Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to take photos like a pro (for only $2!)

Alright, confession time.  I am nowhere close to being a professional photographer.  (Obviously.)  And I don't have a nice, big, fancy camera.  I just have a cheap little point and shoot.  And, no, I haven't figure out how to use any of the special features yet.  Flash or no flash.  That's about the extent of my great camera settings knowledge.

But.  I do have a fair bit of amateur experience.  And I've spent a fair amount of time fooling around with photography settings (physical settings like backdrops, not settings on the camera).  And my amateur experience and any "take photos like a pro" how-to out there will tell tell you these same two things.

  1. Clear your background
  2. Use natural light
Want to know a quick and easy way to do both?  For only $2?  Read more after the jump!

Clear Your Background

The difference between a photograph with a cluttered, messy background and a clean, clear background is huge.  We naturally turn up our noses at cluttered backgrounds.  They're just not very satisfying to look at.  So while you know I'm all for keeping it real, I try to keep my photographs as clean as possible.  Especially when taking tutorial pictures and photos to showcase the things in my Etsy shop.

There are all kinds of expensive do-dads you can buy to create clean backdrops for your photos, but the thing I use to clean up the back drop in a lot of my photos are just two basic white foam boards.

The Dollar Tree (dollar store) near our house sells large pieces of foam board (see above photo) for $1.00 a piece.  A while ago I bought one and then when I took pictures I'd always lay the thing I was photographing down on top of the white board.  But that often created a lot of shadows.  And it didn't work for everything.  So about a week ago I splurged (I know!  A whole other dollar!) and bought another one.  Now I have a great backdrop to go under and behind the things I'm photographing.  This keeps the background clean and keeps the focus on the object of the photo.

Goodbye house clutter, hello clean photographs.

Use Natural Light
Any photographer who's handing out free tips will start by telling you to pay attention to your lighting.  And usually what they tell you to capture is "natural light."  What's that?  It's light that comes from the sun.  (Naturally!)  And the best/easiest kind of natural light to take good photographs in is diffused natural light.  Basically this just means sunlight that's filtered by something else.

Here's an example.  When we lived in Utah we had this concrete balcony that was great for taking photographs.  We got a lot of great sunlight on our balcony, but the overhang above it created just the right amount of shade.  (And the concrete floor was a perfect neutral background!  That's probably the thing I miss most about that apartment.)

Probably about 90% of the photos that appeared on this blog (until last summer when we moved) were taken right there on the ground in front of the balcony door.  Usually when I took photographs out there there was a stark line with shade on one side and bright sunlight on the other.  Whenever possible, I tried to place the item I was photographing just inside the shade so it was close to all that bright, natural sunlight.  Too far in the shade and the photos would be too dark.  But positioning things close to that line let me catch the natural light and still be in the safe non-glare zone.

Using that simple method gave me photos like the one above.

Pretty, pretty.

And so, so easy.  If you have a nice pretty, plain, concrete surface like this at home I am so jealous.  The concrete on our patio and front step now is just too busy for taking photos on.

See what I mean?

It's not the worst photo I've ever taken (haha--not by a long shot), but it's still busier than I'd like it to be.  Hence, my love of the $1.00 white foam boards.

So when I use my white boards, instead of taking pictures in the shade outside, I use the natural light that comes in through the window on our sliding glass door.  To do that, I turn the boards toward the window to catch as much of that good light as I can.  

There's a small overhang just outside our door, so the light that comes in through that window/sliding door is usually pretty well diffused, even if it's bright and sunny outside.  Although if it's too bright or too dark/overcast outside, sometimes that means I just have to wait for a day with better light.

And then I can get clean photos like these:

Of course, even when you're working with a clear backdrop like foam boards, you'll still need to be careful to keep the frame of your photo from reaching beyond the edge of the foam boards.

When I took photos like the one above, the open book was so wide that it was almost the same length across as the foam board.  That meant I had to get closer to the object (the book) to make sure our wood floors and all the clutter beyond the white board didn't peek in through the corners of the photo.

White on White
And here's a little bonus note about photographing white things on a white background.  Because, trust me, it can be tricky.  So if white foam boards are your go-to backdrop, here's a simple way to make them work and still get great photos.

Earlier today I needed to snap some pictures of these adorable little white baby moccasins.  I had tried photographing them a couple months ago, but the pictures just weren't right and I got discouraged.

Finally today I gave it another go, making use of this great book I've had since I was a kid.  With the book's dust cover long gone, the plain dark blue book cover was just right for pairing with these classic little shoes. And because I didn't feel like the title of the book really matched the overall feel of the photos, I just turned the book around so the spine wasn't visible.  Simple and easy.

And, of course, a bit of red nail polish is always a good idea too.

Wrap Up

Well, I feel like these photography tips were a little all over the place, but hopefully they'll be helpful for some of you budding photographers out there!  We're all capable of taking great photos.  Sometimes we just need a little help getting them set up.  At least, that's what I think.

Also, just FYI, I didn't edit any of the photos in this post because I wanted to give an accurate idea of what my photos look like straight off the camera without any editing tricks.  But I think an upcoming post about the editing and collage software/websites I use is in order.  I'm always hesitant to post photography tips since I am so much of a novice myself, but maybe I'll try and share more of how I do my photos in the future.  You know, amateur to amateur.  ;)

Do you have any great cheap, easy, go-to photography tips?

P.S. Aside from sharing some easy photography tips, this post is also my way of shamelessly advertising that...I am now carrying some fun vintage items in my shop!  All of the things in this post are available for sale in the shop.  Woot woot!

(And all but the blue buttons and the lace zipper pouch are vintage.)  I'm loving collecting vintage things and (though it's hard to let these pretty things go) I'm so happy to be able to share them with you in my shop now.  I'll be sure to let you know when I add more fun vintage items as they come available!

Hooray for pretty (and functional!) vintage goodies!

1 comment:

Mrs. Kelley Dibble said...

I can turn my camera knobs to M, A, and the gold camera and the green camera. Ta-da! That's it. I don't know what Aperture really means; I do like what these different settings do though.

And light has helped me see its benefits on my photos. (OFF the flash!) I'm by no means perfect but my photos have greatly improved as a result of reading posts like this one THANK YOU!

Honestly, I thought you were going to highlight a reflecting screen. I AM going to be investing in one of those soon, or making my own. I saw on a blog recently where a plain white pillowcase was used to reflect natural light. The result was spectacular. That whole subject is eye-opening.

Enjoy your blog!
Kelley of Kelley Highway