You don’t have to look far to find all sorts of things to hang on the walls in your kids bedrooms, but this project gives your nursery decor a much more personal feel. The whole process of creating these images has taken place either on my kitchen table, in my home office or in the nursery itself, so there has been no need to do battle with the elements outdoors. That said there’s no reason why you couldn’t take the photographs outdoors against a natural backdrop – especially with the autumn colour we have around at the moment.
I planned to create three portraits of Elliott’s favourite soft toys: bunny, bear and floppy dog. Step 1 is to get set up to photograph them.
I decided to photograph the toys against a paper backdrop roll with a white washed wood print (Ella Bella range from Creativity Backgrounds – photography-backgrounds.co.uk). These smaller paper rolls are designed for baby photography, but also work well for our purposes here. This range of backdrops is inexpensive (around £10 a roll), lightweight and while not as tough as a traditional paper backdrop they can be reused several times if you’re careful and look after them. I’ve attached the roll to my kitchen curtain rail using some general purpose spring clips from a DIY store. As an alternative to a paper roll you could consider working against a painted or wallpapered wall.
My next consideration was lighting. I’ve chosen to use a softbox as I want a nice soft and gentle mood to these images. Nothing too dramatic today. I’ve positioned the softbox quite close to my subject – about a metre away. The important thing to remember when positioning lights is the ratio of the distance between the light and the foreground and the distance between the foreground and the background. This affects the relative illumination of foreground and background when working with a single light. I’ve tried to keep my subject and background close together so they both receive a good illumination. If I had my subject closer to the light and further from the background then the background would appear darker in relation to that subject.
With my set up complete I can now take my photographs. I’m working with a fuji mirrorless camera with a 56mm prime lens, although a DSLR with a standard kit lens would be fine too. I’ve chosen to use f/4 to soften the backdrop a bit. If you prefer to keep the background in focus then consider using a higher f-number – maybe around f/11. I’ve chosen a shutter speed of 1/180th as that’s the maximum flash sync speed the Fuji X-T1 is capable of. To get the best possibly image quality, my ISO is set to the lowest available, which on the fuji is ISO200.
To get the correct exposure I’m going to adjust my flash power. Using the Cactus V6 triggers allows me to adjust this from the unit on the camera, which can be very handy (although in this case it’s not really necessary since I’m working a few feet from the flash). I could use a light meter to get the correct flash power, but in this case I’m going to use a little bit of trial and error to get it right. I’m going to start with the flash power at around 1/16th power and adjust from there. Why 1/16th as a starting point? Because I’m working quite close with a small aperture I suspect I won’t need a lot of power from the flash. The test shot at 1/16th power looks a bit bright, which I can confirm by looking at the image histogram. When the histogram is banked up on the right hand side it tells me that my image has a lot of pure white in it, which isn’t what I’m looking for here. I’m estimating the image is overexposed by about a stop, so I need to halve the amount of light. To do that I’m simply going to drop the flash power to 1/32. At 1/32 my test shot looks prefect and I’m ready to go.
I’m planning on using three images together so the important thing for me to think about is making sure the images are consistent. That means I want each subject to occupy the same amount of space in the same part of the frame. I also need to be careful with the lines in the background as these won’t look right if they don’t line up across the triptych.
Edit and Print
I’ve decided that I’m going to print and frame these images at home. That way I will have more control over the prints and I can save a little bit of money over going through a photo lab.
Because I’m trying to create nice soft images I’m choosing to go for a smooth white matt paper. The paper I’m using for this is Jessops “Inkjet A4 Matt Heavyweight Photo Paper”. This has been my go to matt paper for personal projects since I bought a job lot super cheap when their Stafford store closed down. It’s not the best paper, but it provides a good enough quality at a very reasonable price.
Now that I’ve got my images and I know what I want to do with them it’s time to edit them and get them ready to print. I always work with RAW images, so editing is an essential part of the creative process for me. I don’t need to make any huge adjustments here so all I’m doing is adjusting the exposure, white point and black point in Lightroom, applying a little bit of sharpening and then cropping to an A4 ratio so the image will fit on to 297 x 210mm.
What I like to do at this point is to create a contact sheet print with all of my images on it, so I can check that they print as I’m expecting while only “wasting” one sheet of paper. For this I use the Lightroom print module as this gives me a quick way to put multiple photos on to one page. Other editing products have their own ways of doing this so don’t worry if you’re not a Lightroom user.
So, with the contact sheet done and looking good, it’s time to print the final images. The only print setting I need to change is the layout – instead of printing all the images on one page I now want to print a borderless full page photo from each image.
Framing & Hanging
The final things to do are to get the photographs framed and then to hang them on the nursery wall. The great thing about working in a common size (like the A4 photos I’ve created here), is that ready made frames are easy to find and are relatively inexpensive. I’ve picked up some 40cm x 30cm oak effect frames from Hobbycraft – these are ideal as they’re supplied with a pre-cut mount for A4 (Other craft suppliers are available.)
Before I get down to the business of framing I like to ensure I have a clean and tidy working environment. There is nothing more annoying than framing a photo only to find it’s picked up a dog hair along the way (always an issue in our house!).
Once I have a clean and tidy working environment I’ll open up the frame and position the photograph against the back of the mount, making sure I know which end is the top. When I frame photographs I use an acid-free hinging tape. I only use a small piece of this at the top and allow gravity to do the rest.
Once the photo is mounted up the back board can be put back in position, ensuring any fixings on the back are the right way up.
The last part of this comes with this disclaimer. I’m not a DIY expert. If you’re not sure about securely fixing your photographs to the walls then you should seek advice from a suitably skilled tradesperson.
Hanging photos is a relatively simple DIY job, but it’s worth taking your time and making sure you get it right. “Measure twice, cut once” as they say.
When I hang photographs in areas where there’s a high risk of them being disturbed I prefer to use mirror plates rather than hanging them using picture wire. This is usually places such as on stairs, corridors or in this case, nurseries.
Don’t forget to get the correct fixings when attaching the pictures to the wall – in this case I’ve gone with fixings designed for hollow partition walls as I know just how solid the wall I’m planning to hang on is . . . not very!
I’m really pleased with the finished result – a nice relaxed triptych of some of Elliott’s favourite toys. He loves them too – it’s hard to tell with a one year old, but I’m pretty sure he recognised them as his toys.
All in all I think this has been a great project for a rainy day. I’m really pleased with the result. If you do decide to give it a go then we’d love to see a picture of the results.