Photographing Your Work - The Basics

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Let's say you've just completed your latest masterpiece. You'd like to shoot some photos and email them to friends and family, or perhaps post them to an on-line forum. Do you simply grab your camera and head for the kitchen counter?

Why not?

Most cameras sold today are more than capable of delivering a perfectly good image regardless of where it was shot. But a few simple tips will help get the most out of each photo.

Let's start with some basics:

1) Eliminate the clutter - The background you choose makes a profound difference to the eye of the viewer. Keep in mind that the purpose of your shot is to show off your newly turned masterpiece, not that stack of magazines in the background! Anything else placed in the frame of your shot only draws attention away from where it belongs: your work!

Let's compare a side-by-side example. The two shots below were taken from the same spot on my kitchen counter. The shot on the right has a simple piece of artist's paper placed under the bowl and curved up the back to isolate the subject.

     

You can see how eliminating the clutter (and getting a bit closer) creates a much better photo. Unless you are a fan of corn-shaped sugar bowls you probably enjoy looking at the second shot best.

2) Go Macro - In photography terms this means "get close!" Most cameras have a Macro or Close-up mode (usually designated by a flower symbol). Use it!

Macro lets you move in closer (as we did in the second shot above) and does a good job of handling things like depth-of-field. Position the camera so that your masterpiece fills at least 50% or more of the viewer. Be careful not to get too close as this can make it difficult for the camera to focus correctly. Back away a bit if you find your auto-focus "hunting".

3) A top-down approach - Don't shoot bowls or larger objects from a straight-on profile view. Whenever possible, compose your shot so that it presents your subject from a just-over-the-top perspective. This doesn't mean shoot down on the piece. Angle your shot so that it just peeks over the top edge.

4) Eliminate the shakes - Always use a tripod. Even a cheap tripod will usually yield better images than hand-held. Any zoom that might be used only results in magnifying the shakes.

Who wants to look at this? Compare it to our shot on the right above.

And yes, I know your camera has "Image Stabilization" or "Vibration Reduction"!  That's very nice. Turn it off and use a tripod anyway. Your shots will only be as steady as the platform from which they are taken.

5) Fingers off - As implied in number 4 above, anything that jiggles the camera (or tripod) even by a tiny amount should be avoided. This includes your finger pressing the shutter.

"Hmmm, so how am I supposed to take the shot", you ask?

Your camera has a built-in delay feature. Use it! Some cameras refer to this as a "self timer". Check your camera's manual if you are unsure how to use this.

Most cameras have at least a 2 second delay. This is usually enough time for the camera and tripod to settle once you have pressed the shutter. Timed delay should be used anytime you are shooting with a tripod.

6) Don't over-do the color - Background color can have a profound effect on the viewer's color perception of your piece. Compare the three shots below. Notice how the piece loses some color as the background gets darker? Yet highlights (i.e. bright areas) become more pronounced.

          

As a general rule, white is always a safe color to use (more on this later). Light gray also works well in most situations. Red, greens, blues, etc. should generally be avoided unless you have a specific reason for choosing them. Colors other than white or gray tend to have the unwanted effect of tinting our color perception of the subject in their favor.

7) Get this straight - Don't make your audience tilt their head! Always be aware of the horizontal alignment of your image and make sure your subject is level.

Unless your subject is sliding downhill it should not look like this.

Many cameras provide a viewscreen grid option to assist you in aligning your shot. If you have such an option available you should leave it turned on as a reminder to check alignment each time you shoot. Most photo editing software has a "rotate" or "straighten" function should you find an image that needs adjusting.

8) It's only electrons - Always use the highest resolution your camera is capable of (more on this later). Unlike the days when film was king, taking a shot in digital costs you nothing but a bit of space on your memory card. Disk is cheap. Your photos are priceless!

9) Train the eye - Learn from each image you shoot. Take a critical look at each photo and evaluate what you did well and what needs improvement. This can (and should) be done at the on-camera LCD after each shot and again after uploading the images to your PC.

10) Spice it up - Learning a few basic tricks with your photo editing software can make the difference between a drab photo and a great photo. If this step intimidates you don't worry; there's no reason it should. Photo editing software has come a long way in the past few years. Anyone with a few tricks up his or her sleeve can edit like a pro with a few simple clicks of the mouse.

How much difference can software make, you ask? Let's compare an "unprocessed" photo (taken directly from the camera) with its spiced up counterpart. Remember our kitchen counter shot? Here it is before and after a bit of software processing.

     

So how did this magic happen? Let's move to the next section and find out!



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