How and why your camera does what it does, Using Manual
First of all you will need to learn how to use the camera in its manual mode. Why? Because in the auto modes it try’s to fix everything for you. Basically your camera is designed to make good consistent snapshots. One of the things that photo technicians discovered over the years was that if you took all of the colors in a regular snapshot type of picture and added them up you would almost always get a neutral gray. So, when the electronic manufactures started making digital cameras they incorporated this idea into how the camera’s chip sees the colors in a picture. The chip with it's software works more like your eye than like film. Film had to be made to work with certain types of light. I am sure everyone remembers seeing pictures taken with film cameras inside when the flash did not go off. Remember those orange or yellow pictures? That’s because the film was manufactured to give correct color when used in daylight or flash, not room light. The light inside your house is much more yellow orange in color.
Your eye however does not see this light as orange. Why, because sort of like the chip in your camera, your eye and brain can adjust the perceived color that you see. The digital camera can do the same thing. In the auto mode it changes the recorded image so that the orange is no longer visible in the picture if you are shooting snapshots. Remember, everything adds up to gray if the camera is in the auto mode. Any auto mode.
You have to turn off all of the automatic modes. When you do this, you can set your product picture up and switch out the products without having to change anything on the camera.
So, · Turn off the flash · Set the ISO to a manual setting, usually around 200 ISO · Turn off the automatic exposure system by setting the camera on Manual · Set the exposure manually. Usually if you are using photofloods in the 250 watt range, the camera will be set around f8 and ½ second exposure time. (You will find out later what an f-stop like f8 is. The ½ second is just the length of time that the camera’s sensor sees the light.) · Set the White Balance on the camera to match the lighting system you are using. · USE A TRIPOD!!!
Do you want to learn more? Keep reading this guide. Thanks,
I get lots of questions about how do I set the camera manually. Well, big problem trying to tell you about your camera. Each camera brand and sometimes even different models of the same brand work differently. So, Read your instruction book. The instruction book should tell you how to do the following. #1 Turn off the flash #2 Set the ISO (Film Speed) to the manual mode. Usually around 200. #3 How to set the shutter speed and the f-stop. #4 Set the White Balance to match the lighting you are using.
Why do all of this you ask? Because most digital cameras are designed to take snapshots. Whey you take a snapshot probably 99% of the time if you were to add up all of the colors in the picture, reds, blues, etc, you would get a neutral gray. The same is true of the densities, the light areas and the dark areas of the picture. So, this concept is programed into the software of the camera. You have to turn this off. If you don't, when you are shooting product pictures or portraits, you very seldom have a picture full of different colors, densities, etc. A product picture usually has the product on some kind of smooth background. Usually of a neutral color. This confuses the camera system. If you are shooting a pair of blue jeans on a white background you won't have any reds in the picture. The camera will try to put the reds back into the picture. Just pretend that the picture below was a picture of a pair of blue jeans on a white background. You end up with a red (pink) background as the camera adds red back into the picture. Remember the camera wants everything to add up to neutral gray.
This is not what you wanted.
When you adjust the picture in whatever picture control program to get the blue jeans to look right the background ends up red or pink. In order for you to get the blue jeans to look the right color blue you end up adding red back into the picture.
Lets pretend you are shooting a red blouse on a white background. Did you end up with something like this.
Again the auto white balance is trying to fix your picture. You have to turn this system off. You do that by manually setting the white balance to match the color of the lights you are using. It is probably best to do a custom white balance if your camera will let you. If not then set the camera for the color temperature of the lights you are using. Daylight, around 5000 to 5500 degrees Kelvin. Or, Tungsten around 3000 degrees Kelvin. This way the colors you are shooting will end up correct in your picture. This means less work for you when you open the file up on your computer. Less work means faster production of your images.
Once you get the white balance get the exposure set correctly. Again, this has to be done manually. You will have to set the shutter speed and the f-stop. The shutter speed is the length of time the shutter is open letting light onto the sensor chip inside of your camera. The f-stop is the size of the iris opening inside of the lens on the camera.
I usually do this by trial and error. I set the camera on f-8 which is a medium iris opening. The higher the number the smaller the actual opening in the iris. The lower the number the larger the opening. f-2.8 lets in more light than f-8 etc. However, when you are shooting products close up you run into a problem called depth of field. You want as much of the item to be in focus in your final picture as possible. The iris opening also controls the depth of field. The smaller the actual iris opening the more depth of field you get. So, if you are shooting something at f2.8 and the front is in focus but, the middle or back parts are out of focus, you can change to f5.6 or f8 to increase the depth of field. Of course, when you do this you also change the effective exposure. Remember f8 lets in less light than f2.8. This requires you to change the shutter speed to adjust for the change in the f-stop.
I usually start by setting my f-stop at f8 for more depth of field and then take several pictures at different shutter speeds, taking notes as to which frame was shot at which shutter speed. Then I open them up in my computer, compare them, and pick the best exposure. That gives me my shutter speed and f-stop for my best pictures.
I use 250 watt tungsten lights bounced off of white umbrellas most of the time. The exposure on most of my product pictures runs around 1/2 second to 1/4 second at f8. If the item is large and I have to move the lights further back from the item I will have to adjust the shutter speed to allow for having less light on the item.
Just a note, when picking the best picture, you will probably have better luck working with pictures that are slightly under exposed, slightly darker than you want. You can normally brighten a picture without loosing anything. However, if the picture is too bright to begin with, you will find that when you darken the picture, the highlights, those bright areas on you item do not have any detail in them. The area just got darker. Digital has very little leeway for over exposed pictures.
When I gave this seminar at our local Ebay group meeting, I found out that there are some cameras out there that do not have a manual mode anymore. Members who had Olympus and Kodak cameras did not have access to f-stops, shutter speeds, and some with custom white balance modes. Remember if you want to get consistent color and density in your pictures you have to have a manual mode to work with.
Just a note. Check to see if there are any eBay groups meeting in your area. I have been on Ebay since 1998. Yet, I always learn something new when I go to one of the local meetings. There are several places to look for groups a web page called meet-up and of course my space and my face.
When shooting the actual pictures for eBay, I normally use a neutral gray seamless paper background. I have it mounted on the wall over my work table. I pull down enough to cover the work table leaving the product about a foot or 2 in front of the back part of the background. I use 3 different widths of background depending on the size of the product I am shooting. One is 9 feet wide for those large items. One is 53 inches wide for most of the regular stuff and a small 18 inch wide gray background for small items.
If you are shooting people modeling your clothing items, you will probably end up using a wide, 9 foot, background. That allows you to get back far enough to get the whole person in the picture. Again, remember f-stop and shutter speed. Shooting full length people usually requires more light. Otherwise you end up with too slow of a shutter speed and the model can't hold still long enough for you to get a sharp picture. Usually 2 lights using 500 watt bulbs is sufficient. You will probably have to open up the f-stop to f2.8 or so to let in more light. But, now you are further back and the depth of field is not as critical of a problem.
Why am I talking about backgrounds when this is supposed to be about manual exposure and lighting. Because you have to have something to put your product on. The corner wall of your living room just does not cut it if you are trying to compete against other people selling on Ebay.
I use 2 lights for almost all of my product pictures. Assuming that the camera is on a tripod and basically level with the person or item, you would put one light slightly above the camera and to the right of the camera. This is called the main light. It throws a shadow behind the item and to the left of the item. See the sample picture courtesy of Smith Victor Lighting.
See the shadow on the background. If you move the person further away from the background the shadow will move to the left and disappear from the viewed picture area.
This is called the main light. It creates the 3 dimensional effect of the picture.
The second light would go on the opposite side of the camera but, level with the subject or the camera and slightly further away from the subject than the main light. Remember the main light was slightly higher than the camera or the subject and is closer to the subject. This second light is called the fill light. The fill light fills in the shadows. It does not get rid of them. It just makes them a part of the picture. A picture without any shadows will look flat.
We have moved the model further away from the background and filled in the shadows with the fill light. This is a standard 2 light setup.
I normally use 2 lights to shoot 99% of my product pictures. And yes, there are ways to cheat. I mostly shoot product pictures not people or models. The concept of a main light and a fill light can be adjusted to match up with what you are shooting. Since most of the items I shoot are 3 dimensional yet do not lend themselves to a regular portrait type of lighting set up like described above, I cheat. I bounce my main light off of the ceiling. I am lucky to have one of those white popcorn type of ceilings in my office. It makes a really nice diffuser spreading the light over a large area. I like to think of it as a really BIG umbrella. This light becomes my main light. The light is still above the product. So it still looks normal. My fill light is bounced off of an umbrella. It is on the other side of the camera. I move it closer or further away until I get the fill effect I am looking for on the product.
I would get basically the same picture if I used the standard lighting set up described for portraits or larger product pictures. This just makes it simpler for me. Check out the jewelry picture and the coins below.