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Still Life Photography - beginner

Discussion in 'Beginner's Corner' started by vicghe, May 12, 2020.

  1. vicghe

    vicghe New Member

    Hello all, it's been amazing seeing the wealth of knowledge on this forum, I hope I don't offend anyone with my amateur questions!

    My wife is handcrafting hair accessories and she asked that I take pictures of the products. We bought a ESDDI light box with 156 overhead LEDs at 25,000 lumens, 5500 K temp. I tried using the white backdrop it came with, and my driving issue is how far off my pictures come from a pure white background. I understand it's hard to achieve, but I can only get greyish (or yellowish/blueish depending on WB settings) hues in all the pictures' backgrounds, I cannot come close to a white background without overexposing the whole shot. I looked up answers online, but everyone points to post processing and messing with curves, paintbrushes, etc. Since we are not too serious yet, I was hoping to optimize in-camera shooting to get a step closer to white so we don't have to delve into post processing.

    On to the second point, and the main quandary I have today... Why are my DSLR picture colors looking so under-saturated? For comparison, the first image linked below is on my smart phone (Samsung S7), with the second image also on the S7 but bumping up the exposure +1. Then comes my Canon T3, and I can confirm it happens with both the kit 18-55 lens as well as a 40mm prime lens. I tried any number of settings, from full auto, to Av mode as posted below. I tried everything I can think of: bumping saturation way up on the Picture Styles, exposure compensation, the three metering modes, made sure it's on sRGB, turned the auto lighting optimizer off and on different settings, different white balances (including a custom WB with a grey reference card.) And still the colors are off. For example the red shows up as a dark garnet on the DSLR, when in reality it's much closer to the smartphone - a plain rose red, with a lighter, brighter hue.

    [​IMG] Smartphone

    [​IMG] Smartphone with +1 EV

    [​IMG] Canon T3 40mm prime, ISO 100, 1/320, f/8.0, AWB, Evaluative metering, Standard Picture Mode

    [​IMG] Picture style changed. Bumped saturation from 0 to 3! Contrast from 0 to 1, sharpness 3 to 4

    [​IMG] Picture style back to standard. +2/3 EV (better, but still not the right color...)

    [​IMG] +1 EV (blue is already washer out & overexposed by now, and the colors are still not as true as the smartphone...)

    Any ideas why my 4 year old smartphone is taking more accurate pictures? Not to mention I think I notice this in most other lighting conditions too, I just didn't document it as rigorously. Really bugs me, to spend several hundred on a camera that I know on paper is supposed to take much better pictures, but to have to revert back to a smartphone 99% of the time.
    Thank you all so much in advance!
  2. Chester AP

    Chester AP Well-Known Member

    One difference between a smartphone and the camera is that the former is designed or users with little or no knowledge of photography (which is ideal for most users), whereas the latter allows a user with some knowledge to have more control over the resulting images. In this case, you have found that the camera's exposure meter is not foolproof and more exposure is needed to get the background white rather than the mid-grey that the exposure meter's reading produces. If you have tried photographing snow scenes with bright skies you will have met the problem there too.

    Try placing the object and the background on a window sill lit by an overcast sky and set the camera's white balance to daylight or cloudy, using 1.5 or 2 times the camera meter's advised exposure. Afterwards you may want to adjust the intensity of the colours a little, or instead see if the camera's default contrast or colour intensity settings on JPG files can be adjusted (reference to the user manual and a few experiments may help here). The window sill suggestion is simple to try, requires no extra hardware and the soft shadows may help show detail and texture too.

    Have fun.
  3. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Hi and welcome.

    Smartphones and compact cameras (point and click) are set up to give “attractive” pictures rather than natural ones. Generally this means they tend to give very saturated and sharpened results by default. This “wow” factor is what most of the customer base wants as the pictures never get past a quick screen view or a high-street 6x4” print.

    More advanced cameras do this too. If you compare a shot on your Canon between “standard” and “faithful” picture styles you’ll probably go “ugh” at the faithful because it will look horribly flat.

    What I suspect is happening here is a combination of two things. First, exposure. The camera internal settings are calibrated on the assumption that the subject has an average reflectance. So if left to its own business it will always try to reproduce a neutral background as a particular shade of grey. To get a white card to look white instead of grey might take +3 stops of exposure over what the camera thinks is right and to get a black card to look black -4 stops.

    The second thing is that the colour settings are also trained on some assumptions about what the image content is. These are amazingly accurate most of the time but the camera can be fooled. Here having patches of solid primary colour on an otherwise white background might confuse the settings.

    A first step would be to get a reference grey card, lay it on the background and take a spot meter reference on it to set the exposure and a custom white balance. Then try to take the pictures again using these settings. The background should come out white and the colours should be correct. I would suggest you record the raw files and process then in DPP. This is free software from Canon that came with your camera (updates are able to be downloaded from Canon website) and you can easily tweak the saturation and save as jpgs. DPP is a good tool to learn on as you can simulate the effects on the picture of changing the in camera JPG settings.

    One caution. Taking pictures of objects lying flat on a white background and lit from above is actually quite difficult. It is better to physically separate the objects from the background if you can and use very diffuse lighting (as suggested by Chester) to avoid casting shadows. A light tent (I guess that’s what you bought) should provide this with a little care. Some items, especially translucent ones, may need a backlit background such as opaque glass lit from below, in conjunction with top-lighting.

    A belated thought. It might be useful to use a model to show off hair accessories on a head of hair. It can be a wig on a stand in your lightbox.
    Learning, cliveva and EightBitTony like this.

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