Product photos are probably one of the most important components of an artisan’s website. Images not only tell much about the product itself, but often the artist’s personality as well. If you’re fortunate enough to afford hiring a professional photographer to shoot your product photos, consider yourself blessed. However, if you’re an artist who is just starting out or a veteran who still remains cost conscious, then you may be under some tight budget restraints. Let’s face it. No one wants to spend more money than they have to. Personally, if I can do it myself, and master the task in the process, then I feel that I’ve accomplished something quite meaningful. I’m no expert photographer, mind you, but what I lack in experience, I make up for in old-fashion gumption. Resourcefulness goes a long way . . . especially if you’re low on cash.
When I started shooting my product photos, I relied upon my faithful 12-year-old Canon SLR. It takes wonderful photos, and in many cases – and in my opinion – there is no digital substitute for the unique quality of film. However, film processing is expensive and if the photos are used for web purposes, there are some extra steps needed to turn those photos into usable digital images. So, needless to say, I wanted to go digital. I looked for a camera that not only could handle super close shots of my jewelry designs and produce a high quality photo but also a camera that was rugged and priced within my small budget.
This past Christmas, I received a Pentax W-90. It’s a rugged, economical 12mp point-and-shoot. Its compact, water-proof, shock-proof and can perform in extreme temperatures should I ever decide to shoot in the Sahara or the Arctic circle – which is highly unlikely – but it’s nice to know I can use the camera outdoors with no worries. What I like about the W-90 is it’s macro capabilities for its price point. The W-90 super macro mode focuses at 1cm and offers a built-in micro-LED light source for low light macro shots. Even without a small tri-pod, and I highly recommend them for macro photography, my shots are sharp and vivid. What I’ve discovered is that with a little practice and creative use of natural lighting, the W-90 can produce some great shots. While a high-end DSLR would be nice to get my hands on, after working with my adequate point-and-shoot, I am convinced that one can produce high quality images if one is willing to get creative and well-acquainted with the intricate functions of whatever camera one owns.
A few Observations
I can’t say enough about the importance of good lighting. I prefer natural lighting and will shoot my photos at specific times during the day depending upon the weather. On a cloudy day, I find the best light is at noon. This kind of lighting produces a cool effect, which is quite useful when wanting to highlight silver designs and avoid the glare of the sun which can often cause flares.
My favorite lighting is late in the afternoon, around 6:00. The light is soft and gives great warmth to gemstones which reflect the filtered sunlight. I shoot my photos on a covered patio when the sun is about to set. The sun provides just the right amount of backlighting and the patio and natural foliage provide interesting contrasting shadows.
Experimentation with lighting is a great exercise in discovering the type of lighting effect that works best for you.
I don’t use the Auto setting much with my W-90. I constantly tweak ISO, EV Compensation and seldom use the flash. If your camera has the ability to adjust manual settings – and today many do – then get to know your camera intimately.
With the W-90, I find that lower ISO (80-100) at sunset often produces some wonderful results. Higher ISO for shooting stills of jewelry designs will produce a far grainier image, and unless your jewelry designs are running a marathon in a coal mine, then high ISO is rather moot.
Understand EV Compensation. Most point-and-shoots will allow for adjustment, and the best way to use this feature is to take a picture, review it on the camera’s LCD and then make the necessary adjustments using the exposure compensation tool. A darker image will require increasing the EV (+) before re-take and a lighter image will need compensation to the negative. If I know that my lighting will be low, then I’ll compensate by presetting the EV to +0.7.
The perfect picture is in the eye of the beholder. Test and adjust settings to find your happy place.
If you have a background in graphic design and are fortunate to have a copy of Adobe Photoshop to help bring out the best quality of an image, then you are well aware of image prep and optimization. However, one doesn’t have to use Photoshop to optimize images, but having some kind of image manipulation software is necessary in preparing images for the web. Factors such as resolution and image size must come into play when producing not only a quality web image, but one that doesn’t take three days to load on a web page. It’s sometimes tricky finding the right balance between resolution and optimization. All images must be optimized for the web. Adjusting exposure, color balance and contrast levels to convey an accurate representation when optimized can help the final image presentation. I find that if I adjust the image levels to appear a bit darker on screen, then when I optimize, the balance is more true to the original image. The best way to do this in Photoshop is to adjust the curves manually or choose auto levels.
Resolution of a web image must be no more than screen resolution which is 72 dpi. Adjusting quality output and Progressive and ICC controls can help preserve the look you want and cut down on the image’s size. You want a quality image that isn’t excessively large in size. JPEG format works best for photos. GIF and PNG formats will often lose too much detail resulting in a poor grainy image. Photoshop makes this delicate dance between resolution and optimized output quite easy, but other programs may have far less technical controls which may be easier to work with for some. Again, test and tweak to find the correct outputs.
Macro photography is a lot like life. The closer one successfully focuses in, the more detail one finds. Attaining the right balance is key to finding ones’ proper focus. Being able to take the small and insignificant and create views that inspire is deeply meaningful. Such dedication demands great imagination, a resilient creativity and disciplined practice. The result is often the realization that the gift is not necessarily the finished product alone, but the process by which one arrives at it. This is the power of the small . . . and in the case of the Pentax W-90. . . the ridiculously inexpensive.
Do you have some photography tips and tricks to share? If so, please feel free to add your comments.