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How I Photograph my Woodturnings for the Website

Selling craftwork on the internet is not easy. It is not always easy for the visitor to assess the quality of the work, but good photographs can go a some way to remedying this. It is important to remember that a picture on the web is typically just a few hundred pixels wide and high. It is not easy to show the qualities of your work with such low resolution. In this article I will tell you some of the techniques I use to improve the quality of my website pictures.

The basic setup I used for taking the photographs on this page.

I am using a Sony Mavica MVC-FD81 for all the pictures on this page.

Digital photography allows me to take a shot and check it out straightaway on the computer.

Good lighting, a plain background and space to work are three essentials elements to taking a good photograph.

I prefer to work with natural light. Flash on camera can lead to heavy shadows, and a good off-camera flash system is expensive. In this example I am working with light from a north facing window. It is January, there is snow on the ground and the sky is overcast, which leads to good white light and avoids the blue tint that can be a problem in shadows on a sunny day.

The background consists of two sheets of white card covered with a layer of white tissue paper to create an even gradient between horizontal and vertical. Textiles can work well, but choose something with no texture (that can cause problems with jpeg compression) and no sheen. I don't use fabric myself because it is so hard to keep clean in a dusty woodshop.

A tripod is a very useful accessory. It allows you to take the camera to the computer to download the pictures for checking. You can then return the camera to exactly the same spot to take more pictures if anything needs adjusting.

Getting the exposure correct is very important. Although some manipulation can be done afterwards by software, you can't make a really good picture from a poorly exposed photograph.

The pictures here have been taken at various exposure corrections to determine which I should use when taking the real ones. Other than reducing the size of the picture and applying jpeg compression, no software modifications have been made.

This picture was taken with no exposure correction

- 1.5 EV

- 1.0 EV

- 0.5 EV

+ 0.5 EV

+ 1.0 EV

+ 1.5 EV

You can see how quite a bit of exposure correction may be needed. This is caused by the large white background, which makes the camera think there is more light than there actually is. Some cameras have various automatic exposure modes that will take the light level reading from a spot in the center of the frame.

The angle at which the photograph is taken can have a huge effect on the impact of the photograph. This next series of shots illustrate how rotating the item affects both the power of the composition, and the way in which the light plays on the textured and smooth areas of the item.

1 - Looking straight on gives a rather two-dimensional appearance. It does however show the true proportions of the item, and the nice round center piece.

2 - Rotating the object has created a little more dimension to it. However the lighting is a little flat.

3 - Rotating it the other way has created a better lighting effect which highlights the shape of the object. See how the shadow on the side adds impact to the picture, compared to the previous shot. Notice also the highlight along the blackwood - this helps to show that it is round.

4 - This one has been rotated even further. It becomes even more dramatic, but I have lost the highlighting on the blackwood. Notice how the aspect ratio of the picture has changed compared to shot 1. This photo might be useful to go in a sidebar or vertical banner.

5 - Compare this shot to #3. The relationship between the camera and the object is the same, but I have rotated them both relative to the lighting. Notice how the texture on the face is coming to life in this shot.

Don't feel that you have to choose just one photograph to illustrate your product. I used photos 1, 3 and 5 on the finished web page for this item.

And keep all the shots which are technically acceptable. You never know when you may need them for another place on your site, or for creating a banner advert.

And above all, when you are taking the photos, examine all possible angles and study carefully how the light is playing on the object. Don't be afraid to take close-ups of just a part of the object as I have done in these two shots. They say a lot more about the character of the piece that a shot of the whole item.

Check out my page of past work, and also the one-of-a-kind pieces that are still available for sale. There you will find more shots that will illustrate how different angles can show off the details in a piece.

Other online resources:

Taking Quality Slides
Basic Jewelry Photography



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Some of my unique designs which have now found a good home.

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Copyright Derek Andrews 2004