Studio Musings

Monday, February 13, 2012

Photographing Bead Work Outside the studio

Faux-stone vinyl floor tiles
The past couple of months I've started volunteering again as the meeting photographer for the Seedbeaders' group.  I'd done some photography for them last spring, but wasn't happy with the results.  It was pretty ad hoc; I had my camera, but the indoor lighting is poor for photography - my OTT light too bright, the overhead lights too dim.  Worse, the shiny green and brown folding tables simply don't make good backgrounds, and the grey of my beading mat wasn't much better.  
Looking for a better solution for the December meeting, I brought two thin slabs of stone and set up right outside the door.  I've discovered that Seattle winter weather tends to provide almost perfect photography conditions when it's not actively raining - bright, diffused light - just like a photographers light box!  Chilly, but surprisingly bright.  

While the photos pleased me, the idea of dragging the heavy stones to and from each meeting didn't.  Sorting through the random stuff in my basement in a recent stab at spring cleaning, I happened upon several faux-stone, matte-finish vinyl floor tiles.  I have no idea why I bought them originally, but I brought them with me to January's meeting along with the stones and used them as my new backgrounds. 

Octopus pendant by Tammy Mickelson with faux stone background
Freeform Bracelet by Jennifer Porter with faux stone background
The images in my earlier post, Ongoing Inspiration, also use these faux-stone backgrounds.  Needless to say, I will be using them again.  And I'm tempted to see what other options they might have in faux-stone vinyl the next time I swing by the hardware store.  Only downside - the flat tiles don't work well for photographing pieces on a display.   

Red Beaded necklace by Theresa Cleary - flat definitely works better

Then there's the camera.  Last fall I splurged and upgraded to the latest iPhone (4S).  One of my reasons/excuses I used to justify the purchase was the phone's camera.  And I have to say, I am impressed.  More and more of the photos I've included on my blog over the past few months I took with my iPhone, including the macros.  With 8 megapixels, the camera has more than enough resolution for at least 90% of my needs.  I'm not getting rid of my Olympus, but my iPhone has definitely become my best friend for blogging photos.  Arstechnica did an interesting four-part article comparing the 4S to several DSLRs with shots in several different lighting situations.

I did my own comparison in December, using both of my cameras to photograph the pieces for the Bello Modo challenge (fyi - I sent them three images for each entry, one with numbers for the judging and they chose which to post for each piece).  Which images I liked best turned out to be far more a question of composition than anything else, though color can differ between the two based on lighting.  For the January meeting, I just brought my iPhone (which is what I used for the pictures above).

Comparing Cameras. left: iPhone, right: Olympus. Points Unknown by Karen Williams
Its camera is quite forgiving with less than ideal lighting and unsteady hands (or earrings swaying slightly in the breeze).  And the tap focus is a wonderful advantage with macro photography, giving me incredible flexibility.  The only time I've had trouble is in trying to photograph lacy or very small objects against an open background, such as when I tried hanging my lacework leaf earrings from a tree branch with empty space as the background.  The phone's lens couldn't seem to focus on the earrings and instead focused on random objects in the background instead, no matter how often I tapped on the earrings in the screen.  It focused through the openings in the earrings like looking through a chain link fence.  The same earrings laid against as solid stone background photographed without any problems.  

My favorite part, though?  It means it's one less thing I need to carry around with me every day. Which is particularly helpful as my best friend teases me about carrying the world around in my backpack.


  1. Karen, that is a great tip on the faux tiles. I had my hubs purchase a 16X16 tile for me to make photos on, and to roll clay on, try the torch on, etc.... So if I mess it up, now I know the inexpensive fix for it! One day I may get an Iphone.....but until then, I have loved the results I get from my new Canon. Have an awesome day!

  2. Wow! I'm thrilled by this idea. The day job is at a home improvement warehouse and I've got such a selection. I can select and buy a variety for only about a dollar each! Thank you!

  3. Shirley - I have one of those large ceramic tiles in my studio too! They are so incredibly versatile. The faux-stone tiles are far less versatile, but they are definitely portable. And as Carol points out, they're quite inexpensive, so I thought it a suggestion worth passing along. :)