Friday, April 4, 2008

More on manual exposure #3

Digital Product Photography. Remember, we are trying to learn how to use our digital camera in the manual mode. Not the automatic mode. Once you have everything set on your camera to get good product pictures, you can basically start shooting in volume. The most common thing that you will change is if you have to shoot something of a different size. That probably requires you to move your camera and your lights. If you move you lights closer or further away from the item you are shooting, you will probably need to change the shutter speed. If you move farther away from the item, you will probably have to increase the shutter speed on the camera. The further the lights are from the subject, the less light there is. If you move them closer, you will probably have to increase the shutter speed because you now will have more light density on the item.

Remember the basics for the manual mode.
Set the White Balance
Set the ISO in manual around 200
Set the f-stop, iris opening
Set the shutter speed
Use a tripod

Setting the white balance locks in the correct colors of your product making it easier to fix the final results in your picture control program. Setting the f-stop locks in the iris opening of the lens. Now all you have to do is determine the proper shutter speed. I normally do this by trial and error. If you have a manual metering mode you can us that to get close but, if you are shooting on a light background it probably will not give you the right exposure.

Usually I will shoot about 6 shots starting at 1 second and progressing through the shutter speeds until I get to about 1/10th of a second. I use 250 watts lights bounced off of umbrellas so most of the time, my shutter speed will end up around 1/2 second.

After you have shot the test pictures and taken notes as to which picture was shot at what shutter speed, you will want to open them up in your computer. You can't use the monitor on the back of your camera. It is too small and does not show enough detail.

When you get the pictures opened up on you computer in whatever picture control program you normally use, pick the one that has the best overall density. You do want to avoid any picture that is borderline too light. Digital has very little leeway for overexposure. If you are a little underexposed, a little too dark, that is alright. You can usually increase the contrast a little without messing up the picture. If you are exactly on the correct exposure or slightly overexposed and you want to increase the contrast you will notice that you loose the highlights in the picture. In other words the light areas wash out.

At a local eBay sellers meeting where I was helping people learn how to use their digital cameras, I came across several cameras that did not have a manual mode. Most of the Olympus and Kodak digital cameras did not have this option. Inorder for you to make consistant color pictures for your web page or eBay pages, you MUST have the ability to set f-stops, shutters speeds, ISO, and White Balance.

You can check the Nikon Digital Camera link on eBay below. Just remember, you should have a camera that has full manual operation. You need f-stops and shutter speeds.

Also eBay's Canon Digital Camera Link.

The size of the camera's sensor chip is probably not as critical as you would think. Unless you are doing jewelry where you need as much detail in the original picture as posible all your really need is a 3 megapixel camera or larger. I shoot everything with a older Minolta 3MP model Dimage Z10 camera.

May we recommend.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Manual exposure modes article #2

It is advisable to read these articles in date sequence. This is article #2.

In the previous article I talked about automatic versus manual exposure. Please keep in mind that setting the camera to a manual exposure system gives you repeatability in your product pictures. Also, some cameras do not have a manual mode. Most of the Nikon and Canon point and shoot type of digital cameras do have a full manual mode. I have found though that the Olympus and Kodak cameras do not have this ability. If you are going to be using your camera specifically to shoot product pictures for your web site or eBay, you will get better more repeatable results if the camera has the ability to set the exposure manually.

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I get lots of questions about how do I set the camera manually. Well, big problem. Each camera brand and sometimes between models of the same brand the systems are different. Read your instruction book It should tell you how to do the following.
#1 Turn off the flash.
#2 Set the ISO (film speed) to a manual mode, probably around 200.
#3 Set the shutter speed and the f-stop.

Why do all of this you ask? Because most digital cameras are designed to take snapshots. When you take a snapshot probably 99% of the time if you were to add up all of the colors in the picture, reds, blues, grays, greens, etc. you would get a neutral gray color. The same is usually true about the densities in your average snapshot. If you added up all of the light, dark, darker, and black areas in a snap shot it usually comes out a neutral gray. So, this concept is programed into the camera. You have to turn this system off because when you are shooting product pictures you very seldom have a picture full of different items, people, backgrounds etc. You normally have one product and one background.
Let's say you are shooting blue jeans on a white background. You do not have any reds in the picture. Just blue and white. So, the camera will try to add red to the picture to get back to a neutral gray. When you adjust the picture in whatever picture control program you are using to get the blue jeans to look right, the background usually ends up pink. This because the camera took red out of the picture. In order for you to get the blue jeans to look right, you had to add red back into the picture. Just pretend that the blue rectangle in the white is your pair of blue jeans. Did you get something like this?

When you started out with this.

Good old AutoMatic White Balance at work.

Ok, let's pretend that you are shooting a red blouse on a white background.

Did you end up with something like this. A blue or cyan background.

Again, the auto white balance is trying to fix your picture. It is trying to add up all of the colors and get gray. You have to turn that system off. You do that by setting the white balance. You can usually just set the camera for the type of lights you are using like the tungsten setting for hot type of tungsten or quartz halogen lights or if you are using 5000K daylight fluorescent bulbs then you can set it at the daylight setting. Best of all is to do a custom white balance if that option is available on your camera. That way when you shoot items on a white background it stays white and the colors of the products are still correct. Like the jewelry in the picture below.

More to come.

Monday, March 31, 2008

How to use your camera

First of all you will need to learn how to use the camera in its manual mode. Why? Because in the auto modes it try’s to fix everything for you. Basically your camera is designed to make good consistent snapshots. One of the things that photo technicians discovered over the years was that if you took all of the colors in a regular snapshot type of picture and added them up you would almost always get a neutral gray. So, when the electronic manufactures started making digital cameras they incorporated this idea into how the camera’s chip sees the colors in a picture. The chip is more like your eye than like film. Film had to be made to work with certain types of light. I am sure everyone remembers seeing pictures taken with film cameras inside when the flash did not go off. Remember those orange or yellow pictures? That’s because the film was manufactured to give correct color when used in daylight or flash, not room light. The light inside your house is much more yellow orange in color.

Your eye however does not see this light as orange. Why, because sort of like the chip in your camera, your eye and brain can adjust the perceived color that you see. The digital camera can do the same thing. In the auto mode it changes the recorded image so that the orange is no longer visible in the picture if you are shooting snapshots. Remember, everything adds up to gray if the camera is in the auto mode. Any auto mode.

You have to turn off all of the automatic modes. When you do this, you can set your product picture up and switch out the products without having to change anything on the camera.

· Turn off the flash
· Set the ISO to a manual setting, usually around 200 ISO
· Turn off the automatic exposure system by setting the camera on Manual
· Set the exposure manually. Usually if you are using photofloods in the 250 watt range, the camera will be set around f8 and ½ second exposure time. (You will find out later what an f-stop like f8 is. The ½ second is just the length of time that the camera’s sensor sees the light.)
· Set the White Balance on the camera to match the lighting system you are using.

Do you want to learn more? Keep reading this blog.
Thanks, Daryl DeVault

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Check out these helpful books on product lighting.

Ebay Photography The Smart Way: Creating Great Product Pictures That Will Attract Higher Bids And Sell Your Items Faster (Ebay Photography the Smart Way)

Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting (Paperback)

Exposure and Lighting for Digital Photographers Only