I hear a lot of people say “I can’t take decent pictures of my turnings” or “I am a woodturner, not a photographer” or “it’s too complicated”. Well, I've said all those things as well, but the bottom line is why do you spend all that time turning a beautiful piece of art just to display it to the world on the internet with a poor quality photograph?

The truth is that you don’t have to be a professional photographer, spend tons of money on a camera, and memorize all the functions of a camera like F-Stop and Aperture Settings or any of that other stuff.


You can turn out quality photos with a Point and Shoot camera and a few dollars for other accessory gear. Personally, I have a $75.00 Point and Shoot Olympus camera I purchased on Ebay. My photo cube was $30.00, and my gradient background cost $45.00.

 

What I am going to show you is how I do it.  Your results may vary. You may have to experiment a little but my bet is that you will get there in no time.

First I’d like to cover a few of the basics I’ve learned. The first is called “white balance”.  Do your photos always seen to be completely the wrong color with a yellow or blue look to them?  The reason for this is different lighting have different “color” (or temperature). Fluorescent lights add a bluish cast. Tungsten (incandescent) lights add a yellowish hue. If so adjust the white balance. Even most point and shoot cameras have an adjustment for the white balance for the type of lighting you are using. Adjust it per the camera instructions until the photo looks correct. And yes, cameras do come with instructions.

Next is the orientation of your subject. Generally it will take more than one photograph to properly convey the essence of a turning. Probably the most important view is a slightly angled down at the piece so it shows the back of the opening on a hollow form or the back rim of a bowl. This view will generally give the viewer a fairly good idea of the form. If you are only doing one photo, this is it.  Sometimes it is necessary to add a straight on view to completely see the form. However, if you only show a straight on view, the first thing you will be asked is to show the other view.

 

Then there is the distance between your camera and the piece you are photographing. Does your photo look distorted? The reason for this is the camera is too close to the piece. Start out with your camera 6’ away. Sure you will photograph a lot of the stuff that is not to be in your final photo but you can simply crop the other stuff out. I read an article somewhere, and I don’t remember where or who said it but, and I quote “Only beginners take the final picture”. Remember you will crop out all the stuff not needed. This is how the “pros” do it.

 

Don’t worry about getting your piece straight and perfectly centered either as you will take care of this with a little simple editing.

Another thing you need to learn, and it is easy to do, is to edit your photo. This can be difficult to learn, and expensive, with a complex program like Photoshop or easy to learn with a free program like Picasa. This program is so easy to use it should be a crime. You can straighten, crop and correct the colors with ease.

A couple of final things I’ve learned; always use a tripod, and always use the timer button on the camera. Both of these eliminate the old “it looks like an earthquake was happening” comment. One final thing is never use a flash, and I mean never.



List of materials and where to get them:

1. Point and shoot camera. Believe it or not anything over 3 mega pixel is really not needed; you are not doing poster size prints. Chances are that if you don’t have a camera, your spouse will, so just steal theirs.

2. Photo cube or light box. 30” square is what I use and it will work on most turnings, unless it is a big piece, then you’re on your own. Again I purchased mine on Ebay. You should be able to find a decent one for around $35.00. The great thing about the cubes is that they are easy to set up and take down. It takes me only a couple of minutes.

3. Background.  I like my gradient background going from black to white and I will also use a solid gray for some dark pieces. I really don’t like cloth or window shades as they tend to wrinkle.  My gradient backgrounds are a product called Flotone, available at bhphotovideo.com for around $45.00.  I get the 31” x 43” size and the tone "Thunder Gray".  You'll probably need to trim a little of the sides to fit inside your photo cube.  A friendly warning: These backgrounds scratch and mar very easily so don’t drag anything across the surface. When you do it’s an easy fix with Picasa.

4. Tripod. This is necessary to hold your camera steady.  I found mine at a garage sale for next to nothing.

5. Lighting. I use two (2) 300-watt halogen lights mounted about 18” above my cube and that’s all I use. I shut off all other lights, florescent or otherwise. Never use a flash. Sometimes I use a large piece of white board on top of the cube to adjust the amount of light and help eliminate the hot spots.

 

6. Software. You will need some type of editing software to crop and make minor adjustments of your photo. I use Picasa, a free photo editing software from Google. It is a simple program and allows you to straighten, crop, resize and make other adjustments to your photo.

Please keep in mind that you may have to adjust the white balance on your camera. You will have to experiment with your individual set up and lighting.

The key to this system is simplicity and speed. It takes no time to set up and use and no time to dismantle and store.  The cube folds up like a band saw blade. The background rolls up and goes in a tube.

 

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Saturday the 18th. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.