[[ Want to know how to take nice, clear pictures? ]]
In this post I'll cover: Backgrounds, lighting, ISO settings, white balance, shutter speed, apertures, macro shots, correcting common problems, photo editing, DSLRs and image formats....
Everything under the jump!
BackgroundsMy pet hate when I look through blogs is seeing a well composed, well lit photo of a product taken on a busy, garish, bright background - it doesn't work! Yeah, it might be pretty, but it's also distracting. You don't have to spend much on getting a nice background either, just open a plain sketchbook (mine was 99p from The Works) , rest the back against a wall and place your product on the book. If you're taking a picture of yourself, use a plain wall. Easy! I prefer light colours over dark since they 'bounce' light back.
[[ Patterned background vs. plain background - which looks best? ]]
CompositionComposition is basically where you place your product/ subject in your photograph. An easy way to get a nice composition is by using the 'Rule of Thirds' AKA the 'Rule of Nine'. All you have to do is imagine that through your view finder you can see a grid of nine sections, 3 x 3. Place your product so that it sits where two lines meet. Why? Because eyes will instantly be drawn to the product since it isn't central - don't ask how, it's just how the brain works. Also, it's just more aesthetically pleasing.You can see some great pics and a full explanation of the rule of thirds here.
LightingIt goes without saying that natural light with no flash is the best, but if you're lacking natural light flash is an option if you know what you're doing. I try to angle the camera so that the flash is not directly in line with the product, so that I don't get a harsh patch of light bouncing back off the product. It can take a few attempts, but it's worth a try! Sometimes I place two reflectors either side of the product so that if I use flash, shadows are eliminated and the lighting is even. I usually use flash for pics of myself, which generally is a big 'no no', but I like the effect. Colours look more vivid and textures even out. Most people recommend standing in a window and not using flash, which is better for a more natural look.
[[ No flash, flash, flash + reflectors ]]
SettingsIt's useful to be able to switch to manual and alter your camera setting because sometimes the 'auto mode' choices (like macro, sports mode, portrait, low light etc) just don't cut it. I rarely use auto modes now and honestly forget they're even there these days!
White Balance - White balance settings 'balance' the colours in your photos in accordance to which areas are true primary shades/ true whites. There are usually auto settings such as 'Sunlight, Tungsten, Natural Light and Snow' which you can choose according to the type of light you are using. There are also easy ways of correcting it using photo editing programmes, which usually just involve clicking on 'White Balance' and then an area of true white on your image.
ISO - I usually call ISO 'Light Sensitivity', because that's precisely what it is! The higher your ISO setting, the more light your camera will respond to, the brighter your image will be. So if you're shooting in low light, crank up the ISO a little. If you're shooting in bright light, take it down a few notches. It's also worth pointing out that the higher the ISO, the grainier the image will be, so try to use the lowest ISO you possibly can for the lighting you are using.
[[ ISO 100 in low light - grainy and dark ]]
[[ ISO 1600 in low light - brighter and sharper. I'd brighten it further through editing. ]]
Time Value/ TV - This refers to the speed at which your shutter closes. The longer your shutter is open, the more light is will allow in and the brighter your image will be - however, if you have shakey hands, beware, as the longer the shutter is open, the more susceptible the photograph is to blurring. If you are in bright light, you can use low shutter speeds and visa versa. I usually have mine between 1/ 25 and 1/ 50.
Aperture Value/ AV - This refers to how large the aperture (the opening in the lens) is. The larger the aperture, the brighter the image will be and visa versa. I usually keep mine the same size and alter my shutter speed to accommodate for it. High aperatures show as a low number - so 5.6 is larger than 9 etc.
Macro - Macro is a beauty bloggers best friend! Usually depicted as a flower, this setting allows you to take close up shots without losing any sharpness. It's great for swatches, close up product shots and close up eye makeup shots.
[[ Macro of some falsies. ]]
Common ProblemsBlurry Pictures - Pictures can blur for a multitude of reasons but it's usually just down to a shaky hand! You can get super cheap tripods from eBay, or just use self timer and balance your camera on a pile of books/ your desk/ a shelf. Other reasons could be that your shutter is open for too long - take it down a few.
Grainy Pictures - Usually down to incorrect ISO settings, try taking your ISO down and raising your aperture size a touch. It could also be because you are using a camera with a very low amount of mega pixels - in general, the more mega pixels, the better the quality of photos. About 5mp is more than adequate for close ups and larger shots. There is NO NEED to buy a camera with more than 5mp unless you plan on printing images bigger than A4 size!
Pictures too Light/ Too Dark - Again, ISO is usually the culprit, raise it is your pictures are too dark, lower it if they are too bright. Aperture size could also be a problem, raise it if your pictures are too dark, lower it if they are too bright. Remember that ISO and aperture relate to each other, so if you change one, you might need to change the other.
Colours don't look right - This would be down to your white balance. Try to tweak the white balance settings until you find one which works. If none of them work, include a section of pure white in your photograph (easiest way is using a white background) and correct it with editing software.
[[ Incorrect white balance/ correct white balance. ]]
Other StuffWhat camera do you use? - I use a Canon Eos 450D with a standard 18 - 55 lens. I don't actually own a compact digital camera!
Should I buy a DSLR? - If you're only going to use it for blog pics, family events and parties - no. There is absolutely no need! You can get decent point and shoot cameras for less than £100 with everything you need built in to them. DSLRs are for professional photographers and true photography enthusiasts. It irks me when I see people with £500 worth of camera and not a clue how to use them.
Do I need photoshop? - Well...if your friend can copy it for you and it's going to cost you nothing them by all means, get it! But it really isn't worth spending so much on editing software for basic touch ups. You can download free ones which do the job just fine - I use Photoscape, which is free and ridiculously easy to use. If anyone is interested I'll do another post about super basic photo editing using Photoscape.
What are Reflectors? Do I need them? - Reflectors are pieces of material stretched over a frame which bounce light from the flash or outside light sources onto the subject to brighten it/ get rid of shadows. They can also be used for portraits to soften lines and generally brighten the face. You have to play around with them a bit to understand how they work but it doesn't take long at all! You can get them for cheap from eBay, or even make them yourself using a simple frame with fabric stretched over it.
[[ My three reflectors attached to their stand. You only need a stand for portraits, I barely use it. ]]
What format should I save it in? - JPEG will do just fine. You don't need to save it in RAW - you don't even need to shoot in RAW, it take up far too much memory and only pros need it, really. I recently started saving close ups in Bitmap since it doesn't compress the image as much as JPEG.
Right! I think I've just about covered all bases! If there's something you don't understand or something I've missed out then please feel free to ask :) It might look like a lot to absorb, but just keep playing and it will become second nature! Remember - how good a photograph turns out is about 20% the camera itself and 80% how you use it.