Indoor Photography Skills

If you want to get good at taking pro-quality photos of your cabinetry in place, here's a quick rundown of what you might need to learn. March 3, 2009

I am interested in purchasing a digital camera for taking pictures of our cabinetry for our website. I need something that is fairly easy to operate, but will take good digital pictures. I would also like it to have wide angle capabilities in order to be able to get the entire cabinet layout in the picture. I am looking at the Canon line presently. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
The only way you are going to get wide angle is with a DSLR. If you want simple I would suggest the Nikon D40X or you could go with the Canon Rebel. Both will have a larger learning curve than a point and shoot. But will give much cleaner pictures. You should also think about getting some editing software to adjust the pictures if you’re planning on use them to sell your wares. I currently use a Nikon D70s with a 18-70mm, 50mm and 70-300mm lenses. The 18mm because of the 1.5x crop factor of the camera is around 27mm equivalent. I am currently looking for a 10-20mm wide angle zoom.

From contributor R:
Yes I am considering the same purchase myself for photographing my furniture restoration items. But be sure to have a good software program to adjust your images.

From contributor T:
If you are shooting in low-light conditions a tripod would be real helpful. This will allow you keep the shutter open long enough to let some light in but still keep your image reasonably sharp (less blur from than from hand-held shots). If you are going to do some lighting, don't use the flash that is mounted on top of the camera. This will give you a real flat, Dept of Motor Vehicles Drivers License looking picture. Some work lights would be useful. Bounce them off the ceiling to produce a bigger, softer, light source.

If you have the resources, (time to learn, and money to spend) contributor L's advice about the DSLR is absolutely worthwhile. You can start out minimal and usually rent lenses for under $30 for the day.

From contributor G:
Slave flashes on lightweight tripods are inexpensive and will brighten up low light and shadow areas.

From contributor R:
You are talking about a pretty substantial learning curve, not that you can't do it. It gets steeper when you start talking about flashes because then you're talking about umbrellas, diffusers, silks, snoots, gobos, etc. There's nothing worse than unmodified flash light. All that flash stuff gets really expensive although you can do a lot with a couple of flashes.

One won't do much and with two or more you have to have them interconnected. You might want to start out with a good wide angle, a tripod, and only shoot available light. Look at a program called Photomatix. With it you can take a series of shots at different exposure values and have the program blend them together to give you an end product that looks like it was professionally lit. It is only $100 and doesn't have the learning curve of Photoshop, maybe Elements though.

From contributor T:
Contributor R brought up a good point about shooting kitchens. Often times the light coming in from the window is far more powerful than indoor ambient light. His recommendation is to set the camera up on a tripod and properly expose for the window (i.e., the outdoors will show up fine but the indoors will be underexposed). Without moving the camera, change the exposure to properly light the interior. (This will make the windows turn blinding white).

The two images can be brought together with fairly inexpensive software. You merely drag and drop the pictures into this software and it will blend the images in a way that makes the indoors properly lit and provide realistic values for the outdoor shot.

Contributor R is also correct about the skill and practice it will take to master strobe (flash) lighting. If you need to add light start with some kind of continuous source because it will produce more of a what-you-see-is-what-you get kind of lighting. Color balancing lights is also a bit tricky.

Dimmers can knock back the light but they also change the temperature of the light and this can give you funny looking color in your photo. It would probably be better in this case to keep the light at full power and knock the volume down with something similar to a layer or two of screen door material. Doing this will dim the light but will not necessarily change the color.

From the original questioner:
I learned my photography old school and haven't yet mastered the fine points of photoshopping.The slave flashes I referred to are little $40ish Vivitar slaves that use a photocell to flash when they see the main flash. I put them out of line of sight of the camera, behind a corner or counter so they illuminate without overpowering. I've no doubt you can get a very similar effect by manipulating the pixels. I am hoping some day they'll make a digital back for my Canon T-90.

From contributor R:
Photomatix Pro works best when you take at least 3 shots, 5 -7 aren't uncommon, one stop apart. If you use the default settings it will spit out a very good image without that telltale 'HDR' look that many don't like. It really isn't that hard to get modestly proficient at and for $100 you can't complain!

From contributor L:
Canon makes some great cameras. I'm using one currently, a SD-400 that's about four years old - old by digital standards, but a nice compact point and shoot. I like it because I can easily take it with me, and I've found I only take pictures when I have a camera with me. You can get a really hot DSLR camera if you have the skills to use it and the bucks to spare, but for website work (low resolution and undemanding) you don't need it. You can even do a lot of catalog shots with a good quality point and shoot.

Consider what you really need before you shop. I figured easy to use, good close ups, good low light shots, and image stabilization. You might have other needs, like to be able to shoot low resolution movies for your website, for instance.

I have good film cameras, so I wanted a point and shoot before I got a studio camera. The convenience is astounding, especially if you are a beginner. Good point and shoots have evolved to take pretty good pictures. Get a more expensive camera later, when you know more about what you need and how to use it.

Most cameras these days start with the equivalent of a 35mm film camera's 35mm lens, called a close up lens. Most go up to the equivalent of a medium distance 105mm lens, which takes better pictures (less distortion) but is too long for interior shots. That's a good range for furniture and architectural woodwork.

ISO 400 used to be standard, but you can now get 800-1600 ISO without much problem. The higher the number, the lower the light level needed, and the more noise you will get in the photo. Higher is good because it lets you get by without a flash more often. Flash is harder to make come out right.

Image stabilization is getting pretty common also. It helps in low light situations, and in places where you can't fit a tripod in the room, or don't have one with you. Always see the camera in person before you buy. When you put it in your hand, you will know more than you can get from a website.

Take a photo class if you don't know cameras. You can learn a lot of tricks and get a quick sense of what you are trying to achieve, as well as a lot of good feedback. Remember, it doesn't have to be expensive but it is a new skill. Give yourself some time and enjoy it.

From contributor N:
I would definitely invest in something like Photoshop or Photoshop elements so you can light adjust your pictures. Every image you see in any paper or magazine has been through Photoshop!

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:

To reinforce the advice to get into something like PhotoShop Elements: keeping track of your photos rapidly gets muddily: Elements allows cataloging of all your shots so that you can find them again easily. As usual, it's more work to begin with, but a big pay-back in saved time.