Arts & Crafts Magazine

Product Photography: Setting the Stage

By Alison_wood @midnight_eden
Product Photography: Setting the Stage

"... - so what you want is what I did with the photography blog I did in September, but with arts and crafts in it. I don't know anything about arts and crafts."

"Did you know anything about supercomputers?"

"Well... no, I didn't; I have a computer at home and no party balloons or coloring pencils."

"I really think it would be a good continuation. I got myself a DSLR because of your blog."

"Err... really? Hey, that's nice. Look, I have no interest in art and crafts. I didn't know you were putting that blog on here; I thought it was the other one you had. You really bought yourself a DSLR?"

"Yes. If you do it, I'll give you all the party balloons and colored pencils you could ever want and maybe a little something extra to get you through Christmas."

I think this over for a moment.

"I'm on it."

"Could you do it in 1,500 words this time."

"I - 'm... I'm on it."

Set Sail

This is easy money. Arts and crafts is like pieces of paper, some string and a pair of scissors and all I have to do is set the stage for photography.

An urgent call to the local doctor to ask if the amount of blood on the carpet exceeds the last stain I left there - where I dropped a tomato pizza face-down - places me in any danger. I don't like scissors and I wouldn't carry them with me for any reason that I can think of. They're in a drawer and nobody wants them or the thick piece of card that was difficult to operate.

A Little Background

I've done a day's worth of research looking at Arts and Crafts websites - sewing, crochet, knitting, stuffed toys and homemade natural ingredients. Most of it is done either with a mobile device or they have a DSLR camera and aren't using it right. They're colorless and bland and a lot of them have a background that look like a scene from one of the trenches during WWI; seeing them is like hearing Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey say, "War has a way of distinguishing between the things that matter and the things that don't."

If you have a product you're trying to sell, you have to put it to a portrait of perfect light and color. Women's magazines are not popular because the readership can't see themselves in the pages - they're popular because they're beautiful to look at; they inspire. It is no trick of the readership's making, for which they are placing themselves.

My point is, to want anything you can't avoid a subtlety like that; to make things more than they actually are. Like I said, it's not a trick - it's inspiration; desire, even.

Where does this inspiration and desire come from. Well, I'll tell you where it comes from.

Product Photography: Setting the Stage

It starts with a background.

The Color Background

A studio environment is a setting where - depending on what it is you want a photo of - everything that could be, can be. It's placing imperfection in a perfect box. If you're taking a photo without this understanding, that's why you're sort of floating out there with what it is you're trying to get across. It's not that you chose to; it's because you can't see something when your mindset gets in the way.

Photographing and capturing something should be something not unlike your imagination. You've created something by your own hand and now you set out to disguise the creation that was perfect in your mind; as if it's good enough to let a fish flop about on the ground because it's bound to fall into water at some point.

DSLRs need something that you would never think of because they just do one thing; they take a picture. But, because of our Digital Age, DSLRs take a sample of what it is before you hit the button and then re-sample it thousands of times every second before the 'click'. The slightest change in the environment and they will adjust to it. Therefore, we need to control this, and to do that you need a background of one solid color - so any light reaching it bounces back to the DSLR's sensor so that it can accurately determine what is in front of it and create a color balance that's balanced and consistent throughout

The color should be a primary. Red, Green or Blue; you can use other colors, though you need to think about whether an orange bottle would look good with a blue background. Black would be better in this case, but not blue. I'm not saying you shouldn't; I'm saying there are limitations. The DSLR's sensor will 'white balance' primary colors so that you will have that color affecting other colors, but they'll blend fine in most cases - especially if you're saving these images to .RAW.

Playing Cards

Trying this out for myself - I haven't done this since before today - you'll need colored card paper that's fairly stiff and will hold up without bending if you place them upright or stick them together or against a surface. You can get them in packs with a lot of colors along with primaries.

You're going to be stuck with square colored card paper, so cut around them and make shapes - shapes that fit into spaces or shapes that give the shot a theme; and at the same time avoiding any fingers getting near the cutting 'V' section of the scissor so as to slice into them in the most unpleasant sensation of being cut I've ever experienced.

Product Photography: Setting the Stage

From there, you can get a white box that look like miniature tents in white that allow any light passing through them, to diffuse. Basically, it means any source of light directed outside of it will reach the inside, where the product is, and stop the light from 'pointing' on edges or curved surfaces - it will look soft and it will take on the characteristics of a single color of white; any other color from the outside won't affect the diffusion all that much. Inside of that, you place the colored card paper on the bottom surface where you would then place the product on top. The background doesn't also need the top or the sides of the box to have color - you need that light to get through from the top and the sides. You're taking a shot from a forward point of view, so the background color is all you need.

You can be sitting down at a dinner table doing this. It's very relaxing.

Hand in Hand

I know what you're going to say: "Where is this white light coming from."

You can go really cheap with this. A single White LED torch with 400 Lumens would probably be OK, with its light pointing down from the top of the white box; as long as the product is a bottle of shampoo or something. If it's the size of a pumpkin, you'd need to double the Lumens - so have two White LED torches either side of the white box (and not the top). You could have a third at the top of the white box, but I'm not sure how you'd suspend it over the top. If the White LED torch has a ring attached to its end, you can loop a piece of string around that and then hang it, with a tied knot, from an overhead chandelier.

Product Photography: Setting the Stage

This arrangement means we can both handhold the DSLR and use automatic settings, if you really want to. If you know what you're doing, go manual and look through that viewfinder and proactively manual focus and get the different points of focus on the product - this can be a lot of fun. You're at a dinner table; you'll be eating an apple turnover while doing this.

Which brings me to another point. You could put the product on a little rotating platform or disc as - when you want to take different shots of each side of the product - it's always in the right place. You don't want too much deviation between shots; which means less time spent in post-editing. You probably won't need this if you turn it around consistently and appreciate stop-motion.

If you get bored - and you really have a chandelier hanging over a dinner table - point all the White LED torches you've got at it and have a party around the dining room table.

One Stage at a Time

I didn't get this next idea from thinking about it - I got it from a blogger artist known as 'Lady Lucas' who has a lot of tutorials on Art of Crafts here.

Cut-out shapes from colored paper isn't enough unless you're best friends with scissors. I need something organic and close by; I typed in 'garden' in Art of Crafts search and right there at the top was my inspiration.

Go to your garden center or your kitchen draw; there's probably planting seeds in there. You've probably got flowers and moss in your own garden. Pull those out of the ground, cut them and then stick them in the white box, on top of the colored paper. Sprinkle bits of moss and flower seeds on the colored paper with your organic products in there and your knitted animals.

Product Photography: Setting the Stage

So get on with all this Art and Crafts that artistic people do that I'm not great at while I hit 1,500 words.


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