Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Take Better Pictures

Not a tutorial.  I am really not qualified.  I'm experimenting and would like your opinions and help if you have some help to give!  edited to add, on a budget would be excellent, too!

One of the most annoying things about keeping a blog plodding along, is to be able to take photographs.  On the off chance I actually have something product related to post about, I only have the weekend to take pictures.  Primarily, it's the only time I have and secondly, I like to take pictures in natural light.  Pictures taken indoors, like the one below actually don't look that great in terms of color accuracy.  That nail polish on the left looks pretty one dimensional and everything else looks yellow.
That's Esteé Lauder nail polish in Black Iris.  It's one of my favorite polishes.  A dramatic blackened plum that is cool, creamy and opaque.  It reads mostly black in this picture.  It's again in indoor lighting.  Though I have strong yellow tones in my skin, my fingers are not that yellow.
Thinking I might improve the quality of pictures, I thought a light box might help me make more consistent pictures.  I used the tutorial here.  I made a good frame, but will need to re-make it with some better cloth and a sturdier piece of paper for the backdrop, but for the purposes of getting a gauge, I was set.

Here is Black Iris again in the light tent.  I think the coolness comes through better and the color overall seems more accurate.  The pinkiness in my skin is actually accurate.
But how does the tent perform against natural light?

Here is my little mini Diptyque Cannelle candle, which blergh!  I don't like Cinnamon scents, I realize.  Anyway, indoors, but in relatively bright natural light.
And now the candle, after burning some, inside the tent.  Kind of yellow, but that creamy white wax is a little more accurate to the cooler cream in the above picture.
So I am kind of liking the color accuracy feature, so I dug out my old pictures of a post I did on Addiction Ready to Wear Palette in Departure.  Probably one of the most amazing things about this particular palette is its Japanese-typical complexity in the shimmer.  This picture below was taken in bright natural light and outdoors.  Look at the crazy shimmer in the pans.

Now the same pans but in the tent (after several loving uses).  While again, the accuracy of the ones look pretty darn good, you see none of the shimmer I love about this palette.  Also the light reflects strongly especially off the periwinkle shade making it gleaming white, as opposed to all the other shimmery bits you see in the outdoor picture.
How about swatches on the skin?  The top picture is my outdoor, natural lighting picture and the one directly below is the one done in the light tent.
Where did the twinklies go?

Do you see any differences among the indoor, light tent and outside pictures?  Is there a preference you have?

I'm a sucker for all the pretty shimmer bits, especially in eye shadows and definitely want to make sure I'm getting the right color accuracy.  I'm torn between having the flexibility to take pictures outside of a 1 hour weekend window (still -5 F windchill out there) and capturing what are the neatest complexity of products I like.  Maybe I need to stick with more crab features.

Also been researching for a new camera purchase and perhaps investing in a decent macro lens.  I am the unofficially-designated "photographer" in my family so I'm always toting a camera around.  I think I've paid dues in the family and also on the blog to merit an upgrade.  But again, not sure with my lack of knowledge and practice I would be able to really take advantage of all the features and benefits.

Amateur photographers and blogger friends, what's your take on how to take better pictures and how do you figure out lighting when winter skies just say NO?

39 comments :

  1. My biggest tip: learn how to use Photoshop. You can tweak and correct most pictures for colour and tone very quickly once you know the basics, and it helps more than having a better camera IMO. You can also get an older version of the software for free on the Adobe website. :)

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    1. Might need to upgrade my super old laptop for a bit more horsepower. My picasa editing features seem very limited. :) I'm going to look for the free download!!

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    2. Hi Belly,
      Alternatively you can get GIMP, it is an open source one and really very good.

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    3. Thanks Sara! Yea, I need to figure out my application situation!

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  2. I can barely use Photoshop, and in fact only have Photoshop Elements, and I've just recently figured out how to use the Guided settings to correct tone, and it definitely helps.

    I also have a lightbox-type thing, and I do agree things still look yellow. The software does correct some of it, but it's still annoying.

    I am getting ready to invest in some kind of softbox lighting. I was watching the videos Lilypebbles and Vivianna Does Makeup did on how to blog, and they bought a set (it comes with 2) and split it. I tried to talk another blogger into going in with me, but she had just purchased her own. If you're interested... ;)

    Shani x
    She Dreams in Perfect French

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    1. Thanks so much Shani. I am determined to make my homemade, rickety set up work for the light box. I think this plus the white balance feature on the new camera might be very helpful!

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  3. I prefer natural light, too! :) If you can't be bothered to tinker around with photoshop, learning how to adjust your camera's white balance is your best bet. Tungsten, for example, lends a blue tinge to your photo's temperature, which makes it ideal for yellow-y lighting. If you want colder light, pick the "Auto" white balance. If you want warmer, pick "Fluorescent" or if you're using a DSLR, it's nice to use "Shade" or "Cloudy" (which are the settings for Nikon SLRs).

    Anyway. Yes. There. I hate having to resort to artificial light, but when it comes to product photos, sometimes that's all I have. The light from my iMac is so strong, it's almost like I have a lamp for my face, lol. So it's been easier to take face pics without having to look for a free window, as my room has one but it is obscured by a tree.

    Phew. Good luck! :)

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    1. I've been using a little point & shoot with limited features, but I I think now I can play a little more with my new camera. :) I have lots and lots of window, but this cloudy weather just doesn't help. SO MUCH SNOW. FACK SNOW!

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  4. I'm like you, Belly. I prefer taking my pictures outdoors, but right now, it's overcast most of the time and it's just too cold out (right now it's about -4 F out). For me, digital photography is very different from traditional b&w, which is what I studied, so was a bit like learning all over again.

    Things look "yellow" because of the light, incandescent versus sunlight. A lot also depends on how you take your pictures, like what setting are you using, auto or manual. If you are using auto, you are basically letting the camera take the picture for you. The camera is going to determine what the picture will look like, not you. I found this post that explains things really quite well and easily: http://heyitsmejesenia.blogspot.com/2014/01/camera-101-getting-it-together.html

    Since I've been forced to shoot indoors, I bought a "softbox" type of set up. I set the white balance and exposure with a grey card and a color passport checker. This is probably the most important thing that I do in terms of getting everything to "look" accurate. I also use Photoshop CS6 to correct all of my pictures. Though most of the correcting I do is done in the RAW file, before I even open the picture. After I open the picture, I don't have to do much anymore, just levels and brightness/contrast, sometimes I have to adjust a few other things. I used to have to adjust things a lot more.

    If you are going to invest in anything, a camera is probably one of the most important things you can invest in. It doesn't have to be the latest model or have all the upgrades. The best time to buy a camera, is when they are coming out with the new models, which would be February or March, or November or December. You could even try looking at refurbished cameras at Canon (where I got mine) or B&H (where I have bought A LOT of stuff over the years). If you want more information, just let me know. :)

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    1. Jenny, this is such useful information. You have the crispest pictures around. Lovely husband just got me a new camera so I'm hoping to get some good experimentation in. The light I used for my doohickey light box was a full spectrum one but still cast a tiny bit yellow. (though I admit, I used husband's old tshirts, which was probably not very white and probably too thick to allow for good diffused light) I never even knew I can use a grey card and a color passport checker!
      I am going to write you back, as soon as I can gather my thoughts.
      Thank you so much, Jenny! I think you comment is so helpful (to me and probably other people, too)!!

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  5. Hmmm I myself is not so crazy about the blog pictures taken under bright sunlight. Please don't get me wrong. There is nothing like sunlight and the shimmer and the glitters look most glorious under it, and I truly love looking at them.
    What I'm trying to say is that I don't see them as relevant to me and my reality. I am a vampire. I probably spend less than 1 hour outside during weekdays. Chance is that people wouldn't see my makeup glistening like that on me anyway.
    I use a light box and I think it works just fine for swatching and product pics. I bought two but I found I only needed one after one broke down. Of course the grand purpose of using one is to brighten the heck of my complexion and look pretty - See? I'm not denying it. ;p
    But in the end, whether with good lighting system or not, I appreciate pics with real skin and face, a blog with face to be exact.
    I myself is trying to graduate from a point-and-shoot camera, so do let me know if you find a nice grownup blogger's camera. ;)

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    1. Are you a vampire, too? I'm a reluctant vampire. I really love getting sun. The only outdoor time I have is my commute walking and stepping outside to pick up lunch during the work week. I think I need to figure out for to make the light box work for me and really that's the only way to swatch sometimes. The number of daylight hours, plus the cold and clouds make it pretty much impossible otherwise. Hey, what's wrong with prettying yourself up post picture taking? :) That's why I wear makeup anyway -- for all the prettification. I just got something a bit more functional than a point and shoot, so I'll let you know how it works out.

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  6. There's a good tutorial on using a curves adjustment layer in Photoshop to set white balance here: http://www.bowerpowerblog.com/2013/02/photoshop-tutorial-white-balance/ I also use a grey card to set a custom white balance on my camera, which is really handy.

    I like natural light photos, but sometimes it washes out the colors, or comes out to blue on cloudy days. It's been dark before I get home lately, so I've been using the light tent more. I find that for sparkles & things, using two lights at 45(ish) degrees to the side and a little above the item works better than an overhead light (not sure what your lighting situation is).

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  7. Ohhh, and one more for you - if you decide on a camera upgrade, keh.com sells used equipment and their condition ratings are very conservative (ie, it'll be better than you expect it to be). I've bought tons of stuff from there and never had a single problem with them.

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    1. Ah! Nicci! Thank you for the lighting placement suggestion. I had tried one overhead, and then two on the side, but I will try placing slightly above on the side to see if I can get the sparkles to show up a bit.

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  8. M tip is to learn the basics of photography and experiment a lot! It takes years to get your own style and you'll always learn and develop your own style. Also try and use something like Photoshop but maybe more basic, it's great for correcting colours.

    About the different lightning situations and why the glitter shows up in natural light vs studio lightning: it's really personal preference. There are a lot of bloggers showing swatches both ways and I admire their extra efforts in that but it does take extra time and a lot of luck with the weather. Since I live in a very sad grey country I kinda gave up on that, lol.

    But seriously: try and learn the basics, it will help so much!

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    1. <33 thank you so much, Teri! I hope you know how much I appreciate your advice, as I love the photos on your blog. I am seriously lacking fundamental skills and old camera really didn't have much features to play around with. I am totally motivated to conquer my fear of doodads and to learn and practice and figure out more of what I like.

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  9. I think my pictures are adequate - though I'd like them to be better! I use a lightbox for product photography. The primary purpose is to get nice diffused light - I usually end up color-correcting with Adobe Lightroom, which I highly highly recommend. Arm swatches are taken either with flash (blurred with flash is the best way to show shimmer, IMO), in the lightbox with color correcting post, or in natural light - it just varies. Lip swatches are always in natural light, I haven't managed to figure out an artificial light solution that works (and luckily we have a lot of sunlight here).

    Also, for the lightbox, you need white / full spectrum lightbulbs, not the typical yellowy ones. Well, you don't NEED them but they are helpful :)

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    1. Emi, thank you so much. I bought nice clean poster board to play with this week to try out my light box some more. I did use full spectrum bulbs, unfortunately, as the light filtered through husband's old t-shirt, it may have not had the nicest effect. Hehehe.
      Also, you and your California nice weather and sunlight! FEHHHHHHHHH!

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  10. Oh Belleh, I think this topic is almost like a can of worms for beauty bloggers :) But yes, playing around with white balance both in camera setting and then editing is one thing, but I've also noticed things look a lot different color-wise on my two laptops, so readers' screen settings can definitely make things read differently. In terms of direct light (sunshine) vs indirect/diffused light (light box/studio lights) - I find bright direct lighting better when it comes to accentuating textures but less accurate for color (harder to adjust white balance). It's all down to preference in the end, I just do whatever looks semi-decent to me :)

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    1. Such a great point on how things appear vastly differently on different screens! My home laptop, which is what I use to calibrate my pictures appear one way, and then from another computer, completely different all together. I don't mind opening up that can, just because I like seeing what different bloggers do, their preferences. And I *think* I have some great suggestions to start improving my pictures soon. I am SO excited to play now!!!

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  11. What is your current camera? It seems to be better than what my camera can do when taking swatches.

    Shoot raw, use auto (no flash) mode if you can't figure out the setting. Tripod, remote helps
    Just make sure everything is sharp, don't worry too much about colour balance or exposure.

    When you are indoors, take the picture where the light is shining through the window if possible. I find outdoors with no roof can over expose photos to the point where I can't fix especially THREE shadows coz too shiny.

    If you think your photos are bad, then think again because they can be fixed if they are sharp enough.
    Power of Camera raw, watch this:
    http://tv.adobe.com/watch/understanding-adobe-photoshop-cs6/recovering-a-raw-file/
    There are many tips on the official website.
    Also colour theory guide http://www.huevaluechroma.com/

    Responsible use of photoshop:

    Don't use curves/levels. That technique is not good unless you are going to mask things out. It makes certain details burn out or too dark and misleading colours values appear. It will make certain colours look neon/too saturated when they are not suppose to be.

    Always edit in a well lit room with the product next to you to play spot the difference. Another thing to take note of is a a good monitor is not going to work properly without a quality graphics card. Monitors may not be displaying colours correctly and there could be banding issues in gradients when the graphics card is not up to scratch.

    Let me know if you need on hand help with detail explanation with working file on how to fix a RAW photo of yours (probably of a product that I own as well to make things easier).

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    1. eheh, you know I was spying on you & kate talking about RAW before and I went to look at my camera settings. no raw setting. phail. It is an older P&S camera, so while pretty good in many ways, it doesn't have the level of features I'm looking for now. In any case, I just upgraded to a new camera. I'm definitely going to take you up on your offer. I think when my Kate Colorcious Diamond gets here, I will fire it up and ask for some help. :D Because that is shiny. ANd pretty.

      *___* Hope I love shiny sparkles for ever and ever. R'Amen.

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    2. What did you get? I hope it's a Nikon :P

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    3. No, a Sony. :) I needed something a little compact-ish so that I can tote is around for when I torture my children endlessly by making them pose for pictures everywhere we go.

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  12. I'm listening to this post intently as I also take bad, BAD pictures in weather where it rains & cloudy about 90% of the time. Some of the best bloggers out there lives in the sunny place, so I thought. Have fun, Belly, let us know how it goes!!

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    1. Maybe we both need a good lightbox and light up for indoor shooting. :) I got so many pointers already! *KAPOW* brain mostly exploded and dribbled out of my ears.

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  13. Color correction or no, I'm still curious as to how one emulates the sparkliness that sunlight and only sunlight seems to give. My Departure and Visee quad pics look the same as your indoor pic version, the sparkly complexity is utterly missing. :( It looks like that in cloudy sunlight too, which is what my neck of the woods has been enjoying since I've gotten back from Japan!

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    1. I think the crazy multi color sparkles only peep out in the sun. Or at least indoors with a lot of sunlight available. Why won't the sun come out any more? *weeps* *blows snots*

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  14. Did you post this for me Darling??? I have such a hard time with pics it's driving me nuts. *goes to get pen & paper to take notes* Thank you! :)

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    1. How awesome are all these beauty bloggers offering us so much helps??? :DDD

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  15. To sum this up Belly, you know what it boils down to???? Time to hit the big time and start doing YOUTUBE;) haha I am such an instigator.

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    1. NO! NO, IT DOES NOT! Can you imagine my unedited ramble caught on video? *shudder*

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  16. I'm also working on improving my pics, I'm actually considering taking some photography lessons -sounds like it might be fun!

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    1. :) I regret never taking photography classes when I had the chance. That and golf lessons.

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  17. *listening intently*

    This is difficult for me because I know I ought to improve my pictures but I'm just not that interested in fiddling about with tiny buttons and squinting at screens when I could be slapping on the makeups! XD

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    1. Buying a new camera also seems to have eaten into the makeup budget, says husband. >:O

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  18. photo shop has been a god send for me. it corrects most lighting issues and can change tints and tones of you photos to draw away or out the pinks and yellows. that being said, the photo you took in the first place has to be close to what you'd hope the end result to be anyways and like you, i only have the weekends to take photos. AAANNNNDD i have to stand on top of my couch and do it in the one small window i have in my basement apartment lol...the things i do for my blog....

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  19. Ugh. I have such trouble taking pictures sometimes. OK, a lot of the time. Sometimes they turn out perfectly and other times I'm like, geeeeeez what did I do??? I don't even know where to start with all the photography issues I have, but I've come to the conclusion that I'm not a professional and can only do what I can do! I'm still trying to learn…sometimes it works, sometimes not…maybe I need to sign up for a class :-)

    Oooops no help at all sorry! But keep learning and keep posting what you learn!!

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