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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pen photography: Tips to get you started

This post today is preparing for tomorrows post, which I think you will all enjoy.

Today I am going to share some pen photography tips and ideas with you all. Being able to photograph your pens is not just for fun, it's useful for many reasons. If you want to do a good pen review, sell a pen, or trade a pen, you'll want be sure to provide good images for your viewers. This post will jump start you on your way to better pen photography!

Let me encourage you by saying: Getting professional looking pen photographs is easy, simple, and inexpensive! Let's begin.

Tip #1: "I just need a better camera..."
I hear this to often. Let me tell it to you like it is, straight up: You do not need to spend a lot of money to get good pen photographs. Photographing pens well is a technique, not a camera. :)

The camera I use cost me $35.00, off of eBay! It's a very old camera, and it doesn't have a whole lot going for it. Yet I get the job done. Of course, if you already have a nice $1500.00 camera, you'll be a step ahead.

Don't let this discourage you though. As long as you have a digital camera you can take very good, if not great pen photographs.

Tip #2: Take some time!
Don't be in a rush to finish up photographing your pen. Set aside a good 30 minutes for taking the photos, and editing them. I'll share my editing methods further down in today's post.

If you're in a rush, your photo quality will be greatly diminished. That's just not good, and it's not worth saving the extra 5 minutes. If you're going to bother to take photos of your pens, at least do a good job, right? :)

Tip #3: Set yourself up, for success!
Getting a good camera setup is an important key to getting good photos. You will want to experiment some, and see what works for you, but here's my favorite set up:

I have a table underneath my porch, where the sunlight  reaches, but not directly. You don't want direct sunlight for pen photos. You want indirect sunlight. Windows, underneath your porch overhang, etc. Those places are good for taking photos.

Use a tripod! Don't even try to avoid this one. You can find a good tripod on eBay, brand new for about $10.00. A tripod will prevent your camera from shaking, and produce much clearer pictures. It's worth the small investment of buying one.

Here is a photo of my camera setup. Very simple, and very basic - that's all that's needed.

My tripod pints down, and normally I set a piece of white paper on the table. That's it! Table, paper, tripod, and canopy.

Tip #4: Get outside - secret ingredient here!
Like I said in tip #3 - I take my photos outdoors. This is the most important key to success in my pen photographs. Inside, the lighting is so very poor. Whatever you do, don't pull the "snap a quick photo at my desk"! This results in horrible photos, unless you have a professional camera setup, and a light-box.

Believe me when I say that taking your photos outdoors will improve them in a way you never thought possible.

Again, avoid direct sunlight. I recommend taking them under a canopy, during a time of day where the sun is directly overhead. This way, the sun won't be shining right on your setup, but a gentle ambient light will filter through. Perfect...

Here is a comparison, of two photos of mine. One of these is from when I just began selling pens. The other is about a year or two later. These both use the same camera, and same setup. The difference? - Location.

Taken under fluorescent lighting, this is not such a great picture.

Same exact camera setup, but this time by a window, with indirect sunlight! This photo is sharper/crisper, has better coloration, and looks cleaner.

*It should be noted, for my own sake, that I am not a smoker! This is just an old cigar box I converted into a pen case.* :)

Tip #5: The background IS important
Don't forget a good backdrop for your photographs! Once again, think cheap. I use a plain piece of printer paper for my backdrop! Costs nothing, since I already have it, and looks professional. A good, plain white background will improve your picture quality so much!

Here is a comparison, between my old pen photos, and my new ones.

Bad backdrop - Stuff in the upper-right corner. To zoomed out, and to distracting.

Same camera, different setup! Outdoors, using a white sheet of paper for a backdrop. Not a lot of extra work for a huge amount of improvement.

Tip #6: Process them, but not to much
I like to use google's Picasa for my photo editing. I own Adobe Photoshop, but find it to complex for basic stuff like this. You can download Picasa for free, right here. Picasa also gives you some free online storage for your photos. I won't go into details about Picasa right now, as I don't want this post to become to long. I may do a tutorial on how I like to use Picasa, sometime in the future though.

The key to processing photos is this: Process enough to where the photo looks like it would in person. That's it. What do I mean by this?

Let me give you an example:

Here is a raw photo of a Lamy 2000. As you can probably tell, it's dark, and the paper is showing on the edge.

Same photograph, after a quick (30 second) touch up in Picasa. Lighting levels now look like they would if you were standing there with me, looking at the pen in person. Also, it's cropped so you can focus on the pen and not the background.

That's all the retouching I do. Just enough to make it look like it should, but no more. As soon as you get into the realm of enhancing a pen beyond what it actually is, you're into trouble.

Well, there you have it! That's my take on pen photography, from my 3.5 years of experience with it. I realize that to some of you folks out there who really are the pros, my methods might seem cheap. They are. :)

My goal is to make it possible for everyone to get really good pen photos. Good pen photos are crucial for selling pens, and they make our reviews a lot better too.

I hope you've enjoyed this collection of tips/tricks. Let me know in the comments below if you have anything to add, or you'd like to ask a question, or whatever! Just talk with me! I'd really love to hear from you.

Don't forget to subscribe to the blog. You don't want to miss tomorrow's post! Tomorrow I will share my 5 best tips for selling pens. I have sold a LOT of pens, so this is in area where my experience is fairly good. I hope you can all benefit from my mistakes, and successes.

Tyler Dahl

1 comment:

  1. This is really great article. I want to start a blog and was kinda scared of the picture aspect. This is definitely a huge help