June 25, 2012

MFT Creative Chat | Project Photography & Editing

It's time for the MFT Creative Chat. The My Favorite Things Design Team Creative Chat is a monthly feature, where we are challenged to explore our creative spaces and share valuable organizational methods, tools, and shopping strategies with you. You'll be able to peek into our creative spaces, ask questions, and share your own ideas in the MFT forum. This month, we were asked the following questions:

Show us your project photography setup.
What type of camera do you use, and what settings do you prefer?
How do you edit your photographs? Walk us through your standard editing procedure.

I suppose I should talk about my camera first.  I use a Nikon D7000, a DSLR, which I'll admit, it's a little over the top for card photography, but it's the camera I use everyday and I'm most comfortable with it since I can completely manipulate the settings to get the look I want.   This is the camera I use for all of my photography and my children run for the hills when they see me take it out of my bag.  They are kind of tired of me wanting pictures of them all the time.  I can't blame them really.  At least the cardstock doesn't complain.

This is my set up. I always end up shooting projects at night, because that's when I'm usually stamping and I like to take pictures as I go.  Natural light does give a softer light and keeps your photo's color more true to life, but here I am using ambient light - I'm a rule breaker, what can I say?

I start with a neutral background paper and white sheet of cardstock on the bottom and the whole thing is lit with my floor lamp and my desk lamp.  Nothing fancy here, folks.  I used to have a light box, but it was more of a pain to get out all the time, so this is just easier. The reason I use two lamps is to eliminate as many shadows as I can, so the floor lamp brings light from above and the desk lamp brightens the front of my card.

Some of you, in the past, have asked what settings I use on my camera.  I always work in Manual mode, or the M setting.  These are the settings that work for the light I have, so you might have to adjust your settings to get the look you need.  It's not really cookie cutter with manual mode, but this will give you an idea of where to start and how to make adjustments to fit the lighting situation you are in.  Hopefully I explain things here in a way that doesn't sound like Charlie Brown's teacher.

These are the settings that I use when shooting my cards (for the most part)
  • Focal length is 50mm - I use my 50mm prime lens 98% of the time.  It's my favorite lens, by far.  Prime means that the focal length is fixed and you can't zoom in and out.  To frame your shot, you physically need to move your camera closer or further away.  Zoom lenses adjust the focal length by twisting the lens. 
  • Aperture (or f/stop) is at f/5 - it gives some nice bokeh (blurred background), but keeps everything on my card nice and in focus.  Remember, the higher the f/stop number, the less light your lens lets in, so you may have to raise your ISO or lower your shutter speed to compensate for that.  Higher f/stop numbers also bring your background more in focus.  The lower your f/stop number, the more light your lens lets in and you will need to lower the ISO or raise the shutter speed.  Lower f/stops also increase the blur in your background and may affect the focus depth on your card.  Your camera may have an Aperture Priority setting - A or AV - and what this does if you chose it, is it allows you to chose the aperture value you'd like (say f/5) and then your camera automatically chooses all the other settings for you.  It's a nice way to get your camera off the auto setting before you venture into full manual mode.
  • ISO is at 640 or 800 - since I'm shooting indoors with artificial light, I need to raise the ISO to allow more light to enter the camera.  For this card, I used an ISO of 800.  Think of the ISO as the pupil in your eye.  When it's bright outside, your pupil contracts and lets in less light; and when you are inside, your pupil dilates to let more light in.  So bigger ISO numbers let in more light, smaller ISO numbers let in less light.   
  • Shutter speed is at 250 - a good rule of thumb is to keep your shutter speed at 4 times your focal length.  Since my focal length is 50mm, I chose a speed of 250.  This really keeps your image in focus and you won't get any blur from camera shake.   The faster the shutter, the less light is allowed to enter the camera; and the slower the shutter, the more light is allowed in.  Your camera might have a Shutter Priority setting - S or TV - which allows you to choose your shutter speed and the camera automatically chooses the other settings and values for you.
  • White balance is set to 'light bulb' - since I'm using lamp light, I set my white balance to tungsten, or the little light bulb icon.
  • No flash - I never use a flash because it really washes the card out and you lose the depth and dimension of your card.  If at all possible, you should avoid using a flash.
Hopefully I haven't scared you away from shooting in Manual on your camera.  You will be thrilled with the results and remember, it all takes practice.  If you have a DSLR or a point and shoot that allows you to go into manual mode, I'd encourage you to play around with all the settings.  Set up something to take pictures of and change your aperture, or your ISO and see what happens.  
I made a video tutorial on how I edit my photographs in Photoshop Elements, but before I get to that, I'd like to tell you about the card I made for the challenge.

Since it's a photography assignment, I'm using Behind the Camera Stamps & Die-namics, which made for a super quick and easy card.  I cut out two cameras, one in Black Licorice Cardstock and one in some So Happy Together 6x6 paper from Echo Park.  I stamped the sentiment on a Fishtail Flags STAX Die-namics die and then added some Island Lagoon rhinestones along the edge.  To separate the patterned papers, I added a Squiggle Border Die-namics.  I embellished my camera with a Flower Border Die-namics in Black Licorice Cardstock, and then I used the flower from the Notched Tag Die-namics to dress up the lens.  The layout is Card Patterns Sketch 170.

I kept the inside of the card pretty simple and added the heart from the Notched Tag Die-namics and customized another sentiment along the bottom, trying to make it look like a Polaroid picture.

Here is a before and after shot of my card front:

The top photo is straight out of my camera, except I cropped it, and the bottom has been completely edited.

Want to see how I work?  Please watch this video and if you would like to see it in HD at full size, please click here.  Once there, you'll need to click on the gear icon and choose HD and then click on full screen.

You can find these items in the MFT Boutique:

recipe - 
stamps: behind the camera (mft)
paper: black licorice (mft), kraft (mft), choice snow white (te),  so happy together 6x6 (echo park)
ink: brilliance graphite black, memento ladybug red (inside the card)
accessories: mft die-namics (flower border, squiggle border, fishtail flags stax, circle stax 1, behind the camera), island lagoon rhinestones (kaisercraft), sewing machine, thread, foam tape


  1. Hi Karen, thanks for your fabulous photo tutorial and video. I really like all the tips and trics you hand out and I am give it a try with the photo settings!

  2. Thank you! I also use the D7000 and I have a two lamp set up like yours but I use Ottlights. I used to have a little point and shoot so it always set for cards and my Nikon was set aside for general photographer. Since I switched cameras, I haven't taken time to truly play with it - I'm shooting in Program with a few small adjustments. Thank you for giving me a better way to capture my cards!!

  3. Thank you Karen for that photo tutorial. I was easy to follow and very very helpful!

  4. awesome! and good to know your photo set up is similar to mine, no fancy light box for me. I love all your tips...so helpful. thanks so much!

  5. Thank you, Karen!! awesome video :). Perhaps I will venture into manual mode - thanks for the tips!

  6. I use my Nikon cool pix (like the original one!) Yeah, it's an older point-and-shoot camera, but I love it. I gave my hubby a DSLR camera for X-mas a couple years ago. I think it's time I took a class and learned how to use it! Thanks for the info!

  7. Great tips Karen! Fabulous video too! Love seeing everyone's process....we are all so different but it is good to know that there are many ways to get great results like you do!

  8. Thanks Karen for the great tutorial and video and for taking the time to share how you photogragh and edit your cards.

  9. Karen you rock, girl! I was rolling when I saw this first picture. It was the one you emailed me awhile back. hee-hee LOVE IT!!! You do take the best pictures I've ever seen. Thanks for such an awesome write up and video!!!! It's always a treat to stop by your blog, but todays post was the cherry on top. *grin*

  10. Wow! What a great photo set up! And thanks os muchfor the helpful tips! 8-) I have lights and a light box, but gave up on the light box, lol now if I can't catch good light on my breakfast room table, with the natural light coming in,( which I miss most of the time, lol ) I then drag out my photo lights and set them up around a chair I drape with a neutral pillow case, lol 8-)
    But your set up looks much easier than mine for sure and definitely has me thinking... Love it! 8-)


    P.S. Just wanted to tell you -I am just so thrilled to be joining you guys on the BD DT! Yay! & I'm So looking forward to working with you all! 8-

  11. Thanks Karen,
    That was really helpful. I use the Nikon D5000 so I think this will really help me with my photos. I don't get much time to practice with it so I love it when I can learn what someone else is doing.

  12. Awesome tut, Karen! I always wondered how you got such gorgeous, crisp pictures! thanks for sharing your secret:)

  13. Karen, THANK YOU! This was so informative and helpful, you have no idea. I am a beginner when it comes to my DSLR (I'm a Canon gal) and your video really had some awesome tips. You always have such gorgeous photos of your projects. Thanks again for sharing your tips! Big hugs! :)

  14. thanks for the tips. I don't have much for manual settings on my camera but I've found that the macro setting is key for getting close shots without blur. I agree about not using flash. I use a light box with lots of white light (ott lamps). White light is always preferred over incandecent bulbs.