Saturday, January 19, 2008

Picture Perfect! (That one's for Amy -- the one-size-fits-all overline)

NOTE: I have since come to the realization (thanks to T-Shirt Face) that I probably should have the umbrellas turned the other way, with the light reflecting off of them. If that's the case, boy do I feel dumb.

I sell stuff online (here). One of the key issues with selling online is that you must have good pictures. Customers can't see your items in person. They can't feel them or examine them. You must entice them to consider your products through photos alone -- often a thumbnail, at that.

It's really hard to get good lighting and a good background indoors. You may think it's bright enough, but it's not. And your flash will just make shadows. You know when you visit a Web site and the items look like they're floating on a white background? Well, that's not easy to accomplish.

I usually photograph outdoors because the sun's light is very flattering and true to color. I also like the nature background. There are several problems, though, that come with photographing outside:
1. You're at the mercy of the weather. If it's rainy or snowy or windy or too overcast, you can't shoot.
2. The background gets drab in the winter. The vivid grass is a dull brown. The full trees are bare.
3. Where the sun is in the sky makes a difference. When it's directly overhead, it casts shadows. If it's too low, it can be too red and bright, glaring off the items.

From Thanksgiving through much of December it was unusually overcast for New Mexico. This made my photos dark. Then it got extremely cold - and windy. In the spring, it will warm up but we'll have the typical New Mexico spring winds for a while. This leaves me only about half of the year when I can depend on good weather.

Which brings me to the point of my post: how to shoot inside?
I decided to attempt a very low-cost photo studio. It would have to be something I can take down between uses and set up easily. It would have to involve a white background that would look smooth, yet fold up small and not crease for the next use. It would require good lighting, but not something that would make shadows. Most of all, it would have to be cheap. Really cheap.

First I considered a white vinyl shower curtain liner for my backdrop. I was a bit unsure how to hang it or where. I would want it to also drape down to serve as the bottom of the photo site. I bought one and opened it up, and of course it was full of creases. I steamed and steamed it, and some creases came out. But then I had a better idea: A window shade. They roll up -- no creases and compact! I bumped into a woman on etsy who was selling her two barely used photography umbrellas. They are tiny -- perfect size for me and $10 for both. Once upon a time, my dad gave me a clip on lamp with heat bulb for my pets, but I never used it. I got a regular bulb and another clip light. But how to attach the umbrellas?

I decided to give it a try by draping the shade from the entertainment center. I clipped the lamps nearby and set the umbrellas between them and the "set."

I had read not to use the flash of my camera, but here is what I got without it:

and here is with the flash:

So, obviously my lighting is insufficient. The bulbs aren't bright enough, the umbrellas are dimming them too much, and there are still shadows.

I ended up using my photo editing software to brighten the back, but it almost looks fake.


I'm afraid that my story doesn't have a happy ending. I am not sure what to do. I need MORE LIGHT. I need to know where to position the lights. If anyone has tips, please comment!

1 comment:

T-shirt Face said...

You need much more light, and what amounts to 5500 deg Kelvin color temperature light. Something like these bulbs: