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good to great: adding white

Today I want to share with you ad idea that can help take your photos for tutorials from good to great. I learned when when looking at a photo that someone else took. It was bright and airy, and I spotted the trick. It's a simple, fast idea, and it's a little cheaper than buying a DSLR camera. Actually a lot cheaper. This is going to cost you less than $2.

Here's what you do. Buy a large sheet of white art paper.

That's it! Poster board will also work, but art paper has a nice texture to it, and I like that. You can find it in the art departments at many stores like Hobby Lobby. Mine came from Blick, and I also picked up a couple other colors (although, they require a bit more work...start with white).
I choose an area that is getting some good (not-too-harsh) sunlight, and I set up my paper something like this. Sometimes I even lay it on the floor near a large picture window.

When you are taking photos for a shop, having some sort of context or props can help, but with tutorials simplicity puts more focus on the steps that you are showing. Having a cluttered background makes it harder to see.
But just because the background is simple, doesn't mean you'll get the best photos. This was taken yesterday as part of the tutorial I shared, using my Nikon d60, and a 50mm lens. It's a fair photo.
This is taken on my white art paper, same camera, same lens, same settings, same location. See how much brighter it makes things? The white paper helps to bounce extra light for your camera lens to pick up. But I promised you that you didn't need a fancy camera for this to make a difference, so take a look...
This is using a Sony Cyber-shot. The flash was turned off, and all of the settings were on auto. Not to great.
Here's using the flash. Better, but the results can vary, and often the flash looks so harsh, and I don't want that.
Finally, this is no flash, but with the brightness setting on the camera bumped up just a bit. This here is why you should get to know the settings on your camera. White balance is an amazing tool. I don't use the camera as often these days, so had I played even more, I probably could have gotten this to be a bit warmer.

All that you've seen have been straight from the camera, with no editing done. Just the help of that $2 piece of paper. Pretty good, huh? Maybe even great, compared to a dark cluttered photo. Now, let me show you what can happen if you give your pictures just a tiny bit of help in a program like Photoshop.
For this one, I've taken that last shot from the Sony, and used two free actions from Pioneer Woman. Slight Lighten and Warmer. Wow! This is no longer a typical point-and-shoot kind of picture.
Even my photo taken with the Nikon could use a bit of extra help, so I used just the Slight Lighten action from Pioneer Woman.

I am not an expert at this, so maybe I shouldn't be telling you how to set up photos. But I do take a lot of pictures, and this is one of those tips that I wish I had known years and years ago. (Seriously...take a look at my old archives...yikes.) Try it, and if you have luck with it, I'd love to see your photos!


  1. Great advice, and the pioneer actions are my favorite. Wish there were more free actions, they are so fun to play around with! :-)

  2. I find that the AutoFix tool, and other editors on Picnik work really well sometimes when I don't have time to mess around with camera settings. Sure it's not the same, but some quick, free editing can work wonders, too.

  3. Anonymous10:23 AM

    Fab tip, and not exactly a bank breaker =P Thanks for sharing x

  4. I forget about Picnik...thanks for that tip, Sarah!

  5. this is amazing!!! I was going to make myself a light box (which I might still do because I live in dismal Britian)...but until I get around to doing that...Paper it will be! I already have the paper too!!!!

  6. I'd also suggest getting a tripod. That way you can keep the shutter open longer, get more light and have no blur (only effective with still lives, but isn't that what most of us are taking anyway?) I did a tutorial on my site... http://wisdomofthemoon.blogspot.com/2010/02/low-light-pictures-with-point-and-shoot.html

  7. Thanks, Wendy! I'm really impressed with the quality of the light...

  8. Nice tutorial! I'm still addicted to Photoshop... but a white back drop AND figuring out WHERE the "white" setting is on my camera could sure save a lot of time!

  9. I have been hearing so much about Pioneer Woman. I have to try it :)


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