Photoshoot for Crocheting Webshop

Last week my daughter asked me to take some pictures of crocheting she makes and sells via her Etsy webshop, DC crochet Design. She was facing some shortcomings of smartphones to do product photography. So, yesterday I grabbed my equipment and turned one of our bedrooms into a small photo studio. I have done something similar before so the first steps were easy.

  • To put all the focus on the crocheting I used white paper as a background. I used the same equipment as for model shooting, only I used a more narrow roll of paper.
  • To avoid sharp shadows I used two compact flashes flashing from two different sides through white umbrellas (TTL-mode). 
  • To avoid incoming daylight I set the Exposure Time to 1/160th of a second.

This is the way it looked like.

Studio for product photography

As a camera I used my Nikon D800 and the Nikkor 28-300mm as a lens. I set the Commander Mode such that the two compact flashes on the side flashed and that the built-in flash did not.
During the shoot my daughter and I checked the pictures to make sure that things were working out the way we wanted it. Here are some of the challenges I was facing:

  • The white background is not white at all Compact flashes are of course not as powerful as studio flashes. I have only one studio flash, so I decided to use two almost identical compact flashes. In Lightroom it is very simple with the adjustment brush to increase the exposure to make sure that the white background is really white.
    White background puts focus on crocheting
  • Not the whole embroidery is sharp In most of the pictures the whole crocheting had the same distance from the camera. In this case f/8 suffices. However, I did not realise that the Depth of Field was pretty small. Afterwards, I calculated that at 115 mm and with f/8 or f/10 the DoF is only a few centimeters. Too small as you can see here. The bottom of the iPhone is not sharp.
    Too small DoF to get the whole crocheting sharp

    From this I learned that I have to shoot a bit further away, with a wider angle than 115mm (for example, 50mm, and crop later), and at least f/16 or f/22 (all increase DoF).
  • Colours are not identical to original I fiddled around a bit with the  temperature to match the colours of the original.
    Slightly lower temperature to get the right colour

So, next time I am better prepared.

My photo book project: Design

Looking for love and protection
Looking for protection and love

After selecting Blurb as a publication platform (see previous blog on this topic) and finding out that Blurb is quite well integrated in Adobe Lightroom 6 the next step is: how to tell the story I have in mind with my pictures.
Here are some of the challenges I am facing:

  • How to construct micro-stories that fit on one or two pages that fit in and contribute to the overall story of the complete album.
  • Which pictures to select, only top quality or also pictures of lesser quality to make the story more complete.
  • How to organize the layout of pictures and text per page or two facing pages.

The types of expertise I am looking for come from various areas: writing, photography, graphical design etc. It is not easy to find the right combination of expertise in one book or website. For example, if I look for page layouts of an album on the internet all the links point to websites about specific platforms and software tools, the many page layouts that are possible, courses for specific tools etc. That is not what I am looking for.
Information about the design aspect that brings all this together is not easy to find. So, my main challenge is:

How to translate the emotions that are attached to the story I want to tell into a graphical form such as an album. 

If you want to help me with this challenge, please send me pointers to books, websites, courses etc. Please help me out! In upcoming blogs I will share my next steps on this road.
Come to think of it, the same is of course true for single pictures: some are boring and some tell an interesting story. Look at the the picture at the top.

Be selective

City of Amersfoort, the Netherlands
City of Amersfoort, the Netherlands

Nowadays it is quite easy to make hundreds of pictures and put them on the internet. You can find these type of pictures everywhere and of course they have their purpose, however, with a little bit more effort it is quite easy to improve them.
When I started submitting pictures to Dreamstime I found out that half of my pictures were not good enough. Besides that some of them were of no interest as commercial stock, most of the refusals had some issues:

  • Poor composition Eyes are drawn to specific parts of a picture. There is the Rule of Thirds saying that the important objects in your pictures should be at the grid point of a 3-by-3 grid. From a visual point of view it makes the picture more pleasing and interesting. It has a lot to do with the way eyes wonder over the picture. For example, bright or dark spots on the edge will pull your eyes off the picture. Rule of Thirds is a good way to get started, however, there are also approaches based on visual mass and (circular) flow of your eyes. In a future blog I will come back to this (see also this blog).
  • Out of focus  This may be caused by several reasons. One is that if you are in a hurry you do not correctly focus on the object. Another one is that the depth-of-field (DOF) is too small causing some parts of important objects to be out of focus. If there is not enough light, do not open the lens, instead increase the ISO.
  • Incorrect lightning Parts of the picture might be over- or underexposed. For example, dark buildings and a very bright sky. This means that details have disappeared in the lighter or darker parts. If the dynamic range of your camera is large enough you may still correct this by lowering the Highlights and getting more lights in the Shadows. Otherwise, avoid these kind of situations.
  • Distorted pixels This term is used quite often in the Dreamstime community. The definition is given by examples. Distorted pixels do not exist in your camera, either a pixels works or not. Looking at the examples, the main reason is overprocessing the picture: too much sharpening., too much contrast. The algorithms are not always able to handle this resulting in blurred pixels in your pictures, or outliers as far as color is concerned.
  • Lens fringing When you enlarge the picture to 100% you may see purple or green lines on lines with high contrast. This is caused by the lens, which is sometimes not able to project light of different wave lengths to the right position. Lightroom has a simple way to remove this. Please always check at 100%.
  • Logos For Royalty Free pictures all logos and brand names have to be removed. It is also possible to submit as Editorial picture, the question is of course whether it is of any value as Editorial picture. Again, check at 100% because small logo on somebody’s watch is overseen quite easily.
  • Identifiable persons For Royalty Free pictures for all identifiable persons you need a Model Release Document, which provides information about the model and the fact that the model agrees that the pictures are sold.

Sacred grounds of Yungay and snow-capped Huascar‡n during sunset, Peru
Sacred grounds of Yungay and snow-capped Huascar‡n during sunset, Peru

Nowadays I am more aware of the above issues. I have learnt quite a lot from the refusals. I hope you will do the same.  At the same time, I do not always agree with the editors. Above and on the left two of my recent refusals (poor composition). Dreamstime has the advantage to ask for a second opinion. This past year my acceptance rate is well above 90%. Please enjoy all my pictures at Dreamstime.
Stock Images

How about your background?

Vakantie Peru
Sometimes you see pictures where the background dominates the subject of the picture. The eyes are pulled away from the subject to the background. The subject does not get the attention we had in mind.
Often we focus too much on the subject and completely forget about the background. Later, when we look at the picture we are disappointed because it does not express the feeling we had when we took the picture. Somehow  it has become a mediocre pictures because the background was ignored. Here I will describe a couple of these cases.
Subject is too dark and the background too bright This happens quite often using matrix metering. Because of the bright background  the exposure in Automatic mode is reduced resulting in an under-exposed subject. Remedies are: get closer to the subject to reduce the size of the background or use a fill-in flash to better expose the subject.
Subject is small and in front of a busy background Due to the size of the subject it might be completely lost against a busy background. Remedy: look for a more quiet background.
The background is too strongly connected to the subject Keep in mind that a picture is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world, so it consists of shapes of similar color or similar texture. Imagine a person with a red shirt leaning against a red car. In this case, the shirt and the car may form one shape in the picture, distracting our eyes from the person. Another example is a lantern pole coming out of somebody’s head. Remedy: try to avoid unwanted connections between shapes in the background and the subject by using different colors, different compositions, or different positions.
So, the remedy is very simple. When you look through the view finder of the camera ALSO look at the background.
Vakantie Peru

Flow in your picture

Have you ever observed what your eyes are doing while looking at a picture? Do you observe a difference between looking at interesting and boring pictures?
A picture is nothing more than a flat representation of the 3D world in which no objects exist. It is pure colors, textures, shapes, and lines. So, the question is “what is a good composition that makes a picture attractive?” There is of course no simple answer, otherwise everybody would shoot perfect pictures all the time.
Bruce Percy wrote a nice book about that: Simplifying Composition, in which he explains how the eyes flow over a picture. Most people when they look at a picture they start between the bottom and the middle left and  then explore the rest of the picture. It turns out that lines in the pictures may lead the eyes to different parts of the picture. Have a look at the picture below.
Museum road through rebuilt RoombeekWhat in reality is a road is in the picture a line which takes my eyes from bottom left along the diagonal line to the middle right of the pictures; after that my eyes come back via the repetitive vertical lines (the trees on the left of the road) to the contrasting colors. Finally, my eyes travel again along the repetition of the vertical lines (the trees on the right of the road). This may repeat itself a couple of time, every time discovering more details. This makes a picture interesting.
Lines can be as simple a road, a horizon, a cloud formation, however, they can also be imaginary lines between areas with similar shapes or similar color, or a repetition in texture or shape. Of course, most of the time the lines are not straight, they are curves in various shapes. S-curves cause a strong pull. Think of an S-curve of a river.
Next time before taking a picture have a look at how your eyes flow over  the scene to see how interesting it is. Maybe a different position or angle will improve it.