A Short Course Book
Digital Desktop Studio Photography
The Complete Guide To Lighting and Photographing Small Objects with your Digital Camera

Thinking about Your Photograph

Before you begin arranging your setup for a photo shoot, you should think about what it is that you are trying to capture- the lighting is a means, not an end. The end is to have an image that is not only a descriptive record of what the object looks like, but one that's visually interesting. People should enjoy looking at it because it draws their attention. At the very least it should be professional and show craftsmanship.

The first thing to do when photographing a subject is to take a deep breath and tell yourself that patience will be its own reward. The goal is to get a good picture, no matter how long it takes. It's a lot quicker in the long run to get it right, then to have to do it over. And don't have that lurking thought that you can fix it in Photoshop. You may be able to save a bad image, but you can't really fix one or make it much better than it looked when you shotit.

Once you are in the right frame of mind, ask yourself what it is that you want to convey about the subject. One way to begin is to identify those characteristics of the subject that you want to feature or highlight. Most subjects will have one or more of the following characteristics to consider:
  • Translucence or transparency is a characteristic that lets light shine through. When photographing an object with this characteristic, such as glassware, minerals, or jewelry, you try to get a light behind it.
  • Reflectance is a characteristic where the subject has a shiny surface and reflects things around it. These kinds of subjects, such as silverware, need to be photographed so the reflections are picking up things that reveal modeling or otherwise enhance the subject.
  • Flatness is a characteristic where we think of the subject as having only two dimensions, length and width. These kinds of subjects, such as prints, maps or charts, need to be evenly lit.
  • Depth is a characteristic where an object is 3-dimensional—even if the depth is shallow as it would be on a fabric or coin— or deep as it would be on a machine. To photograph a subject having depth, the light needs to be uneven so shadows and highlights create an illusion of depth. Depth of field must also be considered so you capture all parts of the image as sharp as you want them.
  • Detail is a characteristic where part or all of the subject has fine details that need to be shown. If photographing used items you need to show damage or details such as interesting labels. One way to emphasize the details is to shoot close. Another way is to use lighting that brings it out.

    Once we have made some decisions about the object itself, we need to think about the setting in which we want to photograph it. The setting is essentially the background against which we place an item.

  • Backgrounds in many cases show nothing but a color or tone, or even the absence of these. Other items may look best when photographed in a context that invokes a mood. A piece of Navajo silver might look better on a piece of stone than on a white background. A pen may look best shot on an attractive desktop with leather bound books and rich wood surfaces in the scene. Think of ways to use surfaces, color, tones, and even reflectance to enhance the main subject.
  • Scale is sometimes important unless the object is one that's common and available in only one size. The best way to show scale is to include something else in the picture that has a commonly recognized size.

    Take the fact that you have no film costs, and can see your results immediately, as an invitation to experiment. Try moving lights and reflectors, experiment with diffusers and backgrounds. Your only limit is your imagination and willingness to try new things.

. It may surprise you how many famous photographers have set their exposure using instruction sheets packaged with the film. There is nothing embarrassing about your setting it by trial and error using the monitor.
. Be aware that your viewfinder or monitor may show only about 95% of the image area. There may be things in the edges of your pictures you didn't expect.

Scale is important. The large pin (top) shows sufficient detail, but gives no indication of size. When a dime is included in the picture, you immediately know how large the pin is.
. Keep ambient background light low so you control the lighting without interference or contamination from other light sources.
. Use the camera's AC adapter so you can leave it on continually.
. Turn the auto off setting off so the camera doesn't turn off every minute or so if you don't use the controls.
. Use the monitor to compose and evaluate your shots (if your camera lets you do so). However, don't rely on the monitor too much. It's very hard to judge sharpness, exposure, and color balance on such a small screen.

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