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Photographing Your Collections

From Liz Masoner

Whatever you collect, chances are you want to show photos of it off from time to time. After all, it's far safer than carrying favorite pieces with you. The problem is capturing your wonderful finds so that they actually look great in the photograph. These photo tips will help you capture your collection regardless of what camera you use.
A close up photo of an ornament.

One or Many

Decide how you want to present your collection pieces. Do you need to show the detail on one specific piece or do you want to show off all (or most) of the collection? If it's just one piece for identification, you'll want to separate that piece from the rest of the collection and shoot it alone. However, if you want to showcase one part of a collection or show more of your collection, there is no need to completely isolate items from one another.

Consider placing your favorite pieces several feet in front of the main collection. This will let you focus mostly on the forward pieces and throw the rest of the collection out of focus for a pleasing background that still shows the scale of the full collection.

Remember that the more items in the frame, the fewer details will be seen in each item.

Where to Shoot

Spend some time thinking about where you'll take the photos. This is where you can really add some personality to the scene. While there is nothing wrong with photographing items lined up on a shelf, there are certainly many other options. Consider what type of collectable you are photographing. Perhaps teddy bears could be put in trees since live bears often live in the woods. Christmas ornaments can be hung in trees rather than just left in boxes or set on tables.
A collectable teddy bear sits in a tree.


While tilted photos in landscapes could be unsettling, angles are a great tool when taking pictures of your collection. Shoot upwards, tilt the camera partially sideways, try different angles to show off your finds the best way possible.


Unless you are photographing purely for identification/record keeping, don't be afraid to get a little artsy with your shots. Try filters, effects, extra props, and different lighting angles (glass items work beautifully when backlit). Forget what someone says is "right." Get a photograph that makes you fall in love with the collection all over again.

Get Close

Remember I mentioned that the more items in the photo, the less detail you will see? The same holds true for distance. The further away from an item you shoot, the less detail is recorded. Don't be afraid to cut off edges of items in group shots to get the composition you really want. Fill the frame with a piece of a single collectable or with a selection of your entire collection.

Watch the Light

Many of you probably have light boxes (store purchased or home made) to help you take better identification photos of individual items. For other shots you'll probably want to shoot outside the box but remember what it is about a light box that makes your photos better. That is diffusion. The light is diffused through the material around the box and reduces shadows. You can diffuse the light striking your subject outside a light box in a similar manner. Tape several layers of wax paper over your camera flash, hang thin curtains over the window if you are using natural light, or use multiple light sources to scatter shadows. Diffusing the light will reduce unwanted reflections as well as shadows.

Keep it Steady

Camera shake can make a great shot an awful blurry mess. Avoid a shaky camera by using stable support. Either a tripod (small tabletop tripods are available for almost any camera) or setting your camera on a sturdy surface like a book on the floor will eliminate the need for you to hold the camera rock steady during a slow exposure. Remember that in photography, any exposure slower than the length of the lens can easily produce shake. In other words, if you have a 100mm lens you can not shoot slower than 1/100th of a second without camera support or image stabilization.

Preparing to Share

Now you have a great shot of your collection. Now what? Now you share of course! There are a few things that will help make your photos shine online. However, remember to save the changed photos as a new file, don't overwrite your originals. I find that adding "webedit" or my name on the end of a file name is all that is needed for normal web sharing to help me keep my files separated easily when I am searching for specific shots. Leaving the original filename as part of the new file name also helps me quickly locate the original image if I need to do so.

  • Resize to 72dpi
    While some recent screens have resolutions higher than 72 dpi/ppi, this resolution is still more than sufficient to display beautifully online without taking a ton of time to upload or download. It also reduces the likelyhood of photos being printed out by others as standard resolution for printing is about 300dpi/ppi.
  • Resize to 8x10 or smaller
    For online viewing there is rarely a reason to display a photo at larger than 8 inches by 10 inches. Not only are most monitors not going to display larger than this anyway, but using a smaller size further reduces the chance of the image being printed out by others. 8x0 or even 5x7 still allows for a great online display without added upload time and file space.
  • Sharpen
    If your editing program allows, sharpen your photo. It is the nature of online viewing to steal some of the clarity of the photo. Sharpening the photo a bit more than you would for printing ensures a better viewing experience.
  • Brighten it Up
    Just like sharpening, you need to brighten the photo a bit for online viewing. Part of this is due to the 72dpi resolution.
  • Add Your Name
    Don't forget to add your name onto the photo unless you want to see it shared across the internet with no attribution. Even the most basic photo editing programs usually have a text tool that will let you type directly onto the photo. This tool is almost always represented by a capital T icon on the toolbar.
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