Product Photography

Our Member Blogger today is Mel of Fischer Fine Arts.

Having good product photos is probably the second most important thing for your shop after SEO. Once people find your items, they need to see clearly what the item is and how beautiful it is. It also makes your shop much more professional-looking. Another reason for good product photography is that we do a lot of team promoting–our team blog, our team website, pinterest, treasuries, facebook, etc.

So to help everyone out, I wanted to compile a few tips and resources and feel free to add your own as well. I am by NO means an expert at this, but I did do a lot of research and experimenting on my own because I got tired of having to pester Charlee (my older daughter) to take product photos for me. She also helped teach me much of this.

1) MYTH: “You have to invest in a really good camera.” The camera I use for my products is a 12 year old Olympus. There are much better cameras out there, but you certainly don’t need a DSLR to do this. I very often see people blame their cameras for poor shots but usually, it’s not the camera at all. Setting your white balance can really make a difference. This site explains it with some excellent examples: www.kenrockwell.com/tech/whitebalance.htm

2) MYTH: “You have to have a lightbox to get good photos.” No, that is not always true. The purpose of a lightbox is to get enough light, and preferably indirect light on your product to get a good photo. This photo was taken indoors, in my livingroom, using indirect natural light (I have 2 large windows) and NO flash:

Red Heart

The original photo still comes out a little bit dark, so I lighten it in photoshop, then upload it to fotofuze.com to get the background all cleaned up. Total time it takes me to do this is about 5 minutes.

Whether or not you use a lightbox, you generally don’t want to be using the flash, so turn it off. It is typically a symbol that looks like a lightning bolt on your camera settings. Diffused light and ambient light works best. Direct light and flash can not only create glare and reflections you don’t want on your product, but it also creates very harsh shadows and can wash out the colors.

Lightboxes can be very useful if you live in an area where it’s often very dark and cloudy and/or you just don’t get a lot of natural light somewhere in your home. Inexpensive portable lightboxes can be purchased online for around $50. You can easily make your own, however, for very little cost. This is a link to a tutorial on how to make your own lightbox: digital-photography-school.com/how-to-make-a-inexpensive-light-tent The key to making lightboxes work well is to set up sufficient lighting and in the right spots. It may take a bit of fiddling to find what works best for your items, but once you have it, setting up and taking down can go rather quickly.

3) Macro Setting. This is a very useful feature that is on just about every camera these days. It is used for getting very close up details or for getting very close to photograph very small items, such as jewelry or small polymer clay figures. The setting on your camera is usually indicated by a flower symbol. When you take your photo, your camera will usually be about 6-8″ from the product, but check your manual as the range is a little different for each camera. When using this setting, I highly recommend using a mini tripod as the slightest movement will result in a blurry photo. Or you can experiment with setting your camera on a stack of books or anything that helps to keep it steady.

4) Backgrounds & props. This is very much a matter of personal taste, so I will touch on it briefly. My personal preference is to use the white backgrounds for a number of reasons. I use a lot of different colors in my art and my art encompasses a broad range of styles. Finding a universal background that will work with everything I do just isn’t practical. It’s also much faster for me to edit a photo to have a white background than to edit a photo using backdrops and backgrounds and getting them to look just right. Another reason I don’t use them is for treasuries–backgrounds and props in a photo can make or break a treasury very easily.

Good backgrounds should be fairly simple, not busy and shouldn’t detract from the item you are selling. They are there for setting a mood, a theme, suggested use and branding. There should be enough contrast between your item and the background so your item doesn’t become lost in the photo. Be very careful with props, too. You don’t want to have a potential customer think that they are buying the prop, rather than the item. Your product needs to be the star of the show. Props are very useful, too, for showing what an item is, such as a wine rack, a vase or a pencil holder. If you’re going to use backgrounds and props, try and keep it consistent throughout your shop so it looks professional, cohesive and well-branded.

Sylvie does an excellent job of branding using a neutral background and props:

Props are sometimes necessary in order to convey what an item is used for, such as this seat barrel bag from Geoffrey and Valerie’s shop:

Micaela did an excellent job in staging an item that could potentially look boring on it’s own in a photo. It’s a great example of “suggested use” and conveys the product well:

5) Photo Editing. If you don’t have photo editing software such as PhotoShop, I highly recommend getting Gimp. It is a lot like PhotoShop, but it is FREE. You can download it at gimp.org and there are other free online photo editing sites, such as ipiccy.com/ just Google “free photo editing software” and you will find quite a few.

There are several things to take into consideration for editing photos. If you start off with a really, really crappy photo to begin with, no amount of editing is going to make it look good. Make sure your photo isn’t blurry, nor so dark that it looks like you shot it at night.

The photos in this album are an example of how editing a photo can make a huge difference. If I had simply used the really dark image, I don’t think customers would give much more than a glance at the product, let alone click on it. The lightened versions aren’t too bad at all, but for my main image on Etsy, I’d want it to really pop. If I had lightened those photos much more, the shiny silver would become a big blurry mess of white and the detail would be lost. The photo with the pure white background was one where I used fotofuze.com.

A) Brightening a photo. The most common mistakes I see is either not doing it at all, or over-brightening to achieve a white background. Focus only on the product in this step and ignore whatever is in the background. Lighten your photo enough to where the product looks good. If you over-brighten, trying to get a white background, your product will wind up looking washed out. You will find this adjustment in most photo editing software under Image —>Brightness/Contrast.

B) Correcting Color Cast. Sometimes photos taken in shade or indoors can come out with a blue-ish tint to them or, depending on your interior lighting, a yellow tint. Fixing it is very quick and easy. This tutorial shows one method of how to do it in Gimp (a similar method can be used in PhotoShop, going to Image —>Color —>Hue/Saturation and slide the Hue button either to the right or left): pareandfocus.com/index.htm/so-easy-step-by-step-photo-editing-in-gimp/

C) Getting those white backgrounds! There are actually a number of ways to achieve this. One of the fastest and easiest for most is to use fotofuze.com. You simply upload your photo (there’s a box you can check on the right if you want to keep it private), highlight your product AND shadow, click “finish”. Once it’s finished, click the image and you can download a copy of it to use.

If you don’t want to use fotofuze, then here is a great tutorial of another method on how to do it in PhotoShop and it is similar in Gimp as well: tabletopstudio.com/white_backgrounds.html

There is a lot of information out there on the internet, including YouTube videos and various tutorials and even more advanced methods you can try when you feel more comfortable with the basics. There are a number of ways to achieve the same results, but these are some of the simplest and fastest methods.

Here’s to wishing everyone a BRIGHT and cheerful holiday season!

~Mel

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4 thoughts on “Product Photography

  1. Excellent article! And I am so honored that you used my photos as an example. It has taken a long time and a lot of practice to get to that point. You have provided a really good source of tips here. Thanks!

  2. Great article, Mel, with lots of links, they help so much! I have been, up to now, unable to get the white background without washing out the product, so my backgrounds are not consistent. With your help I can go back and edit my photos, thanks! Kelli

  3. I have to say that buying a DSLR made it WAY easier to get good shots than my old point-and-shoot.

    But the thing that helped me the most (and my photos still need improvement) was hooking up with a local Etsian whom I paid a small sum for a photo session and she gave me lots of tips and taught me a bit about finding angles to shoot from and not always showing the full item in all the pics.

    I’ve downloaded Gimp but was too overwhelmed with it to really tackle it, so I’ve been using Picassa instead. But oh, FotoFuze is so awesome that I signed up to support it the first time I used it.

    Thanks, Mel, for the time and effort you put into the blog post!

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