Taking pictures:

I really started seriously taking pictures back in 1970 when a friend of mine show me some of his pictures that were taken with a SLR camera.  Until then, all I had ever used was a cheap point-and-shoot thing with a flash cube on top.  I had grown to expect my pictures to be under and over exposed, out of focus, not centered and have poor or washed-out color.  Now, I was seeing pictures that rivaled National Geographic that someone like me had taken!  I was hooked!  SLR's were expensive back then, but I wouldn't settle for anything else, so I looked around until I found a Russian-made SLR for $79.  It was a SLR, but it was all manual.  It didn't even have a built-in light meter, but I ended up learning a great deal about photography and I eventually did take some amazing pictures.  Over the years, I have since owned some nice film cameras, but they all have the problem of not getting instant results.  You still have to wait until you get the pictures developed to see what you have!

Then, about four years ago, I discovered digital photography.  It didn't have the resolution of film, but it was much sharper, you could edit your pictures in the computer and best of all, you could see the results instantly!  I was convinced almost immediately that this was the future of photography.  Now, I wouldn't use anything but digital, especially with the advent of the Internet.

If you want to take pictures of your projects so they can be published on a website or just for documentation, all you need is a simple one megapixel or higher digital camera.  Never use a flash.  Always try to use natural light.  If it is a vintage radio, for example, place it in a location where it would be found when it was first purchased, such as in a living room, on a table, by the bed, in the kitchen, etc. then use the available light.  You probably noticed that I tend to do this on the restorations page.  I believe it gives the radios a soft and warm setting that is realistic to the time when they were often listened to.   Regardless, remember that the best light source is the sun.  Take the item outside but try to avoid direct sunlight by seeking a shady area.  Sunlight coming through a window also works well.  The following picture was taken in sunlight on a cloudy day.  This reduces the shadows and balances the depth of the colors:

Some small items, as well as homebrew projects, photograph well with two or three 100 watt quartz halogen desk lamps.  I have three I purchased at Staples for less than fifteen dollars each that work very well.  With three, you can place them in a triangle pattern around the subject and reduce or eliminate most of the shadows.  The color temperature of these are closer to natural sunlight, but you still may need to do a little color balancing in the camera or later in the computer because the halogen still gives the picture a slight yellow cast as compared to sunlight.  In the old days, with film cameras, you would place a blue type "B" filter over the lens to compensate.  With most digital cameras, you just have to switch the white balance to "incandescent", "tungsten" or a similar setting and you have corrected.  Some cameras have a "memory" setting for white balance which is really nice.  With this feature, you just point the camera at the background and record the best balance setting.  Later, you can recall this setting to take more pictures on the same background.  When finished taking the pictures, you can do the final "tweaking" color balance in the computer.  More on this later.

When photographing your projects, try to get in close for detailed shots of the components too.  Don't forget the macro mode if you have one.  People like to see the parts you used and how you installed or mounted them.  Macro photography is a whole science in itself, so I won't get into it, but with even the cheap digital cameras, they usually have a built-in macro mode which simply let's you focus in closer.  Also, many of these cameras have an auxiliary closeup lens available that you can attach to the front of the main lens.  These work fairly well, but you may experience some distortion and color fringing of objects.  But, for the money, they are worth it.  If you do go this route, try to buy the multi-element type as opposed to a single element lens.  This will help reduce the color fringing.  When taking closeups like this, a table top or "mini" tripod is a must have item.  It is virtually impossible to hand-hold the camera still enough to eliminate a blurred picture, especially when you are using 1/100 of a second or longer exposures.  When using these small tripods, be aware that many cameras tend to be off balance when mounted with the lens pointing down.  My son learned this the hard way after his camera toppled over and ruined a nice macro lens.  Check for balance first and add weight to one or more of the legs to compensate.  I just place a one pound roll of solder over one leg.

Backgrounds are one of the hardest things to come up with.   I have seen items for sale on eBay that look decent but have a trashy or dirty looking background that really turns you off.  Some look so bad that you wonder if you are getting a roach motel if you purchase the item.  Many people drape a wrinkled sheet behind the item which looks about as bad.  I have sold a few items on eBay.  Once I listed an item that I had photographed on my somewhat messy workbench in the basement.  It sold for $18 and I had a little over 50 hits on it.  One month later, I listed an identical item, but this time I photographed it on the back porch with my wife's beautiful flower garden in the background.  This time, it sold for $32 and received over 160 hits!  Was this a coincidence?  I personally like pleasant settings as backgrounds that look as appealing as the item.  With homebrew projects, this is not always practical.  A workbench where it was built would be acceptable if it is clean and neat.  However, a nice hand-built all-band transceiver sitting on a bench made of orange crates with a pair of bicycle pliers, a hammer and a beer can next to it wouldn't look so good.  Colored backgrounds work very well, but try to use colors that compliment the subject and not detract from it.  You can use black or white, but be aware that when using automatic digital cameras to take closeups on a solid black or white background, there is a problem.  These cameras, when operating in automatic mode, want to correct the exposure so as to get the best definition in the subject.  A large white background will fool this correction and you will get an under-exposed looking picture with a color overcast.  A similar problem occurs with black which tends to look dark brown or some other color instead of black.  A way to minimize this problem is to try to fill the frame as much as you can with the subject and reduce the amount of background.  Also, if your camera allows it, switch to manual exposure and set the "F" stop and time manually for the best picture.  By using a solid color background, you can more easily edit it in the computer to reduce or totally remove it.  This produces an image that appears to be floating on the page.  Flat colors show less reflections.  Poster board works well.  You can also get a neat affect by using a velvety type of cloth and lay it so that it is caressing the item like fine jewelry.  I like to do this with green velour.  Sometimes the background can enhance the item you want to photograph.  For example, what about placing your recently restored radio with some of the old tubes, you used for restoration, laying in the background?  Or, perhaps have an old radio catalog or program guide laying in front of the set.  This gives one the impression of seeing a photo that was taken a long time ago when these radios were popular.

Most people want to take the picture of an object dead-on, by placing it in the center of the photograph.  This is fine for many things, but to make it more interesting, shoot at other angles to improve the three dimensional effect or place the object off to the side so you can capture the whole setting of the scene.  Sometimes it's better to not make your subject dominate the picture but blend into the surroundings.

Once you have your photos, you can make them look better when viewed online by using one of the many photo editor software packages to sharpen, enhance the color, adjust brightness or contrast and resize, among many other neat things.  This really makes a difference but don't go over-board.  You are enhancing the picture just enough to show what the item really looks like in real life.  You are only correcting what the camera is lacking.  If you go too far, you can misrepresent things like the true color of the wood on a particular radio.  People sometimes want to see a radio in your collection so they can tell what the colors are to help them with their restoration.  So, just a lite touchup here.

If preparing the pictures for publishing on a website or just to e-mail to someone, you must first resize them.  For example, if you are using a 5 megapixel camera and take pictures at the full resolution, these would be way too big when placed on the screen.  Also, a picture taken at this resolution and stored as a Jpeg image would take up about 2 megabytes of memory.  Sending this to a friend as an e-mail attachment or downloading it from a website would take a long time, especially with a dial-up connection running at 56k.  A good size to use is 640 by 480 pixels.  This provides a good size picture and retains most of the detail without bogging down the transfer of data.  The above picture is 640 by 480.  With most photo editing software, resizing is done by simply typing in the size, in pixels for one dimension, and selecting "OK".  The aspect ratio will be maintained unless you want a distorted looking image, then you would type in both dimensions.  Another way to resize is "Cropping"  Here, you can crop or trim off one or more sides to better frame the subject.  This doesn't distort the image, but you may end up with an unusual aspect ratio on the final picture.  This can be bad, especially if you are going to find a frame for it.

The next step after resizing is to sharpen the image.  Resizing tends to make the image look slightly out of focus as compared to the same image before resizing.  This is why you wait to sharpen your pictures until after you have resized them.  Here again, I wouldn't go too far.  Just a little sharpening is all that is needed.  Anymore will introduce noticeable distortion.  Some programs allow you to selectively sharpen with a brush-like command.  This is handy when you only want to emphasize certain areas of the photo.

Next, you can adjust the color balance and saturation.  Each picture will need a different adjustment of colors to look the best if it needs any at all.  The flowers picture above had plenty of color saturation right out of the camera, so no adjustment was needed.  I usually only adjust the colors when I want to compensate for lighting other than sunlight.  For example, to remove the yellow cast caused by incandescent lighting, reduce the red level and/or increase the blue level.  Everyone has their own taste when balancing colors.  Do what looks good to you.  The saturation simply is the amount of color you want.  This is useful when making pastels or bringing out more color in a subject.

I usually adjust the brightness and contrast , if needed, last.   A picture that was slightly under or over exposed can usually be corrected by adjusting the brightness and contrast. 

This photo was taken at 1280 x 960 resolution and resized to 460 x 345
with no other touchup or editing.

The same photo after adjusting the sharpness, contrast and color saturation.

These pictures were taken on a piece of poster board with the back curved upward out of the scene.  The lighting is from two 100 watt halogen lamps placed in the foreground so the lighting appears to diminish to nothing in the background.


                  Before                                                                    After

Here, notice that the spot on the top left side of the box is removed along with a light reflection on the tube glass.  This was done with the "Clone" function in the photo editing software.  It allows you to simply copy a nearby section of the photo to another area and cover up imperfections.  Most of the popular programs have this function.

As a final reminder, when doing restorations, always take before as well as after pictures and every step in between, if you can.  Documenting your work this way helps others and it makes the project more rewarding when you are done.  Unfortunately, I didn't start documenting my work until recently.  I would love to have pictures of these sets before I began the restoration work.

Have fun and don't hesitate to send me some pictures of your projects.


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© 2006 to 2007 ~ Michael R. Starcher ~ All Rights Reserved