Friday, May 31, 2013

Finding Light in Your Home

You can find light in the oddest of places...You know the adage and I'm paraphrasing here, “sometimes you have to open the door to let a little light in?”  Well that is exactly what I did here.  I opened my front door.

My front porch/front hallway has great diffused light most of the day.  Unfortunately for me, however, it is a tad tight on space.  My shooting position was from the basement stairs.

My oldest assistant (my 6 year old who is on summer break) helped me in holding my DIY reflector, a piece of foam core from the dollar store.  I also used two more pieces of the same foam core to make the backdrop...cropping can hide a multitude of my front hall runner, oops!

The foam core can do double duty as both a reflector and a blocker of light, depending on the situation.  I've also seen photographers use any white reflective surface (a pillow, a white tshirt etc.) to get just a little more light on their subject. 

Photographs are all about light - highlights, midtones and shadows.  You can use the reflector or blocker to control how much or how little light accesses your item.

Sometimes we don't get to pick our ideal working conditions and if you can get good light, go with it, thus why I’m positioned myself as best as possible on my basement stairs.  That said, as precarious as it was, safety comes first.  Don’t put yourself in harms way just to get product shots.  Please be careful wherever you find to shoot!

Walk around your home, find a spot that you can use to shoot in.  Create a backdrop that suits your style and desired look.  Believe me, while I love the great outdoors, trying to find a cool place to shoot in July or a warm spot in January is always the preferred option!

With a little tweaking in post production, you can remove color casts, shadows etc. and tada!

Find your happy shooting place and practice!

Until next time!
 Karra from Islay Corners Photography

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Shootout at the Etsy Corral....a DSLR vs a Point & Shoot

Many folks don’t have super expensive DSLRs or lenses at their disposal so I thought I’d try an experiment.  

And in this corner....

I took my 60D (a mid range crop sensor DSLR from Canon) and it’s Tamron 18-270mm zoom. I choose this lens because chances are if you have a DSLR, you have a kit lens which most commonly are the 18-55mm or a 18-200mm. For the point an shoot, I matched it against my favorite little point and shoot, Panasonic’s TZ5.

My TZ5 is several years old and the 60D is about 3 years old so in terms of electronic lifespan, not new by any stretch.

Firstly, there will be always be a difference between a point and shoot and a DSLR. Aside from the obvious technical aspects like sensor size and interchangeable lenses, DSLRs generally are better. They can shoot better in lower light and have more options in terms of formats (RAW vs JPG).

Don’t get me wrong, you can get amazing point and shoots with more options but those are usually north of $500. That being said, some folks can make iphone pictures that rock so it’s all what you choose to use.

It may take a few attempts to get things right so if first you don’t get everything perfect, try try again.

The experiment....

For this experiment, I tried to take shots in both harsh, midday sun and more shaded, even light.

My biggest observation was I forgot how hard it was to hold my P&S shoot still while trying to compose a shot through the back screen, especially in bright light. I felt like my hands were giant and the buttons too small on my TZ5. I’ve been using the view finder on my 60D even since I got it so no matter how bright it is, I can easily compose my shot.

Believe me when I say it took a long time to get me on the DSLR train. I believed I didn’t need a DSLR and my point and shoot was just find but boy, I was wrong. Now, what I need my camera to do and what your average seller on Etsy needs it to do is vastly different.

Onto the results....

Let’s just say it took a few shots to get it right using my TZ5. I was able to straighten a few in PS when I cropped them down. I would suggest that wherever you set up your shooting area, you have a lot of area to move around and get comfortable so you aren’t playing Twister while trying to get your shot.

I used my tabletop set up consisting of something similar to this product. I then use a piece of bristol board cut to size for a seamless backdrop. Under normal circumstances, I know before I start I’m going to have some work in Photoshop to remove any hot spots, color casts, shadows etc.  For this experiment, I use my exposure compensation to try to lessen any blown out areas but they would still need some tweaking in post. 

Many Etsy sellers prefer white backgrounds for their products shots. Those do take more work that just snapping a shot in the right light. There are tools available to create the desired blown out backgrounds however, they can interfere with the edges of what you are shooting, in my humble opinion.

Personally, I’d rather do it by hand in PS/PSE/GIMP so I can control what the end result is rather than leaving up to a tool where I have little/next to no control.  To each their own, I guess.


I shot in both harsh afternoon light and shade out on my back deck on the best day we’ve had in weeks! Shooting in harsh midday light, you are liable to get shadows and color casts. If you shoot in shade, you get even light and next to no shadows but you may need to lighten it and in this cast remove color cast. These photos below are SOOC with the expection of fixing my less than straight shots.

You may notice the shadows in the harsh light and the color casts in both. The harsh sun provides a more accurate color than the shade, which has a bluish tint. Personally, I prefer even/diffused/shaded light rather than having to remove the shadows.  Even if I used the shade DSLR shot, it would still need to be lightened and sharpened a bit using some form of photo-editing software.

Analyzing the results...

Which one is better? Personally, I would choose the DSLR because it was easier for me to compose my shot. I know that I can shoot in RAW with my DSLR which affords me more options to fix white balance issues etc. There is a noticable band about 1/3 the way down on the P&S image that I don’t like. The light and color is more even on the DSLR side.

Should you care about things like the aforementioned band? I guess it’s up to you.

That being said, with practice, a point and shoot can be just as good. You will notice that not all my shots are dead on to the front of the image. Positioning yourself at the right angle will help create better detail etc.  This is where having a tripod helps. You can move it around much easier than getting up and down or contorting yourself while keeping the camera still to avoid camera shake which leads to blurring images. It also would help keep your angle consistent.

I was on a time crunch and had limited shade so I let this aspect slip. I am slapping my own hands!  I would have redone the shots but we've had nothing but overcast skies every day's been a strange spring.

I would highly suggest to use a tripod to allow for a stable shooting platform. You can get small ones at your local big box stores. You can get a more traditional one like this or a more transportable one like this one.

Let’s put all of this into perspective...

What are you doing with your end product image? You are uploading it to a website and it will be viewed be at a lower resolution. You don’t need your image to be super amazing tack sharp at a 100% crop as you would want if you were printing a 16x20 image.  

I would also add that the color that you see on your screen will most likely not match everyone else’s screen, especially with so many people viewing our shops on smart phones and tablets.

Whether you have a $1500 DSLR lens combo or a $200 P&S, you can make it look good. You may have to take a shot 5 times to get the way you want it to look, play with adding/taking away light or edit it more using editing software. Yes, its more work but if you can use that image to sell more product or sell it faster because your pictures are better and clearer than in that other seller’s shop, isn’t it worth it?

Once you get a feel for what you want your images to look like and a post process on how you need to edit it, the time taken is a lot if someone can suggest a way to make listing an item faster, let me know. I love the photographing and editing but the listing is the hardest part for me!

Until next time, take care and keep practicing!
Karra from Islay Corners Photography

Friday, May 10, 2013

Houston, We Have a Problem...Why Workflow and Backups are Important!

By Karra of IslayCorners

Okay, so since you have been practicing and reading your manual, it might be a good time to bring up file organization (i.e. a file structure, naming convention), workflow and backups.

I know I can hear folks saying "I'm just taking pictures, why do I need a file structure, naming convention, a backup strategy and a workflow? I'm an artist not a file clerk...."

Fair enough but as my high school principal put it quite simply "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."  This is your business and you have to do what you have to do for your business. You need to prepare today for what may come tomorrow.

The reality is that there are parts of our jobs as Etsy sellers that we love right? We love creating things and sharing them with our customers. But in order to sell our items, we need to show them off. And to do that, we need to take pictures and be able to access those pictures when we need them.

Additionally, we need to prepare for the day that our computer fails and we have to have it fixed. When computers go bad, there is always the chance that data will be irretrievable. Backing up your Etsy files is where emergency preparedness meets Etsy.

A Case for a Workflow/Naming Convention/File Structure & Backup Strategy 

Reason for a File Structure - You want to make sure you know where your original and edited files are located the next time you need them for a listing or promotional piece. The last thing you want to do is overwrite your edited copy of a file while you are trying out a new crop or edit style.

Reason for a Naming Convention - When you copy your images from your camera they are called something really descriptive like DSC_9876.jpg.

After you initially transfer your files from camera to PC, you should rename your files.  When you edit the image, you should save it with a new file name so you have an original and a edited file that is ready for Etsy.

Say I'm photographing a cardinal pendant - I understand CardPendOrig_FullShot1.jpg over DSC_9876.jpg.   Basically, your file names should have some relation to describe what it is (cardinal pendant), it's place in your workflow (original), and ideally the type of shot (full shot, group shot, size shot etc.)

These are just examples, name them something descriptive that you and anyone helping you will understand.  If need be, create a document with your workflow and naming conventions.  Laborious yes, but effective.

Reason for a Workflow - A workflow is a repeatable process.  This means that if you are shooting many products at once, there is a place for each file.   If you hire an employee or have  a friend help you out, you have a process in place that can be followed and repeated.  Things tend not to get lost if there is a process...just like when you create a product or package a sold item.

Reason for Backups - You want to make sure that if the day comes that your computer has a hiccup and won’t turn on, you should have a backup of ALL your files, not just your Etsy product pictures. It's just good business practice.

Believe me, there is nothing more frightening than starting up your computer and you get a blank screen that says “missing operating system” or you try to access a file on an external USB drive and that drive has ceased to function.

Been there, done all these things. Workflow and backups will help you in the long run.

Defining your workflow

Please don’t let the word workflow scare you. You need to determine how you want to work. You probably have a similar work flow to how you create your product. The only difference is you will be determining how you want to process your images.

At a very high level, look at how you want to process your files.

It may probably look like this:

1) Take photos

2) Copy files from camera (either via a connection cord or memory card) to computer and ideally rename them using a standard naming convention (i.e. RedCardinalPendant_SOOC_1.jpg)

3) Edit files

4) Save edited files with a naming convention (i.e. product name_workflowstage_shotnumber.jpg so for a White Flower Pendant that is the first shot in my listing and has been edited might look like this - whflowerpend_edited_shot1.jpg)

5) Backup files to a specific spot such as i.e. USB, backup drive or DVD - basically somewhere other than your C drive

In order to figure out this basic work flow, you need to know where you want to place your original straight out of the camera (SOOC) originals as well as your edited copies. Many cameras are shipped with transfer software or you can directly copy/paste from your camera using its USB cord or its memory card to another location using Windows Explorer or Mac equivalent.  But you already know how to do this because you read your manual....

Whatever your workflow is and wherever you choose to house your files, as a general rule of thumb it’s a) not on your C drive and b) it’s backed up off your computer onto a usb drive or usb drive and DVD or USB drive, DVD and USB thumbdrive in  a fire proof safe....There also are backup companies that you can use like Carbonite, BackBlaze etc. (please note these are not endorsements, just suggestions!)

So why can't I save things on my C drive? 

It is always recommended to not store any important documents on your C drive.     The reason being why a non C drive location is key is that if your operating system ceases to function etc., you will likely need to reinstall your operating system. Reinstalling the operating system means that everything on the C drive will be erased. Additionally, if your hard drive doesn’t work, you can’t retrieve anything before the drive is erased or replaced.

You can never have too many backups but those backups need to be organized and you need to keep track of them.

Take a step back, look at your situation

Now, if your head is swimming with all this info, take a step back. Look at the above example and try to think about how it can be applied to your situation. You need to figure out what works for your situation.

Until next time!