I've spent years as a hobby photographer and nearly a decade as a professional photoshop-er (thank you digital media degree). Merging the two hobbies for taking pictures of books has been a blast and I'm excited share some tips and tricks for those of you who have less experience with taking pictures and processing images.
First, a couple of really cheap things you can buy/make to help your photography.
- White Poster Boards
The background of pretty much all of my photos is two white poster boards (the thickish paper kind) with the seam carefully taped together in back. This gives me a wrinkle free space to take my pictures and it's really cheap. When I'm not using it I shove it behind my book case.
If you want a textured background (like woodgrain) there are dozens of shops that sell photography backdrops and if you're feeling wild you might try a cheap one from ebay (though I haven't had great luck there)
- Foam Boards - for bouncing light
You can get them at the dollar store. I have one, if I didn't have such awesome natural light in my house I would have multiple. They are great for setting up around your picture to help bounce light and lessen shadows
- Tin Foil
If you have really really bad lighting you can wrap tin foil around a foam board for a stronger reflector.
Great photos are often spawned from great lighting and having an abundant source of natural light is your friend, but if you don't have access to that kind of light, thankfully, you can use the photo editing tools of your smart phone to fake it (more on that later).
P.S. All the photos on this post were taken and edited with the defaults on my iPhone (though I cropped them together with Photoshop)
Abundant Natural Light Photography
My apartment has fantastic light and I love it sooo much. Here is a quick pull out of my set up:
My table is pushed up next to a big open window that is south facing and I really have great light all day.
Occasionally I'll want to take pictures in the early afternoon when the sunlight actually reaches my table and it can make some intense shadows with my props. When that happens I clip up a white piece of fabric and the problem is solved. I just need the fabric to be big enough to shade my work area. (it's hard to tell a difference below because the shadows weren't really a problem, but on the days they are it is a huge help)
Finally take your image.
If you've got a great natural light source you may take your photo and be done, but if your light or image isn't exactly what you hoped you can use the default settings in your phone to process it a bit. I usually do the following on my iPhone 5s - I'm sure all iPhones have the same image processing stuff and I suspect Andriods do as well (though I am less familiar with them and you may have to poke around to find the settings.)
For and iPhone open your image and click Edit in the top right corner. Rotate and crop it as needed.
Then click the "Light" icon at the bottom near the "Done" button, but don't use the default light settings. Instead click the advance settings that appear as lines in the middle-right of your screen.
I usually bump up the brightness to make my white background whiter, add a bit of contrast, and then bump up black point so that the brightness doesn't wash out my photos.
It took me a few tries playing with these settings to find out what I liked for my images, but now I can process an image in about 20 seconds. It's worth it to figure out what works for your style and your images.
I feel like this photo works either way, but here is the unprocessed vs. processed image
Working With a Less Than Ideal Natural Light Source
I thought it might be nice to redo this picture in a less awesome light setting in case you don't have my good window fortune.
Here I give you... my little Boston bedroom. The windows in here face north so they are really bright in the morning and if I was doing this for anything but demonstration I would have set my props up right under the window and taken the pictures in the morning with the best light... rather than across the room on my dresser in the late afternoon.
I took the picture using a reflector on the left to try to capture a tiny bit more light and then I used the same camera editing steps mentioned above to clean up my image.
Unprocessed Left vs. Processed Right
You can see that the image is a lot more yellow-ish without such an abundance of natural light, but with the processing it's still an acceptable photo.
Working With No Natural Light
Finally I thought it would be fun to do it with the most dismal lighting in my home. I give you a single lamp lighting a dark room.
There is no escaping the shadows in this picture, even with the tin foil reflector you're going to have some noticeable ones, though if you have multiple lamps you can move them all in close around your image and it will really help.
Anyway, this image is dark, shadowy and 'meh'. It needs major processing to be even marginally okay.
For this one I applied the same basic editing as I had done above, but I brought the brightness all the way up (instead of 1/2 way up) and bumped up the exposure because my lighting was so dim.
When you do this in a dark room your image is going to have an intense reddish hue, and the colors might also appear garishly bright.
You can fix this by going to the color section of your editing options and lowering the "Saturation" a few points and shifting the "Cast" downward until the whole picture has a slightly more blueish tone.
These tricks will work okay if your posting your image on the web, (specifically Instagram) but when an image is taken in a really dark space and lightened like this it will be grainy around the edges if it's zoomed in too far. This lighting/editing is really not ideal if you want to print your images.
And here is a little wrap up of the three different settings after being processed:
One other quick note, if your photographing white against white (like white feathers against a white board) you'll want to lower the "Contrast" rather than raise it to keep the "feathers" from being washed out into oblivion.
Also, I add text/watermarks to my images after processing using the free app Phonto. It's fantastic!
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? I'd love to hear/answer them all so feel free to drop a line in the comment section below or give me shout on Instagram @novelpairing