If you have ever asked for a critique in the Etsy forums, you’ve probably been told to work on your photographs. There are many talented photography artists on Etsy, but there are also a bazillion people who make jewelry or clothes or decorated trinket boxes. Or hats. Many of us never thought we’d have to be camera pros to sell our non-photography art. But of course when it comes to selling online, photography really can make or break your shop. After all, people can’t pick your item up, admire its fine workmanship, try it on, or any of the other things that shoppers in brick and morter stores do all the time. Our product photographs are the only representatives of our work.
First, a bit of a disclaimer: When I ask for a shop critique, people often tell me to work on my pictures (that and my banner. I really need to make a new banner!). This tutorial will not help you have perfect, front page worthy product photos. But I have improved my photography a lot since I started two months ago and my goal with this tutorial is to share what I have learned because I really do think that every little improvement helps.
Step One: Find the Macro setting on your digital camera. This is essential if you sell jewelry or any other small items, and very useful for taking close-ups of details on larger items. Using the Macro setting on the camera will put your item in focus and the background out of focus. Depending on the size of the item and the angle you shoot, you can get part of the item in focus and part out of focus. The icon for macro looks like a little flower.
Step Two: Find good lighting. Most people recommend indirect sunlight. I take all my photos outside on my porch which is always shaded. Early morning or late evening light works really well. Whatever you do, do not use a flash. It will wash out your colors and reflect oddly off your product. If natural light is not an option for you, you can make a light box. I haven’t actually tried that yet, but lots of people swear by it.
Step Three: Find an uncluttered background. Interesting backgrounds are great, but only if they don’t draw away from the item. If you take a picture of your earrings hanging off a sunflower that stands tall in a field full of crows, it might make an interesting picture. But if I glance at the photo and can’t figure out what you are selling, or can’t see the earrings clearly, I won’t buy them. This is the part I struggle with the most, and the focus of most of the photo critiques I get. For my hats, I usually let the wooden planks form the background. For my purses and haircombs that I don’t want to put on the ground to photograph, I keep a large white piece of plastic handy. Also, think about how your photos will look in list view–the thumbnails are tiny! You want to make sure your item stands out.
This is the picture I took of my blue peacock feather hair fascinator. As you can see, I’ve placed it on the plastic on the porch. I’ve photographed it from the side because I think that is an interesting angle. Because I’ve used the macro setting on the camera, the front feathers are in focus and the feathers toward that back are a bit blurrier. But you can see that the picture is dark and the background looks more bluish gray than white:
Step Four: Download Picassa. If you have another photo editing program that you are more familiar with awesome. I use Picassa. It’s free and easy to use. Once you have downloaded picassa, you can fix up your photo to make your item look as appealing as it does in real life.
Step Five: Crop your image. You want a nice picture of your item, not a scenic view of your photographing space. Open your image in picassa. Once Picassa is open, double click on the item from your library to edit it. The edit box with have three tabs: Basic Fixes, Tuning, and Effects. Under “basic fixes” choose crop.
It will give you a drop down menu of different cropping options. I always crop square (“CD cover”) because that is the shape of the thumbnails in list view in etsy. You may or may not want to do that, depending on the shape of your item.
Here is my cropped image:
Looking better, but still too dark and the background is still not white.
Step Six: Select the neutral color. One of the advantages to a white background is that it gives you a neutral color. In picassa, go to the tuning tab. Click on the eye dropper under “neutral color picker.” Then click on the part of your photo that should look white. You can click on the magic wand to have it automatically select the neutral color, but it doesn’t always get it right. This will get the blue-grey tinge off your background.
After neutral color picker:
Better, but still too dark. Still under tuning, click the magic wand next to highlights. This will brighten things up:
So, one more time for effect. Here is the “before” photo in our make-over series:
Hope that helps at least a little!