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PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:38 AM

HTDT? 7.22.09 Photographing Your Papercrafting Projects
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Hi everyone! This week I'm going to share some basic tips on taking and editing pictures of your papercrafting projects. Let's get your photos looking {almost} as good as the real thing!

First up is set-up and lighting. The easiest and most consistent way to manage your set-up and lighting is to use a light box. There are some reasonably priced options on the market, as well as some directions for making your own inexpensive lightbox. If you take a lot of photographs, serve on design teams, submit for publication, take pictures at night, and/or have poor natural light options, a lightbox is a worthwhile investment.

I personally do not use a lightbox, so this tutorial will cover how to take pictures without one. I've been happy with the results I get using natural indirect daylight and a few minimal supplies for a backdrop. The only time I've ever really, really wished for one is when I have to take a photo at night. If you do use a lightbox, you can skip down to the information on editing your pictures (beginning with post #5).

Some options for a white backdrop, mostly using things you probably already have on hand:

** Two pieces of white card stock (12x12 works well) and a chair placed near a window. (See Photo 1.)

** White card stock and a tri-fold white foamcore presentation board (available at craft stores and some office supply stores). (See Photo 2.)

** White sheet (or length of fabric) draped over something tall enough to create the backdrop, such as the back of a chair, a sofa, etc. (My sheet is draped over a boken toy piano.) (See Photo 3.)

[Sidenote: You might want to iron your sheet. You iron all of your other sheets, right? Bwahahaha]

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:40 AM

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As for lighting, look for a room in your home or a shaded area outside that has good indirect light. Multiple light sources are preferable, so if you have a corner room with windows on two sides, that's ideal. If you can, elevate your project to the height of the window. This might mean putting your chair on top of a table (or something else) or using a bar-height chair or stool.

For additional lighting, try using a piece of white posterboard or foamcore to reflect light onto your project. Hold the posterboard facing the primary light source, then angle the board until you can see the reflected light illuminating your project. It's subtle, but you'll be able to see it. What you're doing is basically creating a low-cost version of the big photographer's umbrellas. In this picture, I'm using a 13x13 white clipboard. (See Photo 1.)

In case it's helpful, I've attached a picture of my set-up. The room I use has a bay window in the front and two windows on one side. I position my projects on the surface of a piano that sits right in the bay window. (See Photo 2.)

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:44 AM

Camera and Camera Settings
Next, let's talk about cameras. Of course you'll have maximum control with a digital SLR camera, but that is by no means a requirement, and not at all necessary for the settings I'm sharing. Most, if not all, point-and-shoot models will have the features you need.

First, manually turn off your camera's flash. Refer to your owner's manual if you don't know how to do that.

Second, change your camera to the Macro setting, which is represented by a tulip/flower icon. Again, reference your manual for instructions specific to your camera. The Macro mode is specifically intended for photographing objects at close range (less than 3 feet).

Your camera should be at relatively the same level as your photo. Avoid, say, placing your project on a chair and then photographing it while you're standing. Get on the same level, so in this case, kneel.

For the absolute crispest results, eliminate camera shake. If you're using a tripod, camera shake won't be an issue. If you're not (I don't), try these things:

** Rest your camera on a stable surface while taking the picture, or at least rest your elbows on a stable surface while you're taking the picture.
** If a stable, solid surface isn't possible, squat down and put your elbow on your knee to help keep your hands steady. Obviously this will only work if your project is sitting on something low enough, like a chair, sofa, or coffee table.
** Last, I learned these two tricks from years of scrapbooking: freeze/tense your muscles, exhale and hold your breath, then press the shutter button. It really does help!

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:47 AM

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Take more than one photo. I typically take at least 4-6 pictures of each project, sometimes as many as a dozen or more, especially if I'm trying to capture something shiny or glittery. It's all digital, so there's nothing to lose by taking extra photos. Try getting shots from different angles, and rotate either your project or your light souce so that the light falls in different ways. Over time, you'll find the set-up that works best for you in most cases. For example, I've learned that for morning shots my project is best placed facing a certain way, but for afternoon and evening shots the project looks best facing a different way. In addition, if it's either overcast outside or unusually bright and sunny, I'll need to make adjustments.

I personally prefer to photograph my cards from a slight angle, rather than face-on. My cards often have a lot of dimension and texture, and the angle helps to show that off best. That said, a word of caution: avoid photographing your card from such an angle that it becomes difficult to see the front. If your card is turned away from you more than 45 degrees, it's probably too much (my opinion, anyway.) Think in the 15-20 degree range. Or, in clock hands terms, the project is at the 12 and you're at the 6 - you want your project to face the 5 or 7. Does that make sense?

In the attached photos, you can see how much more visible the stamped image is when the card is not turned too much.

The wheelbarrow image and sentiment used for my sample card are from Annie LaPoint's Spread a Harvest of Hope by My Favorite Things.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:49 AM

Photo Editing Software
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Now you're ready to select and edit your photo. Let's look at software first. I use, and love, Adobe Photoshop Elements. If you're interested in a try-before-you-buy option, the Adobe Photoshop website has a free trial download available. The software I'll be using for this tutorial is an older Photoshop Elements (version 5.0 for Windows, the latest is 7.0), but please know you should be able to find the same features in pretty much any photo editing software.

I use the Organizer mode of PSE to review my photos and choose one that looks best. Once you've made your selection, click on it, then click "Full Edit" to bring up the Editor. (See Photo 1.)

By the way, as you're reviewing your photos, you can view a photo full-screen-size with the F11 key. (See Photo 2.)

And to compare two photos side-by-side, use the F12 key. (See Photo 3.)

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:49 AM

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The three editing steps I always go through are crop, adjust levels, and sharpen. First, to crop your photo, select the crop tool from your toolbox (photo 1).

Click and drag to show your crop lines and make any adjustments, then click the green check mark when you're satisfied. (photo 2).

Remember to leave a little bit of breathing room on all four sides. If you crop too closely, your photograph will feel crowded.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:49 AM

Adjusting Levels
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Next, adjust the levels. The quickest way to access this option is to use the CTRL-L keyboard shortcut (Option-L on a Mac), but you can also find it from the menu bar by going to the top menu bar and clicking "Enhance," then "Adjust Lighting," then "Levels." A new window will open, where you'll see a graph type display, usually with a big hill or hills in the middle and some flat areas to the right and possibly to the left as well. Along the bottom are three arrows that will each slide left and right when clicked and dragged (see Photo 1).

Click the far right arrow and drag it leftward, approaching or even reaching the start of the hill (basically, you're cutting out all or most of that flat part). You'll see your picture lighten as you move the slide. (See Photo 2.)

Repeat on the left if needed.

Note: You'll notice that the middle arrow will move along with both the right and the left arrows. It also moves independently when it's clicked. Experiment with the settings until you're pleased with the result.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:49 AM

Adjusting Levels, Part 2
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To familiarize yourself with the function of each arrow, make an extreme adjustment, just to see what happens. You'll quickly see what "too much" looks like and can back down from there.

The first photo shows what too much looks like. The white background is washed out, and some of the lighter colors (such as parts of the grass) have almost disappeared. The second is just right.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:50 AM

Adjusting Sharpness
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Last, sharpen your photo. From the top menu bar, select "Enhance," then "Adjust Sharpness." A new window will open. Choose a percentage to sharpen (generally between 5% and 12% works well). (See Photo 1.)

You can click and unclick the preview image for a quick "before-and-after" comparison. When you're happy, click "OK."

Again, try using higher and higher percentages to get a feel for too much. When you start seeing white glows around the lines of your photo (a stamped image, for example), you've gone too far.

The second photo shows what the project looks like with too much sharpening. The third photo shows a lesser version of too much.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:57 AM

Adding a Watermark and Resizing Photo
Now you're ready to add your watermark, re-size, add any special effects, and save your file.

I won't go into watermarking, but I will point you to some great information that Sara Williams, one of the MFT Presents illustrators, has on her website.

Using Your PNG Watermark in Photoshop Elements
Using Your PNG Watermark in Photoshop 7

I usually re-size my photo before adding special effects and saving. Go to the top menu bar, choose "Image," then "Resize," then "Image Size." I set my longest side to 800.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:58 AM

Adding Special Effects
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To add a soft fade to your finished photo, go to the Artworks and Effects palette on the far right of the screen, select the Special Effects icon, then choose "Layer Styles" from the first drop-down box and "Inner Glows" from the second. (See Photo 1.)

Choose the first icon - "Simple," then "Apply." (See Photo 2.)

You will be prompted to create a background layer. Click OK. Then you will have a chance to name the new layer. Just leave it blank and click OK again.

Your inner glow has been added, now you just need to make a few small adjustments.

Thank you, Beate, for the inner glow tip.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:58 AM

Adjusting Special Effects
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Go to Layer on your top menu bar, then select Layer Style, then Style Settings. On the window that comes up, you can change the size of your glow, the color of your glow, and the opacity of your glow.

For an 800-pixel photo, a good size for the glow is around 50-75 (See Photo 1.)

I like to change the color to pure white. Click the little square (my default is a light yellow) just to the right of the size. (See Photo 2.) Change the RGB value to 255, 255, and 255 and click OK. (See Photo 3.)

For an 800-pixel photo, I usually leave the opacity at the default, which is 75%.

Experiment with these adjustments to find the settings most pleasing to you.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:58 AM

Saving Your Edited Photo
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Look at the difference between your unedited photo and your edited photo. (See attached photo)

Now all you need to do is save your file. Remember to change your photo file from the .PSD format (which is a Photoshop file and will NOT upload to SCS or your blog) to a format suitable for uploading (usually .JPG or .PNG).

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:59 AM

Bonus Tip #1: Straigtening Crooked Photos
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What if your original picture looks great except that it's crooked? Easy. On the lefthand toolbox, choose the Straighten tool. (See Photo 1)

Click the top left corner of your card and drag to the top right corner. (See Photo 2.)

Let go and your photo will magically rotate so that the card is level. (See Photo 3.)

FYI: Do this before you crop!

PickleTree 07-17-2009 11:59 AM

Bonus Tip #2: Removing Color Cast
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What if your whites have a grayish (or blueish, pinkish, greenish, yellowish) hue to them? Try this:

Go to Enhance, then Adjust Color, then Remove Color Cast.

Click on a part of the photo that is supposed to be white (or you can also click on anything black or gray). The grayish (or blueish/pinkish/greenish) hue will disappear. If it doesn't, or it still isn't to your liking, keep clicking different white/ivory parts of your picture until you get an adjustment you're happy with.

Attached are three variations of the same picture: the original (kind of greenish), and then two adjusted versions. Just play around and pick what you like best. The variations in this particular photo are pretty subtle, but sometimes, the variations can be dramatic. For example, my early morning photos and cloudy day photos are very "blue." I tried to get a photo that would illustrate this better, but my picture perfect weather today just wasn't cooperating :)

PickleTree 07-17-2009 12:00 PM

Bonus Tip #3: Color Variations
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What if your colors are still off, especially bright pinks and reds. What can you do?

I have no magic answer for this one. Some colors are just trickier to capture than others. You should also keep in mind that what you see on your screen is not necessarily what someone else sees on his or her screen due to different monitors and color settings. That said, you can attempt to get your colors to look more "true" (on your monitor, at least) using the Color Variations option. Go to Enhance, then Adjust Color, then Color Variations.

On the window that opens, you'll see your original photograph and then eight different variations (more and less in red, blue, and green, plus lighten and darken). You can play around with these to try to fix your original. Note the "amount" slide in the lower left corner. To make fine adjustments, move that slide to the far left.

PickleTree 07-17-2009 12:01 PM

The End :)
That's it! If you've hung in there with me all this way, thank you, and I sure hope you found some helpful info!

Have questions about anything I covered (or left out)? Ask them here, and I'll either post an answer or address it in a future HTDT.

PickleTree 07-25-2009 07:53 PM


Originally Posted by swldebbie (Post 14689335)
Great tutorial!

One question for you -- what resolution do you use for your original photograph? 300dpi? 600dpi? Something else?

I checked the metadata on some of my unedited photos, and it looks like the resolutions is 300dpi. Thanks for asking! I've never looked at that before.

PickleTree 07-25-2009 08:26 PM


Originally Posted by deborahmegan (Post 14689592)
Do you have a camera recommendation?

Not to dodge the question, but this is a tough question to answer without knowing how you plan to use the camera. I personally use a Nikon digital SLR for the majority of my photography. I've had it for about three years, and I've been thrilled with it. However, the primary reason I bought it was for scrapbooking (and because I wanted a camera I could grow into). Do I believe you need a DSLR for photographing cards? No. I would bet I could take a photo with my back-up camera, which is an older model Canon Powershot (the 85 maybe?) and no one would be able to tell the difference. I'll put that theory to the test and post the results here! (And I'll eat my words if I have to :))

If you're thinking of purchasing a new camera, check out Imaging Resource. They have exhaustive (and I really do mean exhausive) data on more cameras than you could possibly imagine. I always like to look at Dave's Picks first. They also have a "Find the Best Camera For You" product advisor, where you plug in your preferences, starting with usage, then moving to price, brand, body type & size, and last, more refined preferences. It spits back the best matches based on your input.

PickleTree 07-25-2009 08:59 PM

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Originally Posted by kerry2 (Post 14691309)
(1)what kind of camera do you use?

See the above post - a Nikon D50 digital SLR primarily, with a Canon Powershot 85(?) point-and-shoot as a back-up.


Originally Posted by kerry2 (Post 14691309)
(2) if I use the Photoshop Element software, is it easy to change my photo file from PSD format to JPG? Is there an option that I can click on for that before or after I save my file?

So sorry, I should have included more on this to begin with! If you add a watermark and/or special effects, then your file will automatically become a .PSD file (the .PSD is the Photoshop extension). When you choose "Save" or "Save As" (both under "File" on the top menu bar), a "Save As" window will open. In the middle of the screen, you'll see both a Filename drop-down box and a Format drop-down box. Click on the arrow for the Format drop-down box, and select your desired format (.JPG and .PNG are the most common for blog and SCS uploading). Before you click the save button, you can change the filename too if you wish. I pesonally like to save my edited version with a new name and keep my original file on hand just in case. (See attached photo.)


Originally Posted by kerry2 (Post 14691309)
If you were to chose which was your favorite out of the two, which would you chose...Photoshop Elements or Adobe?

Can you give me some more info? Photoshop Elements is an Adobe product as well. I'm not sure what I'm choosing between. :confused: Sorry!

PickleTree 07-25-2009 09:07 PM


Originally Posted by Rebecca Ednie (Post 14696561)
It is much easier to correct colour by setting the white balance first rather than correcting it later. Even point and shoot cameras usually have this. Just look in your manual for directions for this. Makes a huge difference even though I have a photo booth! When I don't set it, my pictures are too blue or too grey!

Thanks for bringing this up! I haven't played around with the white balance settings very much (once, when I was photographing snow, I think), so I did not include it in this tutorial. You make a great point, though - definitely something to check into! My understanding is that you take a photograph where your white background fills the entire screen, and then you tell your camera to base the white balance settings on that photo. Is that the gist of it?

PickleTree 07-25-2009 09:26 PM

I think I've addressed all the questions posted so far. Thanks to ALL for the feedback! I am no photograhy expert by any stretch - just sharing things I've picked up over the years. It's great to know the tutorial has been helpful to so many! I'm back from my vacation, ready to answer any other questions that might come up. Thanks again!! You all are the best! Be sure to share your before-and-after shots, too! :)

PickleTree 07-29-2009 07:23 AM

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Originally Posted by PickleTree (Post 14721681)
Do I believe you need a DSLR for photographing cards? No. I would bet I could take a photo with my back-up camera, which is an older model Canon Powershot (the 85 maybe?) and no one would be able to tell the difference. I'll put that theory to the test and post the results here! (And I'll eat my words if I have to :))

Check this out ... point-and-shoot first (Canon PowerShot A85), digital SLR second (Nikon D50).

PickleTree 07-29-2009 07:32 AM


Originally Posted by Whimsey (Post 14736900)
Since mine is a newer version I couldn't find some of the effects - like inner glows. Do you know of a website which has tips, tricks for each version of Photoshop, anything you would recommend?

Try searching for either Artwork & Effects or Inner Glows in the Photoshop Help section (in my version there is a small window box on the top menu bar just to the right of "Help" that says "Type a question for help."

You might also want to try clicking "Window" on the Top Menu Bar. On the drop-down box, make sure "Artwork & Effects" is checked (if your version has that listing). It might be that that particular paleltte isn't showing or has been minimized.

p.s. thanks for the kind feedback :-D

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