About a month ago, Mayya of Sew Chic & Unique asked me to contribute to her "Inspire to Create" theme. Inspiration is sort of a fluid idea to me, with a lot of possibilities for topics. So my first challenge was to come up with something "inspiring" to talk about.
From talking to people about my business experience online, I knew a lot of people could use some help getting inspired about their photos. Photos can be a real challenge and it is discouraging to make something fabulous and then not be able to get a decent photo of it!
So I hope someone out there finds this info useful and feels inspired to take new photos and then share their creations online, start their own online business, or just gets to the point where they feel somewhat comfortable and confident taking & editing their pictures.
In this tutorial I am using Photoshop Elements (PSE) and will walk you through the basics of how I take a picture at home, using inexpensive foam boards. Light boxes can be great too, but I found it cumbersome to store one or take it apart/set it up each time.
At around $100, Photoshop Elements (PSE) is a good deal and worth the investment for anyone who wants to be able to do basic to intermediate photo editing. PSE is a stripped down version of Photoshop and is still pretty powerful software. Sometimes you can find PSE on ebay for considerably less.
If you aren't quite ready to invest in photo editing software, there are several free photo editors you can try.
Here are three free online photo editors I see mentioned frequently:
Because most everything I make is small, this tutorial is geared toward
taking pictures of small items, but the basic ideas can be scaled up
for larger items.
Skills and Equipment You Need
- Digital camera and corresponding users manual.
- Ability to transfer photos from your camera to your computer.
- Window with indirect light. This method of taking photos is very portable, so you will be able to move to different areas of your home as the light changes throughout the day.
- Ott Lite or natural light bulb. The Ott brand lights can be expensive, but they are another worthwhile investment that will last many years. The light is really great for working on craft projects or reading, so you can definitely use it for more than taking photos.
- 2 pieces of white foam board. I use the 22" x 28" pieces, which have more than enough space for small items and lots of white area for reflecting light. Foam board can be found at many stores in the office and school supplies section. My foam board came from Fred Meyer and cost only $2.99 per piece.
- Stool, chair, bench or somewhere to set up your foam board by the window. The floor works too.
- 3-4 pieces of white cardstock weight paper (optional, but helpful).
- Small cardboard box (also optional, but helpful). Tape 1-2 of the paper pieces to one side of the box (see photo below). This is going to be another small, portable reflective surface to help minimize shadows.
- Move stool/chair/bench next to the window with indirect light. Place one foam board white side (non-grid) up on top of the stool/bench or chair seat.
- Lean the second board against the wall, chair back or something solid to hold it up.
- Place one piece of paper on the bottom board, and lean a second on the wall at the back. The paper is whiter than the boards and helps add more light.
- Place the lamp on the side opposite the window.
- Put the box with the white paper along the same side as the lamp.
- Place your subject on the paper and make sure it looks pretty straight and even.
2. Turn Camera On & Apply Settings (consult manual where necessary)
- Turn the flash OFF.
- Turn the macro setting ON.
- Increase the EV Compensation. This increases the light available to the lens and it can make a massive improvement in your photos. It can also wash them out and over expose them, so you'll need to experiment with the setting. On my camera generally a +0.7 works best for me. If I'm not sure how much additional light needed, I take photos at +0.3, +0.7 & +1.0.
3. Take Photos
- Take a few pictures at various distances, angles, etc.
1. Crop, Straighten & Resize
- Open the photos you would like to edit in the photo editor. I usually open all the photos I just took and then eliminate any that have obvious problems. Over exposure is really hard to correct, so any that look washed out go into the trash. Then I pick the one that looks the best and close all others.
- Choose the crop tool from the menu along the left side and crop the photo to roughly a square, leaving some white space around the image.
- Straighten if necessary by rotating.
- Turn on the grid: View > Grid
- Rotate: Image > Rotate > Free Rotate Layer. Use the corner tabs to rotate until the picture is straight.
- Crop again so the photo is square.
- Resize the image to your specs: Image > Resize > Image Size. For product photos on etsy I use 1000 px wide and/or high. Basically whichever number is highest, I lower to 1000.
2. Clean up.
To de-emphasize the lines where the boards meet, I use the clone and/or smudge tool to blend them away.
- Select the Clone tool.
- Use the pointer and click + option to select an area close to the line to clone.
- Then click the areas to cover with the clone. It will take several clicks to cover the line.
- Repeat steps 2-3 on the other side.
- Select the smudge tool.
- Click and blend over the line until it is blended into the background.
3. Enhance the lighting.
Below is the order I do the enhancements. A lot of the time, the first two fix any major issues and I skip the last two. You can play around with all of them individually and in different combinations until you like how your picture looks.
Each option will have a slider and a box to enter amounts. I use the sliders and just watch as the photo changes. Move the sliders back and forth until you are satisfied. Click "ok" to accept changes, or "cancel" to get back to your original place.
- Adjust shadows: Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows/Highlights. Generally, I lighten the shadows 10-15% and leave the other options alone.
- Adjust levels: Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels. Move the slider to the left and watch the background lighten up. This is my favorite adjustment!
- Adjust brightness & contrast: Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Brightness/Contrast.
- Adjust color: Image > Adjust Color > Adjust Hue/Saturation. Generally the saturation is the one that will be most helpful if your picture is looking slightly washed out. Increasing the saturation can really help with black or dark colored objects that lose their color.
4. Save your image as .jpg and you are done!
Ask any questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.