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10-25-2013, 02:58 PM   #1
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newbie question about lighting and white balance

I am pretty new to cameras. I am trying to take pictures for selling stuff online using a Pentax K10.

I am attaching a photo someone else took to sell a magazine online. It is the one with Santa on the cover. I like the color and the brightness of the photo. The whites are really white. Overall, a good photo for presenting the product.

I am also attaching a couple of photos I took trying to achieve the same thing. The items in the photo are sitting on white posterboard (not off white). But my photos are dark. The whites are not white. I've tried all of the following:

- green mode with flash on
- manual mode and av mode with opening the aperture wide
- I have two 1000 watt work lights that I also tried using. These are not photography lights but with 2000 watts of lighting from them , I was getting the left side of the image. I don't think the flash went off with all that light
- I've tried manually adjusting the white balance

Clearly, I'm just doing something wrong. Both sides of the image had these very bright lights shining yet you would never know it from looking at the pictures. I've used these lights in the past with HD video and gotten pretty good results.

So I was wondering if someone could point me in the right direction. Assume that the object is very well lit against a very white background. Is there a set of steps I can take to make adjustments so that I get a photo that looks like the Santa one I posted?

I realize this post must sound like an absolute novice asking to made an expert in 3 easy steps, but I'm baffled. Any pointers in the right direction would be helpful.

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10-25-2013, 04:20 PM   #2
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I look at this as just a white balance problem. The 1000-Watt lights are bright, but they are still incandescent halogen bulbs. Bright is good, but you have to set your white balance better.

I am not familiar with the K10D settings to tell you how, though.

Once you get that sorted out, step your lens down a bit to get wider depth-of-field. The picture of the photo shows areas that are out of focus. You should use a tripod, and then you can go with longer exposure times at smaller apertures, without blurring the whole image. And you really don't need 2000 watts of power to do this!
10-25-2013, 04:24 PM   #3
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I am relatively new to this as well.. but i hope i can help out.
if your pictures look dark, you can get them lighter by getting more light to the sensor:

1- since the object you're photographing is still. If you have a tripod, you can lower your shutter speed. 1/FL should be safe if you have no tripod
2- open aperture. The lower the aperture number, the larger the better (edit: the post above is right, you want to increase a bit this number because of DOF)
3- boost your ISO. The higher the more sensitive your sensor becomes but the more noise it introduces.

since youre shooting in A, you can use exposure compensation. Set it to something like +1. The camera then will select a ISO value and Shutter speed that would make the picture 1 stop lighter. If you want lighter than that, choose a lighter number.

I recommend looking at the settings the camera chose for you in A mode, switch to M mode (full manual) and set those settings.. Then, using 3 idea above get your image lighter.
10-25-2013, 06:02 PM   #4
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As noted above your white balance is off. You will need to sort that out first. Try 'tungsten' if the camera has it or manual setting at say 3,500K to start and adjust until it comes right. Don't know what software you are using to PP if any, but if you shoot in RAW then this can just be adjusted on the computer. Always better to get it right in camera of course. If you are not using software for post processing then you have to get it right in camera. Read the manual there should be a way to set a custom white balance using an 18% gray card.

Second your lighting needs a little help. Products shots, once you have all the details right, are simple. But the details are important.
  • Look at the glasses, you have competing shadows caused by the lights coming from both sides and being too harsh. You should find a way to soften those lights a bit. I use fluorescent bulbs and just hang tracing paper in front to diffuse my lights. But with those big halogen lights that would be very dangerous, and likely to start a fire.
  • You should try to eliminate all of those shadows, by diffusing or bouncing the light. Also one side should be slightly brighter than the other to give some definition, with your lights just move one a bit further away than the other. I use a lot of foam-core, poster type board from the craft store. You can set the lights to bounce off the foam core rather than directly onto the product.
  • Do a search for 'product photography' or 'lightbox' or 'softbox' that will give some idea what I'm talking about.
  • The DIY lightboxes are OK, I built one an used it for awhile but now find I can do better without it, though I have better lights now.
  • Are you using a tripod? I consider that an absolute must for product photography. As noted above, 2,000 watts is a lot of light. Way more than you need. The problem is not the light, it's what you are doing with it. On a tripod, you can use 1/8 second exposure (or longer) and just use window light for products. You are trying to 'brute force' something that really needs finesse. Bounce cards, reflectors a good tripod and some window light are all you really need. Lights are a help and I would not shoot without them but not necessary.
  • Also what aperture are you using the magazine page is not all in focus. You should be using a very small aperture f/13 or even f/16. You will get some softness at those settings due to diffraction but that is better than OOF for products shots. You won't notice soft on a web image but you will notice out of focus.


10-25-2013, 06:18 PM   #5
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You may also want to diffuse the light to reduce shadows. Any white sheer material may work, like the translucent thin curtains they call "sheers" that go under drapes. Stretch them flat but not too close to the lights.
10-25-2013, 06:28 PM   #6
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I did notice you said you tried the pop-up flash and got the same results. My guess is that with the two 1000-Watt lights, the camera dialed back the flash power, so that it really didn't contribute much flash color to your photo.

Just as an experiment, try taking one shot with just the pop-up flash and no other lights in the room, and I'll bet your color goes back to the white color you expect. Might come out a little bluish, since flashes are typically balanced to daylight. Anyhow, that would help show that white balance is a factor. Let us know how this comes out.
10-25-2013, 07:00 PM   #7
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-Use your 1000 watt lights, disable your pop-up flash. Trying to combine the two will cause headaches.
-Set up your poster board, but not the object you're selling.
-Use the poster board to set the "custom white balance" (read your manual)
-Set your aperture and ISO to what you want. (Manual mode)
-Set your shutter speed until your meter reads "+2" (I'm assuming a tripod here. If none, ramp up the ISO as well so you can get something hand holdable and get a tripod ASAP).
-Take a picture.
-Put it on the computer. If it's not white enough for you, readjust shutter so the meter reads "+2.5". If it's too white, readjust it to read "+1.5". Repeat the last step.
-Once your white is where you want, record what your meter said for next time (the +whatever you were at is most important).
-Insert your object and click away.

Once you can do this reliably, start to worry about diffusion material to make the shadows prettier. You may need to adjust your 'custom white balance' again as the diffusion material may change the colour temp of your lights. You will also need to adjust your shutter speed, but keep using the same +whatever that put your white where you wanted it.
10-25-2013, 07:01 PM   #8
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A "light tent" is good for eliminating shadows, if the object is small enough to fit inside. I experimented by cutting windows in a cardboard box, covered them with translucent paper, and put another piece of solid white paper inside to provide a sweeping rear. It looks terrible but works great, mostly for photos of lenses.

I wait for daylight because some artificial light sources render colors poorly. The recent high-tech light sources like compact fluorescent or LED lighting might have a whiter-looking light, but don't always have a complete spectrum. Fluorescents also flicker, and a fast shutter speed (<1/30) can catch them when they're dim or showing one odd color. Tungsten light corrected for white balance works very well. Halogen light should be good too. A fluorescent with a CRI (color rendering index) close to 100 is good with a slow shutter speed.

The lens will be slightly better stopped down than wide open. Colors, contrast and depth of field improve. The DA 18-55 is pretty good for lens photos at f9.5.

That's why a tripod was suggested above, because it's hard to get enough artificial light on the subject without spending money. But a tripod allows really slow shutter speeds. Turn off SR. The 2 second delay is useful.

10-25-2013, 07:22 PM   #9
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Wow! What a lot of great responses so quickly. Thanks to everyone who responded so far. I will digest all this great feedback and let you know what happens.

Thanks again everyone!!
10-25-2013, 08:21 PM   #10
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I would just point the lights at a white wall, that way you'll have a huge light source and very soft shadows. Also reduces the risk of fire vs. hanging diffusion material in front of hotlights. Keep your ISO low, no reason to go over 100 with that much lighting. Keep the aperture small as others have said, and use a longer shutter speed with a tripod.

An 18% gray card will help you nail your exposure. Just put the card in the scene, set the camera to spot meter mode, and shoot in manual. Find the proper exposure for the gray card at your chosen aperture, maybe f/11 to f/16, and then leave it at that. Since your lighting won't be changing from shot to shot, there's no reason to change the exposure.

I find that my K20d won't take a white balance reading from an 18% gray card. I have better tools for the job, but in a pinch and 18% gray card will do. I find that you need to over expose the card by at least a stop to get the camera to recognize it as a white balance target.
10-26-2013, 02:24 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by rgcote Quote
Is there a set of steps I can take to make adjustments so that I get a photo that looks like the Santa one I posted?
Shot RAW and adjust WB in PP.
Don't mess about with the crude WB in camera.

Not having a clue what the original should look like and working from a badly botched, low res, 8 bit jpg - 5 min in PS....

Last edited by wildman; 11-02-2013 at 05:07 AM.
10-26-2013, 09:22 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by maxfield_photo Quote
An 18% gray card will help you nail your exposure. Just put the card in the scene, set the camera to spot meter mode, and shoot in manual. Find the proper exposure for the gray card at your chosen aperture, maybe f/11 to f/16, and then leave it at that. Since your lighting won't be changing from shot to shot, there's no reason to change the exposure.
This is good advice. First off, it looks to me like your white background is fooling the light meter in your camera. Light meters are stupid. They don't know what kind of scene you're looking at so they just assume everything is gray. That works pretty well if you're shooting a general scene with highlights, shadows, and lots of midtones...so a lot of times "auto" is fine. But in a situation like yours, where you want a large portion of the picture to be white, you have to go to manual mode or else your camera will try to help you too much. What will happen in "auto" is that your light meter will see all that white background, assume it's gray, and set an exposure to make it come out looking as such...which it does in the pics you posted, especially the one with the glasses where more of the background is filling the frame. If you follow Maxfield's advice, you ought to be pretty darned close on your exposure. If you don't have an 18% gray card handy (for reference, it's sometimes called "battleship gray"), you can use something of a similar shade that you might happen to have around the house, maybe a towel or jacket. The point is, you want to tell your light meter, "No, dummy...THIS is what gray looks like!"
The second thing is your white balance, but you already know that. I find it hard to believe that your built-in white balance settings are this far off. I think someone probably hit the nail on the head earlier when they pointed out that you had tried using your in-camera flash for a few shots. Electronic flash is daylight balanced, so your camera may have automatically switched your white balance to daylight when you did that and not switched back. AWB is a lot like the "auto" settings on our light meters. It can be a great thing under the proper conditions, but it can also change things so much from shot to shot that it makes it hard to get a handle on what's going wrong. Like I said earlier...sometimes our cameras try to help too much. lol Try setting your exposure and white balance manually and see if it doesn't get you much more in the ballpark.
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