the amount projects that I create which use darker wood – especially walnut. He has told me in the past that photographing the darker woods can really be a hassle and he did say that projects done in the darker have much less of a chance of making it to the cover of the magazine. I try to keep this in mind when I design, although sometimes I just have the need to produce something in darker wood – such as the candle tray. I knew it wasn’t headed for the magazine anyway, so I though, what the heck?

I guess I learned the reason why quickly enough.

The biggest problem I had was with the darker wood combined with the intricate detail, even the slightest amount of shadow was a bit of a problem. When I first took the picture yesterday morning, I did so in my usual place where the lighting was good and I was sure the shadows wouldn’t be strong. The problem I had was that even with slight shadows, the darkness of the mahogany blended with the shadows so well I was unable to see any detail at all. I tried both with and without a flash and got similarly poor results. For the blog here, I finally resorted to placing the tray on the scanner bed, figuring that the light source would come straight on and there would be no shadows to worry about, but because of the thickness of the wood, you could see shadows anyway.

After several different attempts and trying pictures both indoors and outdoors, I finally got some acceptable photos. I found that with the dark wood, what worked best was when there were clouds overhead and the light wasn’t so harsh as in the full sun. This worked for both indoor and outdoor tests that I did and although there were still some initial problems with shadows, I was able to work with the pictures in Adobe Photoshop and bring them back to looking like the original project.

Below is one of the final pictures of the project:

From SLD327 Fretwork Cross Candle Tray and Charms

It is an amazing difference as to what I was able to do yesterday (and I did use some Photoshop adjustments on the scanned picture yesterday too) If you click on the title, you can go to the entire album and see them all. I left the first one in there for comparison.

Photoshop is amazing in its ability to correct so many problems you encounter with lighting and such. As with most programs though, 95 per cent of the battle is knowing how to use it. I have worked with Photoshop for over fifteen years now and I learn something new about it every day. I have got to the point where even if the raw image looks quite questionable when I bring it up on my screen, I immediately know if I will be able to work with it and make it acceptable. I know it is expensive, but its capabilities are astounding and there are so many video tutorials both on the Adobe site and on the internet in general that with a bit of time you can be on your way.

I won’t get into the technicalities of what I figured out yesterday, but I am very happy with the results I achieved. By the time I finished with the pictures, it was nearly 4pm and I decided to load them up on my gallery and call it a day in that department. After all, I wanted to fully absorb what I learned for a bit and think about it.

I know that this stuff isn’t exactly woodworking, but I think it is important for many woodworkers here. Many of us sell our items either on Ebay or on our web sites or through the internet. I am finding more and more that by presenting the items as attractively as I can in photographs, it does help sales and looks more professional. Up until very recently (the beginning of the year) I never used background colors or anything such as that. Although I know that the focus should be on the item, I am finding more and more that by adding the appropriate amount of color to the background, by either using a piece of fabric or even crumpled tissue paper, you are making a presentation that looks more professional and thought out. People want to deal with others who conduct their business in a professional way. As you can see with this project, sometimes white is best, as any color whatsoever in the background would have added to the chaos and taken away from the design. I guess that in the end it is up to your judgment as to what would make a pleasing presentation and still keep the focus on the item. Again, it is all a learning process and usually there are several right answers.

I spent the evening painting my next skating figure. It was a good feeling to do so with so much under my belt already for the day. It is good when days fall together like this. I have been seeing more of them than not, so I must be doing something right.

So for today I have a couple of choices. I can either work on assembling packets of the new items, or moving on and drawing the next one. I know where I am heading with the next one and I would like to see it and some other things come to life, but I don’t want the instructions to pile up too much either. I just don’t know. I have to start thinking about updating the site again, as there are several new things that need to be added since the update a couple of weeks ago. I guess I will let the day dictate for me.

Sometimes it is best just to go with the flow. :)

-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"



9 comments so far

View William's profile

William

8503 posts in 1342 days


#1 posted 1337 days ago

I’m going to have to try taking photos of some of my projects in the lower light as you mentioned. I’ve had headaches constantly with picture taking. I have gotten to where I try to photograph all my projects outside, in full sun. I usually get better results with that. I’m always looking for better ways though.
Thank God for digital cameras. I’ve had so many problems in the past that nowadays, when I finish a project, I start in the rear of the shop taking many photosof a project. Then I move to several locations, working my way outside taking sometimes what seems like hundreds of photos. Then later I can look them all over on the computer and pick out the ones I like best to have printed.
Your “Day Of Learning” in the title though brought one thought to mind. When I started woodworking, I never thought I’d also need to start learning some photography techniques.

-- http://wddsrfinewoodworks.blogspot.com/

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

7190 posts in 1420 days


#2 posted 1337 days ago

I know exactly what you mean, William. Yesterday when I was doing all of this, I had the “thank goodness for digital photography” thought so many times!

It is amazing how many “hats” we have to wear these days. It does make the job interesting though! A big part of why I started this series was because there are so many different aspects to relate to woodworking as a business – and I know there are many people that do it for a business here – that I wanted to share what I have learned and hopefully let people know that there are many ways to make things work. I know I can ramble on about some seemingly unrelated stuff sometimes, but more often than not when I do, I get responses from others who are going through exactly the same things. You have all helped me too. I still like the “several heads are better than one” mindset.

As far as the pictures go, I do find that overcast days and my high sensitivity setting on my camera works really well for many instances. Too sunny or bright means too many shadows. What I have done many times when it is bright and sunny out is to put the object in the shade and photograph it there. There are minimal shadows then. I then go to Photoshop and start working on the Levels and you would be amazed what the camera ‘sees’ that your eyes don’t. I went to a 2 day seminar once on Photoshop several years ago and they taught me this trick on starting with the Levels. Although they have the “Auto Levels” command, I find more so than not it is best to manually adjust the channels, being sure you have the preview ticked so you can see what you are doing. It is amazing how it takes those ‘dull’ or ‘washed out’ pictures and changes them. Unlike brightness and contrast alone, which can blow them out and lose the color and detail.

I am sure that other photo programs have similar adjustments. You just need to take the time to know what software you are using. I am glad that what I talk about here helps even a little bit. :)

Sheila

-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"

View William's profile

William

8503 posts in 1342 days


#3 posted 1337 days ago

It’s funny when you talk about adjustments that can be made to photos. I have adjustments coming out the ying-yang between my computer programs and my camers. Now if I could just learn to use them all. No matter how hard I try, I still just get by on the computer, so we’ll leave that subject alone. No matter how long or hard I try with computers, I will always just get to a point where I give up and go back to doing something with my hand, I’m better at that. My camera though. I bought this expensive camera because of all the great looking photos I could take with it. Every time I look up though, there are adjustments to be made. There is a book about a half inch thick about all the adjustments that can be made. The problem is, I forget how to do all those adjustments that can be made. Therein lyes the reason I take so many photos. Then I can pick out the best ones and not pull what little hair I have left out over those adjustments that can be made.
The idea for taking photos outside actually came from a suggestion made to me several times. I post a lot (too much sometimes) at another site called Scrollsaw Village. I had gotten many private messages there admiring my work, but asking why my photos were always so dark. I got suggestions galore about playing with this adjustment and playing with that adjustment. I played and fiddled, wiggled and jiggled, became about ready to use my scroll saw to see if it would cut a camera in half. I finally came up with my take many photos and pick the best method.

-- http://wddsrfinewoodworks.blogspot.com/

View tyskkvinna's profile

tyskkvinna

1295 posts in 1486 days


#4 posted 1337 days ago

I’m glad to see you sorted it out :)

Dark wood IS very hard to photograph… which is a shame because walnut is my favourite that I make things out of regularly. I’ve got a good system for taking full product shots, but the detail shots of the dark wood never look right. It’s frustrating.

The end-goal in any light situation (for product shots) is to have it as diffused as possible.

A cheap trick I use, that you may someday find helpful, is to diffuse the areas directly to the left and right of your frame. White bedsheets work, I also sometimes use a reflector – which could be as simple as a piece of cardboard covered in cheap baking foil. For maximum effect of this, if you have an overhead light, aim it towards one of your side panels rather than the piece. Takes some playing with angles, but you’ll eventfully find the sweet spot.

That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to photo walnut details.

-- Lis - Michigan - http://www.missmooseart.com - https://www.etsy.com/people/lisbokt

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

7190 posts in 1420 days


#5 posted 1337 days ago

I was hoping you would give some advice, Lis! :D

I know you do wonderful photography. It is really a whole rubick’s cube of information, isn’t it? I appreciate the tips and I will definitely give them a ‘shot’ (no pun intended!)

So much to learn . . . .so little time!!!!

Thanks again! Sheila

-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"

View tyskkvinna's profile

tyskkvinna

1295 posts in 1486 days


#6 posted 1337 days ago

Oh my gosh it really is… I just bought some photo equipment that arrived yesterday and I’m trying to figure out how to use it properly. It’s not product-specific but as long as I have it I will likely use it in products. Umbrellas and reflectors and diffusers and flags… oh my! So many ways to manipulate light. It’s mainly to use for portraits, but I think it will come in handy for products.

-- Lis - Michigan - http://www.missmooseart.com - https://www.etsy.com/people/lisbokt

View Steven Davis's profile

Steven Davis

109 posts in 1414 days


#7 posted 1337 days ago

I think one of the recent issues of “Fine Woodworking” had an interesting article on photographing wood projects. He discussed using multiple light sources to manage shadows, diffusers, setting up a light box, etc. I would think looking at articles on photographing dioramas would be helpful too. Whiile Photoshop is great, having a better picture is going to help a ton.

Awesome work and thoughts as always!

Steve

-- Steven Davis - see me at http://www.playnoevil.com/ and http://www.stelgames.com/

View MrsN's profile

MrsN

930 posts in 2026 days


#8 posted 1337 days ago

I thought I would share what has worked for me. When I wanted to improve my photos, I looked around for advise, I have similar space and budget concerns. I know how much a photo hobby can cost, and it is a lot of fun but I would rather have sawdust The advise I got was that for what I shoot (jewelry and other small things mostly) a light box or photo tent would be the most helpful. (The two terms seem to mean the same thing) I looked in to the idea and there are lots of websites that have great info on building your own. Some were nice sturdy units, others made from recycled boxes and wax paper. I liked the budget friendly aspect of a build your own unit, but I still would need to store it some place. I decided to check out commercially available units to see if I could steal any ideas on storage for the thing and I found this one. For 15 bucks I decided to try it. I really like the thing, it is small 12” square, but I don’t need the space, and they do make larger sizes up to 30”. The thing folds flat and can be set up in seconds if I decide to take some pictures. The shear sides diffuse the light coming in. I use an adjustable desk lamp as my light source, it is always on the desk so it is really easy.

The best thing for me is that I don’t have to worry about the weather and time of day anymore. It seems that I only get time to take pictures of my work after my son is in bed, and it is dark.
I took a few photos of my set up in action.

Photo Set-Up

-- ----- www.KNWoodworking.com ----- --

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

7190 posts in 1420 days


#9 posted 1337 days ago

Boy, MrsN! This looks great! I saw the bigger one on Amazon too and it looks like it would work perfectly for most of the things I need it to. Thank you very much for the link. You guys and girls are all wonderful! :D

Sheila

-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"

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