Improving your photos with tripods, diffusers and reflectors, and a few tips and tricks improve to your lighting.
With all the new skills you have learned so far in this series, you should be using your camera more confidently now. So it’s time to add some finesse to your photos. There are a few pieces of inexpensive kit that can really make a difference to your product photography. Let’s look at those and also at some tips and tricks you can use to make your good photos great.
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Blur is something that will instantly put buyers off your product, so you need to eliminate it completely from your photos. Tripods are the best tools for this job. There is a vast range of tripods on the market; I suggest that you get the best and sturdiest tripod and tripod head that you can afford. Using a tripod is especially important for jewellery shots, which are usually shot in macro mode, any zooming in and macro effects that you use will accentuate the camera shake and motion blur that’s typical of hand holding.
There are ways you can get your pictures even sharper. When you press the shutter release ‘trigger’ on you camera, the pressure from your finger causes movement that makes photos blurry. If you have a remote shutter release cable, it will eliminate this problem. If you don’t have one, try setting your camera to the self timer setting (usually indicated with a clock picture) and let the camera set itself off without you touching it. It will work wonders!
Flash lighting, diffusers and reflectors
Most cameras come with a flash of some description. Your flash will allow you to take photos in all sorts of lighting conditions, but with this flexibility comes a whole host of problems you will need to address. There’s a risk of getting harsh shadows and highlights, over exposure and glaring ‘hot spots’ on your product. Techniques for overcoming these problems are simple enough though, so here are a few tips for fixing your flash problems. If your flash has an adjustable head so that you can point it at the ceiling overhead instead of directly at your product, it will be an instant improvement. By bouncing your flash light off a white wall or ceiling it will eliminate the glare and hot spots you get with direct flash and will also reduce those hard shadows too.
You can soften your lighting even more dramatically by using a diffuser. The diffuser is placed between the light source and your product to diffuse the light. It does exactly what it says on the tin, and diffuses that harsh burst of flash light, turning hard shadows into soft ones, and giving you more natural looking photos. There are as many different types of diffuser as there are cameras so you will need to find one that works with your flash. If you are on a tight budget, you can create your own for less than a fiver, over the years I have seen people using a multitude of opaque household items to diffuse their flashes, from a piece of muslin to cigarette papers (they come with a handy licky sticky strip for temporarily attaching to your flash). Just make sure that you only use white for your diffuser, if you use anything coloured it will cast coloured light in your picture, and you really don’t want that.
Diffusers come in collapsible portable versions for filtering and diffusing direct light in your shots. You can buy affordable diffusers with interchangeable sleeves in gold, silver and white that double up as reflectors. Reflectors are one of the favourite tools of the pro photographer, go to any commercial shoot and you will see a small army of assistants with diffusers and reflectors bouncing and directing light for the photographer. Reflectors are a great way to increase the amount of light in your shots, they work by bouncing available light back into your photos, filling in the shadows with reflected light. These portable and relatively inexpensive tools are usually collapsible, and believe me, it is often more challenging to fold them back into their bags than it is to use them to improve the light in your pictures! You may find it hard to hold the reflector and shoot at the same time, so use your tripod and a remote release cable to handle the camera, if you have a willing assistant to hold your reflector for you, you will feel the advantage, otherwise make use of chairs and other furniture to position the reflectors for your shot.
Backdrops and Backgrounds
In previous posts I have discussed using large apertures to blur your backgrounds but I recommend that you use this in conjunction with a clean background, preferably in white or grey. You need to think carefully about the background you choose for your product, it should be plain, unpatterned, clean and a colour that enhances and does not detract from your product’s features. Glass, mirrors and Perspex can make very clean and sophisticated backgrounds and supports for your products, but remember that these are highly reflective surfaces that will need a greater degree of skill with diffusers and lights to avoid nasty bright spots and reflections that will detract from your product. If your product is reflective, shiny and is 3 dimensional, like jewellery, you will have to learn to work with reflections and shadows. You cannot expect to fully eliminate them, and you should not want to, shadows help the viewer see the 3 dimensionality of the item. Take some time to look at where the shadows are falling around your product and experiment with different camera angles, reflectors and diffusers to reduce and enhance your shadows as necessary.
Finally, I recommend building or buying a light box or light tent for your table top studio set up, if you are serious about selling your products. You can search the internet for light tents to find lots of plans and pictures of DIY versions, or for an easy life, buy yourself one from a plethora of sellers on the internet, it will be a wise investment for your business.
That’s all for this post folks, I hope that you are making the most of the lovely spring light to practice your photography skills!
Until next time, Jo