Sunday, March 23, 2008

Featured, Ferrari and Photography musings.

I got a very nice convo in Etsy recently from another photographer who was kind enough to feature me on her blog. Her name is Robin Lynne and her blog is "Etsy of the Week" where she features different Etsy sellers. This was really nice of her and if you want to check it out, follow this link:

Here also is a link to her site on Etsy where you can purchase her photography:

Onto something completely unrelated to photography. Ferrari and Formula 1. Hooray for Kimi Raikkonen to easily win the Malaysian Grand Prix. Both Ferraris were absolutely dominating and with Massa going off the track again, it won't help to quel the rumors of Alonso joining Ferrari eventually. Massa is off to a horrific start this year and even though the season is just starting, as we saw last year, every single point counts.

Today was Easter and it reminded me something about my photography. That is, I'm not taking enough snapshots. That sounds odd coming from someone who spends time carefully composing photos, but I've noticed that as I'm spending more and more time with my photography, taking nature photos, taking product photos for companies, etc, there is one subject I've been neglecting.

My family.

I don't see some of my family as often as I'd like to and there are some who are getting pretty old. As I was looking around today I realized that I haven't taken any photos of some members of my family for years. Neither has anyone else.

It's nice to take the group portraits at family gatherings and posed pics, but I've always preferred the more spontaneous shots. I'm sure everyone has that box of old family photos somewhere, with lots of faces you maybe don't even recognize anymore. It's fun to look at past generations and see how at one point, they were really just like you.

I'm in my mid thirties now and I remember my aunts and uncles when I was a kid, the family parties and the fun we had. To me, they seemed so old and responsible. Now, when I look at the family photos, I see that they were my age. Laughing around the table, dancing, drinking wine, enjoying great food and enjoying life and each other's company.

Looking over these pictures, and there are a lot, I wonder how I could be so lazy. Granted, my family is more scattered than it used to be, but there are tons of memories I could be capturing and I'm not. They had it much rougher than me. They had to shoot film, drop it off, pick it up, make albums, etc. All I have to do is snap the pics and archive them.

Maybe I think time, and my family, will always be around.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Diversidee - MIA

I love birds. I've had a soft spot for them my whole life. My mom used to take care of orphaned and injured birds when I was a kid, and still runs the Raccoon Ridge Bird Observatory in New Jersey.
Though they're pretty difficult to photograph, they're one of the subjects I enjoy the most. Each species has a different personality and little odd habits. One of my favorites, even if they are probably the most common is the chickadee. Brave little guys that are always first to arrive when I put out new seed and the ones I can get the closest to.

One day when I was looking out the window, one bird in particular caught my eye. He didn't look right. For a minute I thought it was some species of bird I'd never seen before and maybe it was in my area by mistake. It was shaped like a chickadee but the colors were wrong.

When I got a closer look, I realized it was in fact a chickadee, odd as he was. Where chickadees have black feathers down past their eyes, his were white. Instead of having black legs and feet like a normal chickadee, his were pink. He was different but adorable.

I named him Diversidee, a play on the chickadee name. He came around pretty regularly for well over a year. He was so easy to spot with his funny face.
I wondered how he did with the ladies. I wondered if he'd be shunned for being different or if his little oddity might show up in future generations of Diversidees.

But, towards the end of this winter and now closing in on spring, little Diversidee has disappeared. I know birds don't live particularly long but if he doesn't show up again soon I'm going to be pretty sad about it. He was special and I don't know if I'll ever see another chickadee like him. I'm glad I had the opportunity to photograph him at least. I hope to get the chance to do so again.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Product photography on the fly

When I'm shooting products for people inside a studio environment it's a relatively simple process. Most want their stuff shot on white or black plexiglass, or we work together beforehand to come up with a nice indoor setting that fits their product. Figuring out arrangements, colors and style is more complex than actually getting the lighting right.

Sometimes though, it's fun not to have a plan or finished idea and do some product photography "on the fly" and just see how things turn out. Recently, I did some product shots for Woodspritecottage who sells handmade bags on Etsy.

Since many of the bags have a country theme I wanted a rustic or cottage look to the backgrounds so we thought to head to the antiques market nearby. The one problem is most store owners don't want any photos shot inside their shop so we either had to sneak a couple shots or find something outdoors.

One setting I couldn't pass up as we walked through one of the stores was a chair by a window, and it seemed perfect for one of the bags:

For an Etsy shot, a lot of people would say this is dark and the entire product can't be seen clearly. We had plenty of time to take more shots of this bag later outside where there was plenty of light and opportunity to show the entire bag, but this shot was just meant for mood and beauty.

The wicker chair, yellowed walls and window light to me set the perfect country mood for this bag and so far, this photo has received more views on her Etsy shop than any other by far.

White backgrounds are great and often are the best choice for some products, but think about what you're trying to sell and think if there is a way to show off the beauty of your product in a natural setting too, besides just plain white or black. You might have an opportunity to not only show off your products features but also help to set a mood for the buyer.

For a lot of the other bags, we ran into a challenge in terms of location and had to take what we could get. We found two nice spots that gave us some decent light and gave us some backgrounds that would fit the products nicely. One was a country style porch with some wicker furniture, and the others were the outside walls of buildings with fading green and blue paint that gave the impression of age. Here are some pics:

The challenge of finding the right type of background, the right colors, enough space, etc made this a really fun shoot, especially since nothing was planned.
If you do your own product photography, get out there and experiment with different locations and backgrounds, and if you're at a loss for ideas, grab your camera, your products and take a drive. You might get some nice ideas that will really show off what you have to sell.
These bags and others can be found here:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

All about Exposure

Today I'm going to give a basic overview on how a camera controls exposure, that is, how much light is let into the camera. This can get a bit complicated but I'm going to try to explain everything in a simple way that will give you the basic knowledge you need to improve your photos and let you move away from "auto" mode with confidence.

There are three basic elements that control exposure.

1. Aperture
2. Shutter Speed
3. ISO

I'll discuss each one separately first, then in the end talk about how all three work together. I see a lot of people on sites like Etsy and Ebay who do their own product photography that have trouble with exposure - mostly with dark, underexposed photos so I think this is going to help those people a lot.


Out of the three things that control exposure, Aperture is probably the most confusing to most people. But if you learn what it is and how to use it, you will be able to have more control over how your photos look, and you'll be able to take much more professional looking pictures.

Put simply, Aperture is the size of the opening in a lens when you take a picture. Well, what does that mean? This is one of the ways your camera (or you) determines how much light reaches the sensor. If the hole only opens up a little bit, less light enters the camera. If the hole opens up wider, more light enters.

Aperture is measured in F-stops. These numbers, such as F/2.8, F/5.6, F/22, etc simply denote the size of the hole that opens when you press the shutter and take a picture. Each time you change the aperture by one F-stop, you are either doubling or halving the amount of light that reaches the sensor.

So here is where it can be a bit confusing. If you look at these two F-stop numbers, which would you think lets in more light: F/2.8 or F/16? Actually, the smaller number is a bigger hole and let's in more light. Here is one of my shoddy charts to help you get an idea. Keep in mind this is not an exact diagram, it's just meant to help you visualize

As you can see, as you go from F22 to F2.8 the hole in the lens opens more and more to let in more and more light. This is one of those things that you just have to remember. "The smaller the number, the more light" F2.8 gives you more light than F4, which gives more light than F5.6, etc.

Aperture not only helps control the amount of light, it also controls what we call depth of field. That is how much of your photo is or is not in focus. But we'll save that for it's own discussion. For now, let's just focus on exposure.


The shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open to allow light into the camera. This is a much more simple concept than Aperture. Shutter speed is measure in seconds, then in fractions of seconds. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light enters the camera. Changing the shutter by 1 setting doubles or halves the amount of light entering the camera.

So, for example, a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second lets in half the light of a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second.

Faster shutter speeds are required when you want to freeze action, such as sports, flying birds, etc, or even when you are handholding your camera for product photography. If your shutter speed is too slow, it is impossible for you to hold the camera still enough for a clear picture.

This is one of the things that often goes wrong for amateur photographers. If your pics are often blurry, chances are your shutter speed is too slow without you knowing it, and you are getting movement. The shutter opens, you move and create blur, then it finally closes. If you are hand-holding your camera and it's not on a tripod, you need to use faster shutter speeds to freeze the shot even if you're a bit shaky.


ISO is simply your camera's sensitivity to light. ISO used to be controlled by the film you bought, as different films were more or less sensitive to light. Remember buying ISO 200 or ISO 400 film? Well now it's all programmable on the camera, and ISO can be changed from shot to shot.

Easier to understand than aperture, ISO is pretty straightforward with the numbering.

ISO is measured in numbers which differ a bit with each camera. Some cameras give you more ISO options than others, but basically you only have to know that as the number increases, the camera is more sensitive to the light. Going from less sensitive to highly sensitive would look like this:

100,200, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1320, 1600, 3200

Most cameras will start at either 100 or 200 and might go to 800, especially point and shoot models. When there is a ton of light, such as outdoors in the sun at the beach, you don't need to have a very sensitive sensor. So ISO 100 or 200 still gives you good shutter speeds. If you're in a really dark room and your ISO is set to 100, chances are your camera would need a LONG shutter speed to have enough light to expose the picture correctly. That is why without a flash, most people's photos in a dark room are totally blurry.


So now you know you have three elements to work with that control how light or dark your pictures are going to appear. Don't be concerned with the exact numbers as all cameras will be a bit different if you're talking about a dslr or point and shoot. Just remember the concept for each element and you'll be fine.

So how do we use ISO, aperture and shutter together? Well the first thing to understand and remember is that they are all dependent on one another. If you change one, it effects the other. For now, let's leave the ISO out of it because you won't change that as often as the other two.

Remember that each time you change either the shutter speed or the aperture by 1 unit, the light entering the camera either doubles or is cut in half. So let's take a hypothetical example:

Suppose you set your camera on Auto and take a picture, and the photo looks perfect at F8 and 1/250th of a second. If you changed the aperture from F8 to F5.6 (the next aperture setting), what would happen? Well, twice as much light enters the camera, and the photo would be overexposed. So to compensate and make the photo look perfect again, we increase the shutter speed to 1/500, cutting the light in half. Now you're back to good exposure.

To wrap this up and keep it as simple as possible:

If your photos are too dark : Use a bigger aperture (F2.8, F4 instead of F16 or F22), Reduce your shutter speed, or increase the ISO number.

if your photos are too bright: Use a smaller aperture ( F16, F22 instead of F4, F2.8), Increase your shutter speed, or decrease the ISO number.

I know that was a handful and maybe you have more questions now than when you first read this. Over the next week or so I"m going to talk about each element in detail - shutter speed, aperture and ISO so you will have it all mastered soon.

I"ll also get into a lot more detail about product photography tips, using different colored backgrounds and how that can throw off your camera's metering system, tips on lighting, etc.