Tips for Front Page Photos

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Staff member
Dec 5, 2003
Westlake, OH, USA.
I occasionally hear from members who say something like, "I've been posting pen photos for 10 years and they never end up on the front page!" My response is usually, "it's not the pen, it's the photo."

Almost any pen can make it to the front page. Over the years we've shown everything from beginning efforts to museum quality masterpieces in the featured photo spot. However, a lot of great pens get passed up because of an unusable photo. Sometimes it's exposure, focus, or depth-of-field, but often the issue is simply orientation, props, or background. The latter things are really easy to fix.

You don't need a fancy photo setup to take great photos. You can take a gorgeous photo in daylight on a white piece of paper. With a very little bit of tweaking and knowledge, cell phone cameras can take incredible photos. Even the default auto settings can produce a very good quality photo.

This post isn't about how to take good photographs. There are countless places around the internet where you can learn how to take good product photos. Even our own Photography Forum has lots of tips from our photo pros, and they're always willing to answer questions. What I want to convey are some of the characteristics I look for when I'm considering a photo for the front page.

  • With very rare exception, front page photos have been posted in Show Off Your Pens (SOYP). I occasionally select pens from contest results
  • In your SOYP post, I like to see several views to choose from. Capped, uncapped, various angles that highlight the material and workmanship. Make your first photo the one you think is best
  • Proper exposure & lighting - too dark or too light doesn't do justice to your pen. Unintended shadows are distracting. Vignette shadows are distracting unless they are very light
  • Well positioned pen - an angled presentation is optimum. Completely horizontal or vertical doesn't fill the space very well
  • Good aspect ratio - A photo slightly taller than wide looks best in the featured photo spot. Height somewhere around 1.25 times width is about right. Don't sweat the exact ratio. Avoid perfectly square and wider than tall.
  • A simple background. A white or light background works best and really makes your pen pop off the page. Complex backgrounds like heavy grained woods, patterned surfaces, etc. distract from your pen unless there is very high contrast between your pen and the background. Also avoid adding text to the photo.
  • Focus - In general, you want the entire pen to be in focus, so be aware of your depth of field. Exceptions to highlight a very special feature such as a cabochon or a clip are understandable
  • Avoid clutter - Props typically distract from your pen. Something relevant to the pen is ok, but avoid unrelated "cute" stuff.
  • Groups of pens should have something in common - material, shape, color, style, etc.
  • Asking for your pen to be featured is a virtual guarantee that it won't be
All that said, feel free to express yourself however you like in your pen photos. But if you'll give me just one photo that sort of fits within these guidelines, there's a better chance it will end up on the front page. If you look through the featured photo archives you'll find that most fit within these guidelines. Find the archives here: 2019 and newer, 2008-2019, 2008 and older.
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