Thursday, December 11, 2014

Blogidays Day Eleven: Photography

Today on Grace Gives Unqualified Advice: Photography!

I want to preface this by saying that honestly most of the time I just kind of point and shoot until it looks okay. This post is me saying that in more words. 

I think I like the idea of photography more than actually taking the pictures themselves- photography is more of a step in selling tack for me, than it is a hobby in and of itself. That being said, here's what has really helped me get clearer, more attractive pictures of teensy tiny things.

1. Use a nice camera.

If I were a real photographer, I'd say something like "Getting a nice camera won't make you a better photographer" or "Good photography doesn't depend on the camera's price tag," and I really like those sentiments, but in my personal experience, using a higher quality camera has made a huge difference in my tack photography. 

Taken with some kind of generic point-and-shoot digital camera..
I want to say an antique Coolpix.
The biggest struggle in photographing such tiny tack is getting the camera to recognize the tack as the main focus, instead of whatever else is in the picture. Trying to get the tack in focus at all can be extremely frustrating on a cheap camera.

One major factor that can help tiny tack appear clearer is establishing a shallow depth of field in your picture that really forces you to focus on the tack.

The saddle is in focus, the pony's hindquarters are
fuzzy, I am a happy photographer.
It's entirely possible that I just didn't have the patience to work with my Coolpix to try and get that, but making the jump to a nicer Nikon has made an obvious difference in my photo's clarity. 

The camera I use now is my baby, a Nikon D3100. It's super easy to use, the auto-focus knows just where to "look," the end pictures look great, and I like its size.

More shallow depth of field goodness.
The massive disclaimer I have to stick on here is that this is not a low-budget option, and I realize that it's not really an option for everyone to jump from a $30 camera to a $400 one. However, I would encourage any kind of upgrade that can work for you, even if it's from a cell phone to a point-and-shoot.

An iPhone camera beauty.
These days, your camera options aren't limited to just actual cameras- lots of phones and tablets have decent cameras in them as well. For a while, I used my iPhone 4 to photograph my tack, with varying results.

The exact same picture taken with an iPhone 4...

...and a Nikon D3100.
The biggest issue I've run into with iPhone photography is its inability to recognize both the highlights and shadows- if I want to focus on a darker part of the picture (such as the saddle above), it'll blow out the rest of the shot.

However! I am using an iPhone that's pushing eight years old. The generations of iPhones coming out these days are far, far, superior, and can actually take some pretty great pictures. Anna's iPhone 6 has been responsible for all her pictures lately, and they are a remarkably bit better than my poor phone's attempts.

If I were a real photographer, this is the part where I'd recommend nice cameras in different price ranges. However, I am not a real photographer. If any of you photographer-types have recommendations, please share in the comments!

2. Find your light.

This tip could also be called "go outside."

While a nicer camera has been really helpful in helping my photos find their focus, it's definitely the overcast light here in the Northwest that I owe a lot of my photography success to. ("Photography success" as in "you can actually see my tack in my pictures!")

I personally find direct sunlight to be a little harsh.
I'm lucky to live in a place where I can basically just go outside, plop the horse down, take 20 or 30 quick shots, and end up with something useable. For a while, I wanted to learn how to take good indoor photography (which I'm now yearning for again- curse you, 4:00pm sunsets!), but I never had the patience or skill to make it happen.

Natural light on an overcast day, or in a soft shade, tends to help even out the brightness of the photo and expose details.
However, there are some days when the through-the-clouds sun is a little too much and causes some fun glaring:

If I had a white sheet to hang in front of the sun, I would. For now, I'm too lazy to mess with it, and my solution is usually just "sit it out and wait for the light to change."

3. Get low.

This is one tip that every model horse photographer has come across in their lifetime- I think I first read it in a JAH article. It's especially relevant for tiny scales!

Even when the pictures you're taking are not intended to look 100% life-like, you don't want all of your shots to be from above, looking down at your model. The solution is to get your horse up on a table or railing, allowing you to kneel down and get right on eye level with him without getting on your belly.

That edge where the railing meets the wall is perfect for
achieving a nice light background... so!

The red of my house can be fun to play with too.

Getting the horse up off the ground is also helpful in getting a nice background- my railing looks straight out into some trees that provide a great, nondescript greeny backdrop. They're also far away enough not to compete with my tack's focus, which is a plus. 

Other times, I kind of like the results of just putting the horse on the ground and getting down on my belly.

My deck has some great weathered boards.
I've used them... many...

...a photoshoot!
Tack photography for me is more about aesthetic appeal than trying to convince the viewer they're looking at a real horse- you know it's Stablemate scale, and I'm just trying to make it look pretty!

This is part of a stone path by my driveway- I thought the rock
complemented the military tack.

4. Edit!

Especially in the cold months, I tend to be rather speedy about the actual photo taking. Most of the time I run out onto the deck and take 20 or 30 photos of various angles of the tack set (the full side of the horse on both the right and the left, as well as a shot with the horse angled toward me, angled away from me, and then a few where I try to focus specifically on either the saddle area or the bridle area), then run back inside and upload them all.

Most of the photos I initially take are just immediately tossed once I blow them up on my computer.

With this halter, I started with 25 pictures and narrowed it down to
these six useable ones.

The ones that get thrown out are usually out of focus or have completely weird light- I don't really take time to check each picture after I take it on my camera, but this way works fine for me. (Again, probably not the Real Photographer way of doing things.)

Once I've gotten it down to the pictures that are nice and crisp, I work on editing them to best show off the tack and just look their best overall. Usually with Stablemate tack this means doing a lot of cropping to make it look like I really was that close up when I took the pictures.

Today I took these Traditional scale pictures, and I admittedly didn't really do much with them in editing. I thought it would be so cool to do a before and after screenshot of editing, but it's not terribly exciting:

I basically just tried to take the glare down a little bit. Next time I take sales pictures of a full tack set, I'll do a before and after and it'll be much more drastic, I promise!

My go-to editing moves are (in order): straightening if it needs it, cropping, taking contrast down a touch, boosting saturation a touch, and playing with definition and sharpness until I like it. Sometimes nudging the temperature up can make it look less like I took the pictures in the freezing rain, which is always nice.

5. Take the time to put the tack on the horse.

This isn't really a technical photography tip, but it is something I have to remind myself every time I go to take pictures before I sell a set. I'm super prone to just wanting to finish a tack set and go straight to sales pictures, but slowing down and making sure the tack is on the horse correctly is huge. 

Arranging the reins and stirrup leathers, and making sure the saddle pad is lined up, are all little details that really make the finished picture look more put together. After all, a nice camera, good lighting, good perspective, and clean editing won't help you if the tack doesn't look neat on the horse!

That's it for my totally professional photography advice- do you guys have any tricks you've come across in your model horse photography adventures?

Today's post is brought to you by procrastinating on boot making.

Edit: The Traditional halter in today's post is up for sale here! I don't know what got into me, making such big tack... I think the shiny hardware I have sitting around finally got to me! I think this halter would make an adorable stocking stuffer for the model horse lover in your life- I might make a mini-me version later, if you guys aren't tired of halters?

Another edit: I need you guys to admire this incredible Breyer knockoff ornament I found while out Christmas shopping today:

Anyone else see a resemblance?

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