Monday, April 27, 2009

Basic Product Photography - Part 2

In the first part of this series we talked about the features that you want in a camera to take good product photos of your crafts. We will now explore what is needed to set up the pictures that you are going to take. But before we do, let's add one more thing to your camera.

All digital cameras should take a memory card of one type or another. One of the most common is an SD Card (SD for Secure Digital). You want to get a card for your camera with two features - one, that it is as large a capacity as you want to pay for and two, that it is a "fast" memory card. Memory these days is cheap. You can get a large capacity card for as little as ten dollars in the right stores. Two gigabites (2 gb) is the largest capacity that an SD card comes in. Some cameras that take SD cards MAY also take SDHC cards which are High Capacity Secure Digital Cards. These cards are always more than 2 gb - from 4 gb and way up. Some cameras will only work to a certain capacity card and you may want to look into this BEFORE you purchase a camera. Not all cameras that work with regular capacity cards willwork with high capacity cards. This is all common and easy to know by looking at the package when you are purchasing a card. The second feature is not so obvious and easy to know - the speed of the card. The faster the speed the faster the time is between the moment you press the camera shutter button, the picture is taken, and the camera becomes ready to take the next picture. For product photography this is not essential - but you paid enough for your camera to want to use it for other things, right? Not all of the brands of memory cards will even mention speed. Some do by describing the card as good for video - video needs a fast card. Some do by placing a number after model names - Ultra, Ulra II, Ultra III. Some cards will specify a rating. A "D" rated card is perfect for digital cameras and is fast. If the only card you can find has an unknown speed don't knock yourself out trying to find one, but if you can find a fast card get one. Now that you hvae your camera set up to take hundreds to thousands of photos - yes, higher capacity cards will hold thousands of photos - you are ready to get shooting.

In some way you need to create a photography studio - nothing elaborate but a place to take your photos. The simplest studio is the great outdoors. You can set up your object to be photographed outside which eliminates the greatest necessity for indoor photo shoots and that is proper lighting.

Taking product photos outside requires a clean table (picnic tables left out all year are not always the most desirable places to layout your beautiful craft piece), a place with a neutral background, and something that you can rig around the object you are photographing that will stop any wind from moving it. This last part may or may not be necessary due to the weather and the season - or your determining whether or not to shoot based on the wind that may or may not be blowing. You do not want to fight the wind when you are shooting a macro or closeup photo. Remember, from the first article - the slightest movement will blur a macro photo. Even with image stabilization if the wind moves what you are shooting you are not going to get a good shot. First, it moved - out of the position that you will take so much care in putting it into to take the picture. Second, the movement is going to change the picture - even if shooting with a fast shutter speed which can capture objects in motion - but generally with a price in quality.

Set your table up in a clear spot with attention to anything that results in a shadow falling on the table top - trees overhead, edges of buildings, etc. When you look at the surface of the table you should see a nice and brightly lit from the sun clear surface. The position of the sun will effect the shadows that may be created on your object. At noon the sun is overhead, but at other times of the day you may want to adjust your position by the direction that the sunlight will fall on your object and then the table. The sun behind you may cause unwanted shadows. The sun in front of you may cause a problem in the proper lighting adjustment of the auto adjusting camera lens. The best thing about a digital camera is that you can see immediate results and then with the simple click of a button erase those results, make adjustments, and start again.

If you are photographing an object that does not stand on its own you will need something to hold and display your piece on to photograph it. This is where imagination can come in or you can resort to standard displays - much like or exactly what you use to display your work for sale at craft fairs (presuming you do craft fairs). There are all types of jewelry displays, mannequins, etc. that may be used. You may want to step outside the common box and look for artistic things to display your piece on such as large rocks, shells, etc. Just be sure not to display your work on anything that is going to distract the eye from what you want the buyer to see most - YOUR WORK. I have seen many product photos that I have to look at for several moments until I figure out what is being sold . They are all very nice pictures, but I see the shell before I see the earrings. You can just get a piece of neutral color fabric and pin your work (if it can be pinned) and have that fabric placed over a cardboard or wood that is made to stand on the table. When you have set up your piece exactly as you want it on the display put it down on the table - or set it up on the table if moving it will cause it to move out of place. Now, look behind what you are photographing. What do you see? Do you see your neighbor's swing set? Do you see a trash dumpster at the building next door? Take a test photo and see if that item in the distance has blurred away to the point that is is unrecognizable - it should when shooting in macro mode. If it doesn't you need to move your work in another direction so that you have a non-distracting background behind your object in the photograph.

At this point you are ready to shoot and all you need to do is swap your items in and out of this position on your table to take your photos. Set up your tripod in front of the object (or get into a comfortable position with your Optically Image Stabilized camera with no need for a tripod), set your camera to Macro mode, set your white balance to sunlight, and check the distance that you are from your object. If you are within the macro range specified for your camera then you are ready. If not, then move your tripod or yourself to where you need to be. You might even want to use a ruler or tape measure to make sure you are where you must be.

Check each photo on the screen of the camera as you shoot each shot - look closely and you will see if you are ok or you need to make an adjustment. Always take several shots of each set up object. It costs you nothing and it is all disposable and you are only limited by the size of the memory card in your camera.

Outdoors, the perfect studio! Well, not really. As you can see on the clearest day you have to contend with shadows, a breeze, what is behind your yard, and where the sun is. Outdoor shooting is a great thing and many use it, but what do you do if you need to shoot pictures for a new internet listing and it is raining and the forcast has rain for days - or if you would like to shoot at night - or it is 98 degrees or 12 degrees outside?

No outdoors is not the perfect studio. Sometimes you are going to need to move indoors - and for that you must wait for our next installment....

To be continued...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Basic Product Photography - Part 1

For those selling on-line or in catalogs good photos of your items is essential. When you sell in person your customers can look at the actual piece, hold it, and see its beauty and value. When you must convey that with a picture you want to be sure that picture is perfect. This is just a basic guide to creating photographs that will best represent your work.

The first thing required is a good camera. There are many levels of digital cameras on the market. You can certainly do everything that you need to do to take product photos for your purposes with a point and shoot camera - one that has auto focus and auto exposure (which are basic to most). You do not need the best camera available but you do want a camera that has certain features that are required for good product photography.

The first feature that is a must have is Macro mode. A macro is a close up photograph. A camera lens has a set range of distance at which it will take clear images. This range determines how close you can get to the subject to take a focused image. Generally the shortest distance most lenses on point and shoot cameras will focus on is about three feet. While this may seem close it is really not close enough for product photography where the aim is to get close detail of the product. For this you need to be able to focus as close as six inches or closer and that is what the Macro mode setting on a camera will do. What is important to understand about macro mode is that this has a set range of distance also - and that range will change at different changes between the wide angle and telephoto range of your lens. So, if you set to macro and you are set to full wide angle you are set to the closest distance that you can get an image in focus. This range will always be specified in your camera's manual. If you move the telephoto control on your camera you will change that range and you will need to move the camera further away from the object in order to get a focused photo. Again, these ranges are stated in your camera manual. Some cameras add a Super Macro mode along with Macro mode. The Super Macro mode will allow you to get as close as a fraction of an inch to your image. This will make a remarkable image but generally this is way to close for a product photo. Remember, you want detail but you don't want your work examined as if under a microscope.

A second feature to look for on a camera is the ability to change the white balance on the camera. Most cameras come with auto-white balance, but there are situations where the auto setting will not do what you need it to do. White balance is the adjustment of the photograph to the light that it is taken in. Incandescent lights give off a yellow glow and when an object is photographed under regular room lights the image tends to look yellow. Auto-white balance should correct this but it does not always do so. Many cameras - but not all - will allow you to set the camera to the light you are shooting in. The type of light is indicated by little pictures - a light bulb for standard incandescent light bulb light, a bar with little rays coming from it for fluorescent lighting (which tends to give off a blue tint), a sun for sunlight, etc. When shooting under room lights you will want to set your camera manually to the incandescent setting to get a balanced, non-tinted image.

A third very valuable feature to look for on a camera is a good optical image stabilization system. This is a system built into the camera that will compensate for any movement of the lens when a photo is taken. This is especially important when macro shooting because when shooting that close even the movement of the camera button will blur the image. Canon Powershot cameras excel in Optical Image Stabilization. Other cameras offer this feature as well, but many rave over the results from the Canon cameras. This has been my experience as well. If you have a camera without this feature then a must have is the next thing to get for product photography.

The second thing required (unless you have a good optical image stabilized camera) is a tripod. As stated above, when shooting in macro mode the slightest breath of movement will result in a blurred image. A tripod will hold your camera solid and steady. It also has the advantage that it sets a fixed distance between the camera and the object that you are photographing. You want a decently made tripod that will hold your camera steady. They attach easily with a screw knob to a screw hole that is on the bottom of most cameras, put there for just this purpose. A floor standing tripod is best, but you will see small tripods and similar gadgets that will hold your camera on the table you are shooting on. These can be just as good, but they are not as steady as a good floor tripod.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 11, 2009


There are a number of internet sales sites and I have tried several of them. The best that I have found so far is ETSY. This is a site that you list your work of art or handcraft and it is offered for sale to the thousands and thousands of buyers who know and visit Etsy regularly.

Setting up a shop on Etsy is easy. You register first as a buyer and then convert your account to a selling account. There is no fee to register and it is free to have a shop on the site. You pay a 20 cent fee for each listing you create. The listing will remain for four months for that one 20 cents fee. When the item sells you pay Etsy a very small percentage. Buyers may pay through your Paypal merchants account or you could just accept checks or money orders. Etsy is an international site but all sales are transacted as US Dollars.

This is not an auction site such as Ebay. You set a price for your item, list how much the shipping will cost for that item and it sells for the amount that you have specified.

Of course, the greatest question is do shops make sales on Etsy? The answer is yes. I cannot say that for other sites that I have tried that are similar. Are sales guaranteed? Of course not! But if you make an effort to get your shop and your items noticed you have a very good chance of making sales.

On Etsy promotion is key to success. You can open a shop, list items, and walk away and wait and you will not make any sales. If you work at getting found you will make sales. The simplest and free way to do this is to use the forums that Etsy provides to both buyers and sellers. The promotions forum is the place to start with forum threads calling attention to what is in shops for sale. The promo forum can move fast on some days and at certain times. The secret to using this fforum successfully is to start a thread with a title that will not only get buyers to look but that will also get other sellers to add thier listings to that thread. This is OK because that thread will stick around for a while on the first forum page and each time someone clicks on that thread YUOR item is at the top and is the first thing that is seen.

Other Etsy forums will bring you attention as well. Answering questions, adding your opinions, aksing questions will get those on the site to notice you, look in your shop and maybe make a sale. Participating in the forums is FREE advertising!

Of course, as with all sites and venues, Etsy has its drawbacks. There are not only thousands of buyers, but there are hundreds of thousands of sellers. Now, often sellers are buyers too so that is ok, but with that many sellers you can figure out how many things for sale there are at any given moment. Shop design is very limited to one standard Etsy template with no way to modify that.There is no way to rearrange the order of your items in your shop - they remain visible in the order they were listed. This is something that has been requested over and over again, but the Etsy administration has yet to change that. The checkout process on Etsy is lacking in that it reaures two buttons to be found and clicked to complete a purchase all the way to payment through Paypal. This is a stumbling block for many first time and even experienced buyers and will result in lack of payment that requires the seller to contact the buyer and explain the remaining process so that the item is acutally paid for. Etsy claims to be working on this.

Does Etsy work? Yes! Have I made sales? Yes! I cannot say that for other sales sites that I have used.

If you would like to see two different examples of Etsy shops come and take a look at
Past Perfect and Q Branch Ltd.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


One of my newest photographs is being offered at a site called RedBubble. The photograph is titled simply Daisies.

RedBubble is a site that hosts photography and graphic artworks for viewing and for sale. Different than sites such as Etsy or Ebay, RedBubble does the actual printing and shipment of the images that it hosts. The benefit is that the artist creates the photograph and allows the host site to fulfill the sales. One of the drawbacks of this site is that the artist only is paid when a minimum dollar amount in sales is reached and that amount must be reached each time a check is to be issued. An advantage is that photograph sizes may be offered that may not be in the artist's ability to print. There is also the ability to offer graphics on teeshirts and there are a variety of interesting tee shirt creations that many artists have designed. The work that RedBubble does when printing is fabulous!

RedBubble is based in Australia but all of the sales are handled in US Dollars. It is a site worth checking out. You can see other works by this photographer there as well - several not offered on other sites.