Just look nice please, photos
March 3, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Re-asking my 2008 question about photographing textiles, now with DSLR and examples.

The textile art I was attempting to photograph is an embroidered comic strip that I did for most of 2009 (website link in profile). I was never happy with the photos I was getting with my point-and-shoot. Since then I have obtained a Canon EOS Rebel T2i and am slowly learning to use it. I'd like to re-shoot the comics, and eventually make and photograph more things like them.

I've been experimenting with the DSLR, and replaced the first two comics on the site with new photos; all others on the site were taken with the Canon S60. It's an improvement but I think I can do better, though I can't really articulate how. It feels like there's simultaneously too much and not enough detail, and that's somehow not easy on the eyes.

What I've been trying so far:
-Using this lens, the only lens I currently have. I'd like to try a macro lens.
-Setting ISO to 100.
-Keeping the aperture on the larger aperture/smaller f-stop end because there's not usually much depth to the subject, though I want to make similar things with more depth in the future.
-Using natural light on an overcast day with a window on the left and a big white board on the right to reflect a little. This gets much better results than overhead or raking artificial light, but it would be nice to be able to get consistent images without worrying about time of day or weather conditions.
-Shooting each panel individually and getting close enough that one panel fills the frame (lens usually about 1.5 feet away from the plane).
-Editing them together in GIMP, inevitably needing to adjust levels and colors a bit to get the black backgrounds to match and the colors to look the same across the different shots. I know a certain amount of editing is necessary but it's kind of a pain.

I don't want to spend a ton of money on photography gear at this point, but I'm not opposed to looking into new lenses or lighting gear. I'm also open to other presentation-of-images-on-the-web suggestions.
posted by doift to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Where are the examples?
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:31 PM on March 3, 2012

Sounds reasonable.

Using a smaller aperture (larger f/stop) will get you sharper pictures, regardless of the depth of field.

For this you may want to invest in a cheap tripod, so you can shoot with a longer shutter speed - and you can shot with longer shutter speeds at any time of day using indoor lighting.

You should be setting your white balance in the camera. Point the camera at something neutral like your white board & set white balance to that neutral object.

Shoot in manual mode, not in any kind of auto mode. Just spin the dials until the needle isin the middle. Again this will give you more consistency across photos.

I suggest a $10 gray card which will allow you to set both white balance and exposure properly.

So $10 gray card and $15 tripod.

Another way to get overcast lighting is to put a lamp behind a shower curtain - one of those frosted interior shower curtains or something similar (just be sure not to melt the curtain). Be sure to use all of the same type of bulb because you'll get different types of white balance from different bulbs.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:34 PM on March 3, 2012

Response by poster: RustyBrooks, didn't want to self-link in a post. If it's OK in a comment here are the two I've reshot:

Also, forgot to note that I'm using a tripod and a 2-second delay on the shutter.
posted by doift at 3:34 PM on March 3, 2012

Those are adorable. Is there a reason you're trying to photograph them instead of scan them? Scanning would be as high resolution as you want and can be really beautiful with 3D objects.
posted by emyd at 5:22 PM on March 3, 2012

Those are awesome! I have that same camera and that same lens. I'm no pro so I don't have strong recommendations for improvements to your setup, except this: when I'm doing repeated shooting in a fixed position, I find that having a shutter wire is invaluable. For that camera, the official Canon model is the the RS-60E3, $22. Knock-offs less than $10. With this, you won't need the two-second delay, and you won't accidentally move the camera while hitting the shutter.
posted by rlk at 5:35 PM on March 3, 2012

Seconding the shutter-release, or at least using a delay so that your hand doesn't shake the camera. In addition, I would actually use a higher aperture, as they are more sharp. F/8 is roughly the sharpest for that lens, this may slow your shutter speed to the point where you definitely need to stand the camera on something.

In addition, try playing around with additional lights. Google "3 light photography setup".
posted by Sonic_Molson at 6:10 PM on March 3, 2012

You don't need a macro lens unless these things are 1" across. In fact I think the 50mm lens is exactly what you should be using. And I second everyone else's comments comments.
posted by MillMan at 6:16 PM on March 3, 2012

I think you're OK gear-wise; you can, however, see some blurriness in the downsized images that isn't there in the originals, so you might want to experiment a bit more with different resizing techniques in order to make the downsized images appear sharper.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:14 AM on March 4, 2012

"It feels like there's simultaneously too much and not enough detail, and that's somehow not easy on the eyes."

Comparing A Prize Is Found And A Challenge Extended (DSLR) with Knitwear is Necessary (P&S) the major differences that I saw were:
  1. Less colour saturation
  2. Cooler colour balance
  3. Less overall contrast
  4. Less sharpness (which may be because it's slightly out-of-focus with a shallow depth-of-field, but which is probably more likely just be less aggressive sharpening of the file after the fact)
  5. More obviously raking light
My guess is that it is the last of these which you might contribute to your feeling there is "too much … detail". If that's the case then I respectfully disagree. Nice (soft) light from the side helps to highlight the textures of the various the materials you've used.

By contrast it is probably a combination of the first four, but particularly #4 and to a lesser extent #3, which leave you feeling that there's "not enough detail".* To ensure you're getting nice sharp images first lock the aperture in the f8-f11 range. Then your photos will definitely have sufficient depth of field to appear in focus even if you have some minor focussing error, and no new lens - no matter how expensive - is going to help. At that point if you're still unhappy with the apparent sharpness then you just need to wind up the sharpness settings, either in-camera or in GIMP. But at the same time also experiment with the contrast. The purple bird is significantly lighter in the DSLR shots, and this lower contrast might be contributing to your unhappiness.

You'll save yourself a lot of time if you follow the previous posters' advice and use the manual controls to lock down colour balance and exposure across all the shots in a session. You'll save even more time if you find in-camera settings for sharpness and contrast that you like as well.


* Point-and-shoots are typically designed to output heavily-saturated, highly-sharpened images, because that's what the average consumer likes. On DSLRs this tends to be wound back a bit, because many DSLR users prefer a less artificial-looking image. But you can crank it back up either in-camera, or in post-processing, if that is the look you're after.
posted by puffmoike at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2012

The problem I see with these images isn't so much the photography as the text and colors. For example, this strip's black panels are much easier to read. Maybe use a less textured background fabric and larger fonts?

The "nifty fifty" you are shooting is a great lens and has great DOF control but it doesn't have great macro capability (up-close focusing). If you can afford it, you might want to try this 60mm macro. If you aren't sure, you can rent various lenses to see what you like.

Lighting is going to be key. I'd suggest you pick up a light box. They look like this. I purchased a foldable one with two cheap halogen lamps and an even cheaper tripod for about $50 from my local store. The box provides even lighting from both sides and will reduce the sharp shadows that are making you backgrounds too detailed.

One of the things that's amazing about the 60mm macro lens I mentioned is that up close, the focus plane can get insanely small, about a millimeter or so. If you are careful, you might be able to move the focus plane up to the character layer which will blur the background a little bit, reducing the detail in that plane. You'll need to be focusing from a very short distance though.
posted by chairface at 8:44 AM on March 4, 2012

I think your reaction is largely likely to be with the way the file is being processed, and not the conditions the actual photo is being taken.

So I have taken the liberty of uploading to flickr a file comparing your original first frame of A Prize is Found with a mildly post-processed version. Please let me know if you want me to remove this.

This has had a curves layer applied (to increase overall contrast in the mid tones) and sharpening. Note that I have optimised sharpening for the full-size image (click through on flickr to see it). For the 'thumbnails' a different level of sharpening would be appropriate.

Meanwhile I'd respectfully suggest chairface's advice about the macro lens is off the mark.

I have the same 'nifty fifty', and at minimum focus distance (~45cm) on a cropped sensor camera like yours the field of view is ~10cm x 15cm. I'm guessing your panels are about that sort of size. So being able to get closer is no advantage. And with the 60mm macro lens you'll actually have to be further away to get everything in frame.

The advice about getting the text in focus but the background material out of focus also isn't practical. Assuming it was theoretically possible to get your text in focus whilst the background was noticeably out of focus then the noses, scarves, etc of your characters would be completely out of focus. And that's before we concern ourselves with the technical difficulties of finding a lens a) capable of creating such narrow depth of field across the whole frame, and b) with a completely flat plane of focus across the whole frame.

In summary: A new lens won't help you.

On the other hand chairface's advice about the light tent is good. This will allow you to create consistent light from one session to the next. It will also create softer, more even light. If you don't like the current amount of detail in your background material then further flattening out the light is one thing you should experiment with. But only after you've had a play with the sharpening settings of your camera and/or GIMP.
posted by puffmoike at 3:03 PM on March 4, 2012

EDIT: I uploaded that last file in a rush, and didn't realise the size restrictions on my barely used free Flickr account.

I have deleted the last file, and uploaded a modified version that will display at full size on Flickr, with the adjustment layer only applied to the middle third of the panel. Once again the sharpening was optimised for the full-size image (click through from the link), not the smaller version.
posted by puffmoike at 10:46 PM on March 4, 2012

Discovered that in 2012 there's better services than Flickr for this sort of thing.

Here's the original, full size, side-by-side comparison.

As you can see, a bit of simple post-processing (or better yet, finding sharpness and contrast settings in-camera) can make a big difference to perceived sharpness.
posted by puffmoike at 8:57 AM on March 6, 2012

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