A few months ago I was teaching at one of my venues in Southwest Florida, and in comes a few students. Everyone gets settled and I do my introduction thing and then I hand it over to the students. I like to know what kind of camera they have, what they like to shoot and what they want to accomplish with their photography. Sitting right next to me was a very attentive person taking a bunch of notes. She introduced herself and the rest as they say is history. What do I mean by this? The reason why I like to do this kind of work is that I get to meet some very talented folks and I gel with most of my students. I was sitting next to Marta Eagle. She is quite an amazing jewelry designer. During her introduction she mention that she would like to take better photos of her jewelry for online use as well as any other promotional materials. As the classes went on, we had the opportunity to work one on one. Some of the issues that she was experiencing were what all folks go through when they try this at first. Her photos were blurry, too dark, or too light and too much contrast. She brought in a sample of one of her pieces so we could tackle this in class. When you are in a class, usually there is limited time and the instructor is being pulled in fifteen different directions. We were lucky, she was in a small class and the other students didn’t show up for some reason. I guess the photographer Gods were on our side. This allowed us to see what we could come up with. In about 30 minutes we were on to getting some nice photographs. To really nail this down, she invited me to her studio and we spent some additional time getting this right.
Most photographers will tell you that it’s all about light, and it is. Some folks that I know run out and buy a $8,000 camera and expect it to take professional shots. Well, this makes as much sense as someone like me doing brain surgery for the first time. I would be like that commercial where the brain surgeon is twilling with the patients brain to run his laptop to look up the best travel deal. What does this have to do with anything? It’s not always about the equipment. The equipment that was used for the following photos can be done with an entry-level point and shoot and some lighting from Home Depot if you understand the concept. Marta took these with her point and shoot and you would have thought these were taken with an expensive camera. So let’s take a look at the set up. Click on the diagram and photos to see the full size versions.
When working with a photography set, I prefer to work backwards to forwards. This doesn’t matter if is a tabletop set or sets that I have assembled in a 4,000 square foot warehouse. In the diagram above you will see there is a background stand. Since I didn’t bring my background stand, we decided to take some painters tape and tape a piece of black fabric to the wall and have it drape down on the table. Tape and fabric, everyone with me so far? Complicated, huh? Then Marta chopped some bamboo from her garden (this is amazing as well, she is a regular Martha Stewart, I’m telling ya.) to hold her jewelry wraps. I tried it first and it was then that apparently I wrapped it backwards. So, it’s best to let the artist do the wrapping! Once the wraps were all set on the bamboo, we put this in the middle of the table on the black fabric. Still with me so far?
It’s the next thing that helps sell the final photo it’s the lighting. Marta was fortunate enough to have some constant lights with shoot through umbrellas. If your saying, “Well that’s great Spence, HOW MUCH DO THESE COST???!!” I know who you are! Here’s what you can do, go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and get some of those clip on lights with the aluminum shade. You might have to spend ten bucks on this. Flip in an extra quarter for electric to run these little puppies. Clip the lights on to something near the workspace. This can be anything in your house, or better yet guilt your friends into helping you and have them be your lighting assistants. A case of ice cold beer doesn’t hurt here either, I’m JUST SAYIN’! For the umbrella part, you have two choices, you can call B&H and get the regular white shoot through umbrellas for less than $20 or have your beer drinking, light holding friend, hold a white sheet in front of the light. Sheets are cheap at Wally World (Walmart) you don’t need those Egyptian 1000 thread count sheets for this, go for the cheaper stuff.
Now it’s time to set up the camera. Here’s the biggest secret of the whole thing, use a tripod. If you are using a light point and shoot, go to Wally World (your there getting the sheets and beer anyway) and in the electronic department get a tripod for $20 bucks. For those of you who have a DSLR, don’t even try using this tripod. It won’t be able to take the weight. Call B&H and get a heavier tripod. Hey, you saved all this money with the lights and using your drunken friends as light and umbrella stands, the least you can do is by a tripod! Once the camera is on the tripod, turn it on and here is the other big secret, ready, are you sure? Use the camera’s self-timer. Every camera on the planet has this. Set the time for a five or ten second timer. Look at the back of the screen or through the viewfinder and make sure the camera is focused on the artwork. Push the button and let the camera count down and take the photo.
After the camera goes click, this is what should be on the back of the display.
Here is a note from Marta:
My wraps are currently being displayed at the 530 Burns Court Gallery in Sarasota. And I am doing a special one evening only trunk show for Creations Gallery in Punta Gorda during Gallery Walk night, Thursday, Feb 21, 2013.
So there you have it. Professional results with a point and shoot and great lighting. If you can get it 90% in the camera with the lighting and sharpness from the tripod and self-timer, you won’t have to spend hours in Photoshop fixing every little thing. Marta spends hours and hours on these pieces and with any artwork project you want to make sure that the potential buyer can see all of the work that went into the piece. Take a look at the photos and you can see all of the precious stones and little accent pieces that she used to make these come together.
So how much do we have invested? Fabric: $5, lights: $10, sheets: $5 or umbrellas: $20 x 2, tripod: $20 = About $40 to sell really impressive jewelry. Any of you who have taken my classes know the standing joke of “$99.00 Dollars”. Everything I pull out of my camera bag is $99, well this time I did it for less than half!
In all seriousness, you don’t have to have the best of the best camera equipment to get great results for your project. Once you understand how light works and you can see light, you have it made in the shade light. Here’s the best part, once you get this set up and working, you can shoot with the same results over and over again. If anyone tells you different, just tell them to, “Go point and shoot themselves!”
Until next time…
Keep Your Glass Clean