Need Photography Help

One thing that I really enjoy about this site is all the wonderful pictures. Then there are my pictures - I take horrible pictures for the most part. You guys have been kind but on the MP subreddit, others have been a little more honest about my crappy photography. I can’t blame my iPhone as from what I have read it is considered decent in most circumstances. I recently purchased a light and camera rig like the one below, after someone suggested 2 light sources. I have this pointing down and have another (desk lamp) as a second source. But alas, still not so good.

Any tips, suggestions or YouTube videos you can recommend? My need apparently isn’t just the mechanics of taking a good picture, but also lacking in composition – what do you feel “makes” a good picture? (example – @Knockologist has posted several AWESOME images of pencils, but his images also have amazing backgrounds).

I have a “decent” digital camera ( Fujifilm FinePix S9200 16 MP) should I use that instead of my iPhone?


Two light sources is a must. BUT… you also want diffused light sources, also of a high CRI tint (or warm/neutral blend). Those help avoid hard cast shadows. Also, if you’re photographing something small, use a felt or other matte, non-reflective surface.


A clean background really helps. I used to shoot with a white painted wooden board salvaged from an old cupboard. Lately, it’s just been my work desk – a steel surface in black rough powder coat. Sometimes, I just use grey craft foam.

Lighting should be at an angle and distant enough not to cause harsh shadows or blow out highlights. The color corrected high overhead lamps in my work studio just happens to do the trick for me.

Large windows for natural light also work well. A tripod setup can allow for slower shutter speeds in case the natural sunlight is not bright enough.

Practice with composition.


The really really nice crisp shots are done with a real camera and great lighting.

I oftentimes use a real camera, in manual mode, with a tripod and remote shooting.

Using manual mode allows for setting the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to your liking.

I always prefer to shoot at 100 ISO if possible. Using a tripod makes that possible. I also change my f-stops (aperture) based on what and how much I want focused. The lower the f-stop the quicker the shutter speed will be. The higher f-stops (for more areas in focus) requires a longer shutter speed which is where a tripod comes in.

This is all for manual SLR or dSLR shooting.

For point and shoot cameras you just need really good lighting and choose between landscape for more of the scene in focus or closeup/macro to have a shallow depth of field. Using the Auto feature can sometimes give you a nice shot but may not be what you’re looking for.

Composition is another key aspect. There’s plenty of quick tutorials on YouTube for quick tips.

My first job was in a photo lab. Back when film was a thing. That was the best job ever.


Do you own a mirror-less camera, successor to the DSLR?
What do you consider models worth owning?
I had a large format Olympus, a “near DSLR” type, and had planned to upgrade to a DSLR, but mirror-less really intrigues me. I like the smaller lens advantage for portability.


I ditched my Nikons for an Oly micro 4/3 setup several years ago. Haven’t kept up with lenses etc because mobile phone photographer has improved by leaps and bounds.

Nowadays I only bring out the Oly when I need the extra wide angle for certain group shots…


My Google Pixel has a mere 12mp camera, but it still takes fantastic photos, especially for 1080p display, or web sharing. Probably not that great for printing. My old Oly C-8080 is 8mp, which is lousy, but the built-in lens is large and it does a marvelous job with macro. My phone camera can’t compete with that macro ability… hence, the C-8080 is still handy.

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You can also get small lightboxes/photo tents online for under 50 bucks; many have have adjustable intensity, smooth backdrops & reflective interiors. It’s what a lot of sellers on eBay and Etsy use.
The results are fairly clinical and non-dramatic, but you get decent and consistent photos.


on Gary’s advice I ordered a second diffused light from AliExpress yesterday. And I think I will try using my Fuji 16 MP camera going forward
Perfect timing though – my first Buyee shipment arrived today! I’m stuck in the OR until about 21:00 so that is killing me.


Here’s a video using my photography setup…


Hey @Knockologist, where do you/ did you get the clear stand? That’s quite a nice add-on.


A little “cheap cheat” tip for you…

It may sound crude, but get yourself a translucent milk or water jug. When done with the contents clean and dry it. Then, cut it. What I did with one of these was to trim off one panel and remove the spout. Inside line the bottom with a neutral cloth or material of preference.

When you light it from the side and top, the translucent plastic acts as an amazing diffuser, spreading light around and making shadow lines very soft. You can spend upwards of $50+ for a professional light box that does pretty much the same. But the flexibility of the plastic carton is that you can play with it, cutting and shaping as you wish, to experiment. I’ve also taken pieces from one and then placed in front of a light source for further diffusion.


:thinking:. It’s probably been a decade since I got that. I bet eBay or Amazon has something like this.

Search for acrylic pen stand.


Getting frustrated…. Using two light sources I still get glare on the shiny metal surfaces.
I have a cheap light box on the way

Here is my setup

And here are the results

Edit: too bright?


Ring lights are meant to provide even lighting on a person’s face while streaming vids. The light (any light) needs to be further away and preferably diffused. I’ve used a table lamp with a lamp shade in the past.


You could try taping a thin sheet of paper to the light to act as a diffuser. It’s a clumsy hack, but it will immediately soften the light.


Thanks. I was using a piece of opaque plastic over the second light source but think my lighting is too close.


Even if you diffuse the light, that doesn’t look very natural. It seems to have a yellow tint to it. I have no experience setting up professional photography setups but my advice would be to take the pens outside during mild light hours. You’ll get diffuse and natural light which will instantly make your pencils look better.

Also, kerry cap is shiny so I’d recommend first trying to take pictures of something less reflective. You’ll have an easier time not getting your pictures ruined by reflections.


One “conventional wisdom” piece of advice for composition is the “rule of thirds.” Divide your frame like a 3×3 tic-tac-toe board and concentrate interesting elements at the junctions of the grid. Some phone cams will have an option to put this as a visible overlay when you are shooting.

Many many many online examples if you search “rule of thirds.”


Thank you :pray: