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Simple Steps to Improve Your Bead Photography

Bead FAQ | Product Photography How-To? | Store


1 Lighting
2 Exposure
3 Graduated backgrounds
4 Underlighting
5 BEAD FAQ

6 "Invisible thread"
7
Floating earrings
8
Capture the "Shine"
9 Tricks of the trade

10 More bead photography
11 Swarovski bead photography
12 Bead photography kits

 

 

 

The great artists who made these beautiful beads!

 

Once you have fashioned a beautiful bead creation, your next challenge often arises; how do you capture images of your handiwork that do justice to your fine craftsmanship? Whether you need pictures for an online auction site, a web store, a demanding crafts show jury or just to share with your friends, capturing professional looking images can seem like a challenge.  The good news is there are a few basic techniques that allow you to use your digital camera to take pictures you will be proud of.

Inspiration: As the owners of TableTop Studio, a web site and web store dedicated to helping folks take better pictures of small objects we often hear from bead artists that need help with their photography.  We’d like to share some of the secrets that others have found helpful.

There are really just three keys to getting a good image of beads or beaded objects and these are what separates amateur snapshots from a professional photo: sharpness, lighting and exposure.  Let’s take a look at each of these and see how easy it is to change your plain snapshots into images you will be proud of.

Sharpness

A good image is usually a sharp image and sharpness comes from two things, a steady camera and good focus. 

A steady camera can only be achieved by using a tripod.  You may think a tripod is an unnecessary inconvenience or a waste of time.  But a tripod is a necessity. Tripods cost as little as $50 and are available at any store that sells cameras. Get one and use it. When shopping for a tripod look for one that adjusts to the height you will normally be working at (typically tabletop height) and has a feature that allows for quick removal and replacement of the camera. Neither of these features adds much to the cost, but they will both make the tripod easier to work with.

Next comes focus. Getting your camera to focus on shiny beads can be a bit tricky, but here’s a tip that can help ensure good focus. Put your camera in spot focus mode. In spot focus mode your camera will focus on the spot you aim it. To learn how to put your camera in spot focus mode look in your camera’s manual.

 


This shot was taken with a handheld
camera (no tripod)

Same bead shot using a tripod and
using spot focus mode.

This shot was taken with a tripod,
but it is out of focus.

 

Lighting

Once you get a sharp image you will need to get the lighting right.  The secret to good bead lighting is to turn off your camera’s flash. Your camera’s flash was designed to take snapshots of people standing several feet in front of the camera.  It will do a terrible job of lighting your small object d’art.

The easiest way to light beads or beaded objects is to use a light tent. A light tent is a box constructed of a translucent white material which is lighted from the outside. The purpose of a light tent is to soften shadows, eliminate glare and give your image dimension. A light tent also has the benefit of providing a clean clutter-free background to shoot against. A simple light tent can be constructed from materials as basic as PVC pipe and a white bed sheet, but many people find it a lot easier to use a commercially made light tent such as the EZcube. 

12” EZcube light tent set up for a bead photo

 

Since you have shut off your flash you will need another light source. For most shots the light tent will be lit from the sides. Because the light tent is softening the light you don’t need fancy or expensive lights. If you are on a tight budget you can illuminate your light tent with a couple of clamp lamps clamped onto the back of chairs. Photo flood lights cost more, but they are fully adjustable which makes it easier to change the position of the lights.  The bulbs you use will affect the color of the image.  We prefer daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs.  If you use standard light bulbs you will need to adjust your camera’s White Balance.

This bead was shot using on-camera flash. The flash created glare, a distracting dark shadow and makes the image look very flat. The same bead shot in a light tent. Notice how the glare is gone, the shadows are soft and the image appears to have depth.

Exposure

Once you have a sharp image using nice, soft lighting you may need to work on the exposure.  When you shoot an image with a lot of white in the background most cameras will tend to underexpose the image and make it look too dark. Although you can often correct for underexposure with imaging software, it’s much better to get the exposure right in the first place.

The reason the camera underexposes an image with a white background is because the camera doesn’t expect the background to be white.  When the camera sees white it thinks gray and automatically adjusts itself to shoot it as gray. There are several ways to correct for this problem, but we think the easiest way is to use the camera’s exposure compensation feature.  Every camera has an exposure compensation setting.  Find that setting and increase the exposure until the images look correctly exposed.  We have found that with a white background most cameras need about plus 1 to plus 1 1/3 of exposure compensation. You can learn how to adjust your camera’s exposure compensation in your camera’s manual.  For most cameras it’s a very simple adjustment. If you go too far with the exposure compensation your subject will start to look faded, so when that happens just go back a step or two.
 

 This is a typical underexposed image    Here we increased the exposure +1.0

Here we increased it to E.V. +1.5
Notice how light the background is.

 

Basic Equipment list

Digital camera (at least 3 mega pixels. Four or five megapixels is nice, but not necessary

Sturdy tripod – look for one that adjust to table-top height and makes it easy to remove and replace the camera

Camera User’s Manual – If you can find yours most of them are available online at the camera manufacturer’s website.  ShortCourses.com offers Digital Camera User’s Guides that are much better written than the ones that come with most cameras

Light tent – You can make your own or buy a ready made one loaded with features, such as the EZcube, that is easy to set up and folds up for storage and makes suspending jewelry so easy.

Lights - Clamps lamps will do, but photographer’s flood lights are easier to work with. Daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs usually give the best color.

Imaging software – Programs like Photoshop Elements make it easy to make adjustments to your images.

 

 

Beyond the Basics

Advanced Steps to Improve Your Bead Photography

Bead FAQ | Product Photography How-To? | Store


Backgrounds

So far we have looked at simple steps to improving your bead photography.  We covered sharpness, lighting, exposure, and we recommended using imaging software.  Paying attention to those four basics will help you get good images of your beads and beaded objects. This time we will look at taking your images to the next level, in order to get truly professional looking results.

The images we have discussed so far all used a plain white background.  A plain white background is often a good choice as a background when shooting images for websites or on-line auctions.  That’s because images with white backgrounds work well with most web pages. However, in some situations, especially when submitting images to art show juries or taking photos for flyers or brochures, using a more sophisticated background can really help to make your craftsmanship standout.

We will look at several backgrounds that are easy to use, but deliver dramatic results. A word of caution, our previous advice about not cluttering up your image still applies.  You don’t want a background that distracts a viewer’s attention.  So we’ll use backgrounds that add a little flair without distracting from the beauty of the artwork.

All of the suggestions that follow assume you are using a light tent {such as the Ezcube} with lighting as described in the previous article.

Reflective Backgrounds

The easiest way to dramatically embellish a bead image is to set the bead on top of a reflective material.

Bead with dramatic reflected background
 

For a really dramatic look, you can use a mirror, mirrored acrylic, or colored acrylic as the background.  Simply set the subject on the mirrored surface and shoot from a low angle.  The subject will be reflected in the surface, often creating a stunning image.  This dramatic look isn’t appropriate for every situation so you will need to think about how the image will be used.  For example if you will be using the image on a website or in a catalog that has a “country cottage” feel, the hi-tech look created by black or mirrored acrylic may not be the way to go.  However, if you have a simple subject and you are looking for a way to use it in an image with lots of pizzazz, mirrored acrylic might be perfect. We prefer to use acrylic rather than glass since it is safer to work with and is available in many colors, styles and finishes.

Something you may discover when using a mirrored surface is that the mirror will also reflect unwanted objects.  Using an Ezcube light tent eliminates most of these.  But even when using a light tent we have found that you may need to place a sheet of paper behind the acrylic and arching over the top of the acrylic. This paper will get rid of reflections of the top and the back of the tent.


Scene of bead on black acrylic with paper                  Image using the black acrylic without black paper


Some hardware stores sell sheets of acrylic or you can purchase online from (www.tabletopstudio.com). Tabletopstudio has acrylic pre-shaped into small platforms that will fit perfectly inside their EZcube light tent.  These custom made acrylic risers are normally the easiest to use. 

A side benefit of shooting your beaded object against an acrylic or glass surface, whether it be clear or colored,  is that it is generally quite simple to support the subject.  A small lump of stiff wax (we prefer Prop Wax) can be positioned in such a way that it can support a relatively large object. And carefully positioned the wax remains nearly invisible in the image.  If a little of the wax does become visible, a quick touch up in your favorite imaging software program will make the wax disappear.  After the shot is complete and the subject has been removed, any wax residue can be cleaned off with glass cleaner.

Continuous Tone Graduated Backgrounds

We think that the background that often works best when submitting images for juried shows is a graduated background made for photographic use.  Graduated backgrounds, which are backgrounds which range from pure white to a dark color, add depth to an image and give it a professional look. And graduated backgrounds are one of the easiest to shoot against.

When shooting against a graduated background, place the subject about midway between the light and dark areas.  This will give the maximum amount of gradation in the background.
 


12" Micro EZcube shown above with small copystand and graduated paper background

Underlighting

Our final background favorite, one that can make glass beads really glow, is the use of underlighting.  Underlighting is a way to bring out the color and internal details of transparent or translucent glass beads. 

The simplest method of underlighting is to use a light table or Illuminated Flat Panel that are normally used to view slides. Don’t just toss the subject on the haphazardly on the panel and shoot away. Carefully arrange your subject on the surface of the panel so it is visually interesting. A few minutes spent here will make for a much more professional looking image.

When using underlighting, you will still want to use a light tent and a couple of additional lights for overall illumination.  If your light panel is small enough, it can go inside your tent.  If it’s bigger than your light tent, then set the tent on top of the light panel and let the light shine through from underneath. Either way works equally well. Also keep in mind that the color of the lights that use use for the Underlighting need to match your other light sources.  If, for example your underlight uses fluorescent lights and your other two lights are incandescent, your digital camera will not be able to accommodate the differences in colors.
 


Daylight color illuminated flat panel



Final underlit necklace shows glass details otherwise lost


And it’s important to keep in mind is that, as in the case of all photographic lighting, it is critical that all the light sources are the same color.  The underlighting needs to be the same color as the other lights.  The easiest way to achieve that is to get your underlight from the same place you get your other lights, that way you can be certain you won’t end up with any unwanted color casts.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Hopefully we have given you some ideas to experiment with.  All of the above can help to create professional looking images.  And one you have a couple of the techniques mastered, you can even try combining them.  Below is an image that was shot using a combination of both mirrored acrylic and a graduated background.  In this case the graduated background curved up and over the subject, rather than down and under it.

Gold mirrored riser Gold riser with graduated paper insert


Final image

Tricks of the Trade

Larger, irregularly shaped beaded objects can seem a little trickier to support, so you may need to employ one of the tricks of the trade.  One of the great things about shooting digital images is that it’s easy to do minor touch ups to the final image.  Take advantage of that by using “invisible thread” or light fishing line to support our subject.  For the image of the beaded doll we have held the doll up with fishing line.  Using Photoshop Elements software we can use the “Clone” tool to make the line disappear.
 

Object suspended with thread against graduated background                          Object against a B/W graduation
Tips

Many shows still require your images to be submitted on old-fashioned slides.  However, shooting transparencies (the technical name for slides) is pretty challenging. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to have a digital image turned into a slide.  Simply shoot the image with a digital camera using the techniques we have covered. Then email the image (or a CD of images if there are lots of them) off to a slide making service.  They will turn your digital image into a standard 35mm slide which you can them submit to the jury.  

 

Advanced Bead Photography Equipment list
{TabletopStudio has assembled many of these items into one complete kit}

Digital camera (at least 3 mega pixels. Four or five megapixels is nice, but not necessary).

Sturdy tripod or copystand – look for one that adjust to table-top height and makes it easy to remove and replace the camera

Camera User’s Manual – If you can't find yours, ShortCourses.com offers Digital Camera User’s Guides that are much better written than the ones that come with most cameras.

Light tent – You can make your own or buy a ready made one, like the EZcube, that is easy to set up and folds up for storage.

Lights - Clamp lamps will do, but photographer’s flood lights are easier to work with. Daylight balanced fluorescent bulbs usually give the best color.

Imaging software – Programs like Photoshop Elements make it easy to make adjustments to your images.

Underlighting - Daylight colored underlighting can give you dramatic results for shooting translucent beads

Graduated background - Popular for use on juried, professional artwork. Creates the illusion of depth.

Reflective acrylic - for creating beautiful, dimensional images

Invisible Thread - Thin, transparent, light-weight monofilament line for supporting objects. Easy to remove from final image.

 

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