Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Etsy Sellers Product Photography Tips

Many thanks to Karla of Nicobel for this detailed guide on how to make the most of your Etsy items! This is Karla's first post on the blog as she is helping me (Lily) with posts so please give her a warm and friendly welcome :)
Bare bones Product Photography

I’m often reminded that one of the most important elements of an Etsy shop is product photography. It’s a deal breaker or a deal maker. Once your product (and shop) is found, nothing—I’m told—will draw in a potential customer more than the photographs. If you are a great photographer you are well ahead. However, if you are a novice like me, then a little research and experimentation can go a long way. This post is for the unapologetic but adventurous beginner armed with little else than a basic point and shoot camera.

A perfect first stop for research is Etsy. Browse, shop, and enjoy the myriad Etsy products and their photographs. Have a good look, see how shops you like present their product and ask yourself what it is you like about the photographs. A good picture, above all, is meant to make that product appealing. Don’t be discouraged, however, if your own photographs don’t show the same level of detail, are not free of shadows, or if the ‘mood’ is not quite the same. If you are an amateur like me we don’t know what equipment was used, what lighting was available or what photo editing tools made that magic happen. When I do this kind of research, I’m not looking to recreate someone else’s work; I’m looking for inspiration and some direction. For more explicit direction, I turn to Etsy’s Seller Handbook (http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2012/the-seller-handbook/) as well as the product photography advice in Etsy’s many blogs (http://www.etsy.com/blog/en/tags/etsy-success-photography/).
Take some time to research the basic functions of your technical equipment too. That is, get to know your point and shoot camera. Find the flash function and turn and it off. Using the flash can produce unpredictable and hard to control shadows and the resulting colours are often far removed from those of the ‘real life’ object you are trying to photograph. You can experiment with the flash later but first you’ll want to find out what your camera can do without it.

In any case, when it comes to lighting, the most frequent advice I hear is natural light is best. So with the camera’s flash off, I’ve gone on a quest around my house at different times of the day to find this elusive best natural light. More experienced photographers may scoff at my lack of skill and versatility, but natural light in Ireland has proven to be an enormous challenge. I have looked for that warm golden light I admire in photographs and often have come up empty. However, the camera can actually help capture light: find your ISO function and the White Balance function (in my camera it’s AWB for Adjust White Balance).

Generally, the more light you have, the lower you can go with the ISO setting. The standard ISO for daylight is 100. If outdoors on a bright day try setting your ISO to 100 and then 200 and compare the effect to see which setting gives you the colour saturation that you’d like. If indoors, photographing by a window can help, and your ISO setting can compensate for less than perfect natural light. Move the setting from 100 to 200 and then 400 to compare. The quality of the picture may depend on the camera itself. Unfortunately, point and shoot cameras don’t seem to produce great shots with high ISO settings. The effect is what is called, ‘noise’--pictures may look grainy and washed out. With a basic point a shoot camera, therefore, an ISO setting of 200 indoors may be your best bet.

The White Balance function can also help with less than ideal lighting. Even on a bright day and photographing by a window my pictures can look washed out and have a blue-ish hue. When I’m displeased with the results I’m getting, I experiment with the White Balance settings of my camera: daylight, cloudy, and any artificial lighting options the camera has. When photographing indoors on a cloudy day (otherwise known as any given day in Ireland!), I’ll take pictures with the Auto White Balance setting and then the Cloudy White Balance setting. The latter will often come closer to the warmer colours I’m after.

Lighting advice likely applies to photographing any craft/product on Etsy. But here are a few other technical tips that might apply to particular kinds of products. If you are photographing smaller items such as jewellery or if you are looking to capture details of a larger item, try the Macro Mode in your camera (this is the equivalent of a close-up lens). The Macro Mode is often represented by the image of a flower. If you hands are shaky when you are trying to get close and really want that tight crisp close up, try propping your elbows on the table for stability. Or try using the camera’s Timer, allowing it to ‘click’ itself.

Alternatively, if you’re quite steady but it is your subject that is in motion, check if your camera has a faster shutter speed setting. For example, if you are photographing a model giving that fabulous fifties vintage dress a twirl, see if your camera has Sports Mode and give that a try. Sports mode (cameras vary and in my camera the setting for objects in motion is called Kids & Pets). Another technical challenge is getting that artsy look photograph where a close up detail is clear and the rest fades into the distance (shallow depth of field). The point and shoot camera can produce this effect if you get the focus just right. Experiment with focusing, but also try photographing using your camera’s Portrait Mode. This might give you greater control and a more consistent shallow depth of field effect. On the other hand, if you are looking for clear focus throughout all points of a photograph (wider depth of field), try using the Landscape Mode. Researching your camera involves playing with it, trying out the different functions, settings and modes.

Finally, if you haven’t tried it already experiment with basic photo editing. Windows Photo Gallery, for example, has a ‘Fix’ tab that allows me to crop pictures, adjust exposure as well as color. Other photo editing options include Pixenate (http://pixenate.com/), Picasa (http://picasa.google.com/ ), Photoshop Express Editor (http://www.photoshop.com/tools/expresseditor), and Aviary (http://www.aviary.com). In keeping with the bare bones amateur approach—all of these are free.

Now let's pick up those cameras and capture our items in the best possible light ;) x


  1. This is very timely for me - I'm on a mission to improve my photos at the moment. Up to now I've used the auto settings and hoped for the best, but it often doesn't work in our climate, and I've never had any success photographing indoors. So time to read the camera manual and start learning. Thanks very much for this very helpful post - I've taken notes!

  2. Thanks for the post! Yes, it very often is challenging to take decent pictures in natural light, as there is not much of that in Ireland... I personally use Picasa to do the basic editing, I have been using it for a couple of years and I have to say it´s very easy to use.

    I take pictures of my jewellery on my window sill and in case there IS direct sunlight, I place a sheet of tracing paper against the window to diffuse the sunlight and get rid of sharp shadows.

    1. Tracing paper, an excellent hint, thanks for the addition!

  3. very informative thank you.
    im one of those on the'lash doesnt harm' bandwagon (when used right) but natural light is usually the best! the iso info is helpful

  4. What a interesting blog, I like your writing & Photography skill.

    Event Photographer - Visionair is a Sydney based product photography studio provides high quality Aerial, Food, Commercial Portraiture, Event and Property Photography services.

  5. Have you tried to outsource your photos to web services? like 123 product photos? here is the link 123productphotos.com

    have you had any experience with these people? just curious