tooling around: lights, camera, composition

In case you are just tuning in, Tooling Around has been focusing on photography.  Check out parts one and two.

And, in case that isn’t enough, here’s a little graphic review of what I now know is called the exposure triangle.

Click here to see Jake Breinholdt's excellent photography series

For my wrap up post, I want to address the problem bought up by Chantelle who said,

“Photography is such an ordeal for me. My problems are a bit different to most, my items are often so large (bed-sized quilts) and are mostly white; it is very difficult to get the entire thing well lit, in focus, and with correct color balance, let alone artfully styled.”

What I think Chantelle is struggling with is photo composition. That is, the pleasing selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area. Although she is photographing a larger product than most, this really is an issue with which everyone seems to struggle. I combed something like a thousand internet resources and came up with a short list of things to try.

Be a copy cat.

Go to Pinterest, Flickr, We Heart It , whatever, and look.  Save any photo and every photo that catches your eye.  Look at them. Why are you drawn to them? The colors? The light?  Cute kittens?  What? Then, try to recreate those aspects you find appealing in your own photographs.

A lot of photo blogs and artist sites give you the photo “stats” right there next to the photo.  I sort of smushed the info on top of the art in the image below so you could see what I mean without having to scroll through the page, but the photographer included all sorts of goodies for you.

Down and Out by Jemmapellenicolleta. Click on the image for additional details

If it isn’t provided already, a lot of photographers are happy to give you more info about their photos.  So go ahead and ask about the f/stops, ISO, and resolution of your favorite photos.  Also, find out what light source was used and what time of day the photo was taken. Which leads me to…

The golden hour.

When we have long shadows, and directional (other than directly over head) light sources, is when we are able to capture some of the best images. Some people use the term “golden hour” to describe the hour after sunrise, and hour before sunset. Images shot during those windows tend to be golden.

True, your subject will be lit unevenly because the light will hit it an angle, but that’s okay.  You want to make sure you correctly convey the colors of your quilt, for example, but people understand that three-dimensional objects cast shadows.  Use those shadows, that uneven lighting, to draw people into your photograph – demonstrate depth, movement, comfort. The longer they look at your photos, the more they will connect with your creations.

The rule of thirds.

Another way to add depth and movement to your photo is by not centering your subject. Instead, imagine your image is divided into a grid of 9 equal segments. The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines or at the points where they intersect. Here’s a photo that demonstrates both the power of angled light and rule of thirds concept.

Click the image for more info on photo composition.

In this photo Trey Ratcliff has aligned the building and horizon along rule-of-thirds lines. Your eye can travel with the waves (movement) to the much closer lighthouse (depth).  As I suggested with the exposure settings, I recommend practice and note-taking as the best method for honing your photo composition skills.  Center your muse within the frame and shoot. Now, take two steps to the left and shoot again.  Take two more steps. Shoot.  Click a few photos from a crouching position. Stand on a ladder. Stand on your head.  Take photos from any and every angle that occurs to you.  Then, show them to your friends.  Which ones do they like?

Are you guys sick of photography yet? Me neither, but I think I need to practice what I preach a bit before I find more tips for you.  Besides, there are so many tools to talk about.  I have my eye on a few, but what do you want to read more about?

Talk to me about photography and tools in the comments below.

6 thoughts on “tooling around: lights, camera, composition

  1. This was interesting because when I am shooting photos for my etsy page I don’t think about composition in the same way that I do for my other photos. Mostly this is because the thumbnails in etsy only show the center of the image, so I find that I have to center the object I am trying to display even if it makes for a less than stellar composition when the whole picture is shown. Any thoughts on this?

    1. That is a great question! Since Etsy gives you five photos, I say do both! The first photo slot is the one most people see and the one used for treasuries so that is the place to put the photo you feel best shows off your product or is most likely to make people “click.” Then go to town with the other photos. As an Etsy shopper I click every photo available for a product. If you still worry people won’t realize the thumbnail is only a portion of the photo, describe it in your listing. “Photo two is a detail shot of my hand embroidery,” “Click photo three to view the back of my vase,” “In photo four you can see my artwork in a gallery setting.”

      You can also show off your photo savvy on other mediums – your blog, press releases, facebook…

      I like the photos you have on Etsy, they are clean and well lit. Some have some really great angles. As I’ve said before, I’m no expert, but I think you have already got this product photo skill down!

      1. Thanks for your reply and compliments! I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but you’re right I should do both! I’ll think more about getting some different types of shots for my other photos and not worry about centering all of them. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before!

  2. Cool I inspired a post! Thanks for addressing my question. I had not really thought about applying the rule of thirds to product photos, in my mind I had assigned that sort of thing to landscape and art photography, but of course it applies across the board.
    I know my poor photography is holding my business back, I cannot get featured on blogs or juried sites with my pictures the way they are currently. I have read and experimented so much and I am just sick of it, so I have decided I need lessons. I am self taught in most things, but sometimes when you just cannot get it, it is time to pay a teacher.

    1. I agree. I sort of taught myself to sew, although my mom helped me a lot. About a year ago I wondered what I might be missing so I started taking lessons. I told my teacher to pretend I was a complete novice. Best. Decision. Ever. Not only have I expanded my list of techniques, I have also met a kindred spirit who expanded my horizons in many many ways outside of sewing.

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