Once you’ve come to know your camera a bit and have an idea of what you like in product photography, you can enjoy experimenting with and re-discovering your own craft or product. What is it about it that you want your photographs to convey? You probably would like people to learn about its color, shape, size, uses, texture, workmanship, artistry, ingenuity. How can we set up a photograph and style a product to convey these qualities? In terms of image impact, a reasonable place to start is with the background. White is nice. It’s clean, clear, easy, and yes, safe. If you are just starting out with your shop photography or are looking to improve your photographs, think of white as a good friend. It serves as contrast to your product; it presents your item clearly and with little or no distractions and it reflects light. Moreover, white lends cohesion to the style of your shop. More importantly, a good reason it works for many is because Etsy’s website has a white background! See how the detail and colour in this beautiful bracelet from Resin Road are showcased in this photograph:
I use white here as a nuanced term. In the context of achieving the product photography we want, it may mean a stark bright white, or shades of white: cloud-like diffused white, ivory or cream. Whites also come in many textures: the faint brushstrokes of your home walls, linen, canvas, painted wood, or pages of a book. I often choose water colour paper. I take one sheet, lay it on a table, and prop the water colour paper pad open and standing along the edges of the sheet on the table, creating what looks like a paper box with only two or three sides. This serves as the background for the item I want to photograph. White, however, is a background color, it is not a hard rule. Try photographing your product with a white background and then other backgrounds. Experiment and compare, which background showcases your product best? A piece of wood can add great warmth to an object, whether it’s pale grainy wood or a smooth deep mahogany. I also like the look of grey; some of my favorite photographs on Etsy are on a pale grey background.
Experimenting with backgrounds provides another opportunity to experiment with light. When photographing indoors, sometimes the light from a window is not enough. Try adding light from a lamp and check the effect. Use two lamps; place one on either side of your product to get rid of unwanted shadows. Sometimes, the natural light from a window is too much; try hanging a sheer piece of fabric or tracing paper over the window to create a diffused light that minimizes harsh glare and shadows (thanks to Sasha for the tracing paper tip!).Experiment and re-discover your product through photography. Using your camera, approach your product from different angles: from above, from the side, from a ¾ view, from a distance, very close up, or look at only a part or section of it, focus on a detail (crop). I love how Corcra has styled this lace collar on an antique wire frame shop fitting with a painted canvas background, and has cropped the photo to a ¾ view.
Move your product around and/or style it. What does your product look like hanging on a wall, on a table, on a chair, on a book, next to any of these, on a hand, wrist, neck, body? How does it look next to a prop: a vase, on lace, on or by a rock, shell, leaf or coin? All these different approaches hold the possibility of telling a story with your product. The wall, the table, the body part may provide your product with a context. It allows the customer to imagine your product in their own living room or their own wrist. Using a prop such as a chair or a shell might convey the size and texture of your product, or they may just help capture the mood of your product and shop. A word of caution, keep background and props simple, they are there to showcase your product not overwhelm or detract from it. RachIllustrates tells her product story beautifully in this styled photograph of custom peg dolls. Another lovely example of styling is Project Sarafan's tea towels on chair.
You can add five pictures to your Etsy listing; the first listing (thumbnail) picture is the most important. You want it to be appealing and interesting to look at. The first picture draws your customer in; the first picture is also most important in terms of the overall look and style of your Etsy shop. Ideally your thumbnail pictures should work individually and as a collection of your shop products. When viewed together in the Etsy Shop Home and Shop Profile our thumbnail pictures should evince an element of cohesion, meaning some consistency in background, lighting, color, props (http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2012/how-to-create-a-cohesive-shop/). The remaining four pictures tell the rest of the story. Here you can show the product in its totality, show a detail, show it on a model, give it context by showing it in a room (or part of a room), show it as part of a collection of products.
I should emphasize that the goal is not to recreate or copy someone else’s work—that may serve as inspiration and provide some direction. Rather the process of experimenting with product photography is valuable for discovering or drawing out our own product story and shop style. There is no harm and great fun to be had in taking lots of photographs, even if you will only use five for your Etsy shop. It sometimes happens that you end up with a great shot that just doesn’t work on Etsy. That’s not a loss, it’s an opportunity. Showcase your Etsy product shots and those great extras on a blog, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Flickr. If you have a picture, there’s a social media outlet for it!For more examples of great product photography by Etsy Ireland Team members, here’s a Treasury of some of my favorites! https://www.etsy.com/treasury/MTEyNjg5Nzl8MjcyNDI5MTYxMg/etsy-ireland-product-photography?ref=pr_treasury