Taking photos of your handmade goods | Part one

This is important! When I go to Etsy, I see beautiful photos of the loveliest handmade products I’ve ever laid eyes on – and I’m sure you do, too. If I search, I will find dozens of other near-identical products, probably just as lovely and well made. Some of these items will be purchased (in quantity even!) and some won’t. A huge factor in whether or not a customer decides to buy your handmade good is the quality of the photo.

Now, being a photographer, you might think I’m biased. BUT I’M NOT. I’ve done product photo shoots for clients who told me the products they had photographed professionally sold, while the ones they took photos of themselves did not. This does not necessarily mean that you need to hire a photographer to take pictures of your products (or even if you that they will take better pictures than you will – that’s a whole other blog post though), it just means that you should be putting at least a reasonable amount of thought into the photos you’re posting of your products, or suffer the consequences (read: be passed over).

Now, if you wouldn’t describe yourself as a photographer, you probably fall into one of two categories:

1. you don’t have a very good camera
2. you  have a good camera and don’t know how to use it

Both those things can be remedied, though, without having to dole out a whole lot of money. Hooray.

Unless you are taking photos with my iPhone (which is very old and has a nice scratch right over the lens – a very good friend just gave me a new one, since I refuse to pay to replace the one I have) your camera probably isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is. In fact, it’s probably not bad at all. Just about every digital camera out there right now is capable of taking a pretty good photo – you may need to familiarize yourself with some trade terms and your camera’s menu options, but it CAN be done, and it’s worth the effort.

If you have a good camera but don’t know how to use it, half the work is done. There are many benefits to learning how to use your camera (top of the list: not having wasted hundreds or thousands of dollars on something you’re not using) and thousands of resources online to help you learn for zero dollars.

You will hear a lot of opinions about what your photos should have in them (white background and ON people are popular ones) but this is both a matter of personal preference and highly dependant on what you are photographing. Personally, I don’t think photos of earrings on a model is necessarily a good idea, but a scarf or arm warmers should definitely be shot on a person rather than a white background.

Today, we’re going to talk about photographing jewellery on a background (no model).

There are a lot of options for this: light background, dark background, on an object, dangling in the air…etc. Those three are probably the most common, so I will talk about each of them.

Photographing jewellery on a light background

This is a pretty common practice, and works well almost all of the time. I have seen a lot of earrings hooked over a white mug and photographed – I think that’s brilliant! I have personally been known to use a few pieces of printer paper as my background (a few because printer paper is thin) and also to use my studio floor as a background to add some texture. Burlap is also a fantastic light background and very of-the-moment.

PROBLEMS you might run into when photographing on a white background include:

Drop shadow. Drop shadow is ugly, and it’s caused by hard light, either from your camera’s flash, or another source. Turn the flash off – it’s going to save you a world of grief.

Ooh drop shadow is ooglay!

Ooh drop shadow is ooglay!

Light is considered “hard” when it creates hard edges, and is caused by relatively small light sources. Why did I relatively? Because the sun is a hard light source, but describing the sun as “small” seems ridiculous. But because it is so far away, it is a small light source. The reason small light sources produce hard edges is because the small range of space they cover means that all the light is hitting the object from the same direction, rather than hitting it from separate directions. Soft light is created when a BIG light source hits an object from several different directions, blurring the edges of the shadow. Does it sound confusing and complicated? I hope not, but probably.

So, avoid drop shadows by using a big source of light, or multiple sources of light. When I am photographing jewellery I usually do so in my studio, with three studio lights, but you don’t need to!! Go outside on a cloudy day! Use window light with a sheer shade (or, on a cloudy day)! Also, bouncing existing light will help reduce drop shadows – light bounces nicely off of white walls!

Photo is too dark. This is an exposure problem. Your camera does not see what you see! It is guessing at how bright the photo should be, and when there’s a lot of white in a photo, it will probably guess wrong. In a bright photo, you may have to increase your exposure, or overexpose, to achieve the image you are shooting for (for the camera-savvy out there who are reading this, yes, you could also spot-expose the subject only, I know this, but for the sake of simplicity, I believe this way to be easier).

Underexposed photos don't look very nice

Underexposed photos don’t look very nice

If you are shooting on a not-so-great camera (a point-and-shoot) you might think there’s no way to do this, but there is. Different brands, and even different cameras within one brand may have different ways of doing manual adjustments. Read your manual to find out how to do this on your camera – it will be under something like “Adjust the brightness” or “exposure compensation”.

Shooting Nikon? Press the +/- button. Press up or down to find the exposure that looks right to you. Press OK to set.

Shooting Canon? Push the up button and then use the left and right buttons to adjust while watching the screen. Press the “Func Set” button to choose the image that looks right to you.

Shooting Fujifilm? Press the +/- button. Click left or right to choose the proper exposure. Press the +/- button again to set.

Shooting Sony? Set the mode dial to M. Press the big black dot on the control button. Select your shutter speed and aperature (slower shutter or larger aperture will increase the exposure – so either choose a larger fraction for the shutter or a smaller number for the aperture) but pressing the up and down or left and right buttons. Press the shutter button to shoot the image. (I personally think this is more complicated than it needs to be for the average person, but that’s how it is I guess).

Shooting Panasonic? Click up. Click left or right. Click the middle button.

Naturally, this list is not exhaustive, and even if your brand is here, your camera may be different. Things get a bit more complicated if you are shooting with a dSLR, so I will not touch on how to change exposure on those at this time – I’ll leave it for another post.

The colors aren’t right. This can be caused by one of two things:

1. ISO is too high.
2. white balance is off.

what good is it to take photos of your creations if the color is all wrong?

what good is it to take photos of your creations if the colour quality is hard to determine

The white balance issue is easy – check your manual for instructions on how to manually white balance your camera (WAY too much to go into for different brands here, sorry!)

What is ISO, you may be wondering. Short version – back in the film days, there were different types of film, meant for different uses. Their ISO numbers (100, 200, 400, 800 etc) indicated their speeds. The slowest (100) needed the most light to get the proper exposure. It could get more light either by opening the aperture wider or having a longer shutter speed. Of course, in most cases, a smaller aperture and shorter shutter speed is going to be preferable (large apertures mean less of the image is in focus, and slow shutter speeds mean you may have some motion blur) so ISO 100 film is good for situations with lots of existing light, like bright days. Higher ISO film like ISO 800 means you need less light to get the same exposure. This same concept exists in the digital world and the ISO can be set from image to image.

The trade off for having a high ISO is that you lose color quality and will have more grain. So it’s especially important to shoot in the lowest ISO possible when taking photos of your handmade products for sale.

I always shoot product photos at ISO 100 or ISO 50 (just got a new camera!) but it’s fairly easy for me, as I have a studio with lots of light. You can too, though. Read your camera manual to find out how to manually set your ISO to 100, and use these tips to get good quality color:

  • Shoot outside or close to a window to maximize the amount of light you have – watch out for hard shadows!
  • Use a tripod, or set your camera on to something and use the self-timer. If you are taking photos with the self timer, there will be no camera shake!
  • Make sure that you are not using mixed lighting sources. If you are using window light, turn all the other lights off in your home – different light sources are different colors.

Well, that was exhausting. Come back later this week for more information on shooting on dark backgrounds, and for more detailed info on how to use your dSLR camera.


– Jen McLeod, Concrete Oyster

This entry was posted in Tutorials and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Taking photos of your handmade goods | Part one

  1. Sherri says:

    Thanks So much Jen for this post! I need to do a product shoot for my sister and I was wondering how to get the best shots ~ this is awesome AND I just got a tripod for Christmas! Yeah! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Taking photos of your handmade goods | Part two | Concrete Oyster

  3. Frances says:

    Great information! Thanks for the like on my blog!

  4. This is a great post, really useful info. I really struggle with photographing my work so thanks for the tips.

    • Jen McLeod says:

      I am always happy to help. I will be posting a list of easy tips so come back later this week! Oh and if you have questions, let me know and I will address them!!

  5. Pingback: Taking photos of your handmade goods | part three | Concrete Oyster

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