Knowing how to best use your camera can be a great asset to working with DreamDraper – for photographing a “before” window, documenting steps during fabrication, and preserving your work after installation in a client’s home. We love to show off our work, but the pictures can sometimes be dark and/or fuzzy. In addition to this article, feel free to also refer to our xChange Forum post on practicing photography skills.
Here are some easy suggestions for improving your shots:
1. Invest in a digital camera.
I was always picture challenged. Getting a good picture of a window treatment was a gamble that I often lost. An inexpensive digital for your workroom/design studios is a deductible business expense. The cameras have come down in price over the years and come with enough mp and zoom for what you need in taking pictures in a room and posting on the web.
Be sure to always take the pictures at the highest quality possible. Invest in extra memory for your camera if possible, so you can avoid having to take low quality pictures because you are short on memory card space.
2. Prevent fuzzy pictures.
Taking pictures without flash on a digital camera can sometimes be tricky, even when holding the camera as steady as possible. Learn to press the button smoothly. Sometimes we jerk the camera while pushing the button.
Prop the camera on the top of the ladder. Or on another piece of furniture in the room. Better yet, invest in an inexpensive tripod. Joby makes a “Gorillapod,” which can be had for under $20 and will grip & mold to almost any surface!
3. Prevent dark pictures. Overcome silhouettes.
Learn the different settings for your camera’s flash feature. Make sure it is one you can control and is not completely automatic. When taking a picture of a window, the camera picks up the light coming thru the window and adjusts the aperature to that amount of light. In doing so, the lense does not stay open long enough to lighten the details of the treatments inside the room. It is very simple to override this.
First, force the flash. Set your camera for the flash to go off regardless of the light in the room. In smaller room settings, this will be satisfactory.
If that does not work, it is because the flash is only effective up to a certain number of feet. In larger rooms, it is not enough to lighten a second story window or a wide angled treatment. Therefore, you need to fool the camera into thinking there is not a lot of light coming through the window.
- Point the camera to a dark corner of the room.
- Press the button 1/2 way. You can hear it whirr as it reads the light and sets its parameters.
- Point the camera at the window, without releasing the button, and take the picture.
- If you pointed to too dark a corner, your picture will be whited out and heavily over-exposed. Try again, pointing towards a less-dark corner.
- If you pointed to a corner that was not dark enough, you will still have some silhouette issues. Point to a corner that is a little darker.
You need to throw as much light on your subject as possible. If you do not have enough light, the camera lens stays open too long. This can result in a blurred subject. The picture does not have as much detail and when you lighten it using photo editing software it becomes washed out.
A camera flash has limited range. The built in flash on a small camera is very limited as to how far the light will reach and how strong it is. The life of your battery plays a huge part here too. If you have a very good quality camera with a removable flash unit, you can upgrade your flash for one that is stronger with a longer reach. Having a flash that can be aimed towards the ceiling helps to bounce the light and avoid shadows. Always keep your batteries fully charged and have a spare set in the bag. The flash is only as good as the batteries.
If you are having trouble, try turning on lights in the room – but position the lights behind you. Take the lampshades off of the lamps to throw more light. If possible, try to balance the lights to avoid heavy shadows. If there are any lamps or lights in the picture, leave them off. They will simply overexpose. They also tend to throw a yellow light. You can try leaving a soft lamp on in the picture if it will enhance the ambiance – but it will work only if you have enough flash power.
If you want to ensure good light, invest in a couple of small camera spotlights. You can position them to bounce the light off the ceiling and directly on to your treatment.
4. Avoid using the zoom, if possible.
I have found that using the zoom will bring something in the distance up much closer, but it also impacts the image quality. When taking pictures in a room, avoid using the zoom. Simply move in closer to get the details. And definitely focus on the details.
5. Take a picture of the window straight on.
When in a client’s home and taking initial measures, be sure to stand directly in front of the window and take a base picture. Regardless of whether you plan to design on the picture or not. Remove really obvious items that might obscure details of the window. But don’t be too perfect. The aim is to just get a good picture of the window.
Take it home and file it with your other documents for that client. It is there for reference for a number of reasons:
- Of course, you can design on it.
- You can scale a straight on picture in your DreamDraper and get measures you forgot to take. This will save a trip back to the client later. Only for very specific measures – such as an inside mount shade – will this not work.
- You will see details you missed while talking to the client. Where the cabinet details come out over the window, the light switch next to the door, etc.
This is an excellent habit to get into that will not cost you more than a few moments time.
6.Take a picture of the finished treatment.
Do this first in your workroom before the treatment is packaged. Of course, this is subject to some limitations. But it is important to take pictures of your work – when you can – before it leaves the workroom. If it was a new design or unusual design for you – take pictures of the back. Even better, take pictures as you are fabricating – to show different steps.
If you are a wholesale workroom, it may be the only way to build a portfolio. Set up a neutral wall somewhere in front of which you can display treatments and take a nice picture. This is a good time to zero in on special details – such as the panel header or the knotted cord at the bottom center.
Print for the installer. He/she can see what the finished valance should dress out like.
Let’s say the decorator loves the treatment and comes back 6 months later asking for it again, or the client wants it repeated in the next room. Now you have visual records of the finer details – like the placement of the motif in the face or the size of the decking.
CYA. If there is a dispute over the treatment, you have proof that it was well made and would dress properly.
Finally, if you are really serious about taking portfolio-quality pictures, look around your community for photography classes. I have a friend who is currently taking classes, and learning a lot about her camera. Another friend is hiring her now to take photos of his work for his website. You never know where a little extra knowledge will take you.
7. You can never take too many pictures.
Especially with a digital camera.You can see the results immediately and take another picture, making educated adjustments. Today’s photo software makes it very simple to sort through the pictures on your computer or the camera, delete the bad ones and select the good ones. But, be sure to discipline yourself to edit the pictures within a day or two. Don’t let them stockpile into a job that is too overwhelming.
Be sure to take clear, high resolution pictures of your clients’ windows – before and after. Save the original shot. If you edit it to crop or reduce the file size, save the edited version under another name. DreamDraper loves to feature the great pictures our users take, and high quality photos are of course the best.
– Ann K. Johnson, xChange Forum Moderator/Sew Easy Windows