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Beginner and Clueless

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In 2012/2013 I decided I wanted to be a "photographer" , bought a Canon T3i and a few lens. Obviously that didn't work out for me, so here I am in 2020, not remembering even how to use the damn thing or if it's even "good enough" any longer. However, my new side hobby (book art) is kicking off and I really would like to be able to take decent photos to post on Facebook. So my questions are: Do I need to upgrade my camera body? If so, which one would realistically be the right choice? If I take any photos other than of books, they would only be of family. 

*Thank you Brian for your lens/lightbox suggestions! It was the "if you're not planning on upgrading, this should work" comment that made me stop and think..should I upgrade? 

Here is everything I have on hand:

Canon Rebel T3i body

Canon EFS 18-55mm lens

Tamron IF 28-75mm Macro

Canon EFS 55-250mm

Canon 50mm 

Yongnuo Speedlite YN560-II


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Well, thank you for listing stuff out. Realistically, I start each answer with a single word/question:


Photography has NEVER been a "Poor-Man's (or Woman's) Hobby. It's a lot like Golf. LOL!!

Since you are doing product photography, or book art what you really have is "fine." Well, maybe upgrades are in your future, and that's gonna cost you a lot of money. So let's start with the basics...

First and foremost, if you are really serious about taking the absolute best photos of your products the one thing that is missing from your list is...

[Drumroll Pleeze...]

A sturdy Tripod and Ball Head, possibly a shutter release remote/cable.

I don't care how steady your hands are, each time your heart pumps, your hands move a little. This will improve your product photography.

The second thing is, high-quality lenses. Hands down, the quickest way to improve the clarity / colors / contrast with your shots is to use better lenses, especially the pro-grade ones. Yes, there is a difference between a $1800 lens and a $200 kit lens. That said, you have a Tamron Macro Lens already, and I have a feeling you haven't played with it much. That needs to change. You need to fiddle, you need to learn. Do this before forking out lots of money on this sh*t. Believe me, I've spent a lot of money on this crap and you know what? Granted, taking photos is "easier" because the tools are better, but all I do now is take the same lame photos with just more expensive / fancier gear. LOL!! Until you improve your craft, I don't care how much money you are going to spend, you can't buy your way out of things. I am living proof of the "If I only had ______" way of thinking. It's an excuse, not a reason. It only justifies ideas in my head of spending money because I think __________ is the "Secret" that will take me to "The Next Level." Sound familiar? I see those ads on FB all the time. There is always someone selling a shortcut, a method, or whatever BS that will take you to "The Next Level."

Of course, you have a consumer-grade kit, which is fine. I want you to learn photography all over again. Learn to shoot in Manual Mode and even learn how to light. LEARN HOW TO FULLY USE YOUR CAMERA! ALL OF ITS FUNCTIONS!! ALL OF THE FOCUSING MODES!!! Do this BEFORE you fork out any money!!

The nice part about that Light-Box I linked to on FB, is it already has a lighting system. So you aren't forking out a few hundred on a couple of additional flashes. In the end, yes, you will more than likely be replacing just about everything, but let's start out with the basics. Just like you don't give a 16 year old a 800HP Corvette for their first car, you start with the 4-Cyl Honda Civic.

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Now in terms for the question, "Should I upgrade?" The short answer is "Yes." As to what to purchase first, I would seriously get a tripod, use that Tamron Macro and buy that Light-Box. Let's get your photos looking more professional looking first, and not taken on your dining room table. It's like dressing for the "Job that you want," and not showing up in Jeans and a ripped T-Shirt. KWIM?

If you are really serious about photography, then the "L" lens lineup should be on your list, at least if you are planning on sticking with Canon. Remember, when you buy a certain brand, not only are you buying that Brand, but you are buying into a Lens System. Nikon and Canon are the two big names on the market, and for the majority have the most options. Personally, I can't stand Canon's Menu System, it doesn't make sense to me, which is what really drove me to Nikon. I like words and menus for stuff instead of symbols. Other people are fine with it.

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Thank you for taking the time to respond! I have bought a lightbox (same brand as the kind you suggested, except the larger size.) It should get here next week. I have a tripod that I can use for now (hopefully it'll work ok, if not Ill upgrade). I have also been reading articles about using the manual setting on my camera and how to best take pictures for products.

Game plan: figure out what the hell I'm doing. Next, Use what I have (equipment wise) and see if it works. If not, start thinking about upgrading.

I'll keep ya updated!   

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Yeah, keep me updated!!

I will warn you, I am VERY GOOD at spending other people's money! I truly believe in the principle of "Buy  it Right...Buy it Once." Often that is suggesting you get the "Good Stuff" and not the "...oh, it's just as good as..." things/items. Because it's not.

Learn to use your current gear, because forking out $4000+ to switch to Full Frame is kinda expensive in these times.

Oh! One more thing that popped into my head, Amazon likes photos that are taken with f/5.6, which will help with your light-box setup. So use your 50mm @ f/5.6 and figure out what power setting the light-box needs to be at. Start there.

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Finally got to try out my light box and shutter release cable this evening. 

The first is a SOOC shot: 60 mm, 1/30, f/5.6, ISO 100 - The whites pages look great, no distortion. However, the letters look out of focus. 

The second is SOOC : 60mm, 1/11, f/10, ISO100 - the letters are better , but now the white pages are bad. 




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Why is your shutter speed so low? You really need to increase your light's power if possible. If that doesn't work, raise your ISO to at least 400. Possibly 800. Macro is the easiest to learn at f/8. So I'd start there. For f/11 or f/16, you either need a camera that can obtain a really high ISO number, and you are looking at a Full Frame Camera to do this, OR your light power needs to increase. When it comes to flash / lights, your Aperture relates to your Light Power and Shutter Speed relates to your Ambient Light. It's a completely different exposure triangle.

For both images, that's Moiré and you need to change your angle of how you shoot. Or move closer / further away (and crop in.) Damien would be the one to ask on how to fix Moiré but for now, try a different angle to help minimize things.

Finally, you are shooting with a Tamron Macro Zoom lens, not a Canon 100mm L f/2.8 Macro. There is a difference with professional grade OEM glass. You need to have realistic expectations. This is why you will never see me recommend 3rd party stuff. The difference is in the details. Suddenly that lens you "Saved all that money on!" becomes crap when you zoom in and pixel peep. That said, in order for you to upgrade, you are looking at forking out a few thousand dollars, or more, so let's have you fiddle some more. :)



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I tried playing around tonight, using a higher shutter speed, (around 1/250), f/8-f/10, ISO 400-1600. It seemed like no matter what I did, what angle I was at, etc, I still had moire on every single picture. I also am struggling with getting sharp images. :( every single one was super soft. I tried using my Canon 50mm as well, but it didn't make a difference. The lights are as bright as the light box allows. 

I obviously have no idea what I am doing. sigh. 







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In terms of "Sharpness," it's fine. Remember, you are photographing the edges of paper. Which is woven wood pulp and isn't 100% smooth. Then you have the ink soaking up into the paper so it's not 100% smooth / solid either. Then you have to deal with the separation of the pages and that creates Moiré.  Remember, Moiré is part of the game!!! So you need to have realistic expectations and focus on composition and keeping the Moiré to a minimum, then the remaining can be fixed in post. Damien can help with that.

Your current gear has limitations. Your lenses aren't the "Best" and your camera body is a crop body, and more of a basic model. So yes, equipment purchases will be in your future, but instead of forking out $7000+ on a full frame body, a 100 Macro L lens, a Tilt-Shift Lens, plus additional lights (you might need another one facing towards the book,) and a better tripod setup...let's get your shots looking better and figuring out your style. What you should hope to accomplish is consistency. Get one book dialed in, then replace it with another. Then take another shot. Compare the two books. How similar are they?

Once you figure out what keeps Moiré to a minimum and a produces a consistent shot, you leave your camera alone. Basically, you can't use your camera for anything else. It's mounted on your tripod and settings are locked in. Of course, you could get a better tripod mount with a quick-release so you could use your camera for other things, but in reality, when it comes to commercial work such as this, you keep things stationary. I've run service calls at places that create your coupon magazines. I see the lights, the camera, the tripod, NOTHING MOVES. One thing that I think you need right now is a Hot Shoe Bubble Level. While you are more concerned about focus, I'm looking at crooked photos and it's distracting me. I'm also thinking the box idea that I gave you might have been the wrong way to go, as it seems to be a bit small. Why is the book at the edge?  You might need a table lights and a backdrop. Almost like a Portrait Studio Setup, but for books. Now this is me just thinking out-loud, don't go buying anything.

Now for the sample photos, photos #4 & #5 are decent. (From top to bottom.) The Moiré is kept to a minimum and they are "acceptable sharp." Keep in mind, that the magic of sharpening happens in post, and it will take time for you to learn how to properly sharpen your book edges. So Damien's Sharpening Class is DEFINITELY in your future. What I want to see is more "balance" with the sides of the book so that it forms a triangle of sorts. You might have to create some sort of Jig to raise the back of the book and to ensure that the front and back covers are even, forming a 45 degree angle, or 30 degree, 20 degree...that's something you are going to have to figure out. This is product photography, it's very technical and methodical. So quit worrying about the Moiré, let's get that book looking awesome first.

Wax On...Wax Off....

PS: Give yourself some credit. You are the 1st person I've seen produce photographs like this and even after doing a Google Search, practically NOBODY photographs the edges like this. I wasn't aware that this type of thing existed. So if you have a sample from somewhere else, let me know and I can pick apart of what they did so you can produce a similar look.

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So I am in a few facebook groups where we all make book art. Everyone's photos are taken with a phone (I'm assuming) ,have Moire, a bit of distortion to the pages, and that strange black coloring that never disappears, just moves around, no matter the angle. That's why I was trying to steer away from mobile pics, and see if I got better results with a better camera. 

I got a new tripod and a level for these set of pictures (although I still can't tell if I am using it correctly. do these look better?). I can't retake pictures of past books because I've already had to deliver them to the customer, so each set of advice you give me, I start on my new completed book. 

This one is a different type of fold, so the moire isn't as bad, but the dreaded black line is always there. I took hundreds of pictures and still couldn't get rid of it, even with extra light.  

I also used a good trusty protractor to get my angle better, like you suggested and placed a book under the backdrop to prop it up a bit. That actually made the most difference with the lighting. (the last one is without the book underneath.)

Most of these were taken f/8, iso400-800, 1/250









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The black marks is gravity working against the pages. They are spread out just a little and your are directly in-line with them, which is making them look more noticeable. You can't avoid the laws of physics. I'm thinking you are going to have to research or buy a class or two on product photography. My knowledge in this area is quite limited, but you are on the right track. The one second from the bottom is decent, and I'm thinking the table you are on isn't level, so head to home depot and buy a 3 foot level if you need one. You might also want to invest in a Book Easel of some sort that you can clone out easily. That should help prop the book up or you are going to have to create some sort of Jig to do the same thing. Heck even a black bean-bag might help, or some sort of reflector. You are going to have to get creative. Try a white piece of cardboard, a white shower curtain, otherwise you are going to be spending money on lights, stands, and more crap.

Oh, speaking of which, more than likely, you are going to need another light. If you are wanting to get rid of the black voids in the pages, you might have to do some cloning. Damien is one to answer this topic. Especially with the Moiré. Or possibly get a Ring Light. Often you will see these lights advertised for YouTube Blogging and such, but the truth is, they have all kinds of uses. Basically, you set the ring to point directly at the books and you position your lens through the Ring Light itself; this might actually help with the black voids in the pages...as your light from the box isn't getting into the nooks and crannies. I've used this Ring Light in the past and it's very good. The only thing you will need is a light stand. I also saw this one too.

Here is the thing with product photography...it's all fake.

That Yummy Syrup on those Stack of Pancakes? It's Motor Oil. The Butter isn't butter either, it's shortening with food coloring. Same thing goes for that dish of ice cream...it's shortening. Same thing with the Turkey on the recipe page. It's really frozen, they just take a blow torch and "cook" (brown) the outside, cut a slice off and blow torch just that area, and spray it with glycerine / oil mix to make it look like it's piping hot. Steam from Coffee in a Mug? There are plastic tubes on the back-side of the mug connected to a steam generator. The Coffee is cold.

The hardest part about this, is you are going to have to figure out your formula alone. It's fiddling and it's gonna take time. Especially figuring out your lighting and then editing. Once you get your stuff figured out...shut up about it and don't say a word to anyone.

Oh, by-the-way...this is good:

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.57.13 PM.png

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