Friday, June 19, 2009

Photography and online selling

Online selling is mostly about effective photography. How else will someone realize they are hopelessly in love with your handmade item when they can't fondle it in person?

I have no groundbreaking photography tips. And I can't recommend a fancy camera. I use a Kodak Easyshare which is an automatic point-and-shoot, I like it fine. OK, here are all the same things everyone else will tell you:

Don't use a flash.

Try to use natural light. The best is indirect sunlight on a windowsill in the afternoon, maybe filtered through gauzy white fabric or tracing paper to cut harsh shadows.

The most important thing you need to take clear product shots is the Macro feature, the symbol for which is this Tulip.

A tripod helps too.

And try to think of what would make a pretty picture more than just showing the product, this is the hardest thing for me. You will of course want some straight up product shots but maybe the first pic can be the eye catcher. The one with that ineffable feeling.

That's all I got. Because everything after that is how well you can use photo editing software. I almost never put a pic online without tweaking it somehow. Often the pics are dark straight out of the camera so I lighten them. Sometimes the color is off so I correct that. Etsy likes square pics so I crop.

I use Photoshop, which is NOT intuitive. I have been using it for years and still only know about twenty things I can do on it. I understand GIMP photo editing software is free and people recommend it, I've never tried it.

Here's an example with my new cupcake pincushion listing in my 1000 Markets shop:

Straight out of the camera:

My pictures have been an evolution. I am always learning new Photoshop tricks and thinking of new ways to make my product shots stand out. But you have to start somewhere so don't let your lack of photo skillz stop you from just getting started. You can replace images as you improve. That's what I do. For example, I just replaced a product shot for the Farmstand Bouquet cards I made from my mom's amazing watercolor.

Old pic:

New Pic:
I keep trying to do my mom's gorgeous illustrations justice! Every little photography improvement keeps me interested in working on building a better online shop.


  1. I love your photographs of all your beautiful wares.

    I think this blog post is splendid.

    Thanks for doing such a great job with the pics of my watercolors.

    The way you construct the cards is elegant.

  2. Very interesting post, Liz! I'm not a photoshop user so it is interesting to see how you use it. I try to get effects like the one in your picture of the pincushion using my camera and then I'll edit exposure, etc. using Aperture.

  3. Thanks so much for the advice. I am a newbie in the etsy world and struggling with photos. Your work is beautiful and you are showing it well in photos!

  4. Mom! Thanks for letting me go through your drawing books to pick out all these wonderful paintings for the cards!

    Marianne, I would get that DOF naturally if I could, but my little camera snaps everything in focus, a DSLR with a macro lens may be in my future though...

    Pat, thanks!! There is so much photography out there for Etsy users, it would be helpful if it wasn't so overwhelming :) Hope you can get photos you are happy with!

  5. A very helpful post Liz! If I might add a few things, there is a free program, Picasa, that you can get on the Google website that is amazingly useful. It collects all of your images so that you are able to access them more quickly and allows you to do global edits, such as the white balance, exposure, etc. ... or should that be etsy? :-)

    And if you want to do straight "product shots", a foolproof way is to build your own lightbox - that people usually buy. You take a cardboard box, about 2x2 feet is a good size, open one end, cutting off the flaps, cut out windows on the left and right sides almost to the edges but not completely. Then cover the windows with a cut up old white sheet, tracing paper, anything white and semi or completely translucent. Then lay a piece of any color poster board on the floor of the box up the back in a slope.

    Now put the product in the box, point desk lamps or clamp lamps at the translucent windows, and point the camera into the front. The best thing is to put the point and shoot in auto-white balance mode, or else tungsten. Move the lights around for different effects, but what you get will be very professional looking... Like Liz's!

  6. Hi Adrien! Thanks for taking the time to comment on my post :) It's nice to have friendly professional photographers all over Western Avenue Studios, an invaluable resource.

    I want to mention that I did start out using a handmade lightbox exactly as you described, that was how I got the "before" shot of my mom's flower card above. I know if done right the results are excellent, but I find that most people dont use enough light to get the brightness required for a good shot, myself included. Also, the aesthetics of Etsy in particular shy away from the lightbox look IMO. The products making the front page generally display an emphasis on a more naturalistic approach to product photography, hence my recommendation of the "windowsill" lighted look.

    As for Picasa, yes, that is also mentioned quite often as a good free photo editing program, thanks for mentioning it. But beware if you have a lot of photos on your computer, Picasa will take over and import each image and video! Be prepared to walk away for an hour or so while it renders your computer idle as it does that.

  7. I agree with you about the Etsy style, and all the better really! I'd rather see creative images than vanilla catalog product shots anyway.

    As for Picasa, you are right about it going into a trace the first time that you run it, but I could be wrong, because I don't actually use it, but I believe it just 'catalogs' the images. I don't think it copies as it imports. Once it is done though, you have a nice catalog of every image that is on your computer, some of which you probably forgot about :-)


  8. I love the idea of the ineffable feeling, as you create an image of that perfect sensation for the buyer. Selling an entire experience. The buyer might not know exactly what they love about what they see, but they know they must have it. NOW.

  9. Great tips, Liz ! I totally agree that good photos are an absolute must for selling on-line. I have a DSLR camera, and love it, but I have a lot to learn about using it. I have Adobe Lightroom and Microsoft Digital Image editing software, and find them both to be extremely useful. I hardly ever use a photo 'as is'. I also have a lightbox (E-Z Cube) but have had mixed results with it.
    That's interesting about Etsy style photos. I will have to keep that in mind if I decide to open an Etsy store.

  10. Thank you Liz for posting such an interesting and informative blog on product photography. This is the most difficult area for me. I have an excellent camera so I know it is my user error causing me issues. I have Nero Photo editing software and it is very easy to use. I love your tips of "natural" settings for items to list in etsy. Your pin cushion is as adorable as you are. :o)

  11. And as a bonus incentive, Etsy included the picture of the pincushion in front of the spools of thread in its photo tips email last week! This gives me great encouragement :)

    Thanks Dell! I know that the feeling is a big part of the buying experience for me, and I can't be alone in that.

    Thanks Dora! Etsy does have a certain overall aesthetic that it's helpful to use for inspiration. But really, anything goes on there, don't let worries about getting the right look stop you from listing your gorgeous creations!

    Thanks for your sweet words Sherry! Photography is every online seller's biggest challenge, I think. It takes time to learn your camera and your software, just keep plugging away until you are satisfied. Athough, if you are anything like me, 3 months later you will be redoing your pics again LOL!

  12. Your photos are great! And your tips are fab!
    I didn't realize you used a Kodak Easyshare. That's the same camera I have! People are always shocked to find that's all I use to take my pictures.

  13. Thanks for sharing your great tips! Your photos are wonderful!

    I think taking a good photo is the most challenging for me but I definitely have made improvements from my early days on Etsy thanks to lots of online help. However I still have a long way to go on making my photos prettier and eye candy worthy. & I only just discovered the macro feature last week which I will definitely use from now on.

  14. First of all, I love it when moms post on our blogs--so cute! And yours is very talented indeed!

    Second of all, good timing that I found this post as I'm seriously struggling with learning my new camera.

    I can take photos on the windowsill and all that--but how to keep the background at a minimum? Are you using a light box?

    The before/after photos you posted are showing great improvement--I hope I get the hang of it soon. Thanks for posting these tips!

  15. Pam, looks like you've gotten the hang of it and the proof is in all your Etsy front page exposure!

    Alissa, I talk about light boxes in the post, I didn't like my results with those. And since my camera can't pull focus on the foreground, blurring out the background like I want it too, I fake all that in Photoshop.

    If you don't have a specifically macro lens, it might be something to look into.

    I did make a dedicated space with a blank wall and a white ground to take my pics near a window, and then I added props to show depth of field and add interest, creating a "space".

    I know you will eventually master your camera with lots of experimentation :)