One of the things that I've found the hardest about having my own Etsy shop is the taking and editing of product photos. When I first started on this journey, I had never taken a good photo on purpose; my good shots were limited to holiday snaps that had turned out beautifully... by accident!

It didn't take me very long to develop a serious case of Etsy Photo Envy, so I started researching. Over time, I have learnt about light boxes, natural light, white balance, and the tools I couldn't live without in Photoshop to edit my product photos. Today, I'd like to share that knowledge with you in the hopes that you won't have to go through the same pain in the butt process as I have!


Allow me to begin with my disclaimer- I am in no way a great photographer, nor a great photo editor, and I know that there are many people in the world who probably use far better techniques than these! But if you, like me, are a newbie at a loss of how to match some of the incredible photography on Etsy, and you like the types of product photos I take, then hopefully you'll like some of what I have to share with you.

Today, I'm going to show you how to photograph a product in this way:

And, next week, I'll show you how to edit it so that it becomes this photo:

Are you ready? Let's go!


STEP 1: THE LIGHTING DECISION

LIGHT BOXES VS. NATURAL LIGHT
If you've ever researched product photography, then you will have come across a discussion about Light Boxes. Some people swear by them; others have sworn off them. I'm of the opinion that if you do it right, light boxes can be brilliant (especially in the chilly Melbourne winter!); however, I've recently started using natural light and actually prefer that. Try both, and see what works for you and your gorgeous goodies!


LIGHT BOX TIPS

In a nutshell, a light box is a cardboard box with translucent walls that strong light can shine through, and it looks something like this:

They are reasonably cheap to create, and here are two tutorials to help you do just that.

If you do choose to create and try a light box, here are the tips that I learnt (the hard way!):


- Use smooth, large white paper as the background; any creases will show up and have to be edited out. I found that using white fabric as a background is far more difficult than paper, as it's extremely hard to find pure white fabric and every little fold, crease and bump shows up.


- Find the brightest, whitest light globes you can. Low wattage globes don't provide enough light, and anything with a 'natural' or 'fluorescent' tint will give you yellow and blue shading respectively. Energy efficient globes at a high wattage are particularly good.


- Use the same light source from every angle! I originally used the lamps that I had around the house, only to find that I had three different hues in my highlights and shadows once I got to the editing of each photo. Not good!

NATURAL LIGHT TIPS

Indirect sunlight is your best friend, and this is the only light you want to be taking your photographs in. To find indirect sunlight on a day with clear skies, simply hunt for a shadow of something larger than your products; the shading that trees, verandas and fences produce work well. On an overcast day, you can take your photos almost anywhere.

I've noticed that taking photos is best in the morning or late afternoon, as the light is too intense in the middle of the day.


STEP 2: PREPARING TO TAKE THE PHOTO


SELECT YOUR BACKGROUND

If you're using natural light, find a solid, low-key background and base such as a wooden fence, decking or planks. I've found that paving, grass and concrete make for horrible backgrounds in terms of editing, but you may find otherwise!


If you're using a light box, the background question is already answered!


SET YOUR WHITE BALANCE
Setting your white balance is one of the most important steps you will take. Never heard of it? Neither had I until I discovered that it's the greatest thing every introduced to the world of amateur photography!


Basically, white balance is a tool on your camera that allows you to tell it what pure white looks like at that exact moment and in the exact lighting conditions you're in. Once it knows this, it can automatically readjust all other colours so that they look as natural and true-to-life as possible.


To set it, you usually find and select the 'White Balance' option in your camera's menu, focus your lens on a piece of plain white paper and press the 'Select' button. Of course, each camera will be different, so hunt out your camera manual (now!) and follow the specific instructions.


STEP 3: TAKING THE PHOTO

POINT AND SHOOT
I use a very basic point-and-shoot camera, but I still manage to take some reasonable (I hope!) photos. I believe you don't need anything fancier, so just use the camera you've got, point it and shoot!


WHAT TO PHOTOGRAPH
If you have a store on a site like Etsy, you can have up to 5 photos of each product. Depending on what you make, you'll need to make sure that the photos you take show your customers the key sides or elements of your product (such as the front, the back, the sides, the top and bottom, the inside, and any specific detailing).

GET CREATIVE WITH ANGLES

It is possible to show these elements of your product in a creative way. Whilst photographing:

- walk around so that you can take photos from varying angles;


- pick up your product and move it so that you can get interesting shots; and


- get in close so that you can show the details in creative ways.


TAKE 10 PHOTOS OF EACH PRODUCT

I take no less than 10 photos of each product, and only end up using 5. Why? Well, it's surprising how many times the photo lighting, angle or style just doesn't look that good once it's on a computer screen.

Further, some photos are more difficult to edit than others, and I don't want to be stuck on a single snap for half an hour when I could simply choose another one.

Finally, seeing all 10 photos and angles that you've taken together will help you decide which ones are best; if you only take 5 shots and are forced to use every one, you may be doing your products an injustice by not using the best possible photographs.



I hope you've enjoyed and learnt something from this tutorial! As I said, these are all tips from my personal experience, but I've learnt such an amazing amount from other crafters' experiences that I really hope I can offer you something from my knowledge base. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the tutorial next Wednesday, where I'll show you how to edit the gorgeous photos that you now have!

---


P.S. A huge thank you to my gorgeous partner Sharon, who has spent months patiently making my light boxes, taking my product photos and comforting me when I've had major spack-attacks over how difficult the photography thing can be.

P.P.S I was on the phone to Laos yesterday, and managed to source wholesale rates for that gorgeous, vegetable dyed, hand woven, fair trade organic cotton I was telling you about. The prices are now cheaper- as is postage because I now know specific weights- so check it out here!

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Comments (26)

On September 17, 2009 at 3:38 PM , One Flew Over said...

As always...a wealth of information!

 
On September 17, 2009 at 8:12 PM , ambette said...

I've been doing a bit of research on this lately, too. You've given me a few good ones that I haven't come across though. Thanks!

 
On September 17, 2009 at 9:09 PM , Tracy said...

Terrific article/tutorial, Sanda! I'm into natural light too, it is my preferred method for photography...But always trying new ways too, that's part of the fun. Happy Day :o)

 
On September 17, 2009 at 9:43 PM , Tania said...

Ah! You're a gem. Have bookmarked for when I haven't got two tomorrow deadlines sitting on my head - so don't expect remarkable results immediately!!

 
On September 18, 2009 at 12:03 AM , Xanna's Jewelry Box said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I usually use natural lighting, and want to use the box because I live in the rainy northwest of the US, so your guide was soooo helpful! I knew nothing of the white setting on the camera so my white back ground looks like it is always a different shade in each shot, and I also have found the late afternoon light to be much better! You have helped so much, and I will share a link to your blog from both of mine so others may benefit from your wisdom!
Thank you,
Xanna :)

 
On September 18, 2009 at 12:29 AM , laterg8r said...

i'm always trying to get good pics of my scrapbook pages - guess i need a light box :D

 
On September 18, 2009 at 1:58 AM , susanc said...

Thank you for this tutorial Sandra. This is always the hardest part for me and I have a lot to learn, but I will take your tips and put them to use next time I photograph my jewelry for Etsy. I know that photography needs to be the best it can be to sell a product - it's just so hard to get the beauty to come through in a photo, especially the sparkle!

 
On September 18, 2009 at 4:22 AM , Kelly O. said...

wow! was this ever helpful!

 
On September 18, 2009 at 6:15 AM , Kuutydruk said...

Thank you Sandra! You have no idea, how helpful this was. I'm about to take new pics, again :), for my products as well. I spent whole day digging and reading and was losing my mind by the end of the day. And now i check my blogroll and see your post :) Explaining all so simple and clear. In Estonia, winter is really-really bad time for natural light. I can use it only on weekends, when i'm at home. Otherwise, i wake up in a dark and walk home in a dark. In november-december, we have only 4-5 hours daylight :) I desperately need a light box.
Thank you again. Waiting patiently for your next post.

 
On September 18, 2009 at 6:17 AM , Happybee said...

Hi Sandra!!!
thanks so much for posting this!!!! sooo helpful!!!!

 
On September 18, 2009 at 8:16 AM , Merry said...

What a great tut....I will be back to read this in more detail and follow those light box links. Thansk

 
On September 18, 2009 at 8:32 AM , JazyJae's said...

ohhhh thankyou for that one. I have been trying to work out this whole photo thing before I expand with more products available on line and just had no clue what I was doing wrong.

 
On September 18, 2009 at 10:08 AM , Mandy said...

Thanks Sandra, this is going to be a great help. I've linked to this post on my blog if that's ok. :-)

 
On September 18, 2009 at 11:46 AM , Sandra @ Pepperberry & Co. said...

Thank you all so much for your beautiful comments. Some of you I can't respond to because your emails are anonymous, but I want you to know that I really appreciate every word you say. It can be hard work keeping up a blog, especially when you're a perfectionist like me and really want the blog to be 100% useful, relevant and helpful! It makes the hours I spend putting it all together really worthwhile when I hear such lovely feedback. So thank you.

 
On September 18, 2009 at 11:40 PM , Il Mare Atelier said...

Sandra, your fabric items are lovely and your pictures are fabulous! Thanks so much for sharing these tips!

~Su
http://ilmare.artfire.com
http://ilmareatelier.etsy.com

 
On September 19, 2009 at 12:19 AM , Carole said...

Hi Sandra,
Your creations are lovely and your tutorials are fabulous! Thank you so much! Carole
caroleannb@hotmail.com
carole-fiberartlady.blogspot.com

 
On September 19, 2009 at 11:58 AM , Carole said...

Sandra,

I truly look forward to your next tutorial. I have had terrible luck taking photos of my work so far. I am printing out your tutorial and will take it home tonight so I can dig out my camera's instruction book and find out about that "white" setting. Quite often, when I take photos, the colors are off no matter what I do. I've dabbled with Photoshop Elements and have had some success in adjusting contrast, brightness and color, but the finished product is not as great as I would love to achieve. You are inspiring me to keep trying...I know I can do it if I keep working at it.

By the way, I love your work and your photos too! Thanks so much for your wonderful, helpful tutorials. I do appreciate it.

Hugs,
Carole

 
On September 19, 2009 at 7:23 PM , Kirrily said...

That is really great info! Going to bookmark it so I can send other peeps here when necessary!

 
On September 23, 2009 at 8:20 PM , VISART - DaLi Designs said...

Thank you, I still don't know how to set white balance in my Canon PowerShot. If you have similar camera, can you pleas tell me where are the settings?
Thank you, it is very important info.
www.vika_sl@live.com

 
On September 23, 2009 at 8:57 PM , Funnyface said...

Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to next weeks for sure.

 
On September 23, 2009 at 11:34 PM , KeriAnne said...

Thanks for all the info. I'll try it out on some jewelry. I've tried the light box, but it doesn't seem to be working. I'm going to try your outside tips. Thanks!

 
On September 23, 2009 at 11:59 PM , Black Rock Design said...

I found you in the Etsy forums and now will be following your blog! I've been researching how to take better photos for a while now, and had not run into the tip about adjusting the white balance on your camera. I've been sticking a piece of white paper into my photos, editing for color, then cropping it out! It works, but I'll use anything if it's better!!! Thanks for sharing.
Jenny

 
On September 29, 2009 at 5:47 PM , oncon said...

It was very usefull, thanks.

 
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On January 3, 2013 at 10:03 PM , Banyo Suyu said...

This is great.
Thanks a lot.

 
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