Perfect Photos: It doesn't have to be fancy

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Original Post

bomobob says

Perfect photos: It doesn’t have to be fancy

OK, so you remember the “Lightbox Shmightbox” post, right? A piece of Bristol board and a 13W Ott bulb. Not very fancy be product photography standards. Oh yeah, ‘cept for the stairway with two windows.

So here’s the thing: You live in a cave, you have no natural light, your apartment is so tiny that the fridge is next to the bed, so forget about a space for taking pictures. Luckily, there’s electricity in your cave.

All systems are GO!

Many of you wrote me and said what you really needed was a dead simple step-by-step guide to getting even just one really good photo with the most basic setup possible. And for many, even a tripod is out of reach, as is a camera with anything but the most basic functions. Even crappier than my infamous crappy camera? Yes, even crappier.

Here we go…

1 desk
1 desk lamp with 13W Ott bulb screwed in
1 teal t-shirt
1 approx. 2” thick book (fiction or non-fiction, your choice)

I chose a teal t-shirt rather than a piece of Bristol board for only one reason. OK, two reasons, but one of them is that it’s the only clean one I could find. But the real reason is that a white background tends to fool your camera’s exposure system. It sees lots of white and it tries to underexpose, to make the white neutral. If you have “exposure compensation” on your camera, you can crank the exposure back up a bit, but what if you don’t? The solution is to use a background that’s “grey” (just think in black and white for a second), and if you imagine a teal t-shirt in a B&W photo, it would be grey.

So I draped the t-shirt across my desk and up over my scanner to give it a slope. I then went and found something old and grotty to shoot, this being a little tarnished pewter scent bottle. I placed the bottle on the t-shirt, pointed the lamp at the bottle, and put the book in front of the bottle. I then set the very crappy camera on “Daylight” white balance for the Ott bulb, set it on macro, set it to the lowest possible ISO, turned on the self-timer, then placed the camera at the edge of the book at just the right height to take a picture of the bottle.

This is what I got:

No fiddling, no fancy controls, no at all editing except for cropping. Notice how we don’t get that awful grey gradient that we so often see with a white background. It doesn’t get any simpler than this.
All I did was frame the shot, push the shutter, and let go of the camera so it wouldn’t move. The timer beeped down, the shutter clicked, and that’s it.

There’s only one thing you need to know about for this kind of shot, and that is how close you can focus on your macro setting. Some camera beep when they’re focused correctly, and some flash a little green light, but there are a few that just shoot without telling you if they’re focused or not.

Let’s put the camera right on the desk in front of the bottle to get some detail.

Don’t be afraid to get in really close if you want to show detail, and if your camera allows it, of course.

Let’s get right in and see the maker’s mark on the bottom:

As long as you camera can sit on a flat surface at the right height, you can just use the self-timer without requiring a tripod. Too high? Use a thinner book like I did for this one:

Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal to show details of stones that you use:

You CAN take pictures like this, and you don’t need anything fancy to do it. Just a clean t-shirt…

Posted at 11:40am Aug 16, 2010 EDT


naomicayne says

Thank you Bob for your infinite wisdom. I do live in a cave and this will be helpful.

Posted at 11:42am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

Thank you. Can't wait to try it.

Posted at 11:45am Aug 16, 2010 EDT


I think it's just easier if I pay for your airfare to come over and do my photos for me. :/

Posted at 11:45am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

bomobob says

KreatedbyKarina said:

I think it's just easier if I pay for your airfare to come over and do my photos for me. :/

Only if you let me have some of your Chex.

Posted at 11:46am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

Jennizart says

This is an EXCELLENT tip! :) Thanks!!

Posted at 11:47am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

thanks bomobob!...and you just described my apartment to a t- add to that a giant playard and toys everywhere and it's the same!

Posted at 11:48am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

Feille says

But what if I want white? Not glaring, just regular?
<--------iso 1000, lol!

Posted at 11:49am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

That's surprising that you can get such a good pic with just a 13w Ott light. I have a couple of higher watt Otts, but I haven't really used them much yet because I have a good source of daylight. But will have to use them in the winter.
Thanks Bob.

Posted at 11:49am Aug 16, 2010 EDT

ReaganJuel says

Yep so marking. My pics need so much work.

Posted at 11:50am Aug 16, 2010 EDT