Today’s question is from Mary asks:
I have a lifestyle blog, myidlemoments.com and I’m finding it difficult taking photos indoors with my mobile phone. The type of photos I take are of food for recipes or general how-tos.
At the moment I’m reluctant to post any photos because they look so bad.
My photos tend to come out dark, fuzzy or sometimes with strange colors.
So my questions is, Is it possible to use my mobile phone to take photos for my blog, or will I need to upgrade to a DSLR?
Topics Discussed in this Episode:
- Dark Photos are due to not enough light
- Fuzzy or unsharp photos could be due to unsteady hands
- Strange colors in photos happens to when you photograph indoors, adjusting the white balance solves this problem.
- Plan your photos and setup
- Use natural window light
- Editing your photos using the build in photo app
G’day Mary, thanks for your question and absolutely you can use your mobile phone. You don’t need to upgrade to DSLR to take good photos.
In fact, if you did you probably would get very similar results if you were to leave it on auto and take the photos. The reason why your photos are coming out the way they are is the conditions that you’re photographing, it is less than ideal.
Your dark photos means that there’s not enough light within the room to illuminate the scene and therefore the photos come out dark.
The fuzziness where your photos becoming fuzzy, well that’s because the auto focus may not be focusing correctly or even if you move the camera or the mobile phone in this case, ever so slightly and it’s just caused a little bit of shake and it’s made the photos come out a little bit more not as sharp.
Strange colour casts
The strange colours that you mentioned, well that’s actually got to do with different colour sources within your house. Things like fluorescent lights, incandescent lights, even down lights that you have in the ceiling. They all give off different colour casts and sometimes you may get orange in your photos or blue or green and it makes it less than ideal really, but it’s just how it is. There’s ways we can fix that by editing or even using external lights, but I want to keep this whole exercise for you nice and simple and as cheap as possible.
We’re going to try to use all the things that we have around the house, so we need a light source, we need a table, we need your mobile phone, some software on your mobile phone to edit the photos ever so slightly. Also a big piece of cardboard to help bring extra light onto our food or crafts, if that’s what you’re doing.
Using a window as a natural light source
Let’s start first of all with our light source, and what I want you do Mary is to go find the biggest window within your house that you can put a table up against.
The reason why we’re doing this is that I want this to be your main light source, and I want the table to be there because we’re going to be photographing on the table and we’re going to try to achieve photos like what we see online or even magazines that are selling food products, food bloggers that are photographing their food in this scene, where everything looks nice and bright and airy.
We’re going to try to replicate that, and it’s very easy to do.
You just need to find the right time of day where the light is perfect coming through your window, and the way we find that is if we can see the sun when we look out the window then it’s going to be too harsh.
The light is going to come too bright and it’s just going to make our photos look very white and overexposed. We don’t want that. What we’re looking for is for the sun to be a little bit high in the sky.
Preferably you can’t see it when you look out the window. If you were to extend your hand out while you’re right next to the window, you’ll see the way how the light comes across your hand. It’s nice and even, it’s not really intense, it’s quite nice.
It’s okay to have a little bit of shadow on the side that’s away from the window, and I’ll explain later how to fix that. Yeah, that’s what we’re really after here. Monitor the time of day where that’s the type of light that’s coming through. For me, it’s usually in the mornings or late afternoons depending on the side of the house I’m photographing.
It may be similar with you where you live.
Use a table as your table top studio
Now, so you’ve got your window, we’ve found the time of the day that’s perfect for you. We’ve put a table up against the window to be our tabletop studio so to speak.
Now, we’ve placed our objects, you want to photograph on the table. Now, we need to get a little bit higher on the table to photograph, you can of course photograph directly up or even at an angle. It just depends on what you’re photographing.
If you’re going to photograph from up high, use something like a chair or a stepladder, don’t stand on the table. I’ve tried that and it’s a silly thing to do. Anyway, safety first right.
What I would want you to do, not have your arms fully extended all the way out when we’re photographing, because what I would want you to do is to hold your camera with two hands. In a horizontal manner, but I want you to rest your elbows on your torso so we can stay steady the camera and we can eliminate the camera shake.
If we’ve got enough light coming in and we’re nice and steady where we’re going to have nice sharp beautiful photos, and that’s just half of the steps that we’re doing here. That’s going to produce the beautiful photos that you can get in the end.
Editing your photos on your mobile phone
The next part is editing your photos ever so slightly and just manipulating the light. Now, speaking of manipulating the light, I mentioned briefly about when you put your hand up to the window the have part of your hand will be in a little bit of shadow.
The shadow actually gives a little bit of 3D feel to the picture. We need a little bit of shadows, we don’t want to completely remove them. There are times that we want to not have many shadows within the picture and that’s perfectly fine.
Using white cardboard as a reflector
You can fix it up by editing the photos slightly, which I’ll explain later but also using a big piece of cardboard. If you have someone to help you and the type of cardboard I’m thinking here is you know the type of stuff your use for school projects 60 centimetres by 60 centimetres, that’s I don’t know how many feet that is, but that’s probably two feet by two feet.
Anyway, that’s the type of cardboard I want because what you’re going to do with this is you’re going to have your objects on the table, then you’re going to have your light source, it’s probably coming from the side and on the other side where you see a little bit of shadow you place the cardboard.
What’s actually happening is that the light is coming from the window hitting the cardboard, and it’s reflecting back down into your dish that you may have just finished cooking or the step-by-step process that you’re photographing.
Now, I should note Mary, use white cardboard, don’t use any other colours. It’s got to be white because if it’s any other colours it’s going to be colours that are going to be coming off the cardboard onto it. If you use orange, the picture is going to be coming a little bit orange. If you use blue, it’s blue. If you use a black piece of cardboard it’s actually going to remove the light and maybe create even more of a shadow.
All these things you could potentially try to be creative especially the black cardboard, but that’s something for down the track and when you become a bit more proficient with doing this.
Now that you’ve photographed all your photos it’s time to edit the photos. With the editing, we’re going to try to keep it as simple as possible because remember we want to be nice light and bright and airy type photos.
Editing the brightness
We don’t want to have any weird filters. Forget about that, there’s a time and place for that but I think if you’re trying to show step by step procedures or the end result of a creation it’s best to have natural looking photos.
We’re really only going to be playing with a couple of settings or three settings actually. We’re going to be playing with the brightness, with the exposure setting.
We’re going to be playing with the shadows setting, and we’re also going to be playing with the white balance or the temperature setting. The brightness obviously makes sense right, if the photo is slightly dark or bright we want to work that until it looks natural. We’re doing this all within the mobile phone that you get.
We don’t need to buy any additional software, if you find that your software that comes with your mobile phone is inadequate, you can download some software called Snapseed. It probably has a lot more features than you would ever use but it has these lights that I talked about and it’s very, very simple to use. Using the brightness slider, move up and down until it looks pleasing to the eye and nothing’s too dark or too bright.
Editing the shadows
Then the shadows slider, well you may recall that we mentioned that we’re going to use a piece of cardboard to reflect some light off. If you can picture the object on the table, so you’ve got your light source on the left. Your plate in the middle and then your piece cardboard on the right.
That’s how it’s going to be set up. When we do that, that’s actually causing a nice covering of light on your objects, but if you do have slight shadows that you may want to show some detail or you may want to get rid of, well then you use the shadow slider just ever so slightly. You don’t want to go overboard, but ever so slightly just to show there’s less of a shadow.
That will give a more pleasing natural look to your photos. There are some people that photograph this type of photography and give a dark feel, so it’s obviously the opposite to being light and bright. It’s like they’re photographing within a heart or something, I mean not a heart but a country man or something, something, I don’t know, something small. Small that doesn’t have a lot of light and trying to give a dark moody feel to it.
Once again, that’s something you can try if it’s to your liking, but more times than not I find that having a very bright photos gets a lot more attention.
Editing the white balance
After you’ve edited the exposure and the brightness and you’ve worked the shadows slightly. The temperature is probably the last thing, you should play with and you mentioned that you’ve got some weird colours within your photos. Well, as I mentioned that’s got to do with a different light sources and they cast different colours.
Well, the sun will do that at different times of day, so you know late evening you may get some orange-y warm, pink-y warm glow or if it’s early morning or even in the shade, it’s going be quite of a bluish colour. Depending on what time of day you find that’s perfect for you, you may need to still change the temperature ever so slightly, because if you change it a lot it’s just going to look very, very strange very similar to the results you’re getting before. Remember, orange makes the photos look a little bit warmer. Blue will make them look a bit cooler.
Try to get as middle as possible. Sometimes you find that if you’re working with the meat and you make it a little bit bluish or a little bit cool, it makes the skin of say poultry or things like that, look a little bit funny.
You may just need to go towards the orange side or the warm side of the temperature scale, or the white balance as it’s called to make it look a bit more appealing. Fruits and that type of thing I think a cooler side or even somewhere in the middle will work quite well.
It’s one of those things where you just got to just play and you’ll know that soon as you look at the photos on your phone, you go, “Okay, well I can see that it’s dark. Let me just adjust that.” I can see that there’s too much shadows. Well, let me adjust it, well if it’s too much then obviously you go back the other direction. Of course with the temperature, you want to get as neutral as possible and what looks appealing to you and you’ll see straight away.
Just remember though, if you are photographing and the photos come out really dark or they’re too bright, well then it could be the wrong time of day for you especially if you can see the sun straight out.
Sometimes, I find if you draw your curtains if you’ve got those curtains that are transparent and they just they’re more for privacy curtains and they just diffused the light. I find that really, really nice, and that can give a nice diffuse even look of light of your photos. That’s just something to think about.
It’s going to take you about half an hour from start to finish from photographing to editing, and especially if you have help someone to hold the piece of cardboard or even to point out any mistakes they may see on the table as you’re photographing.
Just remember to take lots of photos because it’s all free, and I hope these tips help you. Thanks for your question.