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DIY 2: How To Take Advantage Of Your Camera Settings


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In this post I will show you how to adjust the manual settings of your camera to take high-quality images of your products.

By learning to use ‘manual mode’ you will be able to adapt the camera to your studio environment and in order to create great looking product images that sell!
Once you have your studio setup (DIY1: How To Build Your Own Photo Studio On a Bootstrapped Budget), we are ready to start shooting images of our product. For basic photography tips you can read our post: Perfect product images in 8 simple steps.

Camera

Today I will be reviewing Canon’s basic manual settings. Don’t worry if your camera is another brand as you should still be able to find these same settings on your camera as long as you have a ‘manual mode’.

Camera mode

Once you have your camera, tripod and product in place, you can start by selecting your camera mode. Most cameras offer a variety of settings but I usually stick to using three modes: Manual, Aperture priority and Automatic.

Camera mode

 Manual mode

Manual mode

Auto mode with pop up flash

As you can see, image taken with my manual mode looks much more pleasing to the eye. This is because I can control all of the image settings and I don’t have to worry about the camera utilizing incorrect automatic settings (such as flash, shutter speed, aperture, etc).

 Camera mode

Image format

As we will be reviewing the manual mode in this post, let’s start by choosing our image format. If you have the option to choose your images as RAW, absolutely do so. You will have more flexibility afterwards in post production. If you do not have the RAW option, then we suggest that choose the largest image size & format that your camera will allow you to select, which in most cases will be a JPEG.

 Camera mode

ISO Settings

Now, let’s select our ISO setting based on the light in our studio. As a general rule, the better the light in the room, the lower your ISO value needs to be. By adjusting your ISO setting just right, you will be able to produce crisp and clean photos.

TIP: I recommend starting at ISO 200 and then using your viewfinder to see the effect on the image. If the image is too dark, gradually increase the ISO value. If your room feels dark to start with, try jumping to an ISO value between 600-1400. This will help the camera open up it’s light sensors so that you can clearly see the product.

In my at-home studio, I chose 400 because I wanted to keep my ISO lower for image clarity and at the same time help improve the lighting of the product.

 Camera mode

ISO 400

ISO 1200

ISO6400

Here is a closer view! See how the higher the ISO value the more the grain or ‘noise’ we are able to see in the image. The less the noise and grain in the image the better the quality the image!

ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor which takes your image. The lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain in your images. This means your image will have less grainy ‘noise’ or what I like to call speckles! Higher ISOs are generally needed in darker situations unless you are using a tripod.

Lighting recommendations and white balance set up

As you know, we set up our photo studio next to a window to take advantage of the natural light. Beautiful sunlight can do wonders for your product images, but we also need to measure the sunlight to avoid overexposing our image or creating the wrong result with too many shadows or harsh direct light.

It is extremely important to make sure that direct (‘harsh’) sunlight isn’t coming through your window.

The afternoon is the generally the ideal time to photograph but if for some reason you have direct sunlight during your shoot, you can also use a sheet or white curtain to drape over your window. This will create more ‘even light’ in your at-home studio.

Since you can’t control the sun, you must work around it every day: If you have the ability to use manual-set lighting, use it. This can help provide more versatility and give you more control over your lighting results. In terms of efficiency and time restraints, it also allows you to work at any time of the day, instead of waiting on the sun to dictate when you shoot.

Now it’s time to choose the white balance so our camera knows how to adjust the image color correctly. Most people choose the automatic white balance setting which allows the camera to decide what’s the best option depending on the lighting in the studio.

Daylight

Daylight

Cloudy

Cloudy

Fluoresent

Fluoresent

Tungsten

Tungsten

Auto

Auto

As you can see in my images, the closest to what is correctly seen by our eyes is the ‘Cloudy’ or ‘Auto’ settings. The daylight setting is close as well but I think there is too much yellow in it compared to the other two options. So to shoot my beautiful pair of black heels I will take the photos during the afternoon and choose the “cloudy” white balance setting because I am using natural light and it was cloudy outside.

Tungsten

Aperture

Next, we will set up our exposure settings by first choosing our Aperture.

Very Low Aperture f1.4

Very Low Aperture f1.4

Very High Aperture f16

Very High Aperture f16

For our at-home studio set up, using f16 is the best option since we would like to have the entire product in focus and show our customer the product as clear as possible. As you can see in the very low aperture image on the left, the only part of the image that is in focus is the toe area (not good!). A good rule of thumb is to use an Aperture setting over f11 to ensure that the majority of the product is in focus – so the higher you can get your aperture the better. If for some reason your camera will not reach as high, the highest aperture your camera will allow is perfect or you can even try the auto settings!

Shutter speed

Next, we will choose our shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open while taking a photograph.

Shutter speeds below 1/60th of a second are too slow for our hands to handle and it is almost impossible to take a crisp, sharp image with these settings. Some cameras have built in ‘image stabilizers’ that can compensate for this while holding your camera however it is always best to use a tripod.

Since we are using a tripod in our studio, we don’t need to worry about image stabilization thus making it easier to choose a low shutter speed such as 1/13 in order to achieve the sharpest possible image. Because we are in an ‘uncontrolled’ lighting situation, our goal is to use the longest shutter speed possible in order to ‘push’ greater amounts of light in our camera. And by setting the aperture first, all we need to do going forward is control our shutter speed which makes it so much easier! To do so, utilize your light meter which is explained below.

Good to know

(Of a second: 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 1/2000 1/4000)

Shutter Speed 1/10

Shutter Speed 1/10

Very High Aperture f16

Shutter Speed 1/100

Light meter

Finally, let your camera automatically focus on your product. This will help the camera’s internal light meter defect how much light is falling on the product. We can then adjust our settings (aperture & shutter speed) according to the light meter reading on the camera. Since we know we want to have a higher aperture like f16, set it to that. By using the light meter in your camera, this will then help you adjust your shutter speed.

The middle arrow means that our camera is set at neutral which means it is typically good lighting. When the blinking arrow in camera moves to the left of the center (0), it means the subject in frame is too dark and we need to compensate by adding more light so you will want your shutter speed to go slower. When it falls to the right of the middle, it means the subject is too light and we need to compensate by losing some of the light in the frame so you will want your shutter speed to go faster.

Too Dark

Too Dark

Perfect

Perfect

Too Light

Too Light

Focus

When you shop online and look for a specific product, you want to see the product as real as possible. I am a fan of simple, clean product images that don’t distract your customers. You don’t worry about making ‘attrezzo’ or artistic pictures, just place ‘full focus’ on the product.

In order to do so we will choose the automatic focus setting on our camera and lens, so the camera will internally ‘grab’ or ‘lock’ onto our products through the lens and keep the subject in focus for us. We will not have to do any lens focusing which can be tough to do just by eye. After a couple of hours in the studio, our eyes can get tired and even though we think we see clearly we don’t. Often when you open our images and they seem a little blurrier than we remember, almost like a camera shake. Since we will only have one subject in the frame, this is a perfect opportunity to let the camera do the work and allow our hands to be free of the lens.

Shoot & Evaluate

Yes, it is finally that time we have been working up towards; it’s time to shoot some images! Direct your camera at your subject and press half way down on your shutter release button, this allows your camera to focus on your subject, and then snap the shot. You can adjust your camera settings throughout the shoot if you notice that your images need more or less light. The more you do this, the more you will learn naturally what you need to do.

Remember to shoot as many images as possible as well as different angles so you can have tons of options to choose from afterwards.

One great feature of the Canon Powershot SX510 is that it has wifi capabilities! Canon has created their own free CameraWindow app you can view and transfer your high quality images or video onto your computer, phone or tablet. I recommend taking advantage of this great ability because it speeds up your post-production work flow! It is also a great feature for quick sharing through social media which can help you promote your online business (think Pinterest!).

Once you have all your images, upload them to your computer using a card reader or transfer them by wifi using an app. Now spend some time selecting the final images that you will use going forward.

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Now that I have selected my images that I’d like to use, I will need to do some editing to make sure that they look their absolute best!

When you are ready, stay tuned and move on to our last DIY series post of my guide: Editing Product Image and Making Them Web Ready.

Here is a sneak peak of what your product images can look like!

Camera Raw Before

Camera Raw Before

Too Light

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