I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again until the end of time: product photos are key to building a successful online handmade business.
Photos are the number one marketing tool your business has, because your photos are the window through which your customers can peer into your reality. Sure, product titles and descriptions are very important, but in this ever-more-visual age, it is the photo of a product that will first draw someone into your shop, and what convinces them to ultimately click the ‘buy’ button.
When you sell online, you’re not selling the product, you’re selling the photo. If you’re not willing to invest some time (or money) in getting stellar photos of your work, don’t bother starting. I know that sounds a little bit harsh, but with so much high-quality competition out there, you have to be willing to step up and produce great photos.
That said, if your photos aren’t stellar just yet, don’t let that stop you from at least getting started. Start where you are. Do what you can. Then learn and experiment until you end up with high-quality photos. This might take a week, or a few months, or even a few years. I don’t think anyone is ever 100% satisfied with their photos, but once you can put them side-by-side with the best in the business and compete, you’re doing okay.
In this week’s video, I challenged you to look at some of my older listings to see just how far I have come with my product photography. When I started out, I knew nothing about taking product photos … and it showed. Head over here and check out the very first product I sold to see where I started.
Pretty awful, eh? But I persevered, and today, I’m pretty happy with my product photos (yep, I still take and edit them all myself).
The thing we’re all searching for in our photos is the elusive ‘wow’ factor that makes our product stand out from the rest. This is something that takes time and experimentation, but chances are you’ll know it when you find it. You’ll see sales increase, treasury and blog features increase — and that’s the only true way to know for sure you’ve hit on the right photography formula.
So, how do we make sure we’re taking the best product photos we can?
There is a lot that goes into this process, so in this lesson I want to highlight the five things that you must get right in order to take stellar, clickable product photos.
A Note on Good Camera Use
Prior to thinking about the five core elements of good product photography, you really need to get a handle on what your camera can and can’t do.
If you’re like me, the only time you looked at your camera manual was when you took it out of the box to unpack your camera … upon which you promptly put it straight back in and never looked at it again.
Honestly, manuals are important, but they’re often so jargon-filled and dense that most of us just pop our camera on ‘auto’ and hope for the best (go on, you know you do). Aim to learn just a little bit about what your camera can do so that you can take the best photos possible with it.
You can take really great photos just with a smartphone, as long as you take a little bit of time to work out how to choose the right settings for what you’re doing (such as a macro setting if your phone has one, for small objects).
Your background is to your product photography what the choice of canvas is to art. It underpins the entire feel of your photo. Not only that, your choice of background fundamentally affects the feel and branding of your online shop. It’s part of your story.
Therefore, it’s really worth thinking about carefully and experimenting with. You might decide to have exactly the same background for every photo (such as a plain white) or you might decide to follow a theme. For example, in my shop, I use a few different grey-blue toned backgrounds, as well as a wooden background. They’re different backgrounds, but they all have the same feel and fit the same theme.
Think about your brand, and the ‘feel’ you want to impart with your photos. Then brainstorm possible backgrounds that would both compliment your item and reinforce your brand.
Styling is the next layer of your photography. You can style the same item on the same background many, many different ways. Not only via the props you do (or don’t) use, but also the positioning of your product, and the angle you photograph it from.
I always like to move my jewellery around in different orientations, and photograph it from lots of different angles. From many years of experimentation, I have a feel for what angles will work best, but it’s always worth trying new things. I usually end up with between 20-40 (or more!) images of each product, which I then whittle down to 5 or so.
Often, it’s not until you look at all your images next to each other on the computer screen that you can tell which ones really work and capture the eye.
Just be sure not to over-style your images. You want your product to be the star of the shot!
Your choice of lighting really affects the mood of your photos. Do you want super bright and fresh looking photos, or do you want them to be a little bit dramatic? Again, it comes back to your branding. As long as your item is clear and easy to see, you can play a bit with your lighting to help create the feel you are after.
Natural light is ideal if you can use it (by a window or outside when it’s overcast as to avoid harsh shadows). If you use natural light, try to use the same spot and take your photos at the same time of day so they all look the same — morning light and afternoon light will look very different in the same window!
If you need to use artificial light, make sure to use white daylight bulbs — not yellow lightbulbs — and to diffuse the light somehow, maybe by putting some white tracing paper, tissue paper or fabric between the light and your item.
Whatever light you choose, make sure there is plenty of it, and that it’s indirect so you don’t get shadows.
It should go without saying that an excellent product photo needs to be in focus. However, there is more than one way for a photo to ‘be in focus’. Maybe the whole image is in focus. Maybe you only have a key part of the product in focus, and the rest of the image blending into blurriness. This is controlled by the depth of field setting on your camera.
You can play around with this and decide which type of focus and what focal point really shows your product at its best.
Publishing your product photos to your shop without editing them is like making up a cake batter and forgetting to put it in the oven. Editing is a vital step that will take good photographs into the realm of amazing.
Things like cropping, adjusting the white balance and playing around with brightness and contrast are fundamental editing steps that can’t be ignored. I edit every single one of my photos.
One thing to remember with editing is to not go too far. You’re not trying to fundamentally change the look of your product — you want it to be as true-to-life as possible while still standing out.
Free Tools to Edit Your Photos
GIMP is basically an open-source (i.e. free) Photoshop. There is a ton of info out there on the web showing you just how to use it (including videos on YouTube).
For the PC/Android folk, this the perfect piece of ‘getting started’ editing software you can use on your computer. I use it all the time — especially the ‘auto-fix’ feature! If you have NO editing experience, I highly recommend this.
If you want another simple editing program, that also allows you to do a stack of other things with your image, this is a good choice. Similar to Picasa in a lot of ways, but you use it online.
If you want white backgrounds, this is the program for you. Easily turn dull white backgrounds into crisp, clear white with FotoFuze — you can even sign in using your Etsy account!
No matter how beautifully you manage to implement any of these five elements, if one of them is off, it will detract from the final photo. They all need to be in harmony — working together — to create a truly breathtaking product photo.
Homework: Photograph at least one of your products, and post an example of your finished, edited photo in the Facebook group.