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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Making of a Light Reflector

What is a light reflector?
Simply it is a tool used in photography to reflect light towards the subject. You can use them with all different light sources such as sunlight, flash or strobe lights, our continuous lights commonly used in home studio photography, or video.

The concept is simple, light hits the reflector and due to placement it reflects it back towards the subject.  One of the most common used reflectors would be a white wall or ceiling, remember the light will change color if you bounce it off something colored! You simply point your adjustable flash towards it and the light bounces off at an angle, or use the reflector to bounce your sunlight back towards your subject!

Today, I will be showing you how to make 3 different versions of a Light Reflectors, that would be helpful in a home-made studio, like one used for small product photography. You will be happy to know that I purchased only $3 in supplies and used only these few other items that everyone should have at home, or would be easy to find! You can use any of the techniques with any of the products and mix and match to make the type that works best for you!
  • 2 1/4 boxes (recycled from shipments I have received)
  • Tape 
  • Scissors
First let me show you the Gold reflector. This is a great option to have on hand if you are shooting on a cold day, in shadows, or even when overcast. It adds a "warm" light to your image.

For this reflector I purchased 1 gold tissue pack from my local dollar store. Yep, that's it. Simply make sure that you select one that is solid gold and without any patterns to it.

I then folded my box flat and cut one edge of it, creating a long bendable piece.

Next, I set out my tissue paper (which is a thick metallic sheet, which I didn't know has silver on the other side... so in reality you could buy 1 pack and use 1/2 for one gold reflector and the other 1/2 for the silver!) 

 I used two sheets to cover the whole box, and I cut them so I could fold each section nice and smoothy.I just used clear tape I had on hand, you could do glue or whatever... just make sure its as smooth and flat as you can get it.

Then, as you can see it can be stood up and bent around in order to reflect light towards my product. (To see why I am shooting with this studio set up visit TSUA-List and read "My Dollar Store Studio")

Here is the finished product image using the Gold Reflector and shooting with the diffused light from the window....  you can see some of the gold picked up in the white background on the table and in the label.While for purposes of the other post this is done in program mode, with no editing... it shows you what you can expect... a warmer tone where the gold reflects on the product.

Next I made a silver reflector. This time I used a shallow box and wrapped it in my $1 aluminum foil purchase. I covered the whole box and flaps here it is while I was working on it.  

Again, try to keep it as smooth as possible, and I simply used tape to keep it from moving around.

Then as I set it up to be used...this one allows it to stand easily, and I can adjust flaps to angle the light if I need.

And the finished image - there is still a slight shadow from the product, but I shot this with the window to the right and the reflector to the left, with a backdrop against the wall behind.

As an alternative, you can use the aluminum foil as both the reflector and the bottom side of your background. Below, I did just that, shooting directly towards my window with the white background over it filtering some light. This is a really nice effect! Again, the product is showing a little dark because I am shooting program, with no post-editing and NO exposure compensation... all things that are easily done to create sharp and well exposed images as shown in the second image. 

No edits.

Simple Photoshop Edit

And lastly, I made a simple white reflector buy cutting down a piece of foam core and attaching a part of an old cardboard box to it to create a stand. I just used packing tape to secure it, and bent it to create the stand.

I do have to keep something (like my bottle of paint) behind now to keep the right position.

It does a great job of reflecting light to reduce shadows and provide even soft light from the diffused light already coming in from the window. Below you see an unedited, and shot in Program mode, image with the window on the left, and white reflector on the right. 

All of these reflectors provide you with a means to manipulate your available light.  With small adjustments in a basic editing program, or by simple adjustments to the camera mode all of these would make nice product images. 

This how-to post is brought to you by Streeter & Co, in partnership with TSUA-List. I have been a member of the A-List since it rolled out, and I LOVE what it does for small businesses!

To learn more about creating a home studio for your products check out my "dollar store studio" guest post on the Indie A-List blog.

 I will be continuing to tackle home studio projects, and provide you with great DIY product photography tips! I hope you come back and learn more!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Best Time To Do Product Photography

When you look up "best time to shoot product shots" everyone seems to have an opinion. Some say when it is bright and sunny, others on a overcast day, some say mornings some say afternoons. When honestly it really depends! There are SO many factors that go into selecting a time of day!

I feel the best time of day to shoot with natural light is...

That's the real key. Select a time of day that generally works well with your schedule. Nap time for the kids, early morning after they go to school... you want a time where you can work uninterrupted, constantly.  The more variables you take out of your photography the easier it will be to learn what to do and how to do it well. Just like when we talked about starting with one background that will work for all your products, be consistent with the time of day you choose!

First Select your location, look for:
  •  The ability to create a studio area that can be easily set up, or left up for multiple days (preferable without causing disruption in your household)
  • Your windows: If your shooting inside, and using natural light look for a window without panes, this will help eliminate distracting shadows. If you are using available light, meaning home lighting kits NOT sunlight... then you want to be FAR away from the windows so you don't have extra highlights or shadows to compensate for.

  • Space. Give yourself space to be able to lay out the products to shoot, a place to put them when your done, and keep them out of your way while your working. You also want some distance between the product and the background. The further your background is from your product the more "blurry" it will be when you are using a macro/aperture control mode, which in turn will draw more attention to your subject!
  • Easy background area. If you have a window close to a wall, you can use the wall for your background and the window for light (for natural light options). 

  •  Check the light at the time of day that works best for you. 

Now this is where choosing the best light vs. time of day gets tricky when using natural light. While your eye can not see the different colors of light your camera does. and its not just time of day to think about, but window placement and weather as well! (light 101)

So depending on the light coming into the window you may need to try different techniques in order to produce the best results with your photography.

If I shot out of my mastered room at 8 am that window is completely in the shade of early morning light and my images would be blue and underexposed because there isn't enough light, and the temperature of the light that is there up in the 7500K range. Where if I shoot next to my office window one side gets direct sun closer to 3000K, and another window on the other side gets a soft glow of filtered sun at the same time probably in the range of 5000K. So if 8 am is the best time for me to shoot, I have 3 different locations I could choose from that would "fit the bill".

Since I have a large window, and a wall close to it I selected that to be my "shoot" area for my natural light images for this post, and several others for this blog since I can set up easily and without interfering with other workspace in my office.  I choose to pick my battles dealing with the warm direct light and window panes. Because my smaller window is host to a second workspace, and too close to my prop closet for me to feel comfortable shooting in that space. So for me, it makes logistical sense to utilize a different option, where I won't be in my own way.

Do you see, its all a compromise and understanding what your choices are, what fits your life the best, and understanding the obstacles. We can work around most obstacles, but if you don't have a consistent day or time to shoot... you create more because your lighting (which is the MOST important part of good photography) will always be changing. Things that work for one person in their lighting situation wont work for you!

The more consistent you can be, with every choice, the easier it will be to get consistent quality images!  This is why professionals shoot with studio lights for products. Consistency! I can set my studio lights 1 time for a client with X product, and unless something drastically changes with that product size or shape I know I can recreate that same scenario every time for them.

So, to make sure we are all on the same page as we move forward. You should know have...
  1. One background to work with for all your products
  2. A location where you can create a studio space 
  3. A time of day where you can consistently shoot uninterrupted

Now, if the best time or location for you is really a horrible light situation say after 7pm or you don't have a window in the space you need to use, this poses a completely different set of issues. I do have help for you on creating your own studio, working home lighting, and so on... stick around, those posts are coming!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Shooting with Natural Light

Understanding Light vs. Time of Day, is a KEY factor in your photography success.

Lets start by understanding how light works. For the photographer who is shooting next to a window with available light, or even taking products outside time of day becomes OVERWHELMINGLY important. Just like when your doing portraits, the color temperature of your available light, namely the sun, is dictated by time of day. When asked recently "Is it better to use available light or natural light" I very quickly answered... it DEPENDS! A lot of natural light, isn't very "good" for shooting... say late at night or during a thunderstorm.... but the same can be said for available light (house lights) it all depends on your camera settings and understanding how to work with what you have!

As a reminder, anytime I start talking about light... you have to remember that all light has a color temperature, if you remember that from your basic science classes, or my previous posts. (light 101)

Because of the way digital camera's work, we want to find the most "white" light possible in order to produce the most accurate colors. As you can see white, is not on this simple chart, but its closest to the 5000K-5500K temp even tho it is not shown and tends to be the closest  to "noon" time sun. Regardless you will  have to work with your camera to understand your lighting scenario and produce the best results if you are working with sunlight in most cases. This means knowing roughly the temputure or color cast your lighting situation is most likly to produce.

If you shoot like I did here about 2 hours after sunrise, with direct light coming in from a rising sun, you notice the image has a warm almost yellow cast to it, t. The background on the table and leaning on the wall should be white, and the walls a light tan not yellow.
You would get the same sort of yellow orange tone if you were to shoot at sunset, which most of you see when you take images at the park or of your own families I am sure. 

The good news is, all digital camera's have a white balance mode (WB) by learning what kind of light you are shooting in and how to set your camera to see it as "white" you will be well ahead of the curve when it comes time to shoot your images. In most cases, this is set to auto and will function very well for you. You may never need to change this! However, if you find yourself with a yellow, green, blue, or reddish tone to your images (easy to spot on white) you can typically use one of the preset modes to adjust for that sort of lighting situation. The two charts below offer you some assistance listing both the common lightning scenario as well as the icon commonly used for camera manufactures so that you can simply select the one you need to adjust your white balance.

 If it doesn't fully fix the issue , there are other options... like working  with a reflector or diffuser to adjust your light in the area. If you are shooting with light that is more blue, like in the shade, use the gold part of the reflector to direct a warm glow onto your subject. If your light is too warm (like the yellow glow from above, use the white or silver, depending on how cool you need to make it. If your sun is very harsh and casting a lot of shadows... utilize a diffuser and put that between the sun and your product to reduce the amount of light hitting your product. (FYI, I find wax paper to make a great product diffuser if you are in a pinch!)
Look for a great DIY reflector post next week!

Or, use the manual WB settings to make your own adjustments. Either by guessing or by using tools such as a expodisk or white card.


There is even a simple way to edit for WB within some new Photoshop and editing programs, such as Lightroom, if you choose to do it in post-production... which I find harder, honestly.

To figure out what additional supplies and what studio set up will work best for you, do a test shoot during the time of day that you plan to shoot.  Set up your studio the way you think it will be utilized the best and take some test images. Now, try different WB settings, make a note of what you select on which image. Then, review them on your computer, send them to friends - unedited. Remember we want to shoot correctly (or as correctly as we can) and not count on spending time adjusting in Photoshop. Which ones turned out the closest to an image you would use? Look at what adjustments will need to be made. Can you now adjust your set up to remove shadows, or add a reflector or diffuser to provide an additional light source or to filter the bright light coming in? That will be our next step in creating a functional home studio set up for you!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Background, pt 3

What makes a good background?
What should you look for when making or purchasing one?
How do you select the right colors to highlight your product?

I think we can agree that the best backgrounds are or should be...
  1. Not distracting 
  2. Easy to find and work with - requiring little to no maintenance, such as ironing or steaming.
  3. Fit both the smallest and largest product you have.
  4. Store easily and conveniently until needed.
What makes something a good choice for your background?

I feel your background should to one of two things.. if not both.
  1. Provide a solid and consistent look to your shop regardless of product style or colors. 
  2. Reflect the style, look, and branding of your shop
  3. Showcase your product!
Once you know what your vision is for your shop, and you know what products you will carry, what size they will be you can start selecting a background that will work for them. I suggest everyone start with one background, and if you want to increase later as your skills grow then do so! By starting with one, you can focus on recreating the same consistent look over and over again.. consistency!

What should you look for when making or purchasing one?

If you are purchasing a professional muslin or photography backdrop, like from my shop or other online retailers look for...
1. How does it hang or attach? Can you use clips, or a bar to hang drape it over your shooting area? This one shows tabs that would hang from a pole, such as a curtain rod, or dowel.
2. What size is it? You want a background to easily offer 6 or more inches to all sides of your product... so if your using it as a drape from a wall it should hang with 6 inches of clearance above your product. Not just your product height plus six inches... but enough to cover space behind, height and space in front along your shooting table.

3. What is it made out of? Will it reflect light, absorb light? Is it shiny or flat? I can not tell you what is the best for you, because ultimately it depends on what your shooting, and with what equipment. However, like I pointed out in part two, shooting on reflective surfaces is not for the beginner, it requires skill, attention to detail, and some additional equipment to make it all work out.

4. Are you purchasing cloth or paper? If cloth - what kind? Is it dual sided or backed in any way? Is it thick? Can you see through it? I would stay away from any kind of reflective cloth such as silks and satins as a good rule of thumb.

In addition, I would look for something that is easy to care for and can be folded or stored easily. If you are searching to make your own, and poster board doesn't fit your needs I would look into solid curtains like from your local resale shop. Many of them have thick enough fabrics, or a backing already on them. Sheets tend to be to thin, although cotton is a good choice. If you can utilize a more natural look try out a painting canvas or muslin from your local hardware store!

How do you select the right colors to highlight your product?

I try to think in opposites and compliments when I am faced with this question. If you are working with a lot of different patterns and colors in your products and want a consistent look then I suggest going with white, black, grey or a neutral tan. Let the product do the talking. When you shoot whites, use black... if your product is black use a white background, the oppisites... or think about doing a grey or natural brown/tan to compliment all of them.
Product Provided by: L.W. Hooks

If you want to create a custom look for your shop, then I suggest creating (or letting me create) a custom backdrop to incorporate your branding colors into a pleasing backdrop that can work with any of your products.These are two backgrounds that I made a few months ago, just to give you some examples. The second is still available at my shop.
Scarf from Old Navy, received during a scarf swap!

Product Provided by: Colletta's Kitchen Sink

If you want a different backdrop for every product and wish to highlight it specifically, then I suggest working off the color wheel / opposites concept.

If your items are yellows, oranges or reds... shoot on blues... the opposite. Or you can work the fashion 3, rule which is finding a background within 3 steps of your product color. If your item is Green you can go to light or medium blue... or lighter green or yellow ( really I would decipher yellow as more of a yellow toned tan then really "yellow"). Below you see two examples of opposites... orange and blue, and red and green.

Product Provided by: Craft Gal Creations

Overall the best advice I can give you if you are not wanting to stick with "safe" white, blacks or neutrals is to find balance. Balance between texture, pattern, size, scale and colors. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This and That

       Welcome Welcome!

This week brought us to per-registration for my daughters school. YEA! That, I also found out 3 or her 4 friends wont be continuing with us is a huge bummer and the 4th is undecided. I am super bummed about that and now considering changing schools so she will have a larger class.

This week also brought us a possible opportunity that I can't really share yet. However, it puts us in a state of the unknown. Limbo. I hate limbo. I am a planner. Very logical minded and I have to have plans to function... I am not sure when that happened in my life... but it is very true. I deal with change well, but I have to have a plan of attack!

This week I also made a very costly and time consuming error while working on a different project.... yes... I deleted my album where I store my images for this blog. Do you know how many images I put into my posts! Each with a link to a website or vendor page.... That has had me staying up late, and working early to reset everything, and still get all my client work done! I certainly didn't have the time to spend on a project like that this week!

This would be why I am not including images on this post this week...I really wanted to showcase my FANTASTIC new purse and 2 new mug hugs from Zeeuh... but I haven't been able to slip them into the studio yet... that means I will have to work this weekend to get caught up! It will be totally worth it because Alicia does GREAT work and you should really check out the awesome items she made for me!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Background, pt 2

When is the best background for your product not white?

I often suggest a different background if the product itself is clear, opaque, white, or silver. I also love when an online shop creates a background that is unique to them, and sets themselves apart by creating something that reflects their brand or personality. So that is another great time to add some color!

While looking to make sure I covered the "hot topics" for doing your own product photography I asked my fellow TSUA-List members for their questions, and the subject of choosing a background other then white came up.  Thank you for those members who brought the topic of backgrounds to my attention! I put a lot of thought into it for my clients... and if your doing your own work... you should put a lot of time into it as well.

So what colors should you use?

Product provided by Crafty Gal Creations

Black: It is easy to find, like white you can use fabric or poster board for your small studio at home easily enough. It is solid, easy to edit and light. If your exposure is off slightly it is easy to edit in post production and it highlights jewelery especially silvers and golds very nicely. From a photography stand point it does not reflect light... so if you find your issue is TOO MUCH light on your image, this will absorb it.  If you have sheer cloth, or opaque stones and beads, or white products... this highlights them very nicely. Over all it is pretty forgiving and easy to work with.

Product Provided by: L. W. Hooks

Grey: I have to say... white, black and grey are the most common. Even when I was shooting families in the studio  - almost every skin tone, color combo and product will look good! For product grey is a solid choice if you want something a little different but not too "out there". Again it is easy to find, and forgiving if your exposures are not consistent. Grey, if you remember used to be how photographers balanced their film cameras! Grey is a neutral - it compliments all colors!

Now... you don't always need to think in solid backgrounds. I have several painted grey backdrops that I use.  Depending on the look for your shop, blog or other product use... these are great ways of adding texture or color, and creating a custom look. Just be careful not to get too over whelming with the amount of color or texture if you still want people looking at your product!

A gift from Colletta's Kitchen Sink during a swap I did!
Product Provided by: Streeter & Co

These are a couple of  custom backgrounds that I have hand painted - if you want to learn more about them you can visit my shop or email me directly!

Plus, Grey is not the only neutral in town!

Browns, tans, creams: Also great neutrals you can use for a variety of products, and colors. The tone of the background does really start stretching the limits of what colors look best on it. So you need to be careful here. Too yellow, red, or orange and your product may start to pick up those tones... especially in the whites. I tend to like something like the stone look below for shops with a more organic feel to them.
Product Provided by: Streeter & Co

While mixing a black with grey and brown provides another solid option for you, if you want something more custom looking but not so dark.

<<missing  new background image / Brice >>>>

Blues: Blues start getting very tricky. You have to use a little restraint and start thinking about your product and photography very seriously. It is easy to use the wrong kind of blue and to have that overwhelm your image like here you see the blue reflecting so much that the white starts to take on that tone like the image shown below.

Now, blue is still a very common color to use in studio photography. Typically you wont find it as a solid background, unless it is being used as the blue alternate to the green chroma key.  Where it is so overwhelming it is easily selected digitally and replaced with a different background. However, you will find it as a dyed background, or commonly paired with greys and whites in a mottled texture much like the tan and black are in  the image of "Brice" above.

There are exceptions to the rules and times when a solid blue can be your friend... say if your shooting something that is stone, or natural in color, seashells, or you want that "sea" look... stick with lighter shades of blues to accomplish this and help prevent the color bleed. Or if you have something that falls in the red, yellow, or orange category where you can use the blue to calm and add balance to the colors of the image, while highlighting the beauty of the product. Often it is best to work with something that has several shades of blue, or even white to help that balance.

Product Provided by: Crafty Gal Creations
Blues are very tricky for product photography, especially home product photography because you are typically not shooting with the best lighting gear. Poor lighting leads to blue images to start with... either from shadows, poor exposure, or the  light temperature of your light source.  My suggestion, stay away from solid blues and look for mottled, or pops of blue. Like this custom painted backdrop I made.
Product  provided by: Flynnster

Or by adding it in as a prop! Like this custom prop I created as part of Sweetsies Prop set. 

Cookies provided by: Sweetsies
Greens, reds, pinks, oranges and yellows: Unless you are a professional, and have the right equipment I would tend to steer you away from these background colors. Again, due to the nature of these colors they tend to bleed over into your product colors... reds and yellows are especially bad. Reds, quite frankly are even bad for you to WEAR during a photo shoot around your face, because it will make your skin appear more red and flush!

Not every item can stand up to such a bright background as well as this super cute guy... This type of bright background works great for kid products... but seriously.. you have to know what your doing or this will go very ---- VERY bad for you!

Plus, these colors will quickly overwhelm the eye.With skill and comprehension of the product and the equipment and lighting you have available, you can create great images with bright backgrounds. However,  if you are trying to create a custom look for your shop and that is a major part of your "branding" color scheme I would seriously consider letting me create a custom background where any of these color can be mixed into a more neutral based background, making it easier for you to work with! Too many images like the one above and potential shoppers could be easily overwhelmed! However, you should be aware of your product as well, below is a great example of a great background choice for yellow.  However, just like the blue we talked about a moment ago, it can bleed into your product... like below, this Smelly Jelly by Streeter &Co should be clear, instead it picks up the background color behind it and becomes more yellow itself! A lot of this can be overcome with proper lighting, and camera settings, but if you are starting out you may want to steer clear of the extra obstacles.

Patterns: Mixing up patterns and textures can be a lot of fun... I suggest being careful with the print and texture you use. I also find that people who don't have good lighting, or camera equipment, or who don't understand how to use it really struggle with making patterned backgrounds look good. Using depth of field and posing techniques to showcase an item becomes very important. Also, I wouldn't suggest posting a product like this lanyard with ONLY this image... make sure your following my other guidelines on using multiple images, posing, details and clarity! This can add interest to your shop... but it doesn't really show you want the item is!  - But seriously... HOW cute are the ladybug and bumble bee beads in there! I mean COME ON!

Product Provided by: Crafty Gal Creations
Golds/Silver or other reflective surfaces. These can look amazing. However, you really have to know what your doing. Since these backgrounds reflect light you want to work with that, instead of against it. Utilize your lighting to create a great effect. Like the patterns, I don't recommend this for your everyday image, or for someone just starting out... there is technique and an investment into time, lighting and camera gear required. However, when done right it can have a dramatic effect rather then just going with a black or grey.

Product Provided by: L.W.Hooks
Product Provided by: L.W.Hooks

Product Provided by: L.W.Hooks
It really makes for amazing detail shots! Much like the pattern, I wouldn't try to shoot all the images on a reflective background... just a standout... look at me, kind of shot. I've used the metal look to highlight the chain in the two crochet necklaces, and to pick up the sparkle in the threads of the crochet hat.

I hope this has gotten some wheels turning and helped you think about what you can use in your home studio! Don't forget to join me for "The Background, the final chapter" where I talk about what makes a good background, and what to look for when making or purchasing one, and how to pair the right colors with your product!