Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Photographing Cards Indoors

Hey all! Jen here... it's Wednesday and I've bumped Jess out of her regularly schedule programming to bring you a special tutorial on photographing cards indoors. I get a lot of questions on how I photograph my cards. I'm a late night worker and I don't have much opportunity to photograph cards during the day and I don't like to be at the mercy of the weather. So, after much trial and error I've found a way to photograph my cards indoors that requires no special equipment and yields consistent and (in my opinion ;) ) good results.

So what do you need to know?
Step One: Learn your camera. 
Whether you have a point and shoot camera or a digital SLR (single lens release) you can take really good pictures of your cards indoors. You just have to learn your cameras tricks. So find that manual that you left in the camera box and keep it handy. 
On average I'd say that stampers really do a good job of knowing their cameras but there is always more to know. Your camera manual is your best friend. READ IT!!! The main things you need to know how to adjust on your camera when stamping your cards indoors are White Balance, ISO (film speed), Aperture control, flash and shutter speed. 

First up... turn your flash off. I've never ever taken a good picture of my cards with the flash on. Usually I'm too close to it and it blows the whole picture out. It's best to turn it off if you follow this tutorial.

White balance is your cameras handy dandy electronic way of adjusting the colors in your pictures for whatever lighting situation you are in. This used to be accomplished with lens filters. Every lighting situation has a different temperature or color. Indoor incandescent light tends to be yellow. Fluorescent light tends to be blueish. Most people set their camera to auto (or never set it because it comes out of the box on auto) and forget about it. For photographing a card you need to change it. The color correction is better when you set it manually. So dig out that manual and see what it says about white balance and set your white balance to compliment your specific brand of indoor lighting (i.e. fluorescent or incandescent). 

ISO is your digital cameras approximation of film speed. I know, there's no film. But your digital camera is built to act like there is. Those of us that actually remember film cameras know that film speed has a lot to do with what kind of light you take your pictures in and it also has a lot to do with how 'grainy' a finished photo is. A low number ISO like 100 is perfect for taking pictures outside on sunny day and it makes for a crystal clear brilliant photo with no grain but it's not so great for indoor lower quality light.  A higher number ISO like 400 or 800 is better for indoor lighting situations that aren't as bright but it does make for a grainier picture. Your camera most likely sets this for you but again this is where your camera manual comes in handy. Dig it out again and find how to manually set your cameras ISO to 400.

The aperture (also referred to as F-stop) in your camera is the hole in your camera that lets the light in and thus takes the picture. When it's BIG it lets in lots of light but it only focuses on a really shallow distance. When it's small it lets in less light but it can focus on a deeper distance. Most cameras refer to this as an F-number. F-2.8 is a BIG opening. F-11 is a very small opening. For photographing indoors we need to let more light in so we want a bigger opening so we need a smaller F number. (I know, it's confusing.) We also don't need a deep focal area for photographing a card. Many point and shoot cameras don't let you change the F-stop on your camera but they do give you different shooting modes. The portrait mode typically has the smallest F-stop.

Shutter speed is how fast your camera snaps the picture. When your camera snaps the picture really fast it is able to stop motion but it also lets in a smaller amount of light. If you were trying to photograph a runner or a football game we'd want a high shutter speed. Our cards are sitting still (hopefully) so we don't need a fast shutter speed and we definitely want to let in more light so we need a slower shutter speed. BUT and this is a pretty big one, we don't want one so low that our natural hand shake will affect the picture. (If you have a tripod and you want to deal with setting it up it will take care of most hand shake so you can get away with an even lower shutter speed.) So... what am I getting at? You don't want your shutter speed to be below 60 or your focus will not be crisp.  Shutter speeds look like a fraction usually 1 over a number. Shutter speeds are generally a fraction of a second, hence the fraction. 1/60 is a slower shutter speed. 1/1600 is very fast - think amazing sports photography. Most people don't use anything higher than 1/500. We need between 1/60 - 1/100 for photographing cards. Most point and shoot cameras don't tell you what the shutter speed is... it just takes a bad picture. So if you picture is coming out blurry a low shutter speed might be the culprit.

Step Two: Set up your space.
I'm done with the camera techno babble... mostly. Now it's time to set up your shooting space to take the best pictures. There are lots of ways to do this. You can go out and buy a really nice light tent, clip on photography lights and shoot away. That's gonna cost you though. Or you can go grab a plain, cheap, 9x12" non-spiral sketchbook, a table lamp with a 100 watt light bulb and a couple of black binder clips . (150 watt is better if you can find a lamp that will take it.)

On the subject of light bulbs... should you go out and get one of those fancy daylight imitating light bulbs? NO... they sound like a dream come true for this but they aren't. Your cameras white balance doesn't know this kind of enhanced indoor light. It will through off the adjustment and give an odd color cast to your pictures. Just get a regular plain old 100 watt or 150 watt bulb.

OTT lights. If you have an OTT light and it's one of the bigger table versions or one of the floor versions YES please use it. (The smaller ones don't put out enough light for our needs here.)  OTT lights are the only bulb that is a true imitation of colorless light like the sun. They are very expensive but if you have it by all means USE IT!! :) In this case you will set your cameras white balance to sun light.

Your card studio will consist of something like this: a stack of 2-3 books, your sketch book open to the middle (clip the pages back with the binder clips) and resting on the books, your lamp next to your open sketchbook and your card propped up on the sketchbook. It should look a lot like this:

Step Three: Take Your Pictures
Once you have this all set up you just need to find a view point you like and start taking pictures. Try to keep your angle to the card so that the sketchbook stays in the background behind the card and you don't get any strange overlaps... you don't want to give away the magic behind the scenes so to speak. I usually take 5-8 pictures of each card that way I make sure I have good exposure and focus. The more photos you take the higher your odds are of taking a really good one.

When you start taking pictures use your cameras display to guide you. It will tell you if you are taking a good exposure or a bad one. If it blinks at you in red... your picture is going to be bad. Read your manual so you know what the flashing lights mean.

This is what my photos look like straight out of the camera without any Photoshop enhancements. (I did crop them). I have a Canon Rebel Xsi. It's a base model digital SLR with a 50 mm Canon lens (the really cheap one).

As you can see the pictures aren't bad but the white spaces aren't truly white. Without a tripod I haven't been able to balance ISO, shutter and aperture to get a true white straight out of my camera. It can be done, though. What I do is use the magic of Photoshop. 

Step Four: Editing is the finishing touch
I use Photoshop CS4 to edit my photos. I'm lucky to have it because my husband uses it for work. If he didn't I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have it and I'd have to edit my pictures another way and there are lots of inexpensive effective options available. Gimp is a great free program as well as Photoshop Elements that is relatively inexpensive.

What you want to do in your editing program is sharpen your image and do one final adjustment to the color balance as well as crop and if desired add a watermark.

Most photo editing software programs have a way of sharpening your image. This take a bit of the blur out that is typical of a pixelated image. In Photoshop this can be found under Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask. I used Amount 80, Radius 1.0 and Threshold 0.

Next up is Levels. The Levels palette is found under Image/Adjustments/Levels. The Levels palette adjusts the levels of red, green and blue in your image. This particular trick has probably made the most profound improvement in my pictures and my husband is the one that showed this to me. When you open the Levels palette there are three droppers to the right of the palette under the Options... button. One is filled black, one grey and one white. Select the white one and click on something in the image that is supposed to be perfectly white but isn't. This is most successful if you click something in the picture that was closest to the light source (your lamp). When you do this it adjusts not only the color balance but the exposure so the area that you clicked becomes a true white.



If you make a mistake with the Levels dropper and don't like the result just use cntl + z (command + z on a Mac) and it will undo what you did and you can click somewhere else. I usually try a couple of locations before I settle on the one I like the best.

Almost all photo editing programs have something that lets you adjust the levels of red/green/blue in your photos. You just have to dig around and find it. :)

So there you have it! Nice, crisp, clear and bright indoor photos of your cards. If you've stayed with me this long I do appreciate it. I know this post is REALLY long. Please let me know what you think! Have a great Wednesday!!


donna mikasa said...

what a great tutorial, Jen! i love to see how others photograph their cards....thank you!

Carisa said...

Loved this! I learned something new and can't wait to try it next time I take pics!

Grace said...

omg jen!!! you're amazing!!! I'm going to have to get photoshop asap!!!

Denice said...

Thanks for the info...VERY helpful, now I just need to find the book of instructions inside the box! :D

Michele said...

Awesome tutorial!! Thank you so much...can't wait to try editing some pictures!

faithnme said...

awesome Tutorial Jen...You know I will have to pull out my instruction too.. ( I just started turning off my "flash" too.. now just to follow the rest of the steps :0)))

eva said...

thanks jen! i just tried your tips out and i learned something new!

Judi said...

WOW! What a really USEFUL tutorial. Thanks SO much. I'm off to give it a try.

Judi x

Clare *Littlebear* said...

Thank you Jen! We bought a DSLR camera last week and I have been searching for a tutorial like this to help me photograph my cards. You have explained everything so clearly and it really makes sense. You have also saved me lots of money as I now realise I don't need to buy light tents etc.
Clare x

Sheene said...

great tutorial! thanks for sharing

Jenn Borjeson said...

I think I'm going to print out your post and save it!!!!! I have a Canon Rebel XS and I LOOOOOVE it - but I definitely don't know enough about playing with the settings, etc. I'm going to spend some time using your tutorial (and my handbook, of course!) and try to figure it out! Thank you! :)

AShu93 said...

This is a really useful tutorial! Thanks for all the effort you put into it.

Shazza said...

lovely jubbly!!

Shaela said...

Awesome tutorial and beautiful card, Jen! :)

Sheri (a.k.a PaperCrafty) said...

Amazing tutorial Jen!! I can't wait to try some of your fab tips!!TFS

Leanne said...

Thank you Jen!! This was worth the read! I have Photoshop but don't know the first thing on how to use it. I usually use Paint or Microsoft office picture mgr. I am definitely going to try your method. Love that it's not expensy. hehe. Thanks again!

Gwen's Busy Little Hands said...

Awesome tutorial Jen! I'm going to bookmark this one so I can try it out for my next project.


Diamond Doll said...

Brill tutorial Jen.
Trish (-:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tutorial Jen! I am off to play with my camera!

Tamara said...

Thank you so much! I needed some reminding about catching me cards just right!! I will study and hopefully make you proud!!

Thistleblue said...

Fantastic tutorial! I found bits in my camera i never knew were there... Also great idea about the pad, I sometimes use two or three pieces of card balanced together but the paper pad is an excellent idea!
Thank you very much, hope you have a wonderful day

Brandi said...

Many thanks for the tutorial. I have been searching for one, but I didn't know where to turn. It's as if you have read my mind and answered my questions. Again, thank you very much.

Stephanie aka Nerdette said...

This is great Jen!

I have an off the shelf plain Digital Camera, no bells or whistle.

I followed your Photoshop steps with images taken from my digital camera and it worked perfectly. Especially the Levels - white eye dropper trick. Phenomenal changes. Thanks so much.

Mercy said...

awesome tutorial! good job!

Linda (Lindyloo) said...

I had to stop and say a big thank you. I have been taking photos of my cards with an OTT light and a cheap light tent for a little while now. I have even adjusted the colour etc using Publisher, however I was still completely unaware of all the mumbo jumbo. Thanks to your well explained tutorial I now fully understand the uses of white balance etc. You have made a frustrated cardmaker very, very happy.
Thank you so much and keep up the good work.
Linda x

BElievablyMe said...

I know this is an old post, but it just saved my life! Just redid a picture of mine on my last post using some of your tips and it looks MUCH better, thanks!


Beth // Design Your Dwelling said...

Great ideas - just what I was looking for! Thanks!

Betty Meyskens said...

I came across your blog today from the Verve blog hop and started browsing all of your site and came across many amazing cards, etc. I just read your article on photographing cards indoors and I am definitely going to try these tips out - and I too need to go and find the manual to my camera. Thank you for this article.

Daimar Sanchez said...

Me encanto Gran trabajo...

Мира said...

thank you endlessly! <3

questionate said...

Rarely post comments, but had to because I'm so grateful for your info. You are very good at explaining! This was exactly what I was trying to learn. Many thanks.

Colleen Holmes said...

I have photoshop elements and have used the levels but adjusting my photo manually with it. I didn't know about the dopplers! Thank you for all the hints, I learned quite a few! Hugz

Lou said...

I know this is quite an old post but I found this info so helpful I wanted to say thanks! It's exactly the kind of help I've been looking for, practical a and technical without going too far or trying to sell me fancy stuff. Really excited to try out the Photoshop tip for adjusting white too. Thank you so much for such useful information. Lou :)