Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Etsy Photo Saga:

You've heard it over and over again: One of the greatest challenges to selling products on the web is good photography. Despite a few college photography classes (we were probably the last in history to learn on regular SLRs!) I have struggled long and hard with getting good shots, particularly of my pipe cleaner gals. They are a quirky product and I knew that they needed the right kind of photos to showcase their particular little personalities, but I was continually frustrated. I wanted to share my saga with you, because I really do believe that I've finally had a breakthrough.

I'm going to skip my efforts with my pocket sized Cannon. It was a great little camera for travel, but I had no control of the zoom function and images of these small objects were often blurry or focused on the wrong parts.

The shot above was taken sometime in November with my new Nikon D40 . This is a complicated piece of equipment, but the image quality was noticeably better, even with the camera hand held on auto. Christmas is obviously a good time of year for ornaments like these and I wanted to set the mood properly, but a lot of the detail and color is lost.

A later effort where I tried to take advantage of the lovely diffused light that enters our apartment in the late afternoon. Though you can actually see the gal better this way, the details in the background are still distracting.

My next brainwave was an outdoor photo shoot with the incredible blooming rosemary bushes dotting our apartment complex serving as a backdrop. I thought it might give that garden fairy ambiance I was looking for. Instead, the direct light cast harsh shadows and gave an amateurish backyard feel that I hated.

I had tried using a light box with mixed success while we were in China. Eric helped me rig up a rickety approximation and we clamped the lights directly to the sides, which had the same effect as the outdoor lighting; garish shadows and washed out color.

This time he constructed me something really marvelous. He cut out panels in an ordinary cardboard box, hot glued white fabric to these windows to diffuse the light, bought some halogen work lights (oi! Do those suckers get hot!) and also invested in a tripod for my fancy new Nikkon. (Thanks for all that hard work Mister!)

These shots are an improvement, but I was still disappointed with the contrast and detail. I had to start playing with the settings and reading the darn manual- a recipe for a big headache, but also the key to success. It is important to me not to have to fiddle with photo-shopping my Etsy listing images- to do that with five images for every single listing at the volume I have in my inventory makes me absolutely cringe. I just can't do it. So I wanted to get good shots on the first try. My next thought was to switch to a colored backdrop, adjust the f-stop and exposure time.

After reading this post, I decided to take the plunge and bought a few sheets of colored Canson paper at vile Michael's, adjusted my light meter and went through lots of trial and error, but I think I've finally arrived at a winner here. There is no distracting background, good contrast without any fiddling around in Photoshop, bright vibrant color that sets the playful tone and looks great in thumbnails. I'm a very happy camper. I know I still have a lot to learn about my new camera and photographing for the internet, but the flush of success feels good after all this time!

Here are a few of the other new shots just for fun. It's made a great difference in the look and feel of my shop. Any suggestions out there from others doing product photography? I'm all ears!


raina said...

I don't know how much you looked into light boxes, but you can make one that is a little different than what you have shown and it would probably work better (granted, i can't see the details of the one you built).

I'll see if I can find the link I was reading, but essentially it was just that foam core board from the arts and craft section taped together for the sides, and a whole bunch of shop lights (i wanna say something like 8!) clipped to the sides shining right in. I should have sent it to you when I first saw it.

I think your pictures have gotten a lot better, and I definitely think solid backgrounds are the best way to get your products sold. Anything else and it takes away from the product.

raina said...

Oh, one more thing. Do you have photoshop? If so, you could try taking your pictures into there first and then changing the exposure some until you get a more crisp looking photo. The background colors would be more vivid.

Of course, I am no expert. I have a crappy Nikon Coolpix camera from when I was 16 :) I need photoshop to make anything look semi-decent!

The Fab Miss B said...

Thanks Raina! It's been a long road, but I feel like I've finally made some good progress. My first light box attempt was similar to the one in the tutorial you mentioned, but it cast very harsh shadows and washed out my ballerinas. I like the way the new one uses fabric to diffuse the light to make it softer and avoid shadows.

As for photoshop- I'm a big believer in it- but for my etsy photos I'm not prepared to fiddle with five images for each listing. WAY too much time there, so it has to be close enough on the first shot. I think I'm finally there at last!

raina said...

On photoshop, you can do batch edits so you don't need to make adjustments to each photo individually. Not sure if you knew that. I use it a lot of for resizing, and since I found out about it, I've been spreading the word!

I do agree though, your pictures look very nice these days :) I should get a new camera, but alas, that money thing... oi!

n a t s u m i said...

These photos look gorgeous!! Well done!

benconservato said...

You were / are a very patient little camper I see, I think you came to the right decision in the end, they do look lovely against the coloured backgrounds. Good Luck!

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