How to photograph teaware and tea?


Discussion on virtually any teaware related item.

How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby futurebird » Mar 25th, '13, 18:16

I have a simple cannon consumer digital camera and an iPhone. What can I do to maximise the quality of my photos of tea and teawares?

I find that when I try to take photos in sunlight the shadows are too dark, otherwise the light level is too low.

I'm really bad at this sort of thing, I might get a good camera, though I'm more likely to spend $500 on tea than a camera PRIORITIES PEOPLE!
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby AdamMY » Mar 25th, '13, 19:58

Steady hand and patience. Those are the main things. Also if your camera has auto settings they could be useful, but for the most part try to avoid using flash at all costs. In addition check if your camera has a Macro setting. That may help it focus at the closer distances you typically are to teaware or tea than you would normally be taking a photo of almost anything else.

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head, hopefully someone else chimes in. For the longest time I just had a simple Sony Point and Shoot digital camera, that while not the greatest pictures they were certainly not awful photos ( most of the time, the rest of the time it was mostly due to myself and not the camera).

One last thought hit me, I often find the best lighting is natural light, but I prefer cloudy days as opposed to bright sun, as it usually lights things well but far more evenly than bright sun.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby gingkoseto » Mar 25th, '13, 20:31

If not talking about improving skills (which is too time-consuming :mrgreen: so don't bother...), I would suggest,
1. try to get good light (sunlight or a light box)
2. take many, many photos, choose the best few, and delete the rest. :mrgreen:

The first is hard to get. The second is easy.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby Poohblah » Mar 25th, '13, 22:28

The following tips apply to almost any kind of picture or photograph of an object or person.

1. Make sure you have a good source of light. A "good" source of light will be:
  • Bright & white - Indoor lighting is usually too dark and yellow in color. Sunlight is much better. Better light makes for a clearer picture.
  • Soft - i.e., not a harsh light from one direction, such as a camera flash, spotlight, or direct noontime sunlight. This kind of light will cast harsh shadows and cause high levels of contrast, as you have already discovered. Better choices are indirect sunlight from nearby open windows or soft sunlight on a cloudy day. If you are very lucky, you will have access to lighting equipment like diffusers, reflectors, softboxes, and so on which can improve the quality of artificial lighting.

2. Make sure your subject is clear and easy to see. The concept is rather simple, but it can be difficult to follow. Here are some pointers:
  • Keep the source of light at your back. This will make sure that the object you are photographing is lit and not in shadow.
  • Choose a background that is simple, monotonous, not distracting, and darker than the thing you are photographing. You want to make sure that the picture does not have elements that distract from the subject.
  • Avoid silhouettes. This should follow naturally from the points above. A silhouetted subject is almost impossible to see in any appreciable detail.
  • Move nearby objects out of the way. As above, keep the amount of stuff in the picture to a minimum. Ideally, the picture consists of the subject and a background and little more.
  • Fill the frame with your subject, and choose an appropriate orientation (landscape or portrait). Large amounts of negative space don't help us see a subject clearly. If you are taking a picture of something wide, it is probably best to choose landscape orientation for your camera, and vice versa.

3. Photograph the subject from a flattering angle. Here's how to accomplish this:
  • Choose an appropriate lens/zoom length. Photographing people and objects with a wide lens (such as the widest setting on most consumer cameras) is rarely flattering. Because you need to be closer to your subject to use such a lens, the effects of foreshortening are magnified, giving your subjects some odd proportions in the resulting picture, such as comically large noses (on people) or spouts (on teapots). Better is to zoom in and step back. This has the added effect of reducing the area of your background, making it easier to choose a simple background.
  • Get on the level of your subject. People do not look good when you photograph them from above. Tea things don't always either. Instead, get down on the level of your subject. Since we often want to show the tea in our teacups, higher angles are sometimes called for, so this "rule" doesn't always apply. But be sure to experiment with elevation and angle to find the best height to emphasize your subject.
  • Rotate the subject. This is easy but not always done well. It is far more important with people than things. An easy way to flatter your subject is to simply rotate them so they aren't necessarily facing the camera straight-on. The appropriate angle will vary with the thing you are photographing, but be sure to try out many different orientations to get a feel for how the subject best presents itself to the camera.

4. Know your camera. Practice taking pictures. If you are familiar with basics like how to focus and adjust the color settings and white balance - you can even do this easily with most cell phones these days - you will become much quicker and more natural when it comes to taking a simple but clear picture of something or somebody.

Finally... if all else fails, get a tripod for a steady shot.

Okay, that's my quick run-down on how to take a simple, clear, and well-executed picture of a single stationary subject.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby Poohblah » Mar 25th, '13, 22:48

Here are a couple good examples from the Teaware of the day thread, with apologies to Muadeeb and Bob_Mcbob. I will use these to illustrate some points I made above. There are better examples out there on these forums, but I just chose a couple from a recent thread and avoided digging through old ones.

Image
Although the sunlight in this picture is kind of harsh (as evidenced by the solid, hard edges of the shadows and bright hotspots on the body of the pot), Muadeeb did a good job compensating by keeping the sun behind him to keep the pot well-lit, contrast down, and distracting shadows at a minimum. The angle he choose is good - by shooting on a level plane with the teapot, the shape of the teapot is easy to see. Also, I like pictures of Chinese teapots taken straight-on at the side, as this makes it easy to appreciate the shape and proportions of the handle and spout. The background is also mostly free from distractions (it helps that it is out-of-focus too).

Image
This picture is indeed very good in my opinion. It is well-executed and easy on the eyes. The light-colored teaware is very easy to see against the solid, dark background. Although the light is obviously coming from the left-hand side of the picture, which leads to a few unnecessary shadows in the picture, the quality of the light is very good, which minimizes any detrimental effects of the side-lighting. The teaware is in focus and very easy to look at and appreciate.

Although it's not necessarily obvious from the pictures above, they both appear to have been taken with a relatively long lens/zoom length, which ensures that the proportions of the objects in the pictures are representative of the object in real life.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby tingjunkie » Mar 26th, '13, 00:06

Hmmmm. I seem to remember a many-page thread about photographing teaware... :mrgreen:
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby futurebird » Mar 26th, '13, 00:14

Any suggestions on how to find diffuse bring light? I've gone to the trouble to moving things all around the apartment in an effort to find it during the day, even out on to the roof, and it always seems to either be harsh shadows or not enough light.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby Muadeeb » Mar 26th, '13, 00:43

Thanks for the photo shout-out, it's not often I get to combine my love of tea with my degree in photography. Everyone has great suggestions, and shooting on a cloudy day is much easier than shooting on a sunny day. The camera can't see as wide a range of highlights and shadows, so it's best to avoid shadows as much as possible, or shoot with the sun almost directly behind your head so the shadows aren't visible. On a sunny day you can shoot in the shade although your photos might need some color correction if you're on a daylight white balance.

Here in the Northern hemisphere, you can always find diffuse lighting coming from a north facing window. The sun will never shine directly through that window. Try to keep your teaware as close to the window as possible for maximum brightness and wraparound lighting. A simple background is ideal. If you can find a shadow on your wall to place behind the teaware, it should go dark once you've focused and exposed for the teaware itself.

If you're stuck with a point and shoot camera, use the portrait setting and zoom in a bit. Macro might work well too if you really want to focus on small details. The portrait setting icon is usually a profile of a woman's head. The macro setting is the flower. Don't hold the camera out away from your body, rest your hands on the table or a book in order to steady the shot and get sharp detail.

If anyone wants their teaware lovingly photographed, send it to me filled with oolong and I'll see what I can do. :D
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby Poohblah » Mar 26th, '13, 01:34

tingjunkie wrote:Hmmmm. I seem to remember a many-page thread about photographing teaware... :mrgreen:
http://www.teachat.com/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=10046
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby minor_glitch » Mar 26th, '13, 02:01

Most other answers have covered it, but probably 90% of making a good photo with a cheap camera is lighting.
You say the shadows are too dark when you shoot in sunlight? Strategically position white objects/pieces of paper/whatever to bounce the sunlight on the shadowed areas.

I actually use a point and shoot for the photos I post here. (example: http://www.teachat.com/viewtopic.php?f=40&t=14833&start=221 ) Admittingly it's a high-end point and shoot (panasonic lx3), with two strobes on wireless triggers, but it's a point and shoot nonetheless.
If your camera has a manual mode and manual focus, learn it and use it.

MacGyver your lighting. Use any lamps, flashlights, whatever you have. Bounce lights of walls, shine them through sheets of white paper to soften them, play with how close they are to your subject, etc. Try to avoid mixing light of diffent colour temperatures though. Mixing lighting from an incandescent bulb with daylight probably isn't going to work well.
You might also want to read through the entire Lighting 101 archive on Strobist.
Here's a good link to a diy light box: http://strobist.blogspot.ca/2006/07/how-to-diy-10-macro-photo-studio.html
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How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby debunix » Mar 26th, '13, 03:45

With camera phone and point and shoot, the hardest thing to control is depth of field: they're designed to default to maximize the sharpness of everything within the frame. So you really need to be very aware of things cluttering your shot, as you can't rely on shallow focus to blur the foreground and background.
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby minor_glitch » Mar 26th, '13, 05:11

An appropriate video you'll enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOoGjtSy7xY
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Re: How to photograph teaware and tea?

Postby futurebird » Mar 26th, '13, 08:31

I think the iPhone is really good at photographing people, it is in some ways optimized for that (which makes sense)... objects... not so much.

My other photos taken with my phone tend to be really quite decent, for what they are.
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