25 December 2010

Etsy Tips & Tricks #4: Improve Your Photography Skills

When I was in high school, I went through a black & white photography phase. I have a simple 35 mm camera and I bought the black & white film because I thought it was cooler than lame-o colored shots. I didn't know what the heck I was doing. I knew nothing about lighting or angles or background/foreground. I just took pictures of anything that seemed interesting. In the many rolls of black & white film that I went through from 11th grade until I was too busy partying it up during my freshman year of college, I did manage to snap a few really great shots... but most of them were, admittedly, crap. (Some, literally, including my infamous "toliet flushing" art shot. Doh!) I made a few albums, put the rest in a box, and promptly forgot about them.

Later, I upgraded to a digital camera. My first digital camera was a pen cam, some crappy flash-free number that only took decent pictures if I shot in the bathroom (which crazy bright lights) or outdoors on sunny days. Oh, and I had to keep the pictures tiny on the web or they got all fuzzy. My friends and I definitely had a blast doing crazy photo shoots with the good old pen cam, including the photo comic strip "The Air Conditioner from God" and things like that, but after the best photo shoot of all time was lost due to a glitch in the camera's design that caused it to lose all saved photos if the battery died, I quickly lost interest.

A few years later, I had finally saved up enough money for a laptop computer, and Dell was running a promotion at the time that included a free Fujifilm FinePix digital camera with all the accessories, and I was psyched. I started taking pictures again, mostly of my friends doing stupid things and random scenic vistas, and when I went to Europe, the digital camera came with me to dialogue the most epic adventures of Mr. International and me. (I must have had a nickname, too, but for the life of me, I can't remember it. Note to self: Ask Mr. International!) Out of that came a cool web project called, um, Moira Does Europe, followed soon by the Phonebooth project. [Man, I really should upload these old projects, because I still love them. The only project from that era still online is Roses.]

So, yeah, I graduated from college, tried my hand at writing with minimal success, and somehow ended up as an artist/teacher. I still  use a Fujifilm to take pictures, mostly of my students being silly now, and of their projects, but I'm usually handing the camera to them. We even used my old Fujifilms (I have two now, long story) for a digital scavenger hunt that I designed this past summer for Hope High School's H20 program. But a photographer I am definitely  not.

So imagine my chagrin when I realized that my success selling my work online, as well as getting into galleries and shows, depends on my ability to either take fantastic products shots or to pay someone to do 'em for me. Ack! I've been doing okay shots, and I found a few templates that make it look like I can take a decent photograph, but a huge stalemate to my success as an etsy business is that my pictures look like crap. I learned about lightboxes a few months back, and I made one out of a cardboard box. It worked okay, but it's been annoying to find somewhere to store it and it's actually a little too small to shoot anything bigger than, say, a bracelet. Necklaces? Forget it. I thought about making another larger box, but where the heck was I going to keep it?

Things changed when Carole Ann showed me her collapsible photo light box made out of white foam core. Fantastic! You can make the box any size you'd like and when you aren't using it, you can take it apart and store it somewhere out of the way. The tutorial is on Snickerdoodle Creations. I'd love to tell you that it was insanely easy to make, and in fact for me, it was... because I didn't make it, Nick did. Still, he didn't seem to have any problems and now I have a lovely giant light box.

Just for fun, I posted some before and after shoots of my images after applying the technique shown in the Snickerdoodle tutorial. The first is my pencil tin, the second is an art piece I made, and the last is a random plastic butterfly that was floating around in my studio.

I've been working on improving my photography skills in the last few months, and I think that shows in the images in my etsy shop, Literary Tease. Here's an image from my Bonjour Paris Magnet set, the very first item I sold on Etsy:

Here's an image I took recently, from my Choose Your Own Word Dictionary Ring listing:

Dictionary Cocktail Rings
copyright Moira Richardson 2010

I don't know about you, but I think there's a world of difference between those two pictures. The dictionary ring image is far superior. I've learned how to avoid light flashes by the way I position my light. I use a full-spectrum lightbulb in my light box. I've also learned how to adjust levels in photoshop so that the colors show up properly, instead of yellowed out like in the Paris magnets shot. I'm sure there's still room for improvement, but I'm quite happy with my photography at the moment, especially considering that I'm still using my crappy point-and-shoot.


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