How to Take Great Photos of a Notebook with a Digital Camera (pics)

by Reads (9,056)

Special contribution to from

This article is geared to amateur digital camera users though much information applies to those who use film and scan their prints. There are links to related reading and a glossary at the end of the article. Please note that most photos have been significantly reduced in sized so there is some loss of image quality.


How to Take Great Photos of a Notebook with a Digital Camera

by Gail Bjork, owner/editor –

Whether writing a review for or selling a used notebook or product at an online auction site such as eBay, your photos should look their very best. It’s easier than you think to take pictures that stand out from the crowd, even without a fancy digital camera and professional lighting equipment. Simply get creative and follow a few basic photography and editing techniques. I guarantee you’ll get some great shots.

What you need

  • Digital camera
  • Counter or table top in a color that contrasts with the color of your laptop
  • Soft, lint-free cloth
  • Basic or intermediate photo editing software

    • Tripod, mini-tripod or other camera support
    • 1-2 pieces of foam-core board and/or a large, plain-colored piece of fabric

Set up

Find an area in or outside your home where there is natural, diffused lighting. If you’re shooting inside, set-up near a window or door so outside light filters in, as I did for some of the photos in this article and my Averatec 3270 review.

Before setting your notebook in position, wipe it off with a lint-free cloth. You’d be surprised at how smudges and specks of dust show in a photo. For most shots, place the notebook on a table or other flat surface; even on the floor. Use a backdrop if the surface looks too “busy.” If you have a light colored notebook, the background should be dark. If the notebook color is dark, use a light background.


It can’t be emphasized enough that good lighting is critical to getting a decent photo. The light should be soft and diffused so the notebook is as evenly lit as possible. It should also be bright enough to get a shutter speed of at least 1/60th of a second. This is the slowest shutter speed most people can use and still hold their camera steady enough to prevent camera shake. If you can’t determine shutter speed, check if the “camera shake” warning indicator is on. If lighting is not bright enough to hand-hold your camera without possible shake, use a camera support or set up in a different location.

Do not use the built-in camera flash. Washed out and uneven light and dark areas will appear on the notebook. Depending on other lighting in a room, a built-in flash may produce harsh shadows around some sides of an object. If your camera flash can’t be shut off, carefully tape cardboard or a similar material over it.

Photo taken using built-in digital camera flash; uneven lighting with some areas washed out Taken with outside light coming through a room window; more detail visible especially in front ports and controls

When using florescent or incandescent lights for illumination, change the white balance setting to match. Also make sure the lights don’t shine directly on the notebook so its surface is free from distracting reflections and shadows.

Photographing your notebook

Take most shots on the same level as the notebook. Photograph it at different angles that will illustrate various sections of the notebook. Make sure to capture detail. Take several photos of the same area, and then use only the best shots.

Don’t completely fill the viewfinder when framing shots. You’ll need the extra area to work with if you must crop or straighten an image. Also watch horizontal lines so the sides of the notebook are parallel to the edges of the photo. If you don’t get it just right, you can straighten the image when editing.

Before After cropping

Barrel distortion

Barrel distortion occurs when taking photos at the widest angle. The position of the camera lens causes images to look skewed when straight edges are near the side of the frame. While not all barrel distortion looks bad and may even be desirable at times, you can minimize its effect by moving back and zooming in instead of standing close and shooting at wide angle. Using a focal length of about 50mm (35mm equivalent) is recommended. Watch the LCD for barrel distortion as you zoom or change your physical distance from the set-up. If things appear too distorted, move back from the subject and zoom in.

Image shot at widest angle produces barrel distortion Same shot taken by stepping back and zooming in


When editing, it’s important to work on a copy an original photo, not the original itself. Why? If you make an editing mistake that can’t be undone, you simply make another copy of the untouched original and start editing again.

You’ll need a basic photo editing program that has tools to crop and resize an image, adjust its brightness and contrast, sharpen and straighten it. If you don’t have a program, you don’t necessarily need to rush out and buy one. A free, easy-to-use program such as Picasa has enough editing tools for enhancing photos as outlined in this article. If you have more advanced software, other useful features are a Perspective or similar tool that corrects barrel distortion; a Selection tool to select specific areas in a photo; and a Blur filter.

These are exactly the same photos, except that darkness and contrast were adjusted for the one of the right. It was also sharpened to bring out detail. Click link to see the make-shift studio and materials used to take the photo.


Other useful editing techniques

Black foam-core board was chosen for the background because it contrasted with the notebook color. The notebook was placed on the floor and the photo was taken from above. When editing, the background was selected and “filled” with black for richer color. The notebook was set on its side on the floor and leaned against the leg of a table. When editing, the background area was selected then blurred so it didn’t look too “busy.”


Parts of photos can look dull and washed out. The background was selected and, as the next photo shows, a black fill was pasted into the selected area. Besides the background fill, the image was lightly sharpened (unsharp mask).


The photo on the left shows the set-up for taking the two above photos. The notebook was placed on a table near a window with diffused daylight coming through. Black foam-core board was propped against a flower vase and the notebook was placed near the board.

Can’t get more basic than that, can it?!  🙂


Taking photos

Image editing






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