Photography Tutorial/FAQ Part II

Part One of this tutorial explained how I set up my space ready for taking my photographs, so now I am going to move on to how I set up my camera and actually take my photographs. This post will deal mostly with camera settings, so if you are not familiar with the menu system of your camera, or if a feature isn’t immediately apparent on your camera, it might be worthwhile consulting your instruction manual. It’s worthwhile pointing out here that not all digital cameras are going to have the features that I use, but my camera is pretty old, was very inexpensive, and the same features are found on my mobile phone camera. All cameras I have used have these same functions, so chances are good that yours will, too.

Ok, so firstly you are going to want to position your camera so that the whole frame is filled with the white of your backdrop. Ensure that no shadows from surrounding objects/curtains/wandering pets are finding their way onto the backdrop and position the item to be photographed within the frame of the viewfinder.

Often that means that the objects are going to be quite close to the lens, so the macro (closeup) button is your best friend here. Most people will probably know where that is, but just in case you didn’t read your camera manual at all it usually looks like a little tulip. If you press this it will allow your camera to focus better at close ranges. Some cameras have a function that allows you to press it an extra time, giving you a super close-up mode, but for most subjects just normal macro mode will do.

The next thing to do is to set the white balance of your camera. If you have never done this before, you might find this very handy. The white balance controls how the camera ‘sees’ the colour white, and it stops your camera from giving your pictures a blue/red/yellow tinge, depending on the lighting conditions. In short, it should keep the colours neutral and true. The white balance controls are often hidden somewhere in the menus of your camera, so you might have to search to find them. One point to keep in mind here is that some cameras will not let you access the white balance controls if your camera is set to ‘auto’ mode. Switch your camera to the ‘P’ (program) mode if this is the case. Once you have found the white balance mode you set the new white balance by aiming your camera at something white that exists in the same lighting conditions as the object you are shooting. Luckily you have a big sheet of white card in front of you in the correct position, so point your camera at the card and make sure that it is only the white card that you can see through the viewfinder, and press the shutter button. The white balance should now be set.

Now would be a good moment to take a few shots of your item. I always say you should take loads as there are always some duds. If you don’t have a very steady hand then a tripod could come in useful. Or, if you are a cheapskate/lazy like me, a pile of books or something similar will suffice.

OK, before you rush of to your PC with your new photos, there’s one more thing you should try – altering the brightness. Even with all of the above steps, some of my photographs appear ‘dull’ once in a while, and the backdrop is a pale grey rather than brilliant white. To counteract this you can have a play with you camera’s brightness settings to improve the pictures.

Again, cameras vary, but my brightness control button looks like the picture on the left. When pushed it brings up a little slide control which, by using the left and right arrow buttons, allows you to control the brightness of the shot. To get the best out of this feature it really needs to be experimented with. I’d suggest doing what I did and grabbing a pen and paper and noting the file numbers of the photographs as you take them, taking three or four shots with each level of brightness you turn your camera up. When you later view these pictures on your computer you will be able to see what level of brightness is about right for your photographs.

And that’s about it! The more you explore and experiment with the positioning of your backdrop and the brightness/contrast settings, the more likely you are to get a pure white background. Before long finding the right settings becomes second nature.

If your camera just won’t play ball, though, or doesn’t have the required settings, there is another option – as long as you have access to some photo manipulating software along the lines of Photoshop. I always think it is a good idea to get a good, clear photograph without having to use photoshop to improve things, but when you are in a hurry, or there are dark, dull skies overhead, a little photographic wizardry can save you having to put our photoshoot off until another day.

I’ll explain this second option in the third and final part of this tutorial.