Lessons Learned From First Photo Session

The post Photo Friday: New Camera First Attempt shares how I began the switch to a more professional camera. For the first memorabilia photo session, I started with a pearl ring that I received after winning a local beauty pageant. I thought the ring would look lovely with a black background mounted on a ring stand.
f/5.6, exp 1/60, ISO 400, 55 mm Focal Length
Pattern Metering Mode, Auto White Balance
Manual Mode

In order to learn about photography, you need to take the first shot. You have to start somewhere. (Same goes for family history, right?) This is my starting point shot. Notice that the overall photograph is too dark. I would love to ring have a spotlight effect and just sparkle and shine against an all-black backdrop. Where should I go from here?

The next shot was taken after making many changes. I switched from full Manual mode to Aperture Priority (AV) mode. I switched the white balance, dropped the ISO, added an exposure compensation of +0.7 and switched the metering.
f/5.6, exp 2 sec, +2/3 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center-Weighted Average Mode, Custom White Balance

One thing I learned about all of these changes is that there is no way I could keep still with such a long exposure time. I would always have blurry photos unless I switched to a time delay of 2 seconds. I left this setting on throughout the remainder of my experiment.

f/5.6, exp 1.3 sec, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center Weighted Average Mode, Custom White Balance
The time delay and removing the exposure bias produced this result. The clarity of the image improved but the overall image has a yellowish-cast.
f/5.6, exp 1 sec, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center-Weighted Average Mode, Manual White Balance
The photo isn’t bad. However, I notice that most of the light is behind the ring. I should experiment in adding lights in front of the ring and reducing the light behind. Would it help? Possibly, but the biggest problem I have run against the limits of the kit lens should with the DSLR. I can not get any closer to the ring than this. Additionally, I fill the frame using the manual view finder and thing I am super close to the ring, only to have a half inch of background tacked onto my image that I don’t want.
All lenses have their limits and it’s important to discover your camera’s. I will say that this limit is better than the one on my camera that I recently had but probably not as great as what I had on my beloved PowerShot SX 110 IS. The solution would be to purchase a lens designed for macro photograph. However, I’m still trying to decide if a photo, with a little more tweaking, is good enough for my family history purposes. I’m not trying to sell my photographs, just use them to highlight the treasures in my ‘chest’.

After finding the limits of how close I can get to my ring while maintaining clarity, I began playing with settings to see if I could get close to what the ring actually looks like. The first thing I did was to change the White Balance option on my camera.

f/5.6, exp 1 sec, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center-Weighted Average Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance

This small change removed the yellowish-cast. I wondered if there was a way to make the black background more black. I really liked the black background of the initial photograph. So, I changed the exposure.

f/5.6, exp 0.6 sec with -2/3 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center-Weighted Average Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance

Reducing the exposure bias (using a negative number) makes the overall image darker, while a positive number makes it brighter. The background does darken, and so does the ring.

f/5.6, exp 0.6 sec with -0.7 bias, ISO 100, 55 mm Focal Length
Center Weighted Average Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance

This photograph is a keeper, however, I wanted to see if I could make it better.

f/2.8, exp 1/6 sec with +0.3 bias, ISO 200, 50 mm Focal Length
Partial Metering Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance
When I switched to a specialty lens that I purchased, all of the previous settings created a very dark image, so I had to make some changes such as raising the ISO, switching the metering, and more. I also decrease the depth of field in an attempt to blur out the black background and focus on the ring.
The limit of this camera is that you can take great photographs of people if you stand a few feet away. Too far and the photographs do not look right. The lens is also not good for this kind of macro work. So, the kit lens went back on the DSLR and I tried a few more things.
f/5, exp 1/8 sec with -1 bias, ISO 200, 39 mm Focal Length
Partial Metering Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance
For this photo, I change the angle from which that I photographed ring. I needed to make adjustments to my camera settings. If I zoom in and crop this photograph, it’s not too bad. I like that the background is black and not gray.
However, I was bugged by the ring stand. The stand was drawing my attention, rather than the ring.

After researching how others photographed rings, I realized a common tip. Don’t use ring stands. Some photographers can make a ring stand up but the process is more time consuming on camera and in editing than I want to pursue. The best advice was to lay the ring flat.

f/5, exp 1/8 sec with -1 bias, ISO 200, 39 mm Focal Length
Partial Metering Mode, White Fluorescent White Balance
Eliminating the ring stand has made a huge difference in likability. The ring stand is a cute idea but without it, I will be much happier and able to achieve a nice look quickly.

After this experiment, my excitement has increased 10 fold. I have learned the limits of my kit lens and that my specialty lens is not meant for this kind of work. With this experiment out of the way, it’s time to start photographing my family treasures once again! 2015 is going to be great!!!!

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned From First Photo Session

  1. Wendy… I understand! I really, really like the floating look. I just can't find away to keep the black background black but pop the color of the ring so that it's brilliant. I'd love for a more experienced photographer to offer suggestions on how to improve that initial look.

    Thanks for stopping by. You're such a great fan!

  2. Now see — that was a good exercise for you. However, my inexperienced eye actually likes the first photo. I like the floating ring, the color of the band.

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