How to Take Excellent Photos

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Go Into The Light!

While your creepy basement might be a great place to display your Halloween collection, no one’s going to be able to see if it we’re all in the dark. Whenever possible, use our Earth’s yellow sun to light your photos : work near a window, or even go outside!

If you live in a windowless tomb, are allergic to light or are on a planet which knows no natural light, it’s not too difficult to set up a quick and dirty studio lighting situation using paper, a lamp or two and/or a cheap Tupperware container.

Making a lightbox from a cardboard box.
And a how-to in video form!
And a slightly more complex setup.

Of course, these techniques can be adapted to any size of item, but experiment!

This photo is too dark!

The Flash

Like we said, well-lit photos are great - but if you’re photographing something shiny or even slightly reflective, your camera’s flash can completely destroy the detail of your object. Fight the flash! Here’s some techniques to use :

  • Take a few steps back and zoom in.
  • Turn off the flash and use diffused light (described above).
  • Angle your photo so that your flash isn’t directed straight back at your camera.

The Reverse Flash

Also, don’t stand in your own light! Know your light sources for your photo, and try not to stand between your object and the light’s all-important rays! Your antique bicycle looks much better without that streak of darkness cast across it.

Steady as she goes!

One of the worst problems that plagues photographers is the dreaded Shaky Hand. When The Hand strikes, we get blurry photography, and it’s impossible to tell if your vintage 1978 Double-Telescoping Lightsaber Darth Vader is authentic or not if he looks like a grey windshield smudge.

A tripod is an awesome, inexpensive accessory to invest in to keep those images focused, but it’s also just as easy to set up your camera on a stack of books, set the 3-second timer, and let it go. When you’re not touching your camera, your Shaky Hand is powerless to destroy an otherwise beautiful depiction of that Ming vase you just happened to find at the Goodwill.

The Shaky Hand strikes! Too much caffeine or just in a hurry? Either way, this photo is terrible.

Background Check!

It’s hard to focus on your collection of vintage 1960s holiday ornaments if they’re not photographed in front of a background which makes them pop. Propping up your jolly Santa tree-topper next to that bowl of oranges in your kitchen table can be distracting.

It helps to choose a background which has a solid color, and black or white are both colors which help to accentuate items you may be photographing. Another very cool option is to set up your neat stuff in a diorama setting : bring your dinosaur models out to the quarry and let them forage for foliage. Maybe Batman would be more at home patrolling the darkening streets of Gotham, and you capture him passing below a streetlight. The options are endless - but Santa oranges are just weird. Appropriate, undistracting settings are key!

Drinking glass, dirty keyboard, random junk? Check! What's the focus here? Your slovenly habits?

Flying Solo!

While we love seeing the entire crazy setup of your Star Trek room or that wing full of lifelike dolls that no one is allowed to enter but you, we also love to see your whole collection - piece by piece. A collection is the sum of its parts, but the individual parts are darned fascinating, too. Taking photos of each item is also a great way to catalogue your entire collection - both for personal and insurance purposes.

This is a pretty rad collection, but what are we supposed to look at?

Let’s Get Small!

That little flower icon on your digital camera doesn’t mean that’s the setting you use to photograph pretty things - it’s the macro setting. If you’re taking pictures of small objects, like your keen corkboard full of collectible thumbtacks, your Presidential thimbles, or even the world’s ugliest teacup, use the macro setting! It’s designed to pick up tiny details and focus in on small objects, and unless you have a landscape-sized Pez dispenser, keep it small.

And if you do have that Pez dispenser, let’s talk.

Scanners (the kind that don’t explode your head)

If your collectible is a flat object, scanning it into your archive might be a better answer than trying to capture it in a photograph. It’s difficult to capture the details of a relatively two-dimensional object with a camera, so go the extra mile to really get all of the details in there.

An example of a poorly-reflected flash. Try scanning flat things!