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Taking Powerful Pictures to Sell Your Arts and Crafts Online

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This chapter explains the tools and techniques recommended to create high-quality photos of your merchandise to increase your sales (and selling price).
This chapter is from the book

Writing an effective title and description is necessary for any craft listing on any marketplace. Equally important to the text you write are the photos you show of your craft items. People want to see an item before they buy it, which means you need product photos to successfully sell online. In fact, the better your photos, the more items you’ll sell—and at higher prices, too.

Great product photos don’t come from the camera in your iPhone taken with natural room light. You need to know a little bit about good photography to take appealing photos of your crafts. It also helps, of course, if you have a photo editing program to make your photos look even better—and to fix any mistakes you make.

What You Need to Take Effective Product Photos

Taking an effective photo of a craft for an item listing takes a bit of effort; it’s not quite as easy as snapping off a quick one with your cell phone camera. To take quality photos of the items you intend to sell, you’ll need a decent digital camera and a variety of photographic accessories, including

  • Digital camera
  • Tripod
  • Auxiliary lighting
  • Clean space with plain black or white background
  • Photo editing software

Let’s take a detailed look at everything you need.

Choosing the Right Digital Camera

Seems like every digital device these days has a built-in camera. Your cell phone has a camera, your iPad has a camera, even your computer comes with a little webcam device of sorts. This proliferation of picture-taking devices should make it easier to shoot photos of your craft work—right?

Wrong. The problem with still cameras embedded in other-purpose devices is that they aren’t that good. Even when they up the pixel count (as is the case with the iPhone 4S, which takes 8 megapixel photos), you’re still dealing with a small device with a mediocre lens—and it’s the lens that makes a big difference. No multi-purpose device today has the same type of high-quality lens you find on even the lowest-price point-and-shoot digital cameras, and you can tell the difference in the resulting photos.

If you’re serious about selling your crafts online, you need to take the best photos possible, and that means purchasing a dedicated digital camera. The good news is that you don’t need a really high-end model. What you want to focus on is the lens quality, not the number of megapixels.

That doesn’t mean you can get by with the cheapest camera available, however. To take good product photos, you want a camera with a quality lens, preferably with at least 3X optical zoom, and with a macro mode. (You use the macro mode to take close-up photos of those very small items you have for sale.) While you can go with a more expensive digital SLR, like the one in Figure 4.1, that may be overkill; most basic point-and-shoot models do the job. (Figure 4.2 shows a basic point-and-shoot digital camera with a decent lens for shooting craft photos.)

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1. Nikon’s D3200 digital SLR camera—takes great pictures, but may be overkill for shooting craft photos.

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2. Canon’s PowerShot ELPH 310 HS point-and-shoot digital camera—an inexpensive alternative for shooting photos of your crafts.

Going Steady with a Tripod

When you’re spending $100 or more for a decent digital camera, hold a few bucks back for those accessories that will help you take better photos every time. The most essential accessory is the humble tripod, which holds your camera steady when you’re taking photos.

A good tripod, like the one in Figure 4.3, will help you avoid camera shake and corresponding blurry pictures. It’s also useful in low-light situations, where you need to hold your camera especially still for long exposures. And it’s not expensive; you can pick up a decent tripod for less than $50.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3. An affordable tripod from Davis and Sanford, essential for capturing shake-free photos.

Enhancing Your Photos with Auxiliary Lighting

To take professional-looking product photos, you need professional-quality lighting. That means something more than natural room light, which simply isn’t bright enough or diffused enough to make your crafts look their best. For that matter, the flash lighting built into most digital cameras isn’t that good either, especially when you’re shooting product photos; it’s too direct and tends to create unwanted shadows.

What you need to do is invest in external lighting of some sort. If you have a digital SLR camera that accepts this type of accessory, you can add an external flash kit, sometimes called a speed light, like the one in Figure 4.4. This type of external flash has several advantages over your camera’s built-in flash.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4. Use a speed light with a digital SLR camera (such as this Canon model) to provide more professional lighting.

First, a speed light has a longer throw, meaning you can get more consistent light over a longer distance. Second, the speed light’s power can be dialed down, providing more subtle lighting. And third, the speed light’s head can be swiveled or angled up or down, providing bounce lighting instead of direct lighting, which results in less harsh lighting effects. The result is less glare, fewer unwanted shadows, and little or no red eye when shooting people.

Even better, if slightly more expensive, is an external lighting kit. This type of kit includes two or more photo floodlights that you can position in front of, to the sides, or behind the items you photograph. (Some kits, such as the one in Figure 4.5, encase the lights in softboxes, for more diffused lighting.)

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5. An external lighting kit with freestanding softboxes, from StarLite.

Keeping It Plain with Photo Backgrounds

You also need to think about where you’ll be taking your photos. You’ll need some sort of flat surface, such as a table, to place your crafts. You’ll also need some sort of simple background—black, white, or some other color that contrasts well (and doesn’t detract from) the item you’re shooting.

You may be able to create an effective background from an appropriate expanse of colored cardboard or cloth. More professional results, however, come from using a roll of colored background paper or cloth, which provides a seamless background. You typically hang the background between two stands, as shown in Figure 4.6, and position the item you’re shooting on a table in front of it.

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6. Hang some sort of seamless photographic background behind your item to make it pop in the picture.

The background, of course, can and probably should also function as the base beneath the item you’re shooting. That is, the items you’re photographing should be placed on top of the background material, which then sweeps upward behind the items. This way, you get a seamless transition from “floor” to the back wall, with nothing to detract from the craft itself.

Considering a Light Tent for Smaller Items

Since many craft items are somewhat small, you can create great product photos by shooting the item inside a light tent. This is an enclosure with white sides, some of which are translucent, into which you insert the item to be shot. A light shines from outside the box or tent through the translucent wall(s), just providing diffused lighting inside the enclosure. (Your camera typically shoots through an open side, or through a hole in one of the sides.)

You can make your own light tent out of a plain white milk jug, or a white plastic bowl, or a white sheet. Anything white and translucent will work. If you’re using a milk jug, cut the bottom off and place the jug over your subject. Illuminate from the sides and shoot through the open spout of the jug.

You can make a larger light tent just by draping a sheet or other white material over and around a table. Another option is to glue sheets of styrofoam together into a cube form, with the bottom left open—and then shoot through the open end.

Or, if you don’t want to go through all that trouble, you can buy a preassembled light tent from companies such as Square Perfect, CowboyStudio, and Smith-Victor. Figure 4.7 shows CowboyStudio’s Table Top Photo Studio Light Tent, which includes a compact 16” × 16” × 16” cube, two 50-watt external lights, and an adjustable-height camera stand. It comes with four different background colors and sells for under $40—a very affordable alternative when you’re photographing small crafts.

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7. CowboyStudio’s all-in-one light tent kit, complete with lights and camera stand. (www.cowboystudio.com)

Fixing the Flaws with Photo Editing Software

The final item you need to create great-looking photos of your crafts is a photo editing software program for your computer. We’ll talk more about these programs and what you can do with them later in this chapter, but suffice to say that you need a photo editing program to fix any flaws in your photos, crop them to size, and put a little extra sheen on reality. In other words, a photo editing program helps to make your photos look better, after the fact.

There are a lot of photo editing programs out there, some free and some tremendously expensive. (Adobe Photoshop CS, used by many professional photographers, falls into the latter category.) You don’t need anything too fancy—something affordable that’s easy to use and includes all the image editing features you need to create quality product photos.

There are a number of easy-to-use, low-cost programs available. The most popular of these programs include the following:

As you can see, all of these programs cost under $100 and have similar features. I personally use Picasa, shown in Figure 4.8, but any of these programs should do the job for you.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8. Use Picasa or a similar photo editing program to put the finishing touches on your product photos.

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