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Digital Photography of Small Objects - Flash Options

What follows is a demonstration of how to determine the best flash setting for shooting small objects.  Often times taking images of smaller items can be a daunting task, and running out to hire a professional photographer is not financially possible.   


First off you need to make sure your most important piece of equipment is up to par, your camera. To make sure that the camera is right for the job you need to consider what your end result needs to be.  Are you only going to be posting your images of your work on the internet? If so you could get by with a lower end model. Are you going to want to use the images for printed matter such as submissions to publications, or perhaps postcards?  If the later is the case you need a camera with a higher resolution. But, that being said do not immediately run to the camera that has the highest number of mega pixels.   You will only be spending unnecessary funds on something that a more modestly priced camera can handle.  Think along the lines of a 4-5 mega pixel camera for printed matter.



Items used for current testing presented on site; artist doll, Canon 530 camera, polymer clay figure, hand blown glass paperweight, and a white paper towel. Not shown: tripod, adjustable table lamp with a 100 watt Reveal Light Bulb



Since we are going to be shooting small objects such as jewelry or details of other work, you need to have a Macro setting.  This will enable you to focus on objects as closely as possible without the image being blurred.




Screen on the left is as it appears normally in Programming (P) mode. The image on the right is with the Macro setting initiated.



Although it is difficult to tell here, the camera and the paperweight are approx a foot apart


NOTE - It is recommended you use your cameras LCD screen for viewing what your camera’s seeing, rather than the peep hole.  It will give you a more accurate representation of how the image will appear.




Studio lights can be purchased but when shooting small objects the power in the lights can overtake an image and leave it nothing but a white blob.  It could go without saying, but you know me, ‘white blobs’ do not usually work well when trying to show your artwork.


Natural lighting can do wonders for a piece of artwork, but it can be unpredictable and not very much use when you need last minute pics for a customer or your site at 2 am.  So for this article we will focus in on using your camera’s built in flash.


Before beginning to take pictures with your digital camera it is a good idea to adjust the white balance on your camera. The white balance is how the camera interprets what your eye sees as ‘white’.  For mine I set my camera to the P setting (program) and ‘Evaluate White Balance.’  I aim at a white object such as a piece of plain paper, fabric, or wall and take an image.




I would show the image here, but well, it uh…it would just show up as a white square ;0)



Next I find my flash setting that contains +/-.  This adjusts how much power is used on the flash making it brighter the further toward the 2+ I go. Note- It is the reading across the bottom of the screen below.



Below shows what happens when I begin taking an image at -2 and one for each number across.  There are settings between the numbers that will also work, but for now I am trying to get a general idea and to take one at each mark would be overkill.







Fluorescent light setting, Macro lens, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2 (L-R), lamp is on 2 feet away with a 100 watt reveal light bulb and no tripod was used


Which brings us to the next topic, tripods? If you do not have a tripod at your disposal I would suggest you get one. They are relatively inexpensive and earn their keep many times over.  Again, that being said if you do not have one and can not get your hands on one, make sure your camera is setting on a sturdy surface before taking the image, and use the self timer to prevent any possible shaking of the camera.






The experiment taking images with flash setting from -2 to +2 with a tripod, without other lights on in the room on a black tabletop.  Note – there is a red wall behind the table that is reflecting onto the black surface it is sitting on.  





The same steps, only with a simple white paper towel set under the item.  

Images were taken with Macro setting at 0-1 flash



For the clear reflective items I would defiantly use a white background. Also, you will notice above the edge of the white paper towel and the black table top are showing.  This would be a good time to use a photo editing software.  Personally I prefer to use Photoshop, but many lower priced programs may also fit your needs.



Now to take shots with the same setting experiments without such a reflective surface, instead I will use a polymer clay figure.







This set of images taken without any other lights on in room, with just the black table top.  From left to right the flash was set with a higher power each time.






Taken with nearby lamp (2.5 feet away) on 100 Watt Reveal Bulb and trying out the same flash settings as above A paper towel was set beneath the item to get an idea of what happens with a white background.

I decide at this point this is the image I prefer, so I have cropped it in my editing software. The flash was set at 0, using a Macro lens setting. In my opinion, the white background did nothing to add to the image. Even if it was a solid white, I do not image it would attract to it in this setting.

NOTE- I made a note to myself to try it out in a light tent next. It also could stand to be a bit sharper, the head tilted to the right to show more dimension. In the future I will do a test to determine if the room light will cast the shadows in a more pleasing fashion.

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