Blog: How to Take Blog Photos: Lighting & Setup

February 14, 2013

PhotoSeriesHeaderLightingSetup

Today’s post is killing me. It’s not pretty…it’s all function. And if you know me, you know this is not how I roll. I like pretty and I’ll take pretty over purpose…every time. Sadly, pretty was not really an option for this post. It’s all about getting the information across. As I said last week, I am NOT a photographer. I get by on self-taught skills and tutorials that read on the web. The purpose of this series is to share my strategies for taking blog photos. I’m sure that there are plenty egregious mistakes that I’m making, but so far I’m pretty happy with how the blog photos come out.

Last week we talked all about the equipment I use when taking photos for Damask Love. Today, we’re moving to the next topic. So here we go…a non-photogs approach to lighting and setup.

Tons of photos today…so click through for the full post.

SettingUpMaterialsHeader

The photos I take for Damask Love are small in scale. I take photos of small cards and handmade projects, which means I can generally use a small defined area for photo shoots. This is great since I can keep all my materials in one place and I don’t have to spend a ton of money on large scale backdrops or props. I also have a lot of control of the lighting conditions. I can pretty much alter every element of the lighting situation, which is a great benefit.

CraftroomPhotographySetup There was a time when I had a light box. It was crap. I built it myself out of foam board and used utility lights to provide lighting. In the end it was just to small, too confining and generally not awesome. This sketch shows you the current setup I use in my craftroom. I guess you could say that the craftroom is one big lightbox, huh?  For a full photo tour of the craftroom, you can check out THIS blog post. I use my coffee table as my photo shoot table and I position it so that it faces the large window.  I’ve experimented with other arrangements, but this one works best. The light that comes in from the window is not terribly strong or direct, so it does not overwhelm my photos.

Craftroom-Photo-Set-Up-Photo

 

Since we live around a ton of tall buildings, sunlight comes in but it’s not strong. Even in daylight hours, I use a utility lamp to provide additional white light. I clamp it to the vertical blinds…not pretty, but very functional.

 

Materials for Blog Photo Setup | Damask Love Blog

Back when I used a lightbox, I was convinced that I needed a ton of supplies in order to take good photos. I thought I had to spend a bunch. $10.00 later, I’ve learned this is not true. Each one of my photo shoots  starts with a few basic (cheap!) supplies.

{FOAM BOARD} It’s lightweight and gives a clean white surface that is perfect for filling the photoshoot area with white light. It’s easy to store and if it gets messed up, it’s cheap to replace!

{PRESENTATION BOARD} Tri-fold cardboard is also super inexpensive. It’s another great tool for for filling the photoshoot area with bright light.

Beadboard Setup for Blog Photos | Damask Love

{BEAD BOARD} I purchased white bead board from Home Depot and use it as a background on most all of my photos. It’s a clean, classic background that doesn’t distract. It’s easy to clean and it’s lightweight. When shooting with a bead board background, I set up the area as shown above. The foam boards are placed at the sides at an angle. This simple set up gives great results.

UtilityLight

{UTILITY LAMPS} I use utility lamps throughout my crafting space. They cost about $7.00 each which is a bargain compared to pricey photography lighting equipment. The swivel neck of the lamp makes it easy to position wherever I need. In each of my utility lamps, I use 60 watt Daylight Compact Fluorescent bulbs by Ecosmart. They give off true white light and do a great job providing additional light for my photos.

FillingwithLightWhether I am shooting during the day or at night, using foam board in the set up makes a huge difference. The white boards allow the light to bounce onto the subject rather than being diffused throughout the room. In the way, the foam board contains the light and lets you make use of it in your photos.

Using Foam Core to Fill Photos with Light | Damask Love Blog

 

PHOTO STATS

Time: 8am (daylight) | Lens: 50mm f/1.8 | Aperture f/1.8 | Camera Setting: Aperture Priority (AV) Mode, Auto White Balance (AWB) | Additional Equipment: Canon 430EX Speedlite

Both of these photos are straight from the camera with no editing. You can see the huge difference you’ll get by simple adding white foam board to your set up. For $2.00, I’d say it’s worth it, right!?

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DSLR cameras offer a huge host of options…sadly, being the non-photog that I am, I don’t know about most of them. I have very limited knowledge of white balance or how to use it correctly…so I don’t. I leave my camera on the Auto White Balance (AWB), and I’ve been happy with the results. One days I’ll tackle white balance. But, that day is not today.

There are two settings that I do feel comfortable with:

Apeture&ShutterSpeedCameraSettings

{APERTURE} I typically shoot in Aperture Priority Mode (AV) on my camera. This setting lets me control the aperture without having to fuss with other settings like shutter speed. This setting works great for me during daylight hours, when I have plenty of natural light. Aperture refers to the opening of the lens. The size of the opening is measured in f-stops and is perhaps the least intuitive part of photography! Small number f-stops (e.g. f/1.8)  refer to large apertures or large openings of the lens. Large f-stops (e.g. f/11) refer to very small openings of the lens.

As you can imagine, the larger you open your lens, the more light that comes in. I almost exclusively shoot my photos on the largest aperture available on my lens (i.e. f/1.8 on my 50mm or f/2.8 on my 60mm macro lens).

Aperture is also great for controlling depth of field. Depth of field refers to how much of your entire photo is in focus. For the purpose of my blog photos, I prefer a shallow depth of field, with one portion in focus and a pretty, blurred background. Large apertures (i.e. small f-stop numbers) create shallow depths of field. As you decrease your aperture (i.e. increase your f-stop) more of your field will come into focus.

Aperture Comparisons | Damask Love Blog

PHOTO STATS

Time: 11pm; nighttime | Lens: 50mm f/1.8 | Camera Setting: Manual Mode (M), Auto White Balance (AWB) | Shutter Speed: 1/25 for left photo; 1/6 for right photo | Additional Equipment: Polaroid 72″ Tripod

In this example you can see the effect of aperture on your blog photos. With the larger aperture on the left, the background is blurred. On the right, the smaller aperture results in a deeper depth of field. You can see more details of the bead board and you can see the flowers much more clearly.

Another artifact of aperture is lighting, as you can see. The photo on the left is much brighter, while the one of the left is a bit more dim since the smaller aperture allowed less light in.

{SHUTTER SPEED} Occasionally, I work in Manual Mode (M) on my camera. This setting allows me to alter the aperture as well as the shutter speed. (You can also adjust ISO – but I have no clue about that setting, so I just ignore it!)  Shutter speed is way more intuitive than aperture.  I think of shutter speed like this: it’s the amount of time my camera sees the subject I’m photographing. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. The longer your shutter speed, the longer your camera “sees” your subject. Longer shutter speeds also allow for more light.

I typically switch to Manual mode at night when I’m taking photos without the benefit of natural sunlight. By decreasing my shutter speed – sometimes as slow as 1/6 seconds – the shutter is open longer and lets in more light. The downside is that with slower shutter speeds, I am tethered to my tripod. Even with my steady hand, the slightest movement will create blurry photos without use of a tripod.

ExternalFlashHeader

I use a Canon Speedlite external flash and it works wonders. Even during daylight hours, I use this tool to give me bright white photos. The external flash is especially useful when shooting in AV mode. It allows me the freedom to hold the camera rather than use the tripod – and still get beautiful photos.

FlashNoFlashExample

PHOTO STATS

Time: 8am daylight | Lens: 50mm f/1.8

This particular flash is a significant investment, so it may not be at the top of your list of things to buy. If you play around with your manual mode settings, you can achieve great results without the flash.

ManualvsAVModeComparison

PHOTO STATS

Time: 8am daylight | Lens: 50mm f/1.8

You can achieve comparable photos and get great lighting by using manual mode. Since I took these photos in the day, when natural light was available I did not need to slow down my shutter speed significantly while working in Manual. This meant that I didn’t need a tripod and could shoot by just holding the camera myself.

Alrighty, guys! That ends the second session of this series! If you have any questions, leave a comment and I’ll use my very best non-photog skills to answer it!

31 thoughts on “How to Take Blog Photos: Lighting & Setup”

  1. LOVE LOVE LOVED this post!! This is EXACTLY what I needed to read! I loved that you simply use presentation and foam board in your shoots! And you’re lighting is so simple and easy, but creates such a gorgeous look! Off the the office supply store to get some boards…..and a Canon rebel!
    GREAT POST AS USUAL!! Love seeing the behind-the-scenes look!

    1. YAY!! I am so happy you loved this post, Emily! It’s actually very helpful for me to write it all out so that I can remember what works! Sometimes I get lazy and just try to take quick photos without all the necessary supplies and the results are crap.

  2. Thank you for this tutorial! In the past few months I did many experiments myself. I now use my glass curtains for both background and reflection. But your foam board is worth trying as well!

  3. oh thank you so very much for this post Amber! I have such trouble taking photos of my cards…but I think I should buy some utility lamps and more foam boards and give it a try. Thanks! 🙂 Have a great day!

  4. Thank you so much Amber! I have been trying like forever to get good and consistent photos. This is such a great post I learned so much from it and am definitely buying that external flash! 🙂

  5. Thank you so much, Amber! This post was just what I needed to read…I’ve never used anything but ‘Auto’ settings on my camera (Canon Rebel XSi) because I found them confusing. I have a nice light box and foam board, so I’m going to spend some time playing around with my camera settings today…thanks again!

  6. wow, thanks so much for taking the time to post this. I really need to get on top of my blog photo’s more. Mostly I just photoshop them to be brighter, as I normally have to take pictures at night when the kids are in bed, but I definitely want to play around with a few of the techniques you mentioned 🙂

    1. Bee – I use Photoshop too! I’ll be doing a post at the end of the series about editing photos. I wish I could use my photos straight from the camera, but touching them up in photoshop makes a world of difference!

  7. Hi Amber,
    I tried several times to leave a comment on today’s post (2/15), and I can’t seem to get it to work 🙁
    I just wanted to thank you for a great series on the Fiskars Fuse Machine…it’s been a lot of fun watching you on your videos! I can’t wait to see the outakes video on Monday…sounds great!
    Thank you again…have a great weekend!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing your tips and techniques. I hope you continue doing more of these behind-the-scenes posts. There’s a lot to learn for both pros and neophytes like me?

  9. Thanks Amber! This is awesome. I have a few questions though…are these before and after photos touched up in photoshop? Also what do you use the presentation board for since you use the bead board for background? Sorry…I’m always looking to take better pictures and yours are pretty awesome =) thanks!

    1. So happy you asked these questions! So first – about the photos. None of the photos in this post have been touched up at all. They are all straight off the camera. Now, I do typically enhance all my photos in Photoshop before posting them. The final installment of these series will actually cover Editing photos and how to save them for web. Secondly – the presentation board is something I use if I am not using the bead board background. Occasionally, I use other backgrounds like fabric or paper. In those cases, I use the presentation board since it’s’ easier to set up and I can drape the fabric right over it to create the background. Hope this makes sense! Keep the questions comin’!!!

  10. Thank you so much for this tutorial. I just made my own small lightbox (using white paper and a Priority mail box) yesterday and noticed a difference in my photos. Loved the daylight one, but the one I took last night wasn’t as clear. Your post will help me go back and try again! I love the convenience of having something that I can use easily and doesn’t take up much space. Looking forward to staying connected with your blog.

  11. hey amber…i am late to the party here…story of my life! but i am loving your lessons. i am in need of upping the quality of my blog photos. jen from heidi swapp keeps pointing me to you…so i just wanted to say thank you…off to lesson #3.
    ~jamie

  12. Thank you SO much for these posts! I’ve had a nikond40 for so long and quit using it out of frustration! I was looking for something to show me how to take pictures for my blog and you have showed me so much more! I don’t have an external flash though, hopefully that won’t be a problem! Heading to the dollar store where they have foam boards!

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