Take Better Photos of Inanimate Objects

Forks with Flash and Ambient Light

Ever wonder why your pictures of little items like statues, money, a speaker set, a glass of water, or pretty much anything else in the world that doesn't move often look so washed out and flat? I'm betting that the reason is that you are setting your camera to 'nuke' mode (i.e. blast everything with light from the flash).

Well, I have a quick, and most likely free (if you own a tripod) solution to this problem. And it's pretty darn easy to implement. Here's how you do it:

  1. Turn off your camera's flash
    (consult your manual on how to do this if you're not sure how to turn it off).
  2. Grab your tripod, and screw your camera onto it.
  3. Put the tripod/camera where it needs to be to take a picture of your inanimate object/building.
  4. Take the picture, being sure to not let the tripod move
    (especially as you press your camera's shutter button).

There! I just solved about 90% of your inanimate-object-picture-taking problem. This solution won't work universally, though. Your camera might be confused by the lighting situation, and might end up giving you ugly colors (with a greenish, purplish, or yellow tint). If that's the case, you need to set the camera's 'White Balance' to the proper setting for the lighting situation at hand ('Tungsten' for normal lighting, 'Fluorescent' for fluorescent lighting, 'Sunlight' for outdoor sunny lighting, etc. - consult your manual for information on how to do this).

Or, your picture may be either too dark or too light. Well, that's typically a very easy fix. Just dial up (+) or dial down (-) your camera's Auto-Exposure Compensation (higher to brighten the picture, and lower to darken the picture - again, consult your manual for more information).

Once you've followed these steps, you'll end up with great looking pictures of just about any inanimate object. In the example at the top of this post, you can see two pictures of the exact same fork, on the exact same table. In both pictures, I simply turned the camera on and kept it in full automatic mode. You'll notice a difference, though; in the first, everything is washed out and flat, and in the second, the light is a little nicer, and the shadows add a nice depth to the picture.

In the picture below, I did the exact same thing, this time with a little candy dish with one of my favorite candies:

Skittles - Hard Flash Light vs Ambient Light

What you're doing by not using the camera's flash is letting the camera capture the 'ambient' light (light that is already in the environment, which your eye normally sees). Most things look pretty good in ambient light, and not so good if you use your camera's built-in flash to light it. Depending on what kind of lighting equipment and camera you have, you can probably do even better—but that's another story, another day!