Saturday, September 27, 2014

Photo Evolution - My Style

Hi, all!  I'm in a great group of beady ladies and gentlemen on Facebook and one of the recent topics was the age-old favorite for jewelry makers:  How do you take photos?

The ways we take photos are as varied as the styles we create.  Many (most) are taken on white backgrounds because they produce a clean background for web pages and advertisements.  Selling sites love the "catalog" look of white, too.  For me, it just doesn't work, and I'll explain why in a few.  It's nothing to do with the look of white - I just can't pull it off without a lot of work.  :)

Still others use black backgrounds, and I have to say that they are dramatic and gorgeous, but I've never been able to achieve good results.  I'm jealous of the gorgeous black background photos I've seen.

My color of choice?  Slate grey.  It's an awesome neutral!  White seems to over-expose my pieces.  Black reflects the light back so much that any crystals glow too much.  Grey is just right for me.  Other good neutral suggestions would be wood, concrete, stone, brown paper bags (no kidding!) and neutral colored card stocks.

At some point in my career, I have tried all these things with varied results.  Before I show my setup, let me show you my initial photography fails.  Let's take an embarrassing trip down memory lane.  These photos are from years ago, evolving to more recent photos near the end of this post.

So yes... I thought dark fabric would be dramatic.  It was, alright!  This is what happens with black for me, too.  It overexposes the crystals and light objects.  Light bounces off the black or dark color and this is my result.  :blush:  Case in point:  below.

I think a lot of my problem was that I was trying so hard to do the light tent setups that you read about online.  Homemade or professionally made, light boxes rely on direct light.  I tried a homemade tent, so I can't speak for the real ones out there, but direct light has disastrous results for me.

Then I tried sunlight.  Go outdoors!  They tell me.  Use natural light!  They say.  Well, this is Florida, and our natural light is blinding.  :sigh:  It's never worked for me.  I lose all definition outdoors, even if I try a fabric screen to eliminate shadows.

So eventually, I try white crocks and doodads as props.  The problem?  White doesn't really translate as white with regular light bulbs.  I have a ton of old, yellowed pictures to attest to this.  Could I have negated this with white balance and exposures on my camera?  Sure, if I knew how!  I tried to learn how to manually set cameras and it just didn't work for me.

This one isn't so bad, right?   Wrong.  I totally washed it out by trying to eliminate the yellow and to brighten the photo.  Post editing was my nemesis for a long time until I found a system that worked for me.

Then came the epic trial of the backgrounds.  I must have tried everything under the sun.  Home Depot has free sample tiles and I loaded up on all sorts of colors and styles.  I stuck to stone looking ones and neutrals- by now I learned black wasn't my friend.  Still, my choices weren't great and just look how awful this photo is!  So washed out, again with direct light.

After a while, I tried natural river stones.  I liked this look.  I could live with this.  It's not so horrible, but still a bit overexposed due to semi direct light.  I'd learned to not focus my light right on a piece, but I still had a way to go.

Wood- not bad, I could live with wood, but this grain was distracting.  My style is getting better though.

Leather.  Well, leather bounces a lot of light if it's dark.  Same thing as with a black background for me.  This photo was tolerable but still overexposed.

Ah, slate.  I found my slate at last!  This one is still over-bright. I was getting there, though!  I had, at one time, a mix of slate and wood and white backgrounds in my shop.  Once I decided on a singular, cohesive background, slate won out.  Grey is my perfect neutral, and the texture is good without being distracting.  Of course, it's my own opinion.  Others make white look awesome!  I've seen black backgrounds that were dramatic and gorgeous!

At some point, I tried to go all fancy and reflective.  This is a piece of glass over my slate.  I liked it for some of my photos, particularly metal, but I had to create a solid roof over my booth because the glass reflects everything...

Reflections became a problem, so I ended up nixing the glass.

Back to the slate, but still brightness was an issue for me.  Things seem dull to me and over bright.

Somewhere down the line, I had an "ah-ha!" moment and turned my lamps completely away from my work.  I liked this!  It also brought out the texture of the slate.  Some of it is due to my camera angles.  I began to take my photos down low to my pieces.

It works with metal, both silver and copper.  If I want shadows, I use dark paper on the far side- I'll show you in a few.

Beads.  Personally, I think it's gorgeous on beads.  For crystals, I shine the light almost completely out of my booth altogether!  I have just a smidgen of light on the back wall.  I've now found my style, and I've used slate for a few years now.

It may not be perfect.  We all have to find our style, but for me, this is it.  I've bought "how to photograph" type videos and books.  I've tried their way.  I always come back to my own way.  For me, this is it!  My signature.  :)

How do I do it?  Here's a photo!

White foam core booth, $6 drop light from Walmart, $2 slate tile from Home Depot.  I use a small tripod, I get low to the piece, usually from the right side.  Shine the light off the back wall, use dark paper to throw more shade if needed, et voila!  The rest is creative cropping, a bit of post editing/color correcting (use a white eyedropper on a white area prior to cropping), toss on a watermark using Gimp, and I have my style.

Mannequin shots!  What about those?  Well, here is a photo of my entire booth.  I direct the light at the roof, still away from the manni.  If you don't direct away from the mannequin the jewelry leaves shadows on the "skin".

I hope you've enjoyed my embarrassing trip down memory lane, and I hope I've been able to help a little bit.  I'm not saying to go buy slate or use this setup.  I'm saying that we evolve our styles over time.  Don't be afraid to experiment!  Eventually you'll find what works for you!

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Teaching Policies - Opening Up!

Hi, all!  Just a quick post to say that I've been thinking of doing something for a while and I've finally done it:  I've now opened my teaching policies for more teachers and more shops.

I've been very picky and selective and reluctant to let people teach my designs -- I've had some unhappy experiences with a few bead store owners.

I'm asked quite often to allow teaching, and while I do have several hand - picked shops and teachers teaching my designs, I figured it's time to open up.

I do have lots of policies but they are simple ones- respect my copyright, don't share my tutorials, and we'll be OK!  I think this will be a good thing, or at least I hope so!

My website now has a Teaching Policies page for those who are interested in teaching my designs.  Click here to see!

That's all for now!  Have a good one!  ~Val

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Adieu to August and hullo to September!

Hihi!  All is well at the Clifton house!  I've had a busy few weeks (heck, months!) with new ideas, new projects, new tutorials, new tools (squeeeeal!) and new duties.  I'm also running the roads taking the kids back and forth to school- my son to college and my daughter to highschool.  I have 4... 4! new tutorials in the works so hopefully I'll be releasing new stuff soon!  Life is so busy lately!

Oh, we got a new kitten!  His name is Virgil (to go with our other male, Dante).  He's a spunky one who never seems to sit still.  He thinks our dog is his momma.  :)  He also has a crush on Caprica, one of my females.  He's being neutered next week.

I've also got a few new designs in the works for other tutorials.  My "to write" list is long!  Inspiration comes to me in great, huge spurts and I can barely keep up with my ideas.  Sketch pads litter every surface it seems... if I don't sketch my ideas quickly I lose them forever.  They go into the ether, never to return.  My head is like Swiss cheese, hah!  :)

I've revamped and re-illustrated one of my favorite tutorials, Corona!  I've always loved that design and since I now use better software, I decided to remake it with prettier diagrams.  Eventually, I plan to redo all my embarrassing older designs with my fancy, schmancy illustration software.

In August, I also made my mom a pendant and I think she really likes it!  It's in her colors- cobalt and crystal.  I've also made it in another colorway.  I will be illustrating that tutorial very soon and I hope to get things moving- these I'm working on finished- so I can write more.

I've also made a cute little pair of wreath earrings using St. Petersburg stitch and Peyote stitch.  I may or may not write the pattern.  It's fairly simple but cute.

Hmm, what else?  Oh!!!  August was a great month for me tool-wise!  I've gotten a new bench vise, a new anvil (with horn and hardee hole), a new pair of Wubbers graduated cylinder pliers (I call them cone pliers) and the new Wubbers Artisan's Mark hammer set!   Oh, let me tell you:  When I got those hammers I felt just like a kid at Christmas!  They're so beautiful and so neat!  I plan to get in my studio soon to play with them and work on wire working tutorials!  That's right!  Soon I will have a few minor wire working tutorials, both in my shops and on the Wubbers University website.

The last few months I've done a lot of reading.  A. Lot.  :)  I mean, more so than usual, and I pretty much read anytime I can get free time.  Lately, I've been slacking on my duties and reading every single night.  I do this when I get overwhelmed so it's pretty normal for me to go months with books and maybe a few weeks without books- lather, rinse, repeat.  It's a sickness, I tell you!  :)

I've recently had a chance to beta read a book or two, and I do love it!  I'm considering signing up to review more books.  I'm reading them anyways so why not?  :)  Do you think it would be odd for me to start reviewing books?  I love to read, so I figured why not?  I don't know what kind of things to expect in the book reviewing world and I don't really have time for politics, snark and drama with other reviewers, but I wouldn't mind reading some books and giving an opinion on them.  Like I said, I mow through books anyways.  :)  I'm thinking on it and I'll get back with you.

That's all for now!  I'll have more projects to showcase in the September blog post- I'm working on a pretty neat birthday present for my friend and I can't wait to show you!  So, what are you up to?  Are you getting ready for the Holiday gift season?  Are you already frantically beading up a storm?