In the same vein as yesterday's post, I figured it would be good to follow up with some pointers about photographing your work. Especially on sites such as Etsy, where your product really is in a sea of competing items, you need to take great photos to capture the attention of the browser. They better they look and the more they pop, the more likely you'll get the click - and of course, the more clicks, the better the chance at the sale!
When photographing my portfolio almost two years ago, I definitely learned a lot just through experimentation, so I'd love to share my insight with you - hopefully it will help.
- Find and get to know your camera.Most people are using digital cameras these days. If you're doing product photography, you'll probably want a Digital SLR rather than your standard point and shoot digital. A digital SLR (single lens reflex) functions like a standard film camera. You can adjust the apeture and focus point, unlike its point and shoot counterpart, which tends to have a flat focus. Always try it out before you buy it, because like any other tool an artist uses, you'll find cameras you're more comfortable with. If a DSLR is out of your price range, don't worry about using a point and click for now - you can always upgrade later, or you can simply use a film camera and ask for a CD back rather than prints (though that might be a hassle). I personally use a DSLR and would never use a point and shoot again; my weapon of choice is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT. When you've purchased your camera, you should make it a point to set time aside to read the manual and experiment - take a couple of shots on different settings and see what you like. I highly recommend using the Macro mode on your camera for anything small, such as jewelry - you'll get very tight, graphic close-ups on details that translate very well into feature photos (remember you should also pull back to see the whole piece in alternate shots so the customer can also have a sense of scale).
- Use natural light, or white light. I find the best shots for most objects is natural light. Don't use direct light; aim to shoot in partial shade, during a partly cloudy day, or in the morning or late afternoon. If you can't time it perfectly or weather conditions aren't ideal for shooting, turn off the lights in your room and shoot near a window that does not have direct light coming into it. If, for whatever reason, you don't have enough light or are shooting at night, you have to be very careful about shooting with household light. NEVER USE YOUR CAMERA'S FLASH - it will wash out your product, which is not very flattering. I highly recommend investing in some GE Reveal bulbs - they shine bright white so there is less of a color cast to your product. Another incredibly useful purchase (in my opinion) is either one or a couple Medusa-head lamps like this one from Target - you can adjust your light sources as well as how much is coming into the shot quite easily, rather than using a bunch of various lamps. If you do purchase a Medusa, however, make sure the plastic lamp shades around the bulb are WHITE, otherwise you will get color casting.
- Simplify your backgrounds. A lot of times I see people shooting stuff on very busy backgrounds or environments, but I think the most successful feature shots are more graphic and are really about the product. For smaller items, solid color paper, flat table cloths or pillow cases, or wood surfaces (minor distressing is okay) are often best. Try to avoid busy patterns (if you prefer patterns, think small polka dots or simple stripes); you can make solid colors more interesting by having an interesting texture to the fabric or a pretty tooth to the paper. If you need a shot illustrating the product in your environment, simplify the space as much as possible, and use the environment photo as an alternate rather than the main picture. Most importantly, choose colors that make your product pop the most - if you're mostly metal or neutal colors, head towards bright, poppy colors. Really nice mushroom grays or warm neutrals work beautifully and look sophisticated against brighter colors or jewelry with colorful accent stones.
Keep in mind that Etsy will end up cropping your photos into a square when it's the feature photo - you will want to compose your photos with that in mind. If you've used natural light, I'd generally discourage bringing your photos into Photoshop unless there is color correcting that needs to be done - for example, if you have a color cast. Slight adjusting may be needed in Levels if you've used indoor lighting, which may have flattened out your product.
Good luck, and happy photo taking!