Product photography with the X-A2

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By LAURA HARVEY

Photos are super-important for anyone selling online – our customers aren’t able to pick up our products. They can’t get a feel for our cards, prints or mugs as they would in a traditional bricks and mortar shop.


Although we have stockists in the real world, we also sell our products online via our own website, as well as on marketplaces such as notonthehighstreet.com and etsy. These are ultra-competitive marketplaces, with a lot of products all shouting for attention. Type ‘birthday cards’ into etsy and you get 184,757 (and counting) results.

Having an eye-catching design and an appealing price can only take you so far. You need strong SEO and, just as importantly, professional-looking product shots.

This isn’t only important for catching a customer’s eye, but also for getting the attention of the people running these sites, who will promote products with superior photography.

That’s why we love using the X-A2.

I had been using an old DSLR, which did a job for us, but was a bit of a pain for my partner Jack, who has very little camera experience (he claims to have taken GCSE Photography many years ago, but you’d never know) to use on a day-to-day basis.

The X-A2 is far more intuitive, operating more like the compacts he’s used to from family holidays and so on.

Having a camera we can both use makes taking product shots – and promotional photos for our social media posts – a breeze.

We work from home, in a spare room converted into a store room for all our cards, packaging material, mug press, printers, blank mugs… you get the picture. Oh and this room also doubles as our photo studio. This means that when we need to photograph our products, we have to do a quick transformation of our designated packing area into a mini photo studio. The quicker we can do this, the better. So being able to stick the X-A2 on to our tripod and shoot away is a real bonus.

Of course, we’re not just limited to the studio and with the X-A2 being so lightweight and compact, it has joined us on our travels this summer, including a long-awaited visit to Wimbledon (on the hottest day of the year, no less) which meant I was able to get some great photos that I will treasure forever.


In a nutshell, here are our 10 favourite things about the X-A2

Image quality.

What can we say? When we want a bright, sharp image to show off our colourful designs the X-A2 does not let us down. This gives our customers the closest experience possible to actually picking up the products in their own hands.

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Reduced noise at a low ISO.

I knew that the photos I had taken with my DSLR had more noise on them than I’d like, even at ISO 100, but it wasn’t until I blew up an old image and one taken on the X-A2 side by side that I noticed just how grainy the old photos were in comparison. When your main selling tool is a product shot, quality is everything and could make a huge difference to the overall appearance of our online shop.

Selfies.

You can flip the screen over the top of the camera body and take a mean selfie (Jack particularly likes this feature. Boys…)

Exposure preview.

Being able to preview the exposure before shooting is really time-saving. Our studio doesn’t always have the best light, it’s natural and changes in seconds. With the X-A2 I can keep adjusting and previewing the exposure quickly and easily, which saves heaps of time.

Liveview.

The liveview screen is ultra clear, exceptionally responsive and tiltable. I hadn’t really fully appreciated the point of an tiltable liveview screen until I started using the X-A2. Our studio space-cum-photography studio is pretty pokey, with stacks of cards, boxes of envelopes and postage tubes all coming in and out all the time. Being able to tilt the screen rather than stand back and crouch down makes photography a pleasure rather than a chore.

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It ain’t heavy.

How can a camera packed with so much clever stuff be so lightweight? It must have come from the future. Going back to the DSLR after using this is like trying to pick up a Rottweiler when you’re used to a Pomeranian.

Hip to be square.

The square format mode is a big bonus for us. The standard photo format on our website and notonthehighstreet.com is square, so this not only saves us time in cropping, but also helps us to shoot specifically with these websites in mind. Seeing the crop in camera first, rather than having to imagine a square crop from a landscape or portrait image is a huge benefit for us.

Battery life.

We kicked the heck out of the battery, really going to town on what we thought would be real energy-sapping sessions of lengthy liveview use, but the X-A2 just kept on keeping on.

Wireless transfer.

Being able to zap the files straight over from the X-A2 to our computer, tablet or phone not only makes us feel a bit like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, but saves time and, teamed up with the square format, makes Instagram a doddle.

It looks cool.

Well, it does, doesn’t it?


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After a few weeks of launching new products – and mainly studio-based work, we’re keen to get the X-A2 out on the road to get some great new content for our blog. Watch this space…


Laura Harvey is the founder and designer at Paper Plane

Paperplanedesigns.co.uk | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Learn more and buy now

X-A2_Front_Right_Silver16-50mm_FlashClick here to find retailers selling the Fujifilm X-A2

The joy of creating star trails

I have longed to try my hand at star trails for many years, and for one reason or another there would always be an excuse as to why I didn’t try it. Finally, all the factors came together to allow me to give it a proper go. With star trail photography you 100% have to know what you’re doing, I say this because if you’re ‘experimenting’ and don’t fully understand the factors involved then more than likely you will waste many hours getting cold in the dark and come back with nothing!

There are numerous tutorials out there which are comprehensive and will help you understand the fundamentals. One article I would definitely recommend is by Floris Van Breugel.

This blog is going to breeze over the general set up and workflow of putting together star trails. Just to make it clear I am not an expert astrophotographer but if you want to create an image similar to the one above then this might be helpful. So lets get started!

Preparation

As I mentioned before, preparation is key to getting really rewarding results. I really recommend you read the article above and also do some things which can really make your life easier – such as the brilliant Star Chart app for your smart phone or tablet. This app gives you a map of the starts, which is particularly helpful if you know nothing about the stars (like me) and want to find polaris, the north star (if you’re in the northern hemisphere). The reason why you want to find polaris is that it is the centre point for the stars rotation, so effectively the stars are rotating around it.

Kit

Camera (obviously), preferably one that is compatible with a remote which has an intervalometer built in, or use a camera like the X-T1 which has one built in. An intervalometer is a device that can control your camera to take pictures at set intervals for a set number of photos and sometimes for a set duration. This is VERY helpful as it means that you can set up your shot and leave your camera to take all the photos for the duration of the shoot without any further input from yourself. From there you’ll usually want to use a wide-angle lens to capture as much of the sky as possible. Finally you need a sturdy platform to leave your camera, more often than not a good tripod (however I have managed to produce some shots using a gorilla pod too!).

Star-trail-landscape
The composition I chose. Note that taking long exposures after sunset using Velvia can produce some incredible colours!

Shooting

Hopefully you have found a suitable location, ideally with little light pollution, on a relatively clear night (with a good forecast). Foreground is what makes a star trail photo different from all the other star trails, so really think about you composition and how you want the star rotation to affect your photo, whether you want to have polaris in the picture to have a centre point for the stars to move around, or whether you want to shoot away from polaris to exaggerate the star movements.

This wants to be done all before sunset happens. Choose your location, frame your image and then don’t change it, leave it on the tripod! Over the next hour or so take a selection of sunset photos, preferably with F8/11 to give you a large depth of field, which you won’t be able to shoot later. If you really want to cover all the bases then you can do some bracketing to make sure you have every part of your composition correctly exposed.

Star test
This is a 5 minute exposure I did to make sure I was happy with my composition. You can start to see the movement of the stars, particularly those furthest from polaris (just above the horizon a third of the way in from the left).

As the stars start to come out you can then set up your camera for star photography. I used an X-T1 and a XF10-24mm F4 OIS for the top photo. I set it up to shoot a series of 30 second exposures at F4, ISO1600. 30 seconds is the longest that you can run with the built in intervalometer, ideally you would shoot longer exposures so you didn’t have so many photos to merge later, but this is often the easiest way.

A screen grab showing the first star-focused image. the sky still has colour but the stars are clear.
A screen grab showing the first star-focused image. the sky still has colour but the stars are clear.

A few hours later and I stopped the camera and downloaded the shots.

Post production

This is where it gets quite interesting and fun, now that you have the shots you can experiment to see what works best for you. I downloaded all the images into Lightroom and selected all of the star-focused images and ran a preset on them which boosted the highlights to make the stars brighter. This helps to make the star trails that much brighter. Don’t worry about the rest of the content in the star images as this will be replaced by the earlier landscape image. Once the images were all ready to be blended together, I exported them as high resolution jpegs.

I then opened Photoshop and used a script made by Floris Van Breugel which you can find here. Go to File -> Scripts -> browse -> select the script (I used the flat version instead of the layered version as my computer couldn’t cope with the layered version!), then select the folder where you’ve exported the star images. These must be named in a sequence e.g. star image 1.. The script effectively blends the images together taking the brightest part of all of the images and bringing it forward. What you will end up with is something like this.

The complete star trail before editing to remove the ambient lights.
The complete star trail before editing to remove the ambient lights.
The mask layer button is the third on the bottom.
The mask layer button is the third on the bottom.

Notice that there is some ambient light, the lights on the water are from fishing boats and the green glow is from a few houses on the other side of the headland. To remove these lights I opened up the original landscape photo shown earlier on. I copied the original file (background) and placed it above the inserted landscape photo. Using a mask layer I then removed the lights using the brush tool which acts like a non-destructive eraser making the landscape photo come out above the background copy (I really hope this makes sense!). You can adjust how effective this is by adjusting the opacity of the brush, this is helpful when removing light pollution in the sky.

Opening up the files in Photoshop.
Opening up the files in Photoshop. With a bit of work you can produce a pretty rewarding image.

I hope that made sense and that you’ll go out and try your hand at star trail photography. If you manage any star trails then share them with us.

You can keep up to date with my latest work via the following links: Facebook, Instagram, twitter, Website.