Monday, April 18, 2011

Photo Makeover Series Part 3: Camera Settings

So you’ve figured out ways to improve your product photography backgrounds and lighting, but this series would be woefully incomplete if we didn’t tackle one very important topic. Yes, it’s time to dig out your camera’s manual and yes, you must read it. I know what could be more boring, right? But, you would be amazed at what you can find in there that can have a dramatic impact on the quality of your photos. Here are some of the most important settings that you will want to take a look at and experiment with.

Flash Off: Before taking any pictures, make sure that you disable your camera's built-in flash. This is usually indicated with a lightning bolt with a slash through it.

Macro Setting: This setting allows your camera to focus very close to an object. This feature is important if you are photographing small objects like jewelry, or you are trying to capture special detail in your item. This setting is usually indicated by a tulip for most cameras.

Exposure Compensation (Exposure Value): Cameras have a tendency to underexpose images when you are using a white or very light background. Adjusting your camera’s exposure compensation allows you to avoid these dark underexposed photos. Exposure values are numeric values (+1, +2, -1, -2). The no-compensation setting is set at zero. Raising or lowering the exposure value from zero allows you to adjust the shutter speed and lens aperture which allows either more or less light to reach your camera. The result is either brighter or darker photographs. Look for a “+/- 0” icon. Selecting this icon allows you to move up or down a scale. Look in your camera’s monitor and you will see your shot become brighter as you move to the right (up the scale) and darker as you move left (down the scale). Check out this fabulous interactive demonstration of exposure compensation at TableTopStudio. Just drag your computer's cursor over the EV= -2 to EV= +2 to see exactly how exposure compensation can make a difference for your photos.

Tip: As you raise the exposure value to brighten a shot, the camera will take longer to gather light and take the photo. This can exacerbate "camera shake". You can compensate for this by using a tripod and by pressing the shutter button cleanly and gently, or take advantage of your camera's timer function.

White Balance: Battling yellow or blue tinged photos? Then you will want to learn how to adjust your camera's white balance. Nearly every digital camera has an automatic white balance feature (AWB-auto white balance) that adjusts colors depending on the lighting conditions. This automatic setting works great for normal snapshots, but for product photography, you will want to learn how use your camera's preset white balance settings to match the type of light you are using (daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, etc.). The icon for the white balance function usually looks like a little lightbulb. Take some time to try out each setting to determine which one looks best with the lighting and background you are using. The end result will be product photos with truer, brighter colors. Many basic digital cameras also allow you to customize the white balance. When using a white background with artificial or natural light I prefer to use the "daylight" setting.

Tip: For maximum results allow your EV and white balance settings to work together. If you raise your exposure compensation to brighten a photo, but fail to adjust the white balance, you will end up with a brighter photo that still has a blue or orange tint. And if you adjust the white balance to match your lighting conditions, but fail to adjust your exposure compensation to make up for low lighting, you may find that you are left with a dark photo with true colors. Set your white balance first and then fine tune your exposure compensation until you find the perfect combination!

ISO: On your digital camera, ISO refers to the film speed. Although your digital camera doesn't use film, ISO determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light. The most common ISO settings are 100, 200, 400, and 800. The higher the ISO setting the more grainy the photo will be. So, opt for a low ISO whenever possible. One source I came across recommended using an ISO setting of 50 or 100 for the best quality photos. Keep in mind that a low ISO means that your camera's sensitivity to light is reduced so a photography setup with good lighting is important.

Aperture: If your camera allows, try adjusting the aperture (often referred to as the f-stop or f-number). Experiment with putting your camera in Aperture-Priority Mode (Av mode) with the aperture set to the highest number possible. This will allow you to get the largest area of your product in focus. Are you trying to emphasize the foreground while you blur out the background? Then try using a small aperture setting to provide more depth of field, or if you have a digital camera that doesn't allow for adjustments in aperture, use the portrait setting (picture of a head) for shallow depth of field and use the landscape (picture of a mountain) setting to achieve a wide depth of field.

Browsing through your camera's manual may put you in touch with many more settings not addressed here. Take the time to experiment with them to see how they affect the quality of your photos. You may be very pleasantly surprised! If you have a digital SLR camera you will find that you have many more options and more control over your camera settings than you will with a typical point and shoot camera. However, don't despair! Even if a camera upgrade isn't in the budget this year (or any year!) you can make very noticeable photo improvements even with a basic digital camera. I've experimented with ISO settings and shutter speeds with really no noticeable improvement, and unfortunately my camera does not have an Aperture-Priority Mode, but I've found that adjusting both the exposure compensation and white balance make a huge difference! Check out this example:

This picture was taken using my camera's preprogrammed Auto Setting. No adjustments were made other than to turn on my camera's Macro Setting. I used my typical background setup, but because it was such a gloomy day, I had to rely on artificial lighting (with two lamps). Even with the extra lighting my picture still turned out dark.

This picture was taken with my camera on Manual Setting. In this setting, I am able to make adjustments to the white balance and exposure compensation. I set my white balance to Daylight, and I adjusted the exposure compensation to +1 to create a whiter background and a brighter overall picture.

Just like anything in life, it takes time to learn new skills, but I'm confident that if you make a commitment to learn something new about your camera each month you will soon discover the perfect combination of background, lighting, and camera settings that will make your products shine!

Want to read more? Check out these articles:

1. Perfect Colors Every Time (How to adjust white balance using a gray card)

2. What is ISO Setting on Your Digital SLR (DSLR) Camera and How Do You Use It?

3. Bright Light, Big Color: Using EV and White Balance to Make Your Photos True to Life

4. 9 Digital Camera Settings for Every Photographer to Discover

5. Photography with Jessica: Aperture

Looking for a new camera? Check out these helpful articles:

1. What is the Best Digital Camera to Buy for Product Photography?

2. Etsy Success: The Right Camera

3. Features to Look for in a Digital Camera

4. What Type of Digital Camera is Best for You?

This Month's Challenge and Goals:

1. Find your camera's manual. Has your camera manual vaporized along with your favorite socks? No worries! Most camera manuals can be found online. Just search for your camera's make and model.

2. Pick a setting and start experimenting! Then show us all of your new and improved photos by entering this month's challenge.

*To enter this month’s challenge: Choose one of your camera's setting (or as many settings as you like) that you wish to learn how to use. Use your new found camera setting knowledge to improve one of your current shop listings. Post a before and after picture on our Facebook page. In the comment box under your photos, indicate what settings you experimented with to make the improvements in your after picture. Be specific about what settings you changed and how they improved the overall quality of your after photo.

Be sure to also post the listing URL in the comment box under the posted pictures. You can read more about how to post pictures on Facebook here. If you don’t have a Facebook account, please email your before and after pictures along with a link to the listing in your shop to with “Camera Settings” in the subject line.

This month’s challenge winner will be chosen based on most improved photo due to camera setting changes. The winning photo, including a link to the winner’s shop, will be featured in next month’s post. The winner will also have their new and improved listing featured in an Etsy mini on the EKTT blog!

*You may enter as many photo as you like for this month's challenge.

**The DEADLINE for photo submissions on Facebook or via email is May 20th.**


Congratulations to Tricia of Sweeter Than Sweets!

Here is Tricia's winning entry:

In this before shot you see harsh shadows and glare.

But Tricia was up for the challenge and took this fabulously lit photo in natural light. Say good-bye to those harsh shadows and glare! Hello fabulous lighting! Now this cute shirt really is The Star of the Show!

Tricia is another one of our EtsyKids Team members who has been working hard to makeover her shop photos. And the hard work is paying off because Sweeter Than Sweets is looking fabulous! Stop by and see her new improved shop and all of her adorable items including hair accessories, boutique burp cloths, hooded towels, and appliqued clothing. You are sure to find many adorable things for the little sweetheart in your life!

Congratulations Sweeter Than Sweets on a job well done! Keep up the great work!

**Miss an installment in the EtsyKids Photo Makeover Series? Click HERE for the entire series.


  1. Thank you so much! I am learning a lot about photos from this series! Now to work on reading that manual...

  2. Thank you so much for explaining all of that! I think I'll try out these tips at naptime today.

  3. Congratulations on the makeover success! You did a wonderful job! Isn't it great to win when you're winning in your business, too!?

  4. I've been following your tutorials, and not only are they easy to follow, but have been a real help! I now have a 'lighting studio' in my basement by some bright windows. Thanks! WW

  5. I'm so glad that you are all finding the series helpful! There's still time to enter this month's challenge too. :)