For my current shooting space I use a dining room chair and two pieces of chipboard, one with white watercolor paper attached and one with wood grain scrapbook paper attached. I move the chair over next to the big windows in our dining room and set up the woodgrain board as the background and the watercolor board as the ground, occasionally I will lay the card down flat on the woodgrain background and shoot my photos that way — Jen.

Hey, hey, crafty friends! I’m so glad you could join me today as I continue our Card Photography Week! Yesterday, we got rid of the shakes with Jean Manis and today I have the fabulous Jen Shults here with a tutorial that takes us back to basics. Jen will take you through some simple explanations of the ins and outs of your camera to get the most out of your equipment. Then, she takes you through some easy tips when using Photoshop for post-photo editing. Check it out…

Note from Jen…

The most important part of taking a good picture for me was learning about my camera. Whether you have a point and shoot camera or a digital SLR (single lens release), you can take really good pictures of your cards indoors using natural or artificial light. You just have to learn your camera’s tricks. So find that manual and keep it handy. 

The camera I use is a Canon EOS Rebel XSi digital SLR. It’s a very very base model digital SLR that I got for Christmas in 2010. I use a 50 mm f/1.8 EF lens for taking card photos. Now lets get started with a super easy-to-remember tip: TURN OFF YOUR FLASH. I’ve never ever taken a good picture of any of my cards with the flash on. Usually I’m too close to it and it blows out the whole picture. It’s best to turn it off and add light from an outside source. 

The main things you need to know how to adjust on your camera when photographing your cards indoors are: White Balance, ISO (film speed), aperture control, flash and shutter speed.

White Balance


White balance is your camera’s way of adjusting the colors in your pictures for whatever lighting situation you are in. This used to be accomplished with lens filters. Every lighting situation has a different temperature or color. Indoor incandescent light tends to be yellow. Fluorescent light tends to be blueish. Most people set their camera to auto (or never set it because it comes out of the box on auto) and forget about it. For photographing a card this won’t work and you’ll need to change some settings. The color correction is better when you set it manually. So dig out that manual and see what it says about white balance and set your white balance to compliment your specific brand of indoor lighting (i.e. fluorescent or incandescent. Tip – if you are using an OTT light, I have the most success with the natural light setting). 

ISO

ISO is your digital camera’s approximation of film speed. I know, there’s no film. But your digital camera is built to act like there is. If you remember film cameras, you know that film speed has a lot to do with what kind of light you can take your pictures in and it also has a lot to do with how ‘grainy’ a finished photo is. A low number ISO like 100 is perfect for taking pictures outside on a sunny day and it makes for a crystal clear brilliant photo with no grain, but it’s not so great for indoor lower quality light. A higher number ISO like 400 or 800 is better for indoor lighting situations that aren’t as bright, but it does make for a grainier picture. Your camera most likely sets this for you, but again, this is where your camera manual comes in handy. Dig it out again and find how to manually set your cameras ISO to 200 or 400 (200 is better, but we can be a bit flexible if the lighting isn’t that bright).

Aperture

The aperture (also referred to as F-stop) is the hole in your camera that lets the light in and thus takes the picture. When it’s BIG it lets in lots of light, but it only focuses on a really shallow distance. When it’s small it lets in less light, but it can focus on a deeper distance. Most cameras refer to this as an F-number. F-2.8 is a BIG opening. F-11 is a very small opening. For photographing indoors we need to let more light in so we want a bigger opening so we need a smaller F number. (I know, it’s confusing, but trust me on this!) We also don’t need a deep focal area for photographing a card. Many point and shoot cameras don’t let you change the F-stop on your camera, but they do give you different shooting modes. The portrait mode typically has the smallest F-stop.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is how fast your camera snaps the picture. When your camera snaps the picture really fast it is able to stop motion, but it also lets in a smaller amount of light. If you were trying to photograph a runner or a football game you’d want a high shutter speed. Our cards are sitting still (hopefully) so we don’t need a fast shutter speed and we definitely want to let in more light so we need a slower shutter speed. BUT and this is a pretty big one, we don’t want one so low that our natural hand shake will affect the picture. (If you have a tripod it will take care of most hand shake so you can get away with an even lower shutter speed.) So, what am I getting at? You don’t want your shutter speed to be below 60 or your focus will not be crisp.  Shutter speeds look like a fraction usually 1 over a number. Shutter speeds are generally a fraction of a second, hence the fraction. 1/60 is a slower shutter speed. 1/1600 is very fast. Most people don’t use anything higher than 1/500. We need between 1/60 – 1/100 for photographing cards. Most point and shoot cameras don’t tell you what the shutter speed is… it just takes a bad picture. So if your picture is coming out blurry a low shutter speed might be the culprit. 

So you’ve played with your camera (with your manual handy) and now you have your shots. What next? EDITING!

When I take my pictures I usually take 3-4 of each view of the card so I can make sure I have one with really good focus. I have a Macbook Air so I upload them using Photos and sort through them, marking the good ones as favorites and exporting only the originals of the ones I want to edit. I delete the rest from Photos so my computer doesn’t fill up hard drive space with photos I don’t need. My card photos are stored in folder by year, and then by month so they are easy to find. 

I edit my pictures in Photoshop after downloading them to my computer. When in Photoshop, I do four things to each photo: adjust exposure if needed, adjust color balance if needed (to correct an over yellow or over blue photo), I sharpen each image slightly and, finally, crop/add a watermark.

I start with adjusting the exposure. With the exposure palette open, I select the white eye dropper tool and click on a part of the photo that should be bright white. Photoshop then adjusts the lighting levels of the photo to make the spot I clicked bright white. If I don’t like the result I undo and select a different location. I repeat this until I have the exposure I’m hoping for in my photo.

Next, I adjust the color levels of the photo using the Level palette. I use the same process I did with the exposure by selecting the white eye dropper and picking a bright white spot on the photo. Occasionally the Levels dropper is too much. To correct this I use the Fade option in the edit menu. This allows me to fade back the filter just applied. I usually will use about 70% to soften the filter. The photo above shows the photo before I adjusted the levels; below, you’ll see the adjusted photo.

The last step I go through before adding a watermark and cropping is adjusting the sharpness of the photo using the Unsharp Mask Filter. This lightly sharpens and subtly brightens the photo.

Thanks so much, Jen, for sharing your tips and tricks! If you are interested in finding out how Jen created the card featured in today’s tutorial, visit this blog post HERE. Tune in tomorrow for another tutorial on card photography — Keia Shipp Smith is going to show you how to ‘trick out’ your photography ‘studio’ for magazine-worthy shots! Have a joyful day!