design matters | photographing ephemera

A couple years ago, I bought large document boxes to hold the ephemera that collects on our kitchen counter, dining room table and nightstands: baseball and movie ticket stubs, birthday cards, thank you notes, etc. Sometimes I slip them into a project life page or insert, and sometimes there isn't enough room to include them. When that's the case, and I really want to include something, I photograph it. Today, I'm sharing one of the ways I photograph everyday ephemera.

I use our kitchen table as my backdrop and slide it about three feet, so it's right next to a set of french doors in our breakfast room. I painted it a very pale grey a few years ago and added a polyurethane coat to the top so it cleans up easily and works well as an eating, work and photo surface. If you don't have something like this, you could use any simple backdrop.

I like something light (like a piece of white butcher paper or foam core board), but a wooden table or floor works well too. Natural light is key. I never (ever!) use a flash, so I can't photograph stuff at night. But this usually isn't too much of a problem. I'm hoping to upgrade my lens at some point, so I can reduce vignetting (see the darker corners above?) but for now this works just fine.

When I take one of these photos, I make sure to do a couple of things each time. First, I try to take the shot from directly above the item, without creating an angle. You do this by making sure your lens is perpendicular to the object (see above). This is just a personal preference. Certainly, angled shots can look really cool. I just happen to prefer the look of something like this from directly overhead.

Second, I leave lots of room around the edges so I can play around with cropping. Here's an example (from this post!). I took the first image in this post using my table as a backdrop and a stool to prop me up over the items. I knew I wanted some white space to include a title, so I shot a pile of ephemera, leaving lots of room above it and plenty of room around the edges to crop out any vignetting.

When you leave room for cropping, you can play around with lots of ways to include your item in a photo album or project life pocket. I cropped the original image of my race bib in four different ways. They're all in a 4x6 inch ratio, so I could include any one of them in a project life layout.

I'm anticipating the onslaught of preschool art projects which will be walking through my door in the years to come, and while I'm not exactly sure what I'll do with everything, I'm sure some of them will be photographed just like this. How do you document ephemera? Do you keep the physical items? Photograph them? Include them in scrapbooks?