This guest post is by Lex McColl, inventor of the innovative Modahaus series of portable photography set-ups. (BTW The giveaway for 6 Steady Stands is still ongoing but will expire at 6 pm EST on Monday February 27). Click on the images to view larger versions.

I’m delighted to be back again on ‘The Beading Gem’s Journal’ and thanks to all of you for participating in this giveaway and spreading the word for Pearl’s blog and Modahaus. 

I had the idea for the Steady Stand some time ago and I’m sure it was during my involvement in Pearl’s previous posts on Modahaus products that I was spurred on to put my ideas in to action, so thanks a million for that! 

Our range has grown a bit and we now have the SS100’s which are great for close up and macro shots and also handy for copying small documents like business cards and receipts. The SS200 now has a larger companion the SS300 which is ideal for larger necklaces and is also handy for full A4 or US Letter sized documents for those of us moving towards the paperless office. They all work hand in hand with each other and our Tabletop Studio range.

I know many of you shoot with iPhones, Smartphones and Compact Cameras so I’ve been spending more time with these devices to get ‘in the zone’ and your feedback has been inspirational for my First Time Ever Exclusive Tip I’m going to share with you.

But first, just two basic tips for using the Modahaus Steady Stands. Switch off your Camera’s flash and set camera to self timer – 2 second timer is ideal if you have that option. I won’t go in to setting Aperture here as the Steady Stand viewpoint means that depth of field/focus is never really an issue when your whole subject is on the same plane.

Shooting from above with the Steady Stand is the ideal viewpoint for jewelry and many other subjects. You don’t need to suspend or prop up your subject but just lay it down on any surface and leave gravity to hold it in place. 

As daylight prevails from above, your subject is in a good position to benefit from this and avoid harsh shadows. The Steady Stand keeps your camera steady and the translucent side walls give a professional ‘Soft Box’ quality to the light falling on your subject. 

Sometimes shadows can be of benefit to your subject and the following two images show how you can control shadows and softness of light. Here we’ve used the awesome Modahaus Steady Stand SS300 and Tabletop Studio TS400 ‘Custom Bundle’ with the translucent green backdrop and shot with the iPhone 4S.

Diffused light from the left
Image above I shot with the side walls diffusing the daylight coming in from the left hand side. Lego bricks were used to elevate the picture frame slightly above the translucent green backdrop. This left some room for the tulip underneath and also provided a soft shadow from the frame helping give depth to the image.

Hard light from below
 This second image above I shot with direct light (no diffusion) coming in from the bottom through the open end of the Steady Stand. I liked the more pronounced vignette this gave inside the oval and the increased depth it gave to the frame and tulip. It’s so easy to try these options just by spinning your Steady Stand and backdrop round 90 degrees. The app I used on the iPhone 4S was my trusted Camera+ as it’s so simple to select both your exposure and focus points independently.

Now for that First Time Ever Exclusive Tip.

A well exposed photograph of jewelry shot against a white background can be very effective but usually imposes some limitations on composition when shooting with a Compact Camera which can make your results a bit hit or miss. Let’s demonstrate what I mean.

Point and shoot - under exposed and no focus lock
Here’s a point and shoot photo of a necklace using the Steady Stand SS200 and the Canon Powershot SX220. What has gone wrong here is the Camera has ‘not locked on’ focus as the centre of the image is just plain white and the camera can’t see anything to focus on - look out for warning symbol on LCD viewfinder like yellow rectangle as the inset above. Most Compact Cameras lock on focus only in the central area. 

The camera’s meter has taken in a lot of white background and tried to expose for that, resulting in underexposure. This is a catch 22 situation as we want to show the necklace beads but also want to give some idea of the chain length and don’t want to compromise the composition.

Here comes the exclusive double whammy killer tip!

Exposure and focus control chips
If you’re selling your jewelry, as I know many of you are, then you’ll also have your own brand identity or logo. Here’s a couple of A4/US letter pages of a logo I’ve printed out on my inkjet printer. The typeface is intentionally light and prints white within a solid square. There are 4 versions of each ranging from a mid blue through darker blues to black plus the same shades in grey scale. I printed the page out at 100% and 66% size. We then trim them down to chips. We’re going to use these as exposure and focus control chips! If you don’t want to use your logo against a colored background you can select shades of gray instead.

Sharp focus and slightly improved exposure
 So here’s the same necklace, same composition and exactly the same point and shoot camera settings. All we’ve done is add the black focus and exposure control chip in to the central point of the frame. The camera has clearly seen the logo and locked focus on that, as the green rectangle in the viewfinder LCD inset confirms, and has metered the whole frame with less expanse of white which has helped lighten the exposure slightly. We raised the chip using a lego brick behind so focus distance was the same as the beads. A big improvement in sharpness with brand building built in! But still room for improvement in exposure with a couple of easy camera adjustments.

Set to P and Spot metering

We want the camera to meter only on our exposure control chip (logo). If your camera mode is set to Auto change this to Program (P). P is much the same as Auto but it allows you more options. Once in P mode, find metering options and select ‘Spot’. Spot metering concentrates the meter on the central spot of the frame where we positioned our logo.

Now let’s look at the difference:

Point and shoot with spot metering - good exposure and sharp

Background is now a nice clean white, beads are bright and sharp but I see we are loosing some highlight detail in the beads. So all we do now is replace the black chip with a lighter blue chip and I’d say the result below is my preferred exposure but it comes down to personal preference.

Point and shoot with spot metering - adjusted exposure and sharp
 This is a very simple and effective way of controlling focus and exposure whilst building your brand!   If you don’t want to use your logo on the chip you can just use a generic message or just a plain chip if you have the know how to remove it later in image processing. Remember, the darker the chip, the lighter the white background will be and always keep the chip in the center of the frame. NB. The above images have been cropped so the chips may appear off-center.

As the camera was locking focus on the chip, I placed the chip on top of a lego brick which brought the chip up to the same level as the front of the beads.

Some cameras may have ‘Partial’ as a metering option rather than ‘Spot’. Select Partial in this case. Some compact cameras have a ‘C’ mode. This allows you to set a custom mode which remembers these alternative settings like ‘Spot’ , ISO speed or whatever common configuration you want. I wish my Powershot had the C option!

Large white necklace on a white background
 A large white bead and diamond necklace against a white background has got be one of the most challenging subjects. It was a complete breeze with the Steady Stand SS300 combined with our exposure chip trick. No lego brick required here! Even the 5.5 ct Pear Cut White Diamond (Graded Colour ‘D’, Clarity ‘FL’) has held it’s exquisitely cut facets. Just kidding… it’s glass!

Large colored glass bead necklace on white background
 This large colored bead necklace is a good example where pushing the background to almost pure white gives a perfect exposure for the translucent beads.

All these shots are straight out of the camera with no post processing or enhancement and the only camera settings we made were setting mode to ‘P’ and meter to ‘Spot’.

The image above was shot with the iPhone 4S and Modahaus Steady Stand SS100SP. I should point out the grumpy looking cufflinks were designed by the legendary Stephen Webster and not Acme Artisan. Our chip trick works equally as well with iPhones and Smartphones. I used the Camera+ App which allows you to select exposure and focus independently. The exposure icon/area is too large, in this case, to accurately expose only on the cufflinks to give us a clean white background. We simply exposed the shot by placing the exposure icon partly over our black exposure chip and set our focus icon over the cufflinks.

Independent focus exposure on the iPhone 4S

This game changing technique effectively enables you and your Compact Camera, iPhone or Smartphone to have a greater degree of control over exposure and focus than the camera is capable of achieving otherwise!
All down to our simple control chips and, of course, our Steady Stands! I only wish I’d thought of it before now! It would have saved me so much time and avoided compromising composition in favor of exposure! This technique can also give effective exposure and focus control for images without a white background.

You heard this technique here first and I hope you put it in to practice and share it with your fellow artisans and your network.

I’m more than happy to answer any questions you have, either here on Pearl’s post or on our Modahaus Facebook page or any of our blog posts.

Before You Go:
Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
Jewelry Making Tips - Jewelry Business Tips