I find the photography in Etsy shops to be one of the most fascinating elements of branding. The photos are the key to making an artist’s design “speak” to potential buyers. Yet, the medium itself is an art form. There are many sellers on Etsy that specialize in photography and have worked for years to perfect the craft. Then, there are the rest of us….talented, artistic, designers who have an artful eye, but struggle to take photographs that eloquently portray the products we have to offer.
In preparing for this post, I was overwhelmed with the blogs, discussion threads, and opinions on how to take the perfect photographs for your Etsy shop. These posts reinforced that there is no “magic formula” for great product photos. Once you have decided the visual voice you want your shop to portray, I’m convinced that trial and error combined with tons of practice is what will finally move you toward your vision of the perfect images. I chose the photo from Manila Extract for this blog post because I thought Tanya did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of her shop and burlap pumpkins with great lighting, wonderful composition, and an angle that drew me in.
Across all of the articles I have read, there are several areas that dominate the “tips and techniques”. Hopefully, some of the suggestions here will start you along your journey to discovering the perfect photography to express the unique difference of your Etsy shop.
Many of the posts I read suggested “getting to know your camera” as a great first step to great photography. The tips included reading the owners manual and better understanding how each of the features work.
For a lot of artists, this might be the perfect way to figure out exactly what your camera has to offer.
However, for me, I struggle to soak it all in when reading the manuals. I become overwhelmed and confused trying to soak it in all at once. If you struggle with the manual as well, I’ll share what has worked for me. I took several photography classes in college and I had one professor who suggested we take pictures of the exact same object from the exact angle using different camera settings. While the books we used in the class showed what happened when using different settings, I was better able to understand the differences in the settings when I took the photos myself.
The headline for the lighting category is NATURAL. All tips and hints suggest moving away from the flash and use natural light. When written in a blog post, this sounds like the easy part of photography. Yet, achieving a natural light setting may be one of the elements you work on the most. Here are some approaches Etsy sellers have used to achieve their natural light setting:
- Overcast days – These are bright, but with no direct sunlight to cast harsh shadows
- Sunny days – Photograph indoors near a window with good light or photograph outdoors with a sheer fabric blocking the direct sunlight
- Light Boxes – A light box can be purchased or easily built on your own. A quick Google search of “light box” will point you in the direction of many resources
To supplement the natural light and avoid shadows you can use materials to reflect light back onto the dark side of your product. Some suggestions for reflectors include white poster board, tinfoil, or a white sheet.
Exposure – Camera Settings
There are three key settings on your camera that determine the exposure of your photos – shutter speed, depth of field and ISO. If you struggle with setting these manually, check to see if your camera has a macro setting. On many cameras, the icon is a flower. This automatic setting will be the most likely to get the exposure you are looking for.
As you experiment with the settings, you may try some combinations that slow down the shutter speed. In this case, a tripod is a great tool to use. There are many alternatives out there to a traditional tripod
- A sturdy box can keep the camera still
- A bean bag will hold the camera in place, but has more flexibility with position and angles
- Even when you hold the camera, if you lean against something to hold yourself steady this can work
- If you would like to purchase a tripod, you could check out The Pod (beanbag type), the GorillaPod (very flexible design), or browse a variety of options on Amazon
Angles and Composition
When you photograph an item, try taking photos from many different angles. Over time, you will find angles that really begin to set your images apart from others on Etsy and reflect your shop personality. When you look through the viewfinder to create your image, make sure your looking with your design eye and picture what that frame would look like hanging on a wall. Sometimes, symmetry can become boring. Centering an object in the middle of the photo may create an image that shows your product, but it may not be intriguing enough to draw potential buyers in.
Inspiring angles and composition can be found all across Etsy. In fact, our EcoEtsy team is full of shops that take wonderful photographs!! As you search for products and create treasuries, keep in mind the images that you are most drawn to and determine if there is an element of that photograph that could work for your product photography.
In the end, all the best intentions in lighting, exposure and composition can still leave us with photos that feel less than perfect. This is where a great photo editing program comes in. For me, the exposure and cropping features are the two that get the most use. The exposure tools allow you to brighten or darken the photo. Cropping can be used to trim out unnecessary background or crop very tightly to create an intriguing close up image.
Most computers today come with a simple photo editing program installed. On my Mac, I can use the preview program to do all the simple editing I need. For a great photo editing program online, many recommend Picnik. The basic program is free and provides all the basic functionality you’ll need for editing photos. Another favorite is Picasa which is a free download that allows you to crop, rotate and adjust the exposure.
In addition to cropping and exposure, some sellers also like to add their name or watermark to images. While this is definitely a good idea for those selling photography, keep in mind that a watermark may detract some from including your items in a treasury.
While I’ve tried to provide some high level tips here, you just need to start experimenting and dive into learning more in the areas you are struggling. Don’t expect to get images that are perfect right away. Just as I’m sure your artwork has improved over time, your photography will also get better and better as time goes on. Try a few of the tips here, see what works, and then expand to try a few more. Maybe even consider taking a class or pairing up with a photographer in your area for some ideas and training.
As you continue to expand and grow in this space, I would also encourage you to visit all the great photography posts and resources within Etsy. Good luck, have fun, and share any ideas you have with us here!!
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