Tips: Photography Tips, Part 1 – Lighting

Written by Brandi of Catie’s Blue 

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Since I started selling online, the importance of great product photographs has been hammered into my brain. With jewelry, it is your selling point. People can’t pick up the piece and hold it the way they can at a craft show, so the photo will determine if someone clicks to view your listing or just leaves your shop.

Good photos have become an obsession of mine, so I figured I’d share what I know so far. Please note, I’m not saying that my photos are the best ever nor am I a professional photographer (I’m not); but I do work hard to make them the best they can be. In doing so, there are four major things I think about when it comes time to start snapping away – lighting, macro setting, staging, and editing.

This is Part 1 of a four Part series, broken down for easy reading.

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I. Lighting

100_4186cc-copy.jpgLighting is important for obvious reasons. Without light, we can’t see colors. But when taking digital photos, lighting is critical to getting a good picture. Here’s why: A camera lens is not as sensitive as a human eye. Where a human eye can differentiate between millions of shades and tones and colors, that number becomes dramatically smaller for a camera. Where we see hundreds of shades of gray, the camera may see a dozen. And areas that we think are well lit appear dark once viewed on a computer screen. A camera needs the help of even external lights to see things properly; don’t rely on the flash.

There are two ways of taking pictures at home: natural light and mini studio light boxes. Both have die-hard fans that swear by them. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

100_4187abcc-copy.jpgI’ve found that with natural light, the colors of the piece I’m photographing come as true to life as possible, so that’s what I use. I’ll go outside and set up on my patio table. However, I have to depend solely on the weather when it comes time to take a picture. And when the seasons change, that perfect time of day when the light is exactly right changes constantly, so it’s a (fun and not so fun) guessing game.

Natural light isn’t always an option for everyone. For some, it’s the changing seasons that prevents year-round outside photography. For others, it may be a full-time job that keeps them busy during key daylight hours. lightbox2-copy.jpgOr, maybe you don’t have big windows that let in a lot of natural light. If this is the case for you, consider a light box (a.k.a portable light studio, portable light tent, tabletop studio). When using a light box, you never have to worry about the weather. You can take photos at night after the kids are in bed. You can set up anywhere, including the garage or the kitchen table. You are in complete control and, assuming you have the space to do so, you can set up your light box the way you like it once and leave it till you need to take pictures again.

Ultimately, you need to decide what works best for you. For jewelry, which is generally pretty small, you don’t need much space, so either natural light or a light box would work. It’s really going to come down to what works best for your lifestyle.

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When using natural light

  • 100_4190bcc-copy.jpgStay in the shade and avoid direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will cause your photos to become overexposed and the colors will be washed out.
  • Don’t use your flash. It, too, will wash out the colors in your photos and cause extreme highlights that no photo-editing software can really fix.
  • Play around with the positioning. In my photos, the sun is to the right, so there are shadows on the left. To avoid as shadows as much as possible, position yourself between the sun and your item. This will create evenness to your photo, and you can always adjust the brightness later.

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When using a light box

  • If you want to be fancy and buy special light bulbs, go to your local hardware store and get either tungsten light bulbs or natural light light bulbs; both simulate the natural light you’d get if photographing outside. Ask the sales associate there for help if you can’t find either of these bulbs.
  • Do use as many light sources as you can. Notice that most light boxes use multiple light sources that come from different angles. This is to provide an equal amount of light to all areas of the piece being photographed, as well as to minimize shadows. Use one light on top and one on the side at least, though you can also use lights on both of the sides and even the front as well as the top.
  • Diffuse your lights. Diffusing the light will create an even shine on the piece, which means that the shadows and super bright highlights will be minimized. If you paint the inside of a cardboard box white or line it with white paper like ChristysQuilts did, don’t direct the lights to shine directly on your jewelry. Instead, follow her lead and angle it towards the sides of the box so that the light bounces off the side onto your piece. If you cut out the top and sides and cover it with tissue paper, like the Strobist example, you can position the light on the outside of the box. The tissue paper will soften the light that comes through it.
    • Using white on the top and sides, even if you want your piece on a colored background, will help bounce the light around your light box. A colored background can go along the back and bottom.
  • Don’t use your flash. Let the external studio lights do the work.
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6 Responses

  1. Brandi ,
    You always take such dreamy pictures thanks for sharing these tips… Lou

  2. Brandi – this article is so informative. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

    Vicki

  3. Brandi!

    This really helps. I bought a light box on e-bay and then one of the lights broke. It took me forever to get it replaced and I didn’t know what to do. I wish I had this article then. I did take photos outside back in October and they turned out wonderful.

    What do you recommend for those who don’t have light box and can’t go outside due to snow or below freezing temperatures? Also, there are those who live where the sun does not always create the perfect light to take photos next to a window. How creative could one get with limited resources?

    Also, have you seen Adobe Photoshop Lightroom? I love that program. Even if you don’t have the greatest lighting, that program helps with adjusting the lighting in all of your photos at once. It is a little pricy but is an awesome program. Check it out.

    http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/?promoid=BONSV

    Tammy

  4. wish i’d found this a few days ago, it would have saved me a few hours of research. nice to have all this info in one place.

  5. Brandi, this was great! I take all my photos outside, and will take your info into consideration for the next set of photos I take.
    Thanks so much!
    Brenda

  6. Thanks everyone! I’m glad it was helpful.

    Tammy, as far as your question goes, I’d really try that Strobist light box tutorial. It’s actually very easy to do, and it doesn’t cost a whole lot. I tried it myself with a box and some tracing paper I had in my house, and had it ready to go within an hour (it probably took me longer than most to cut the sides of the box – I went very slowly because I didn’t want to cut myself).

    One thing you definitely need is some Tungsten light bulbs – that’s what simulates daylight. You can get some from your local hardware store – just ask a sales person if you can’t find it, but most should have some “natural light” light bulbs.

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