I’m wondering if I’m overselling myself with the title of this post. I don’t think so. After all, I’ve spent the better part of the last month working on understanding basic photography concepts. My camera is indeed a fancy Nikon DSLR. And the photos that I’m taking will be published in a print and online book about making wire wrap jewelry with beads, so they will have to be ‘like’ professional photographs. Now that I’ve overanalyzed the title, let’s get to the intent of this post…Just capturing what I’ve figured out so far in case it helps anyone else AND so I know where I’m at currently as I strive to improve.
First, I have to confess – I miss using my I-Phone. The convenience factor of using a phone for pictures and video cannot be understated. I did have to push the button with my nose sometimes – but I had mastered it. And there probably were other options, my nose was just convenient. Anyway, now I use a remote and the camera is set to a 2 second delay. It’s not enough time to get my hands into position sometimes.
For your appreciation of how far I’ve come – I previously took my pictures and videos outdoors or inside near a window – with natural light. It’s been fine, I live in Southern California so there’s rarely days that I can’t take pictures if I want.
Now, I own a set of four tabletop photography lights – two sets of these LINCO Photo Table Top Studio Lighting Kits. I’m not 100% sold on my decision to do tabletop lights, but I am making them work on my dining room table. It’s a large table and I still have problems with the stands falling off when I’m moving things around. The stands are very sturdy, however, and I think these are a nice quality light setup for the money. It would probably be better if I wasn’t trying to keep my photography area on one side of the table and computer workspace on the other end.
I’ve got three lights roughly at noon, 2:00 and 10:00, all with diffuser bonnets and the fourth light on a chair at 7:00, no diffuser. I had to upgrade the bulbs that came with the kit since they could not provide enough light. The lightbulbs I am using are 100 watt, 500 kelvin, 1490 lumens. The lumens is the brightness, kelvin is the color of the bulbs – warm vs. cool. 500 is a little on the cool side. The original bulbs the lights came with were 60 watt, 800 lumens and also 500k. The new ones are noticeably brighter although I think that I could amp them up another notch. It’s a big room with a high ceiling and I think that might be a factor. That’s why I set up a small lightbox within the area to contain and reflect the light.
The ‘lightbox’ is white poster board. A full sheet in the middle and half sheets taped on the sides so it is like a trifold. It reflects the light back nicely. I also wear white shirts when I take photos to avoid absorbing light – although that’s probably overkill. I turn off all the other lights in the room and the east facing window in the picture provides diffuse natural light. I can’t take pictures in the morning because the light is direct from that window.
The front two legs of the camera tripod are on the table I sit in the middle under the tripod on a stool from Ikea. Love the stools too – they double as tables and stack so I have a bunch of them. Anyway, for this I’m sure there are other solutions. The third leg of the tripod sits on another taller stool behind where I sit. Seems precarious, and it is a little bit – but it gives overhead shots and that’s the angle I like. There is enough room for me to sit comfortably and the angle of my camera doesn’t get my head, hair or body in the shots. I wish the picture had included the camera, but I’ll try to get a shot next time I set up.
The table is covered in gray paper since that is the preferred background from the publisher. I didn’t like it at first since I’ve always preferred beige, but it’s growing on me. I use Fadeless Bulletin Board Paper, 48” x 50’in Pewter. I love this paper and have it in white, tan, pink and gray. It’s nice and thick, good consistent color, and the rolls last a long, long time. I have always used this type of paper to cover my work tables.
The cat is either under the table or on the table – because where else would the floof be? BTW, if you think she’s cute, she’s really the worst. Cute with a great purr, but hates to be cuddled. The worst combination. You can see what I mean about the morning light from the east window though.
My computer is set up at the end of the table. My latest revelation is that I can connect the laptop to the camera without moving anything in the setup, just connect the cord, download, disconnect and go back to shooting or reviewing/editing. That has made a huge difference in the way I do my work. Previously I was trying to get all the pictures taken, then took the camera off the tripod to connect and download, review and edit them all. Ugh.
Working on one project at a time is much easier for me and leaving everything in place to connect is also so much easier. The only thing that could make it better is if I could review each picture on the computer monitor immediately after I took it. Maybe there is a way and I just haven’t found it yet.
I made marks on the tripod legs for the camera and lights so I can break this down and set it up again without much hassle
Now for my camera settings. I have a wide angle zoom lens which is probably not ideal but it’s what I have to work with. I use a focal length of 80mm.
The publisher suggests the following settings: ISO between 100-200 but can go as high as 400 if necessary to improve light, F-Stop (aperture) between F8 to F16, and shutter speed (SS) between 1/100 and 1/200 seconds.
My actual settings are ISO 250, F6.3 and SS 1/125 – sometimes higher. These are all manual settings, so camera is set to M, my ISO is set to 250 and there’s a fancy little dial that allows me to adjust the aperture and shutter speed (in unison) for each shoot.
Some other camera settings: NEF RAW and JPG format with Fine quality, Image Size is Large, White Balance is Auto, Picture control is Std, Color Space is Adobe RGB.
I’m still having some issues with depth of field and focus. I have fewer shadows and better focus when I’m holding the work as opposed to flat. Will try to figure that out – but open to suggestions.
One other thing to add is the software I use for editing. It basically came with the camera (as a disk- lol) but it is free for anyone to download. It’s called Capture NX-D. I found it very quick to learn and does a bunch of things that I really need to do – like applying the same adjustment settings to a batch of photos. I haven’t found editing software I like since google dropped Picasa – and that’s been a looong time.
So, that’s my brain dump on “professional” picture taking for now. Feel free to give your input on anything. This is all new to me and I’m open to resources and helpful comments.
I’ll tell you more about the book as I get more done, but it should be available before the holidays (November 2022) and the topic/title is wire wrap jewelry making with beads for beginners. I’m pretty thrilled about it, but also working my butt off on it.