Not everyone has enough spare change sitting around to purchase an expensive Digital SLR camera, and some of those that own them continue to have issues taking decent photographs of their paper projects. Why? It's all Flash's fault. Yes, we're talking about you Mr. Flat Light.
Your camera's built-in flash helps you capture properly exposed photos when light conditions aren't optimal, but you shouldn't rely on flash. Unlike taking photos of an indoor event (where you have no control of light, i.e. wedding reception, your child's spring play etc), you have much more control when it comes to taking photos of your paper projects, simply because you can control your environment. The first thing you'll need to get your hands on is the best free source of light available... the sun! Next you'll need to let that source of light in through a window. I'm willing to bet everyone has one of those! ;)
Preparing The Shoot
Place a table in front of a window. If you don't have an extra table, use a tray table! (the kind you use to eat dinner on when you don't want to miss your favorite show i.e. Pawn Stars, American Pickers, etc).
I like to place the table at an angle so that the light is not hitting my project straight on. If your project contains many layers and embellishments, you'll want to light them from the side in order to give your photo life and dimension. If you only have one light hitting your project straight on, you'll get very flat results! (doesn't that remind you of something?....oh yeah...a flash!)
Do not place your project in direct sunlight! It's WAY too harsh! Indirect light is plenty and is much softer!
I highly recommend getting yourself a piece of white (foam core) poster board to use as a fill light. In this photo, the poster board is bouncing the available light back into the scene. This helps soften any shadows from your main light (the window).
Setting Up Your Camera
- Pull out your camera's manual and find out how to turn off the flash. There are so many different point and shoot cameras on the market, so we can't tell you exactly how to turns yours off, but your manual should include this information. If you don't have your manual, visit the camera manufacturer's website! They should have a copy that you can download in PDF format!
- Get yourself a simple tripod. Because we're not using the camera's built-in flash, we may need to stabilize the camera so that you don't get blurry images. You can try it without, but you'll get better (and more consistent) results with a tripod.
Ready? Set! Shoot!
In this example, we shot everything on a large white piece of paper that we purchased at Hobby Lobby for a dollar or two. They come in all sorts of colors and make a great seamless background!
- When framing your photo, get as close as you can without chopping anything off, but make sure to leave a little bit of space around your object (headroom). You want to capture your project and leave out other distractions. You want people to focus on your item, not your scissors, stacks of paper or the cat in the background that's taking a bath. (well, we'd actually be checking out the cat)
- I like to photograph cards and scrapbook pages at eye level so that they don't get distorted. If you have a 3D project, try shooting it at eye level and then take another shot looking down at it from above. Pick the best one!
Notice the lack of dimension in the ribbon and the iris folds, not to mention that harsh shadow in the background. The photos below were shot with a Kodak EasyShare M341 using some basic supplies that would cost you less than $5.00 at an office supply store. None of the photos contain any post editing (Photoshop).
The ribbon looks alive and the shadows between the layers are enough to create separation, but aren't too harsh! The background isn't completely white, but it's bright enough to where it doesn't compete with your project! This photograph was also shot using the automatic settings.
I hope this tutorial gives you a bit of insight into what you can do to improve your photography. Keep in mind that results will vary depending on time of day, size of your window, distance from your window as well as your camera model. If there's one thing I want you to learn from this tutorial, it's that flash is not very flattering and that natural light is amazing! Remember that shadows can be your best friend or your worst enemy and it's just a matter of shaping your light to achieve that perfect photo! After-all, the word "photography" in Latin translates to "painting with light"!