Better Product Photos even in Winter

YES you too can have good quality product photographs even in winter.

Get a good quality daylight spectrum lamp - this can be a floor standing OTT light, some off brand ott-light-type lamp, or even a simple multi-purpose florescent shop light fitted with daylight bulbs. This last set up is also good for just general lighting of your workspace as it can be hung overhead, out of the way so as not to create any shadows on your workspace.

You can get a good quality overhead shoplight with a pull string for about $15-30 + bulbs - depending on where you go $15 = walmart, $30 = Lowe's. I'll admit I've had better luck with the $15-20 Wal-mart ones than the more expensive ones from Lowe's/Home Depot. For whatever reason those ones do not last, the internal wiring components burn out faster and you end up being out more money. Bulbs can vary greatly - look for 'daylight' spectrum ones. You might notice an increase in your electric bill using daylight spectrum all the time - so you might want to get a couple of shop lights and set up an area with a table devoted just to photography and use a regular full spectrum florescent bulb set up for your work space.

Backgrounds should be neutral in color: cream, beige, light brown, tan, taupe, ecru, eggshell, black, neutral grays - neither warm nor cool, white and so on. Try to stay away from colors like those in the rainbow, yes they look pretty next to your item, but when you take a photo you'll often be surprised to find the image of the item you're photographing isn't the same color on screen as it is in your hand. Blue backgrounds are especially notorious for giving you a very strange resulting colorscheme for your photographed item. Blue backgrounds turn silver colored metal gold, gold colored metal dark brown to black and a myriad of other color problems that cannot be corrected in photoshop.

Stick to neutral colors, and invest in some scrap fabric drapery for your backgrounds. By drapery I mean a rather large cut of fabric for the area you're covering. This lets you stack books, blocks, dishes or whatever under the fabric giving it a raised look so you can photograph the items more clearly.

I generally look for tightly woven twill, suede-cloth (or velour even), velvet works too but it attracts lint badly and you'll spend a lot of extra $ on lint-rollers or tape to remove the lint from the velvet which will still show up linty in photos.
You don't have to spend a fortune. 1 full yard of 45" wide fabric should cover a decent sized area and give you room to pile things under it to elevate your product for photographing.

 As for props under the fabric I've used everything from the lid to a can of pounce cat-treats to a repurposed tub from sourcream (or other dairy spread) sliced on an angle to produce a slanted display. For blocking you can use books of any type, catalogs, old VHS tapes, dvd cases, even scrap lumber  whatever you want to use under the fabric to give a raised platform on your table will work. This is user specific and you'll have to play around with what works best.

These tips are assuming you don't have the $ to spend on a professional light box, photography studio, or other expensive equipment and are for making the most of your photos with little to no outside expense other than lighting and fabric.

The camera - I've seen really good photos taken with cell phone cameras, and really bad photos taken with thousand dollar cameras. The key is - know your camera. If it has a macro setting - and you're taking photos of jewelry or other small items and want to get detail...use the macro setting - usually found in the menus on point & shoot cameras and as a separate setting on DSLR cameras. Macro setting lets you zoom way in and get really really detailed shots of your work. This can be both a plus and a minus. For me as a maille artist, macro setting shows scratches to the metal, links that aren't quite closed 100% perfect and other 'bad' details. But those photos help me see things I need to correct in the item before I sell it. I fix the problem area(s) and re-shoot the photos.

If you don't have a macro setting on your camera or don't know how to find it - ask I may be able to help or at least point you to a site that can tell you where to find it in your specific camera.

Macro setting also shows a lot of good detail which is really good for jewelry and other small items to show to your customer the level of detailing in a clay sculpture, the details in a bead or beads and other things that you can't see as well at normal zoom.

FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS - please make sure your photos are in focus before posting them online. If you shoot a series of photos and they're not in focus to you in the editing phase, they won't be in focus when you upload them. Blurry or fuzzy photos are a big turn off for the customer. I'm a buyer as well as a seller and I can tell you if all your photos are so blurry I can't tell what's being sold I'll skip your shop and go elsewhere.

Speaking of editing - photoshop, gimp, paintshop pro, etc are all great tools to help you correct your photos before posting online. Etsy's ideal image size is a MINIMUM of 450x450 pixels. If the photo you've taken is less than that on any side - it wont' be in focus when you upload it because etsy will enlarge the photo to fill the space making for either a blurry or grainy (pixelated) photo.

Most photo editing software lets you choose your resolution when editing. My DSLR shoots at 300pixels per inch or DPI (dots per inch) which is a very large photo size in both dimension and in disk space. Every item I photograph gets its photos edited before I upload them. This usually involves cropping the excess background out of the way so the item is clear, visible, in the center or close to it of the window I'm working in, cropping eliminates excess background and useless crap (you know desk clutter) from the image leaving you with a smaller, neater looking image. Once I've cropped the image down to just the item I'm selling and the near background (a few pixels on each side for balance), I then check the image size - if it's showing 20% on my screen and takes up most of the screen I know to go into the photo and resize it. First I usually cut the resolution down to either 72 pixels per inch (usual web resolution for faster loading and a smaller file size) or sometimes 150ppi for images I want customers to see more detail in.

Etsy has a limit of 2mb per photograph you upload - you can fit a very large photo into a 2mb space, you just have to know how to edit the photos that its showing what you want it to show, clearly, and not fuzzy or blurry. But you don't have to use that full 2mb per image either. Most of my photos on etsy are somewhere between 47-700kb and they're plenty large enough for people to see the detail in the image without it being a huge file that takes forever to load on slower systems.

That's the other big thing when uploading files online (to etsy or anywhere). Remember NOT EVERYONE has high speed internet with a fast load time of photos. Sometimes less is more. I use paintshop pro (PSP) so I can tell you what works for that program - ask around others who use gimp or photoshop can tell you the tricks for those programs. In PSP, I crop the photo to the image I want, I resize to usually 150ppi for art, photographs & fractals -to show more detail; and 72ppi for all other photos. Then I make the image fill my work area - usually it'll say somewhere around 20 or 45% of full size. I go in and resize the image to the appropriate ppi for the item, and then whatever the image size is on screen if its 45 I enter 45% if its 22 I enter 22% of full size. This resizes the image so that at 100% it fills up my work space - which on my laptop is about 900x800 or somewhere in there depending on the image. This is more than big enough for etsy's 450x450 minimum, but not so big that it's a burden on slow systems.

Then I compress the file before saving. In PSP this is done as you save the image I use a jpg compression that I can choose how much compression to use, usually around 10% - which can take the image from 25mb to 700k or something like that. A reasonable file size for online.

If the image needs lightening, darkening, etc I do that too before I save the image. The last thing I do and I think everyone should get in the habit of doing is watermarking their photos.

Yes all your images are copyright to you when you take them - but unfortunately there are unscrupulous types out there who will steal your images to use as their own. PSP lets me save files as a transparent .psp file that's what i use to make my watermark images. These can then be added as an overlay to your image - casting a 'shadow' type effect or a watermark on the image that helps keep others from using your photos as theirs. I'll cover how to make a watermark image in a later blog after I've had sleep - and again this will only cover PSP as that's what I use. I'll ask a friend to help with the photoshop version...if I can at a later date.

So to review:
Background = neutral colors, tight woven fabric - suedecloth & the like works great and can usually be found in neutral colors often in clearance sections of the home decor fabrics bin. 1-2 yards is plenty.
FOCUS - make sure your images are in focus before uploading
Image size - 450x450 = etsy's minimum - try not to let your images fall below these magic #s.
Editing photos before posting - helps you see flaws in the item(s), and to see what the image will look like to your customers.
If you care about the quality of images you present to your customers - they'll see your care and will take a better look at the items in your shop.
Blurry, grainy, fuzzy, out of focus, off-colored, shadowed, or otherwise dark images will turn customers away from your shop.
LIGHT - use a daylight spectrum lamp to achieve daylight conditions indoors during the winter (and anytime you want to photograph your items in inclement summer weather or if you don't have a good outdoor spot to shoot year round)
MACRO - detail - show your customers what you're selling - up close & personal.

Your photos online are a substitute for the customer's own eyes seeing your product in person in a physical shop. Your photos have to convey quality, correct color, texture, etc (and in the case of food) it needs to look good enough to eat. If some of your items are unusual or unique and not necessarily identifiable as to what they are - what they should be used for or how they should be used - you can always shoot a few different photographs showing just the item, how the item should be used, etc. This way your customer gets the best feel for the product without being able to see it in person.

Too dark photos, grainy blurry etc all can be thought of again in terms of a customer picking up your item in a physical store. If the store has bad lighting, or if the store is dark, and the items are in a case that's got dirty or dusty glass, the view of the item is obscured and hard for the customer to see the item clearly, very few customers these days will buy items 'sight unseen'. Posting a photo of an item that's off-colored from the actual item is a good way to earn a neutral or negative feedback because the item on display differed from what they actually got.

If the photo on screen when you get ready to post doesn't look like the item in your hands - don't post the photo, take new ones.


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