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Subject: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Game Night Photos? rss

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Thumis Dalidalisa
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I run a weekly game night at which I take photos with my phone. The photos are not good. You can take a look at my blog for some examples, but you must first mentally resolve not to judge or lecture ... (I already know these are bad -- hence this post.)

My Blog

I would be grateful for some tips on how to make these better. Keep in mind the constraints:

1) Time: Generally, I take some photos of my game as I play and then every so often jump up and run around to photograph other games in progress. I can't spend more than a few minutes and I can't push things around or spend a lot of time composing.

2) Light: We play in the evening. We only have the lights in my house. I could use a flash (though I haven't) but I can't set up any light box etc. of course. I have learned to turn off the overhead light or point the standing lamp certain ways, but that's the extent of my ability to manipulate the light (pending creative suggestions).

3) Equipment: I can't in the middle of game night fiddle with a tripod etc. I'd be open to buying a camera to use instead of a phone but it'd have to be cheap meaning <$200.

I saw the other helpful thread about white balance. I'll try that. I also saw in a thread the tip about zooming out and cropping rather than zooming in. I'll try to do that too. Other ideas?

I know this can be done. Take a look at this blog for a similar game night with much better photos: JR's Blog

Thanks!



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Madison
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This isn't technical, but more compositional suggestion, and not a comment specific to your group or subject matter, but perhaps you can have your subjects engage a bit with the camera's eye or at least look towards the camera's eye in at least a portion of the photos which involve humans.

There are so many photos of people with heads slightly lilted, staring down at a tabletop, completely engrossed, but at the same time not acknowledging the photographer. Since there are 99% of these types of photos, and quite honestly, if I didn't know anything about the hobby, I would assume that these poor souls are trapped in some gulag forced to sit at these tables. In short, these photos are never great promotional material for the hobby, because they usually look like a sad, quiet wake and not the enjoyable activity that I believe we all consider it.

That may be a really tall order to request, but I thought it needed mentioning.
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Thumis Dalidalisa
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darthhugo wrote:
There are so many photos of people with heads slightly lilted, staring down at a tabletop, completely engrossed, but at the same time not acknowledging the photographer. Since there are 99% of these types of photos, and quite honestly, if I didn't know anything about the hobby, I would assume that these poor souls are trapped in some gulag forced to sit at these tables.


Ha. Good point. Thanks.
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Kolumel wrote:
darthhugo wrote:
There are so many photos of people with heads slightly lilted, staring down at a tabletop, completely engrossed, but at the same time not acknowledging the photographer. Since there are 99% of these types of photos, and quite honestly, if I didn't know anything about the hobby, I would assume that these poor souls are trapped in some gulag forced to sit at these tables.


Ha. Good point. Thanks.


I know that boulder may be waaaaay too heavy to push up the hill. Some people don't really like their photo to be taken, and perhaps they compromise a bit as they don't have to engage in the activity of picture taking by looking down at the board?

I dunno, but when I step back from my gamer's POV and look at some "in action" photos, I notice the complete lack OF action or engagement, like a Dutch master's rendering of some dudes looking over a map of the Atlantic. Dry as a dust.

You are a good person for documenting, because it is a thankless job.
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Graham Robinson
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Okay, I've had a quick look, and to be honest, the photos are a lot better than you led me to believe they would be. They're photos of games in progress, rather than beautiful model shots, but for what they are, they're fine. Reportage, not studio work, as it were.

So, I guess you have two questions to answer.

1. What do you want to achieve with your photos that isn't being achieved by what you have?

2. What aspects of the photos is that leads you to view them as "bad"? Composition, lighting, contrast?

Answer those two, and you'll be halfway to an answer.

As it is, I can offer some very, very general advice.

1. Take more photos. If you have one photo that shows something, you need to use it. If you have seven, you can choose the best of them. You may well be choosing the best of seven almost identical photos, but the improvement will still be there.

2. Use a wider field. Take a photo that shows more than you want, then crop in to the perfect shot later. Which leads into...

3. Get a decent photo editing software package, and at least learn to adjust levels, sharpness, etc. A little time "in the dark room" will make an enormous difference.

Hope that helps!

Cheers,
Graham
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Maarten D. de Jong
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Kolumel wrote:
I run a weekly game night at which I take photos with my phone. The photos are not good. You can take a look at my blog for some examples, but you must first mentally resolve not to judge or lecture ... (I already know these are bad -- hence this post.)

I think your biggest problem is composition and the subject matter; light is actually not that bad. If I allow myself a moment of 'direct Dutch-ness': you are a bunch of elderly white males sitting in a dreary environment intensively occupied with playing dull-coloured games out of thin and makeshift paper, scotch tape, and thin counters. It is a dull affair, and your camera isn't going to make that more interesting unless you, as photographer, get a bit more creative:

— make the images black & white, or make them black & white save for a contrast-rich, and gamma-enhanced board;
— make an image of people doing something: moving a game bit, while engaged in argument, swirling around whisky or brandy while contemplating a move, etc.;
— use odd camera angles, and if that interferes with the light, bounce the light of a flash off of the ceiling or walls (which will take some experimenting and possibly a bit of cardboard with aluminium foil to prevent the light of the flash travelling directly to the game you're imaging);
— after a game's end, take an image of a board hinting there has been a huge fight for real (using props you take with you—tanks, guns, fake blood stains, etc., and furniture in disarray), or 'take liberties' with Photoshop.
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Thumis Dalidalisa
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Thanks Graham for the thoughtful reply. I guess what I'd like to achieve is fairly general, but I'd like to have photos to accompany the text in the blog that are more attractive and engaging to the readers of the blog. The aspect of my photos that I'd most like to improve is the lighting. I am sure you'll notice that they're variable and generally poorly lit. I find glare to be a particular problem. I'm usually crawling over chairs to find an angle without the glare of the light but even so have a low success rate.

Will editing software remove glare? Thanks again for your advice.

therealbuserian wrote:
Okay, I've had a quick look, and to be honest, the photos are a lot better than you led me to believe they would be. They're photos of games in progress, rather than beautiful model shots, but for what they are, they're fine. Reportage, not studio work, as it were.

So, I guess you have two questions to answer.

1. What do you want to achieve with your photos that isn't being achieved by what you have?

2. What aspects of the photos is that leads you to view them as "bad"? Composition, lighting, contrast?

Answer those two, and you'll be halfway to an answer.

As it is, I can offer some very, very general advice.

1. Take more photos. If you have one photo that shows something, you need to use it. If you have seven, you can choose the best of them. You may well be choosing the best of seven almost identical photos, but the improvement will still be there.

2. Use a wider field. Take a photo that shows more than you want, then crop in to the perfect shot later. Which leads into...

3. Get a decent photo editing software package, and at least learn to adjust levels, sharpness, etc. A little time "in the dark room" will make an enormous difference.

Hope that helps!

Cheers,
Graham
 
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Thumis Dalidalisa
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Thanks for these great ideas Maarten. If you scroll back a few entries in my blog you can see a post on my trip to the Netherlands and how much I enjoyed "Dutch-directness" in Rotterdam.

cymric wrote:
Kolumel wrote:
I run a weekly game night at which I take photos with my phone. The photos are not good. You can take a look at my blog for some examples, but you must first mentally resolve not to judge or lecture ... (I already know these are bad -- hence this post.)

I think your biggest problem is composition and the subject matter; light is actually not that bad. If I allow myself a moment of 'direct Dutch-ness': you are a bunch of elderly white males sitting in a dreary environment intensively occupied with playing dull-coloured games out of thin and makeshift paper, scotch tape, and thin counters. It is a dull affair, and your camera isn't going to make that more interesting unless you, as photographer, get a bit more creative:

— make the images black & white, or make them black & white save for a contrast-rich, and gamma-enhanced board;
— make an image of people doing something: moving a game bit, while engaged in argument, swirling around whisky or brandy while contemplating a move, etc.;
— use odd camera angles, and if that interferes with the light, bounce the light of a flash off of the ceiling or walls (which will take some experimenting);
— after a game's end, take an image of a board hinting there has been a huge fight for real (using props you take with you—tanks, guns, fake blood stains, etc., and furniture in disarray), or 'take liberties' with Photoshop.
 
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Graham Robinson
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Kolumel wrote:
The aspect of my photos that I'd most like to improve is the lighting. I am sure you'll notice that they're variable and generally poorly lit. I find glare to be a particular problem. I'm usually crawling over chairs to find an angle without the glare of the light but even so have a low success rate.

Will editing software remove glare?


Poor lighting will be compensated for a lot by playing with the levels tool. A very, very basic explanation is that this gives you a graph showing how much of your picture is at different levels of dark/light, and gives you three little arrows - one at each end, and one in the middle. Move the outside ones inwards to improve contrast and definition. At minimum, I normally find there's a section at each end with very little in it, so I move the arrows to the edge of the first "hill". Then move the middle arrow left to lighten the picture overall, right to darken. You can normally see the effect as you go, so easy to play till it looks better.

If you don't already have a tool, GIMP is free, readily available and has levels adjustment (on my copy its under the "colors" menu).

Glare is harder to fix. If it's only "a bit too light" you can start masking off areas and adjusting levels only in that bit. If it is totally whited out, there's not much you can do. To be honest, you're pushing my abilities here - my wife is the expert, not me! Googling for "GIMP remove glare" brings up hundreds of threads and tutorials, so hopefully there's something out there to help you!

And as I said last time, don't underestimate the improvement that a little cropping can make to a photo.

Cheers,
Graham
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Off camera flash for less than $200. ( ok $225)

Used Canon 450 d plus lens. $150
http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?type=4&cam...

New Canon ex90 flash. ~$30
This is a tiny flash for the canon mirrorless cameras. However it can be a master flash to control off camera flashes that are compatible with canons infrared wireless flash control.
http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?type=4&cam...

$45
Cheap ettl flash compatible with canon's infrared wireless flash control and the 450 d camera.
http://rover.ebay.com/rover/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?type=4&cam...gDasAAOxyVaBSum6y

Ex90 goes on the camera. The Triopo goes somewhere in the room, pointed at the ceiling. ( hopefully you ceilings are white). Triopo light bounces off the ceiling.

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Joshua Hibbert
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therealbuserian wrote:
Take more photos. If you have one photo that shows something, you need to use it. If you have seven, you can choose the best of them. You may well be choosing the best of seven almost identical photos, but the improvement will still be there.


I think this needs to be accompanied by the following qualifier: DO NOT use this as an excuse to think less about the shots that you are taking. One well composed shot is always better than any amount of poorly composed shots.
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Joshua Hibbert
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If you are working in tough lighting conditions then my tip would be to ensure that you're shooting in RAW, exposing to the right and then recovering the detail in post processing.
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Greg Lorrimer
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*Shoot for the crop.

Crop afterwards generally trying to have a subject at the golden intersection (some cameras/phones even allow you to overlay a standard grid that helps with this, but that's not going to help when shooting for the crop).

*Try to avoid tilting down.

This is a bit tricky when you want to show the board well. However, with some modern phones they have very wide-angle lenses and you can avoid tilting and still end up with the board in the pic. You'll definately need to crop, however, as there'll be a lot of empty space and ceiling a the top of the photo.

If the board isn't so important, then just take the pic from a lower level to avoid the tilt.

IF the camera has a lot of resolution and/or is good with low-light, then you could avoid tilting by taking the pic from further away and some heavy cropping.

*Try to include a light/lamp in the background.

Altnatively a window if there is normal daylight (twilight will show up as blue).

*Avoid background lights clashing with heads/people. They should be between.

*Avoid bright overhead lights if possible. Use a dimmer bulb (assuming surrounding lamps).

I know that's a tall order, but it makes people's faces look a bit rough. Pro photographers will sometimes put their own brighter bulbs in people's lamps to offset this.

*If taking a pic of a white or very light map, try to get plenty of dark surroundings in so that the camera doesn't dim the image. This is the same issue that makes snow or bright sand pics come out strangely dark. (Alternatively the phone might have an exposure compensation setting usually labelled '+/-' or 'EV').

The camera is struggling with the lack of light. So....

For a future phone purchase, consider the Google Pixel XL if you are in the market for a top-end android. It has a wider than normal lens and is very good at low light, plus the best camera on the market bar some weird phone/camera hybrids. Sadly iphones aren't too great at this kind of thing. Sony's are disastrous.

If you're thinking of a serious camera then I would recommend a fujifilm XA-2 refurb (flip out backscreen; great for avoiding tilting) with the kit lens. About $200 altogether direct from Fuji. The kit lens is optically stabilised and very wide, plus it zooms. The camera has an enormous sensor and is very light sensitive; cameras with large sensors of this size are used by pros. Fujis are brilliant at dealing with indoor lighting, a weak spot for other manufacturers. Images will smash anything a phone can do. It also has wifi transfer to smartphones/tablets. Use Snapseed or 'perfectly clear' for auto adjustment and cropping on your phone.

You could get a super-bright bulb to put in the overhead on game night, but it will be harsh for people's faces (ie, a 30W LED). Alternatively a full set of bright LED bulbs to put in people's lamps. But generally the main light source for the camera in you pics is the overhead, so I would be looking to get a better camera.
 
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