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Photography Tips for Card makers and Crafters

Capturing a good photograph of your creation is essential. You owe it to yourself! Whether you’re making cards to sell online or making that bespoke birthday card for someone special you really should have as good a photograph of your creation as you can achieve. In this tutorial ‘Photography Tips for Card Makers and Crafters’ we’ll show you some simple photography tips to help you do your creations justice.

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Kit

I’ve created these tips knowing that most card makers and crafters use a Compact Camera or Smartphone but there are also some relevant photography tips if you’re shooting with a DSLR. Our Compact Camera is a Canon Powershot and our Smartphone is the iPhone 4S. All our shots were taken with natural daylight with no Photoshop manipulation, just cropped and re-sized for this post. In addition to our camera we use Modahaus Tabletop Studios , Modahaus Steady Stands, a Manfrotto pocket support and a non-branded mini tripod.

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Although I’m a professional product photographer, I’m not going to use any advanced techniques or settings. Let’s keep it simple. There are plenty other posts on this blog that go in to more advanced settings. iPhone users can find some additional tips and techniques on this post.

Photography tips – Location and set-up

Here we’ve positioned the Modahaus Steady Stand SS200 and camera with our window light source to the right. Switch off all artificial lights in the room. Trust me! Even if this makes your room feel a bit dark! Never mix your light sources! All the shots shown here were taken on a dull, overcast day which is often ideal. It’s much easer if you have even and consistent light rather than direct sunlight popping in and out from behind clouds.

modahaus-steady-stand-ss200-overhead-card-photo

As the shot above shows, we’ve used the white, blue and red translucent polymer backdrops beneath our card subject. A coloured background is ideal for card photography, especially when cards have a white or light coloured base. The coloured backdrops come bundled with the Modahaus Tabletop Studio Pro range and in this shot we used the Studio Pro TS216 backdrops shown below. So let’s shoot.

modahaus tabletop studio ts216 and backdrop range

Firstly, a big thank you to RosaRibbons who supplied a range of her cards for this tutorial. Her unique cards are made using rows of interwoven ribbons -hence RosaRibbons 😉

In this first shot above we can see we have our card totally square-on and straight , well exposed with bright white card whilst keeping detail in the white ribbon and no harsh shadows. A perfect image of the card in real life. How did we achieve this? It was simple!

Photography Tips – Camera Settings and Handling

Simply placing your camera on the Steady Stand platform with your card on the table beneath automatically ensures your camera is square on to the card. This ensures edge to edge image sharpness. Its really easy to adjust the position of your card and the camera to perfect your composition. The translucent sidewalls of the Steady Stand soften and diffuse incoming light and eliminate harsh shadows and give a professional soft box quality to your light. We had our camera set on P (Program) but you can also use Auto if that is your normal setting. Set your camera flash to OFF. Remember we’re using only daylight. Set your camera’s ISO to 100 (or 80 if you have it). This ensures fine image detail and minimises image noise (grain) that you have with higher ISO settings.  If you can’t change your ISO whilst on Auto, switch to P (Program).  Set your camera to 2 second delayed shutter release. (or 10 seconds if you don’t have 2 seconds) As the screen capture below says, this prevents blur when you press the shutter button. It only takes two button presses to set this on the Canon we used and it’s very simple to set on all Compact Cameras.

If you haven’t already done so, familiarise yourself with your camera’s shutter button. As this is the most important button on your camera, you have to treat it with respect. Never poke it or punch it! It much prefers a gentle squeeze. When you squeeze it halfway down it will give you some important feedback. The most important feedback it gives is confirmation you have locked focus on your subject. It normally shows this with a friendly green rectangle popping up on the LCD screen as shown below. Some cameras may show focus confirmation differently so check your manual. If you haven’t locked focus on your subject then you’ll likely have a yellow rectangle with an exclamation mark pop up (or perhaps a red rectangle with a cross). Please don’t ignore these warnings as your image will not be in focus.  As always, I recommend musical accompaniment to bring out the best in your photos and I’ve chosen ‘Cool for Cats’ by Squeeze and ‘The Green Manalishi’ by Fleetwood Mac for this shoot.

focus-lock-and-ISO-setting

Recap – Set camera to Program (P) or Auto, Flash OFF, ISO 100, 2 second delay, gently squeeze shutter button halfway, check focus locks on subject, shoot!

Using the Modahaus coloured backdrops helps to clearly define the shape of your card and the coloured background helps give a good exposure as your camera’s meter takes its reading from the whole frame. I’ll not go in to technicalities here, but suffice to say coloured backgrounds mean whiter whites! There are 4 fruity coloured translucent backdrops, an opaque white and a translucent white included in the set. Blue then red on top of opaque white gave us the cerise background in the first card shot. In the card shot below we added the orange on top of those three to achieve this more muted orange which helps accentuate the orange ribbon in the card. There are a multitude of different effects and colours achievable with this backdrop system.

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Photography Tips – Close up and Macro Photography

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Many Compact Cameras boast close up and macro capability of 1″ – 2″ (3cm  -5cm) which is pretty impressive but hitherto, it’s been very difficult to shoot that close to a subject without problems. When you get that close to your subject, depth of field (focus) is very shallow. This means if you are not totally square on to your subject, only part of your subject will be in sharp focus. You have to keep your camera perfectly still and conventional mini tripods struggle with getting in that close without getting their legs in the frame. The Modahaus Steady Stand SS100cc (for Compact Cameras) is just made for these shots. The image below didn’t need macro to capture this level of detail as the SS100cc’s camera platform is 3.94″ (100mm) high. We just cropped the image in to show the area we wanted. If you want to use macro just place your subject on an elevated platform, such as a small box, inside the Steady Stand to bring your subject to the closer macro distance. You’ll be blown away by the detail your Compact Camera or Smartphone is capable of.

close up with steady stand ss100cc

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The Modahaus Steady Stand SS100SP (for Smartphones) is perfect for all iPhones and similar sized Smartphones. Larger Smartphones may need the SS100CC. In this shot below we used the iPhone 4S using my trusty Camera+ App . The detail captured on the original goes right down to the single paper fibres with edge to edge sharpness. We go into iPhone manual exposure control techniques in detail in this recent post.

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Photography Tips – Photography for larger cards, alternative viewpoints and background effects

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The Modahaus Steady Stand SS300 and Modahaus Tabletop Studio Pro TS400 is the ideal combo for larger cards. The Steady Stands SS200 and SS300 come with adaptor plates and are compatible with Compact Cameras and all Smartphones. Our Guides page goes in to more detail on how to utilise the ‘Smart wallets’ all the Steady Stands come packaged in.

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modahaus-ts-400-blue-backdrop-upright card photography

The Modahaus Tabletop Studio range is ideal for all cameras including DSLR cameras and provides an infinity curve, clutter free, smooth background. The advanced polymer is wipe clean, food safe and resistant to most things you care to spill on it. The TS400 is large enough for two or more cards in one shot and it has a bigger sibling, the TS600 which can accommodate a whole collection.

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In these shots above and below with the TS216, the infinity curve is made up of the opaque white backdrop, topped with the red, then blue translucent backdrop. This automatically creates a unique and professional graduated background effect. Such an effect, using conventional techniques, would require complex and expensive lighting equipment. Using different coloured backdrop combinations offers a seemingly endless variety of possible background effects.

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Photography Tips – Photography on a white background and reflective subjects

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Are your whites coming out a dull grey? Then you need “Exposure Compensation”. Exposure compensation is so simple, it’s certainly easier to use than a washing machine! On the Canon Powershot you simply hit the function set dial at 6 O’clock and up pops the  -/+ gauge shown below. To make your whites, whiter, push the gauge in the  +  direction.

For our result below we gave it a full one stop in the plus direction (3 clicks). The amount you need will depend on the expanse of white you have. The more white, the higher the + required. If you have too much expanse of white you may go beyond your exposure compensation limits.

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modahus-ts216-with-smart-case-diffuser

If you use reflective elements in your card making the Steady Stand sidewalls and Smart Wallets play an important role by ensuring you have clean uncluttered reflections in your subjects. More details on Steady Stand Smart Wallets HERE.  The shot above shows the Modahaus Tabletop Studio Pro TS216 using the ‘Smart Case’ it comes packaged in to form a light diffusing surround that also plays its part in giving clear reflections in shiny subjects.

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This ring shot above demonstrates the benefit of clean uncluttered reflections in the stone and metalwork. We used our exposure compensation to achieve clean whites.

Most of the shots we’ve shown use the translucent coloured backdrops mixed together to give complimentary background colours. It’s worth showing this shot below using a contrasting background colour. The fruity green backdrop is one of my favourite background colours. This shot also shows the use of harder direct light from below rather than softer diffused light. To achieve this we simply spun our Steady Stand and backdrops round 90 degrees so the open end of the Steady Stand SS300 was facing our window light source. The picture frame was propped up a couple of inches with lego bricks which meant it cast a soft shadow on the backdrop whilst the shadows cast on the modelling of the frame remained quite hard. This helped give depth to the frame. Hard shadows are not always the enemy!

tulip-hard-light-from-below-steady stand ss300 green background

The Modahaus Steady Stands and Tabletop Studios offer Card Makers and Crafters a smorgasbord of creative opportunities.

Checkout Steady Stand/Tabletop Studio bundles and save 15% on individual product prices. And remember we also offer Free Shipping Worldwide!

That’s all for now but if there are any areas you’d like me to cover I’d be delighted to hear from you. I’m new to Card Making and I’m sure there are photography issues that arise for card makers that I’ve not covered. If you have any tips you’d like to share with us or questions you’d like to ask, feel free to add them below. We’d be delighted to hear from you or you can connect with us on FacebookTwitterYouTube and Flickr.

Cheers, Lex

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  • Sheamus Warior

    I admired your helpful words. Top class contribution. I really hope you’ll write more. I’ll continue looking for.
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  • Barbara amsel

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  • Madame LaFarge

    Lex, First off, thank you for writing this very informative tutorial of sorts. I am putting together a
    collection of cards, gift bags, ribbon, and tissue paper. I was using an old Olympus camera that seems to have bitten the dust. Went out got a Nikon D7200 with the 18-55 kit lens. Too much camera for me, I think. Got one very nice photo of a card and envelope, thought I could replicate but not having success. Seems blurry.

    So I began researching options for overhead shooting. Yours appears to be the most user friendly. However, I am not grasping getting from laying camera on table top set up to actually getting a photo.

    I see that you use a Canon Powershot. The color will be most important in the photos, as that is the thread tying all of these elements together. The green frame and violet flower shown above are vibrant, the photo is just great.

    I would be photographing small gift bags, with tissue paper and ribbon, so need a slightly larger format to stand these items up on the curved backdrop. Then would photograph single A2 envelopes with a colored card, on white background as the color is the focus.

    Please help with suggestions on which of your setups is recommended. More detail on how to go from setting the camera to the photo would also be very much appreciated.

    I do think your arrangement is the wonderful option I have been looking for.

    Thank you so much!

  • modahaus

    Many thanks for your comments and question Madame LaFarge. The Nikon D7200 with the 18-55mm kit lens will give you a closest focussing distance of around 11″. If the focal plane distance is less than 11″ or if any zoom in from the 18mm setting is used your images will be blurred. A solution might be investing in a macro lens OR use a compact camera, smartphone or tablet camera. Compacts and smart devices have good macro capability built in typically. The Modahaus range has evolved considerably since this tutorial published 4 years ago and from the subjects you describe we’d recommend the Steady Stand SS300 Kit/Tabletop Studio TS400 Bundle shown here – http://www.modahaus.com/shop/modahaus-steady-stand-300-and-tabletop-studio-pro-400/ You may also consider adding the new Rostrum Camera Stand which would allow overhead capture of a much larger subject area -http://www.modahaus.com/shop/rostrum-camera-stand/ These guides pages may also help – http://www.modahaus.com/guides/ Hope that helps, best regards Lex

  • Madame LaFarge

    Many thanks to you, too, for your response. Yes, I had honed in on the Steady Stand SS300 with the Tabletop Studio TS 400. Would prefer the smaller size, guess it is prudent to order the larger one for one single shot of rolls of ribbon. I do not have an idea of how the Rostrum Camera Stand would be hung in an appropriate spot at our location.

    I left out that there is another kit lens 55-250. It looks as though you prefer Canon. We have option to try out a Canon 70D, available with the same kit lens setup as the Nikon 18-55, 55-250.

    I have been reading any material I can find on recommended cameras. Head is spinning. I am understanding that the lens is more important than the camera body. Maybe better to choose a less expensive body and go for a macro lens?

    Yes, I looked at compact cameras, and bridge cameras. Priorities are a camera that offers viewing on a computer and excellent image quality.

    I will continue to search your site for relevant information. Any input is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you, Lex!
    Rachel

  • modahaus

    Hi Rachel, I appreciate how daunting it can be when deciding on your next camera for product photography. I’ve been there so many times! I use everything from Tablets to Pro DSLRs for my work. If I were shooting overhead product shots for the subjects you describe I’d use one of our Smartphones without hesitation. For manual control I’d use Camera + App on iPhone or Camera FV5 for Android. You can set images to save as TIFF on Camera + app. Rather than tether to a computer I’d bounce images through the cloud (Dropbox, iCloud etc) and view immediately on computer. The SS300 three part kit allows you get as close as you want to your subject. i.e. fill the frame with a postage stamp for example whilst maintaining tack sharp focus and keep square-on to your subject. Excellent user interface on Smartphones makes this a very productive method. For ‘front on’ shots of your subject set up on the Tabletop Studio TS400 I’d use any of the DSLRs you mention. The 18-55mm Kit lens you mention has a more appropriate reach for product photography but either would give excellent results. Adding a small macro lens to your DSLR kit would also work well for overheads with the SS300 Kit. I agree lenses are a more important consideration than the body. Also, prime lenses give better quality than zoom lenses. You’ll likely stick with your lenses for many years and you can always upgrade your camera body down the line. Touch screen function on a DSLR is very useful in product photography. Yes, Canon was the main DSLR/SLR path I chose a long time ago but I’ve no misgivings about other brands I’ve used like Nikon, Sony, Lumix, Fuji etc. I’d tether my Canon to computer using Canon’s excellent bundled software DPP Professional and I believe Adobe Lightroom can give similar tethered control for most popular brands. Hope that helps Rachel. If your heads still spinning, take it in steps if you have the time but it seems to me you have a good grasp of the important considerations. Lex

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