Light and Blur

In the past articles, I talked a bit about aperture and shutter speed. If you have a DSLR, and shooting indoors, you’re also going to have blur problems. If  you’re using a point-and-shoot, you will have fewer blur problems. Here’s why.

Blur happens for a few common reasons:

  • Your hand shakes when you press the button to take the photo.
  • Your subject moves.
  • You didn’t focus properly.

When you’re photographing objects for online sales, and have auto-focus, you don’t need to worry about the last two issues: so that leaves the first one. Almost all the blur you’re going to experience is from camera shake.

There are two ways to eliminate camera shake:

  • A tripod.
  • Increase the shutter speed (reduce the time the shutter is open), by increasing the aperture (using a lower f number), increasing the ISO, and adding light.

If you’re reselling, you come across tripods all the time. Buy one that seems to be OK, and upgrade whenever the opportunity arises. Tripods sell fairly well on Ebay.

The better solution is to use a faster shutter speed. To increase the shutter speed while preserving the amount of light hitting the sensor, you can open up the aperture.

Once you hit the largest aperture (the lowest number), you need to increase the amount of light.  (This is why DLSRs experience more blur: the largest aperture of kit lenses is f3.5, and the cameras are heavier.)

The two common ways to increase light:

  • Move the subject next to a window, or go outside.
  • Buy artificial light. The two common options are:
    • Lightbulbs and fixtures.
    • A flash.

The sun is super-bright, and the equivalent of a very expensive, high quality lightbulb. The main issue is that it operates only during the first half of the day; by the late afternoon, the color has changed. Still, it’s bright, and will allow you to bring the shutter speed up.

Second best, and good for smaller objects, are lightbulbs. You can get “high CRI” LED lightbulbs with a CRI index of > 85 at big box hardware stores. There are even bulbs with a CRI > 93 for a little more money. CRI is a number that expresses the “naturalness” of the color. It’s not a precise number, but a subjective expression of quality.

Just buy four bulbs and use them together in lamps surrounding the object. The box will cost around $20, and fixtures are $8 and up each, but you can just use regular lamps.

Use white cardboard or paper to bounce light toward the object.

Think of the light as a substance you’re trying to aim at the object, to put the most light possible onto the object.  The light reflects off the object, and goes into your camera.

After you have a basic light setup, you can either go toward a complete studio light setup… or spend money on a flash. My gut feeling is that going toward a flash makes more sense. I have no experience in this trade-off, but I sometimes shoot with the flash, and it helps.

With a DSLR, you have the “hot shoe” to trigger an external flash, and you can get some really nice flash setups.  One nice feature of a flash is being able to illuminate the object straight-on. You don’t need to worry about shadows. The other is that your lighting setup is smaller and takes up less space.

Now, all that said, I would not start with a flash. I learned a lot by setting up a couple lights, then learning how to bounce light off cards, to manipulate the light. With a flash setup, you’re doing all this “blind”, without a guiding light.

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