Taking photographs of your work

If you really want your portfolio to shine, you need good photographs of your props. Taking photographs during a rehearsal or show is another topic entirely; in this article, I’ll be talking about taking photographs either in the shop or backstage.

Blurry and Grainy Pictures

The biggest problem and complaint about bad portfolio pictures are blurry and grainy photographs. Though caused by different things, they are both symptoms of not enough light.

Your camera determines the correct exposure in three ways: shutter speed, aperture, and film or chip sensitivity. With a fast shutter speed, moving objects are frozen in place. As the shutter speed slows down, moving objects become blurred in the photograph. At a slow enough shutter speed, the slight shaking of your hands as you hold the camera will blur the entire picture.

If your pictures are blurry, you need to steady the camera. A tripod is the usual solution. Expensive tripods are made for heavier cameras and able to withstand wind and rain. For smaller cameras used indoors, almost any tripod will help steady your pictures. You can even get table-top tripods, or funky ones like this:

The Gorillapod: a flexible, tiny tripod
The Gorillapod: a flexible, tiny tripod

For you creative types, which is pretty much every props artisan, the screw on top of a tripod which fits into the hole on the bottom of your camera is a 1/4-20 bolt – your standard 1/4 inch bolt.  With this in mind, you can make all sorts of mounts or tripods for your camera to hold it steady if you don’t want to buy or carry around a tripod.

Grain, or noise, is also caused by not having enough light. Many point-and-shoot cameras will boost the sensitivity of the chip in low light to allow you to take brighter, but noisier photos. The sensitivity is measured in ISO; most cameras give you a choice of 200, 400, 800, and 1600. It corresponds with film speeds, if you’re familiar with shooting in film. The lower the number is, the less grainy your pictures will be; however, you will either need more light, or a longer shutter speed. If you can control your camera manually and turn the sensitivity down, you will have less noise. You may also be back at the problem of blurry pictures.

Use More Light

While changing your camera’s settings and using a tripod will help combat blurry and grainy photos, often the best solution is to just add more light. Sometimes, even a little more light will improve your photos drastically.

Many shops have uneven lighting; try to position your prop so it is directly under one or more lights. Since a lot of shops have their lights on the ceiling, if you can lay your prop down and take the photograph from above, you will benefit from the additional brightness. Don’t be afraid to add more lighting; clip lights and work lamps can usually be found close by.

You may be tempted to use your on-camera flash to brighten up your photographs. This is probably the ugliest way to add more light. If you find you absolutely must use a flash, try taping a piece of tissue over it to soften and diffuse the light coming from it.

Whenever possible, I like to bring my props outside to photograph them. With a piece of fabric or sheet good as a backdrop, you’ll never know where the picture was taken.

Taking a picture outside will give you brighter and clearer photos
Taking a picture outside will give you brighter and clearer photos