Tutorial: Improve the photos of your papercraft projects today!!


I’m a papercraft template designer, so I’m constantly putting together little paper masterpieces and sharing my work online.  I have to tell you, though, getting the photos of my projects to properly represent the delicious hybrid work of art in my hand is very difficult, to say the least.  My project is always so much more vibrant than the photos I take.  It’s sort of disappointing!

Lucky for you, I’ve been at this for over 5 years, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out.

When taking photos of your papercraft, you have to think about:

  • Lighting
  • Background
  • Post-processing

Lighting:  Natural light is always better.  Try to position your project in front of big window, but make sure the sunlight isn’t beaming down on your project or creating shadows.  I’ve found that the best times for taking photos are mid to late morning and mid to late afternoon.

0 My Photo Spot

Background:  I have seen some gorgeous project photos taken outside on the grass or against a wood-grain kitchen table, however I’ve found that the least distracting background is a solid color.  Bonus points if you have a light box (which I’ve heard are easy to make), however I like the look of my projects against a black background.  I like the way the colors pop, and it’s much easier for me to process my photos in Photoshop when I have a black background to correct the colors against.

This is what I use for my background.  It’s just a black secretary desk, located at the front of my house next to an open window in a well-lit space.  In the past, I’ve used a piece of black fabric, but this works well for me these days because I do so much with post-processing.  (And, if you think this is messy, you should see my REAL desk!)

Post Processing:  If you are great at photography, you might not even need to edit your photos in a photo editing program like Photoshop.  However, I always edit my photos.  And, here’s another confession:  These days, my DSLR takes a back seat to my iPhone 4 camera.  Seriously. I take all of my photos with the camera on my iPhone!  How many photos do I take?  Oh, about eleventybillion.  Or, maybe 45.  Give or take.  I like to get my project from all different angles so my customers (and gallery trollers) can get a good idea of the shape and dimensions of the template I am using.

Go ahead and take eleventybillion photos of your project.  If you are using your iPhone camera, tap the screen to focus, and tap on light and dark parts of your project to see how the camera adjusts the white balance.  The new HDR function in iOS7 is pretty cool, since it does all kinds of color correcting and image stabilizing.  However, I usually have it turned off, since I like to take photos super fast, one right after the other as if my project were a super model.

Original Image

Import your photos onto your computer, then scroll through to choose your top 3 favorites.  Look for FOCUS above all else.  We can color/lighting correct in Photoshop.  Side note:  I use the free program called Picasa to import and view my photos, which is a Google app, but others use iPhoto, Lightroom, ACDSee, Bridge, etc.  Find a program that will help you take your photos OFF your camera and allow you to edit them on your screen.

Open your program and open your photos in the program.  These days, I’m using the full version of Photoshop (CS5), but I used to use Elements.

This is my original image, completely untouched.  I did use the cool new “square” setting on my phone, so that’s why it’s already nice and square.  Notice the crud in the background, the highlights and shadows of my background, etc.  Not pretty. And, my project is NOT popping in any way.  Sad little photo.

Background is brushed

The first thing I do to correct my photo is Brush the Background.  Hit “D” on your keyboard to take your colors back to default (with black as your main color), or use the color picker to choose the main color of your background.  Did you use a yellow sheet?  Pick a bit of yellow.  See why I use black, now?  Black is easy to work with!

Choose a soft, round brush and make it nice and big.  Now, start brushing around the edges to get rid of the distractions.  You can choose to brush on a new layer on your layers palette, but I throw caution to the wind and just brush on the original picture.  Thankful for the Undo function!  Notice that I brushed those knobs out and everything.

Now let’s color correct.  That white paper SHOULD be white, right?  (The answer is yes.)

  • In Photoshop Elements:  Go to Enhance>Adjust Color>Remove Color Cast.  Use the eye dropper to click on either black or white.  (Another reason why I like black.)  Click around your photo to see what looks best, then commit.  Ah, corrected color!
  • In Photoshop (CS):  Go to Image>Auto Tone.  Done.

This is my photo after it has been color corrected:

Color Corrected

Now, let’s make those colors pop!  I like to use a an action that increases the contrast and the color saturation.  Check out this great Color Pop Action by Jennifer Valencia!

Contrast and Color is popped

And, finally, crop that photo nice and close.  Square is the preferred shape, so go ahead and crop it 12in x 12in at 300 dpi, then use your Save For Web feature to shrink it for web display (600px x 600px @ 72 dpi).

I added a little watermark to my finished project, because it’s always nice to see who created that little piece of art!  You can find this Sassy Princess Purse Template in my shop at Pixels and Company.  The digital paper and elements are from Up In the Air by Wishing Well Creations and Sugarplum Paperie.



If this tutorial helped you think about how to improve the photos of your papercraft projects, I’d love it if you would pin this post for me!

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