Walk with me, every step of the way as i try to grow my teeny craft business into something sustainable… watch this space!

Make Love to the Camera

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May 2010, my first ever product shots, luckily just for my records as everything about them are a good example of what not to do , it's all bad

May 2010, my first ever product shots, luckily just for my records as everything about them are a good example of what not to do , it’s all bad

Everyone knows how to take a photo, be it a holiday snap, a family portrait or a selfie, we’ve all attempted one at some point with varying results. But taking a photo to sell something online is something completely different and something that eludes many, including me. After the failure of my first batch listing on Etsy (I sold one thing, out of about 30, I’m calling failure). I was disheartened, but it was at a time I still had a full time job so I didn’t let it bother me too much. Now that I am selling full time it’s a bit more important… so I started to read other people’s tips on what makes and what breaks an Etsy shop.  There are many things that will instantly be the make or break of your shop, but the most obvious to address first seemed to be photography.

I have read time and time again, it’s not the camera you have it’s how you use it. My trusty 10 year old Cannon point and shoot had been used tirelessly for previous product shots, had travelled with me through Europe and Asia and sadly had been dropped more times than I can remember. It was my trusty companion through the good and the bad times. But when (in Asia) it started turning off mid photo I realised it was time to retire the old girl. In Japan, home to cheap ‘last season’ electronics (that haven’t even been released in NZ yet) hubby and I decided to buy a new camera. I wanted a pocket sized point and shoot, my new husband wanted a digital SLR. We settled on a bit of both with a pancake camera (a small point a shoot with huge lenses that can be attached at whim- something for him AND her, if you will) but the reviews we found online weren’t very good… so after much trial and error at a multitude of Japanese electronics stores we settled on two cameras (still heaps cheaper in NZ dollars than just buying the camera my husband wanted if it were purchased on our fine shores). So we both got what we wanted. I got a small-ish point and shoot for holidays, he got a big, chunky, seriously zoomey digital SLR for hobby photography that I could also use for product photography… win, win.

L-R: My trusty camera of 10 years, My new point and shoot, My husbands new toy/ my product photo tool

L-R: My trusty camera of 10 years, My new point and shoot, My husbands new toy/ My product photo tool

Of course when I tried to use his for my first round of Etsy shots, never having picked it up before, I had no idea what I was doing (photos below of the camera in action, with varying results- this was the first and last time I used it). A serious read of the manual was in order, and I didn’t have time for that. So for the time being I decided to use my point and shoot… and I have to say it’s done me pretty well so far!

I like to think I understand composition, or at least that I know what works when photographing my own products. But something that drove me nuts time and time again was wanting but not knowing how to achieve a cohesive looking online shop. This was due mainly to lighting. I had read that natural light is the best light, so had taken my photos near a large window. That was all well and good but it restricted me in many ways- I could only take photos on bright sunny days (not something that happens often in Wellington), each time I took the photos the sun was a slightly different intensity, and the photos showed this in many ways…

All of these photos are taken on the same camera setting, in a light box, with different light source

All of these photos are taken on the same camera setting, on the same day. Each with a different light source, some with natural light, some with a light bulb, some a lamp. None have been edited online afterwards. Not so cohesive are they!

Looking back now two things would have immediately helped my shop look cohesive (even without a camera upgrade).

A light box is key – no matter what kind of lighting you are using, it diffuses the light and keeps it even- especially good if you are photographing reflective objects like glass (it reduces the reflection and glare they can cause). I had heaps of fun (and all with a minimal amount of swearing) re-creating one I found on Pinterest. It was my first Pinterest project and I felt it was a success…

L-R: My lightbox inspiration (on Pinterest), My attempt, The lightbox in action

L-R: My light box inspiration (on Pinterest), My attempt, The light box in action

Some post photo editing – Something the many guides to photographing your work for successful online sales tell you is that (unlike I had previously assumed) taking the photo isn’t the end of the process, it’s the beginning. Image editing software is your best friend, and the only way (for me at least) to get the photo I imagine in my mind’s eye is to use it. It’s a shame really as after spending so much time creating a light box, finding the perfect lighting balance and getting a good composition, to have to edit on a computer felt a bit cheap and dirty… like I was cheating the system. But oh how it works, and I’ve never looked back.

Editing post shoot can be your saviour in many ways you may not realise. You can crop something you don’t like out, zoom in on something you do (assuming your camera is high enough quality to not leave the results pixelated), you can get rid of a bit of fluff you see on your background (that you curse yourself for not noticing while taking the photo in the first place). For me the most important bit of this was matching the lighting with my other listings, to create the cohesive look I mentioned earlier. When brightening, lightening or editing the colours it’s important to remember you still need to accurately show the colour of the product as the person buying  it can’t see it ‘in the flesh’ to judge it themselves. Just because bumping up the contrast makes an awesome looking photo that doesn’t mean you should (unless it still accurately shows your product and it’s colour).

Am I an expert? Absolutely not. But have I improved? Absolutely. It’s cringe worthy for me to show these off instead of hiding them away and re-doing them at my leisure… but it’s important to compare before and afters, I think. So here is my online shop before and after… I hope you’ll agree the photos at the top aren’t awful composition wise, you can definitely see a style I apparently continue through to the new and improved Etsy shop below. But the colours are all over the place, washed out in some, over contrasted in others and plain old dim and murky in the rest.  The new Etsy shop, below, is clean and fresh, the colours are accurate representations of what is for sale and they are cohesive as a ‘family’ of products.

My a selection of images from my current felt shop -an obvious 'before' as far as lighting and cohesiveness is concerned.... re-taking all these photos is on my new to do list!

A selection of images from my current felt shop -an obvious ‘before’ as far as lighting and cohesiveness is concerned… re-taking all these photos is on my new to do list!

My Etsy shop similar backgrounds & lighting make them feel cohesive

A selection of images from my current Etsy shop similar backgrounds & lighting make them feel cohesive- this is the ‘after’

I am defiantly not a pro, and I have a ways to go (learning how to use the big fancy camera for one), but considering how far I’ve come I’m pretty proud! Do you take your own photos or pay someone else to? Did it take you a long time to get the hang of it? What tips do you wish you could tell yourself starting out? I’d love to hear from you!


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