Photographing Project Life

One of the questions I often receive is about photographing projects - specifically photographing Project Life spreads inside the page protectors.

There are lots of different ways this can be accomplished. Through my own trial and error, here's how I'm currently getting the job done.

I have a room right off my office (second floor) that Katie and I are using as a space for photographing projects (and playing on creative Fridays). The room was painted white last January when my Mom and I and Katie painted the main office. Previously before purchasing the table from Ikea I laid my album on the floor - still near the window using natural light - and shot looking down.

One of the biggest things about this spot is that the sun does not shine directly into the windows. There's a nice, soft, diffused light in the room. On the day we took these photos it was overcast, about 33 degrees outside.

I turn off the lights so I'm just taking advantage of the natural light coming in from the windows. Turning off the lights reduces the overhead glare. I take photos during the day whenever possible - it's interesting to watch the light change in there throughout the day ranging from a warmer light in the morning to a cooler light in the afternoon.

I shoot in AV mode on my camera (Canon 5D) with a 24-70 lens (love this lens because it can get pretty wide). Most often I set the ISO at 400 but sometimes it's less than that depending on how bright it is outside and the time of day. I often adjust the exposure (to over-expose using the exposure compensation meter inside the viewfinder).

I move around quite a bit t0 reduce any glare and usually shoot from the side to capture close up images like this:

Often the position I used last time will have glare this time. Sometimes I need to be a little higher or a little lower to eliminate the glare.

To capture the full spread I shoot straight down while standing on a chair. Depending on your lens you might need to shoot your project laying on the ground so that you are able to get the full spread in the frame. Part of the reason I stand on the chair is that I want the white of the table as the background (vs. the carpet). You could also achieve the same white background by shooting down onto a piece of white posterboard.

Here's an example of a recent spread shot in this same situation:

I've found that I'm having to edit images less with this new set up. If I do much editing it is still usually to lighten things up just a bit more and for that I either adjust the levels or curves in photoshop.

Some things to consider:

LOCATION | Take a really good look around your house. Maybe it's your kitchen counter or in your bathtub or a spot in one of your kid's rooms. Most people have windows in their house and more likely than not you have a space in your house with light that will work. If you can't find any decent spots try walking outside your house - backyard, porch, sidewalk, etc. From the Creative Team at Studio Calico I've learned that many people are laying their projects on white poster board before photographing.

TIME OF DAY | This sort of photography is really not suited to be done in the evening. I know because I've done it many times and have always been disappointed with the results (and the resulting struggle to try to make it look better in Photoshop). Don't get me wrong, I love taking photos in low light - but for me those usually involve people with a light source illuminating them (like the photos I take peeking into Simon's room when he's reading before bed). I generally shoot my Project Life spreads in the mid-morning/early afternoon.

LOW LIGHT | If your absolutely only choice is to shoot in low light here's some tips:

Also, as I was searching around for some additional information for this post I came across a great post with tips for taking photos for Project Life via Pink Ronnie (not "of" your project but tips for taking the actual photos that go into your album). I must warn you before you click over there that you might be there for awhile - many beautiful images, posts and ideas.

Elise also had a great post called The Answers To All Your Project Life questions where she included an image of how she photographs her pages (bottom of the post). Jenni showed where she shoots her pages on her back porch here via Elle's Studio.

View my Project Life archives here.

30 thoughts

  1. Jen Wright

    2013-01-29 09:07:53 -0500

    Thank you for this post. I just got my first DSLR a week ago and have so much to learn. This has helped so much already. I thought I was the only one getting the glare when I took pics of PL spread. Whew! Thanks Ali!
    Hugs! Jen

  2. Annette

    2013-01-29 09:26:39 -0500

    Wonderful post Ali! Love the windows and the gorgeous light! Could be a photo studio! One thing I do is take photos for Instagram with my iphone and I love the look on Instagram, but have found for the blog I like them better with my DSLR. Agree--I may or may not have been late for work caught up on Ronnie's blog! :)

  3. Michelle

    2013-01-29 09:41:50 -0500

    I love the Ikea table! Do you happen to remember the name? I'd love that in my craft room. :)

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  5. Audrey

    2013-01-29 11:11:35 -0500

    Hi Ali, Thanks for the tips! Wondering if you shoot in RAW or jpeg format.

  6. Patti L

    2013-01-29 11:27:00 -0500

    I just love the natural light you have, keeping this in mind when looking for a new place to live. I also prefer to photograph the same way, but hate that usually the time I have for this stuff is at night. Can't wait for more daylight!

  7. Suz

    2013-01-29 11:27:26 -0500

    Thanks for sharing these tips. And yet another reason I love my 24-70mm wide angle lens--for Project Life spreads. Really happy I invested in it. :)
    Have a great week!
    Take care you,

  8. Kelli W

    2013-01-29 13:20:05 -0500

    I always go on our covered back porch and either use a white posterboard or just lay the pages themselves right onto the deck boards (they are grayed out and it looks nice). I am glad I read this because I never thought to just use the top of my white Expedit that is in here with me! Thanks!

  9. Noga

    2013-01-29 14:32:00 -0500

    Hi, this is an awesome post! thanks!

    Question: don't you have a problem of having your own shadow in the photo, when you're "above" the layout? (sorry if that's sounds dumb, I hope you understood what I meant...)

    Thanks again :)

  10. Melissa

    2013-01-29 14:46:17 -0500

    Thanks for sharing, Ali! Pretty much what I do as far as using the natural light, but it's interesting to note your camera settings, and since I'm using my carpet I like the idea of putting the white poster board underneath. I've done that for other shots in the past, but not when I have the album open. I also liked reading your point of view on morning vs. afternoon lighting. Great tips, and an excellently written post!

  11. susan garner

    2013-01-29 15:25:59 -0500

    I shoot in flash or no flash ha ha. I have a super fancy Nikon D90 and still cant figure out the settings.Its ok though I have managed to finish 2 albums of Project Life this way so if I can do it anyone can. Keep up the good work Ali.

  12. Trina

    2013-01-29 15:39:41 -0500

    Hey Ali--thanks for this great post! I have a sort of off-topic question re: shooting in low light. You always capture such clear images in low light situations. Do you use your tripod for these? If not, how do you avoid blur?

  13. mel

    2013-01-29 16:24:47 -0500

    Thanks for this post it is so helpful. Wish I had that lens though......

  14. J3SS1C4

    2013-01-29 17:04:30 -0500

    Thank you for your tips! Photographing my pages is one area I strugge with... I'm in a 3rd floor apartment where every window faces west, so we get direct sun in the afternoon, but nothing the rest of the day, and the yard is all shade too, but thankfully we're moving at the end of the year once we finish building, so I'm excited to get to find somewhere for pics.

    Thanks for pointing out that you over expose most of the shots... I find since I've started playing around shooting only on manual on my DSLR that I overexpose lots too... I like the results way more!

  15. Becky

    2013-01-29 17:55:56 -0500

    Lots of great information here! Thanks for the links, too!

  16. Trary Ubarri

    2013-01-29 20:44:09 -0500

    I know you mentioned the fiskars procision trimmer was on your wish list. has a special 40% off coupon until Friday, or while supplies last. I grabbed one for myself after your endorsement - they should give you a free one. Love reading your blog and following your projects.

  17. ARC

    2013-01-30 01:56:18 -0500

    I think the IKEA table is in the VIKA series. IIRC the legs are only $5 each and the top can be pretty cheap depending on what material you get.

    You are so right about this not being an evening activity. I can't tell you how many times I finished pages late and wanted to blog about them, only to realize I couldn't get a glare-free photo AT ALL.

    Thanks also for the tip on the 24-70 lens. I'm adding it to my wish list :)

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  19. Prairie Jill

    2013-02-06 16:52:47 -0500

    Great tips, Ali - thank you! One problem I have is a lot of barrel distortion (I think that's the right term - the edges of the page tilt toward the centre). Is there a way to avoid that? (My camera is a point-and-shoot.)

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