Shooting For The Web

Taking photographs for use on the Word Wide Web, its not just about pointing, clicking, uploading done! Well, social media does allow us to simply upload photographs without consideration of file size, image quality, lighting, composition and optimization. And this is a problem, social sharing has created a world of point and click users, unconcerned with the App’s limitations we’re using to present our imagery. Hideously “noisy” mobile photos have become acceptable and badly lit subjects are commonplace across our everyday virtual world.

How to take better images for use on the Internet

And this is acceptable (to a degree) the rapid availability of image and video recording devices has cracked open the world to reveal its inner beauty, sense of humor, humanity and its ugly side.

What we’re discussing here are the very values we can consider when wanting to get the very best from our subject in the way of images which we’re subsequently going to post on the Web. It’s easy, with a little consideration and technical “know how” we can capture images that not only look pretty but give a far better representation of the subject.

Using the right tools for the job

Which Camera to use

SLR, Long lens, iPhone, Compact camera and Tripod

SLR

Weather you’re shooting Loui Vuitton in the Mongolian desert or your nanas knickknacks an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) will do the job right first time. The reason for this is one of control, you control all the settings you’ll ever need to capture a great photo, instead of letting an “auto” setting take control.

You should consider using two/three lenses or a lens that can do it all, long distance, wide angle and macro. note: having a lens thats a “do it all” type will deliver a lesser quality to prime lenses, however this can be acceptable for images used on the Web, when you begin to shoot for printing larger than A4 then you’ll need to consider more sophisticated equipment.

Wide-angle lens can be anything from 18 – 24mm, there will be moments when space within the studio might be limited so you may need to fit larger subjects in to the frame. Also a lens of this type will accurately depict your subjects dimensions without persecutive distortion or weird foreshortening. Avoid anything wider than 18mm, something like a fish eye lens will distort your subject too much, keep that lens for shooting skaters in the park!

Long or Telephoto lenses should be from 24/100 – 200mm, using a lens of this type can be useful for narrowing perspective. Using such a long lens can enable you to get further away from your subject too, if you’re shooting a highly reflective surface for example, you can choose to stand way back so you don’t show up in a refection as an unintended self-portrait. This lens will also give you more flexibility over creative depth-of-field.

Maco Lenses are perfect for getting REALLY close, well duh! No, joking aside, these lenses may not be in your kit-bag or not even be on your Christmas wish list but, they’re the lens you need for capturing that Microscopic detail, if indeed that’s what you’re shooting. These lens will be expensive, due to the manufacture of the glass elements, however there is a trick to keep costs down. Make your own Macro lens by reversing a prime lens, a 100mm for example and placing it on the front of another lens with the aid of a reverse ring.

All in one lenses are good enough for the everyday, they’re not as sharp or clear as prime or specific lenses so if you’re looking for real close ups, you’ll have to compromise with near-macro.

Compact Digital

These little cameras are very cool, they come in all shapes and sizes (generally smaller than SLR’s). A compact digital camera has (in the most part) predesigned settings, this means you don’t have the control over aperture or exposure like you would have with an SLR. Saying that they can deliver a good result as long as you’re willing to experiment the functions until you get the right shot. A limitation can be the built in flash (some models have a hot-shoe for external flash), this flash bulb can be way too strong for lighting your subject, so light what you’r shooting with loads of flat and defused light. If the flash is going  to fire, there is a trick of using a piece of white card in front of the flash to bounce the light off the card, off the celling (provided its low enough and painted white) and onto your subject, again this will take some experimentation.

Camera Phone

If you’re looking for good quality shots without distortion or funky colours, then in short, don’t use a Camera Phone. You’ll just be disappointed and everyone will say “it looks like it was taken with an iPhone. You might be able to clean up the image in Photoshop, but lets be realistic here, whats the point! Take your time and shoot with the right gear.

Tripod

A tripod is essential and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Using a tripod will help you compose your subject without having hold or pickup and put down your camera. It will also steady the camera when you’re having to shoot in low natural light without the aid of a flash. The use of a tripod can also add some constancy to your images, say for example if you’re shooting a production line of subjects, its a good idea to keep each shot the same composition and just swap out the subject each time.

Camera Settings

Which one to use and whats it all mean
72 dpi

DPI stands for “dots per inch” we use this term to measure individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of one inch. These individual dots (when placed together) make up the whole of your image, just as many individual pixels on your TV make up a “whole” picture. DPI is and is not a term used for measuring resolution, the confusion comes from the relationship between old school chemical processing and printing and digital capture. Ideally, we should use the term “dpi” for measuring print resolution as printers deposit ink on to papers in little dots, but when we’re looking at say, the same picture on a screen we’re seeing the image in pixels (little squares) so we use the term ppi (pixels per inch). This term has unfortunately stuck with us when describing resolution in print and screen.

So what should you choose to shoot for the web, well as a rule of thumb, choose no higher  than 72 dpi (ppi). This resolution may appear small and this is good because images are generally large on file size so reducing the image Rez to 72 dpi will reduce the file size and optimize the image specifically for digital screens. If you choose to print your image you should choose a dpi of 300. Whatever you do, don’t upload a 300dpi image to your website or blog, it’ll take an “age” to download and wont change in quality. However most social media sites reduce the images dpi for you during upload.

ISO

Depending on your available lighting situation, you’ll want to get the best quality from your camera so, opt for the lowest ISO your camera has can give. An ISO of 100 will deliver a sharp, detailed and even tonality. However, if you’re shooting without a flash you’ll need a tripod for sure, your shutter speed will tend to be slow if you’re shooting inside and hand holding will cause camera shake, resulting in “soft”, unsharp images.

Resolution

Getting the right resolution will be a result of choosing the correct file size, dpi and ISO.

Small file size

Your camera should have a setting for your image file size, this is likely to be a JPEG format (unless you’re shooting on obscure middle eastern made device), you SLR will likely have a the following settings:

Small – under 5mb file size
Medium – over 5mb file size
Large – under/over 10mb file size
Raw – Uncompressed file over 10mb file size.

If you’re just going to use the images for the Web, then choose a “Small” file size, avoid using “Raw” this uncompressed file is likely to be massive (over 10mb), although it will look amazing, it wont upload or even display on the Web. If you’re wanting to use you’re photos in both print and on the Web, you can choose to shoot “Raw + JPEG” simultaneously, “JPEG” for the “Web” and “Raw” for print.

Auto sharpening

If your camera has this setting, its a good feature to use when shooting for the Web. Small image files tend to be a bit “soft” so adding a sprinkling of an auto sharpening filter will give your images the shine they deserve.

Choosing The Right Composition

Less is more
Background and foreground

Quite possibly the easiest and most common mistake in shooting a subject is you’re focal point. Decide what is your “hero” in the shot and minimize, take away or blur out everything else. If you’re shooting a sculpture for your portfolio, try to compose your shot so there is little or nothing in the background and foreground to distract from your main subject.

Level out – shooting from height

Choose the right height when composing your photograph, don’t just shoot from eye-level, doing so will create foreshortening and cause distortions. Stand back, look through the camera and decide if a lower or higher angle will be best.

Dressing your subject

Spend a good amount of time on presentation, take things away from the frame (photograph) that don’t belong there, such as a waste paper basket, or fire an extinguisher hanging on the wall (remember to put it back). Clean up any dirt or litter and if you can polish or wipe down surfaces, folk tend not notice how clean your image looks but they will definitely notice if it’s untidy or dirty. Imagine you’re shooting a diamond ring, would you use a hand model with dirty fingernails?

Framing your subject

Look at your subject, no really, look at it and decide if you’re going to choose portrait or landscape format. Sometimes a landscape format or a very tall subject can look right in a landscape format, you’ll have to shoot both if you’re unsure. Allow for enough space round your subject too, don’t crop off anything unless you’re shooting detail then, get close! Another good rule is to allow more empty space at the bottom of your frame than the top, doing so creates a feeling of weight and will “ground” your subject in its frame.

Lighting your subject

From snapper to semipro at the flick of switch
Flat/even lighting

If you’re using studio lighting, choose to light your subject form both sides this will reduce ugly “cross shadows” and evenly light your subject.

Modeling with light

However on the flip-side, choosing to light your subject from one side only can create a greater sense of depth. A single light will cause shadows to form by raised details across the surface of your subject.

Light spots and reflections – friend or foe

Sometimes a light spot (refection of the lamp or window) can obscure any detail in your subjects surface, using a soft box, defused light, a light tent will take away those light spots, however you will often need to use a slower shutter speed to capture this, so use a tripod. But, light spots can also enhance your subject, adding texture, glossiness and if you’re capturing a portrait you’ll want light spots in the eyes to add “life” to your subject.

Post production

Meta data and protecting your images
Metadata, Exif Data and Info

Digital image metadata is the information assigned or attached to the image witch describes, its colour space, the camera used, the lens used, the cameras settings, the date, the time, user, copyright info and much more… You’ll always have metadata assigned to your digital photographs but how much and how detailed depends on your camera. Metadata is a great way of proving you have taken or own the image, should a copyright issue arise.

Using Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge showing Meta Data

Adobe Bridge is a great way of checking and changing any metadata assigned to your photographs. Just open Adobe Bridge, navigate to your folder of images, click on one image and in the bottom right (default layout), you’ll see a listing of familiar phrases and settings attached to that digital image.

Photoshop Save For Web – Image Compression and optimization

Another way to reduce your image in file size, is to optimize them specifically for the Web, you can do this by stripping out unnecessary metadata, such as colour space and exposure information, as well as reducing the image quality (unnoticeably) so the file size becomes lighter (a smaller file size). Try it your self crack open your image file in photoshop and choose File > Save for Web and Devices. In the dialog window that appears choose to save your file as a JPEG, choose the image quality and click save.

Water marking – image protection

There are many methods of “water marking” your images, some software can do this for you such as Adobe Lightroom where you can choose to batch watermark an entire folder of images. Another way is to simply add your name, website or logo in the bottom right corner digitally. You’ll need to use photoshop to do this. Having your own watermark, does two things, its adds a copyright notice should anyone think they can pinch your image, your watermark will be there to deter them and it also adds a reference to your site.

Your images are not safe on the Web

Sadly, there are those who ignore copyright all together and just take what they want to pass off as their own. I’ve heard stories of photographers using another photographers images as their own to bulk out their portfolio, I’ve also witnessed people “cloning” out the copyright stamp in an image to use in other elsewhere. There are methods of disabling the “right click > Save Image” function on your website but, this will not prevent someone taking the image. The “Print Screen” function is the ultimate bypass for any clever coding on your site. The only thing you can be sure on is the DPI will be 72, thus printing the image out will cause its dimensions to be small and ultimately the quality wont be as good as if you were to use the original file.