Improving my photography skills

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Blog entry by Don Kondra posted 03-22-2008 05:43 AM 2908 reads 3 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch


Some background first, some of this information was included in a recent post but for those of you that missed it I’ll start from the beginning :)

Until recently I was having my pieces shot by a professional. He moved, sigh…

For archive type shots I was using a Kodak 2 mp P&S. For web stuff it worked fine and I even had an image printed in Fine Woodworking’s Readers Gallery. They must have REALLY liked the piece :)

I never liked the idea of the time and cost to have pieces shot so this was the perfect opportunity to take control.

After much research I purchased a Olympus Evolt E-510, two light stands, 2 – 65w CF bulbs, quartz bulbs for my 500w halogen work lights, a paper backdrop and a Velbon tripod. The CF bulbs are 200w equivalent and have a color temp of 4100k.

This was already way more than I had planned to spend so I have been experimenting with continuous lightling before purchasing strobes. BUT, the goal is to have magazine quality photo’s… all the time.

With my Kodak camera I found I had the best results at night, with the shop flourescent lights on and the camera flash.

My first tests with the new camera were at night with the shop lights on, a 500w halogen shined directly at the object, another 500w bounced off the ceiling onto the backdrop and the 65w CF bulbs on each side. The object is the worst thing I could find to photograph, a bar stool mock up finished with flat black paint.

All shots were using wrinkled white sheet until I determin where I want to permanently mount my paper backdrop.

lighting test

Close but… so I tried some advice I received about using daylight. I didn’t really want to restrict myself to a specific time of day but if that’s what it takes.

This Olympus camera test is kinda backwards, the cloudy daylight is coming from behind the object and I have the two 65W CF lights on each side.

test #2

Much better results, we’re starting to see some depth and detail.

This led me to try some shots with two pieces I shot with the Kodak so I could see the difference.

This is late afternoon cloudy daylight with the 2 – 65w CF light stands with the Olympus vs night with shop lights and flash with the Kodak.

Kodak – Cherry Entrance bench with black leather seat

cherry entrance bench

Olympus – brown leather seat

new shot

Walnut Trestle Coffee Table – Kodak

walnut coffee table

Olympus -

new shot #2

So far these tests have pretty well convinced me I won’t be permanently mounting my paper backdrop, it will need to be placed according to the lighting conditions.

Next step is to come up with an easy system to hang sheets over the windows for shooting with sunny daylight and acquiring panels to bounce light.

Stay tuned :)

Cheers, Don

-- Don Kondra – Furniture Designer/Maker

14 comments so far

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 4177 days

#1 posted 03-22-2008 06:15 AM

That’s good stuff Don. I just bought a Canon S5 IS today after way too much research. My kids beat my little Nikon to death so I gave it to them and they won’t be taking this one out of the house. I am hoping to get some good shots of projects with this new camera and will be following this Blog so keep it as a series :)

-- Scott - Chico California

View Don Kondra 's profile

Don Kondra

117 posts in 4247 days

#2 posted 03-22-2008 06:34 AM

Hi Jack,

That’s a good article for continuous light.

I’m hoping to develop/explore three different set ups, cloudy day, sunny day and continuous lights at night.

This should allow me to shot and deliver depending on the timing :)

And/or decide which works best for my needs.

Cheers, Don

-- Don Kondra – Furniture Designer/Maker

View ben's profile


158 posts in 4232 days

#3 posted 03-22-2008 03:47 PM

Don and Jack, this information is spectacular. Thanks!


View grovemadman's profile


556 posts in 4133 days

#4 posted 03-22-2008 09:26 PM

Thanks Don for the blog. Your right that light is everything in how well a piece will be displayed, In fact it can make all the difference in the world. A little photoshop can’t hurt either… but if I can get the shot right in the field it will save me time in the digital darkroom.
Nice work on the projects BTW they deserve to be in Fine Woodworking or any Mag for that matter!

-- --Chuck

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4236 days

#5 posted 03-22-2008 11:05 PM

This is an area where a lot of us could use some improvement. I put myself at the top of that list. Thanks for the detail.

View Don Kondra 's profile

Don Kondra

117 posts in 4247 days

#6 posted 03-29-2008 05:57 AM

Now this is cool, I sent the image of the bench to my old photographer and he sent back a quick and dirty removal of the backdrop… basically he used the airbrush tool to remove it…. if I would have done this work on this image I would have used the clone and smudge tools… but my results would not have been this good :)

Grant Kernan photoshopped

Cheers for now, Don

-- Don Kondra – Furniture Designer/Maker

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4661 days

#7 posted 03-29-2008 06:43 AM

I’m always looking for a better way to take photos, especially of carvings.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Woodshopfreak's profile


389 posts in 4103 days

#8 posted 05-11-2009 11:04 PM

Please visit my site at

-- Tyler, Illinois

View Don Kondra 's profile

Don Kondra

117 posts in 4247 days

#9 posted 05-11-2009 11:30 PM

Hi Tyler,

Very good start.

Couple things to consider with the WWing photo’s.

Backgrounds are distracting and make it more difficult to control the lighting, it only takes a few minutes more to set up a backdrop. I’m currently using electrical conduit to hold a 6’ wide paper backdrop with my workbench as a stand. For larger pieces I’ve installed hooks in my ceiling to hold chains for a 9’ wide backdrop.

Lighting could use some work, since I started this thread I’ve retired my continuous lights and purchased four studio strobes and a laptop to shoot tethered to the camera. I’ve noticed another step up in image/lighting quality but at a cost of course :)

This is not to say that for smaller objects, a paper backdrop, two stands, 10” reflectors, 85w CF bulbs and possibly a light tent can produce quite nice results without breaking the bank…

If you would care to post one image and include your camera settings and a shot of your lighting set up we could talk about techniques to improve ??

Cheers, Don

PS. I Just Have to include this Non woodworking shot from the other night :)

Tonights full moon

-- Don Kondra – Furniture Designer/Maker

View a1Jim's profile


117616 posts in 3938 days

#10 posted 05-12-2009 01:10 AM

Cool info looks like your getting it down very well

View vipond33's profile


1405 posts in 2859 days

#11 posted 03-18-2012 03:00 AM

Hi Don
Just one question. How did you light the moon, and is that a commercially available backdrop?

-- [email protected] : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

View balidoug's profile


497 posts in 2840 days

#12 posted 03-18-2012 02:26 PM

Good pictures, though in my case I’m more interested in hiding the flaws. I like that last build especially, Don; My neighbour has one just like it. Is that a hand tool job?

-- From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. Immanuel Kant

View Don Kondra 's profile

Don Kondra

117 posts in 4247 days

#13 posted 03-18-2012 04:56 PM

There is hand work involved, mostly on the through tenons but the majority of the grunt work is done with copy jigs and a straight bit/bearing on the shaper.

Cheers, Don

-- Don Kondra – Furniture Designer/Maker

View balidoug's profile


497 posts in 2840 days

#14 posted 03-21-2012 10:49 AM

Actually, I meant the big round thing in Black and white; my neighbour hangs one over his house sometimes. The bench is really nice, too.

-- From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. Immanuel Kant

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