So I've been writing a bunch of tutorials, and one of them is a photography tutorial, all about what kind of set up to use and various tricks for lighting and etc. But I'm starting to think that it's a bit unnecessary. There's a thousand tutorials out there on set ups and lighting and composition, why do you need me to tell you all about it?
Well I've decided you don't. But where I think I do have experience is in what kind of photo to take. How to represent your item, what to think about, how much trouble to go to etc.
So here's some free wisdom, gained from experience that (hopefully!) will help you create better images for your Etsy shop. Yes the first 3 are technical and I said I wasn't bothering with that, but I'm only including them because I consider them very important - if you never learn your way around photography any more than these, you'll be OK.In fact they're so important I've called them 'technissentials'. So important I made a new word! Let's just accept that and get on with it.
Technissential #1 - natural sunlightSure I know, everyone says it- because it's true! Though there are some truly amazing ways to set up an artificial lighting rig for any budget, fact of the matter is nothing beats Mr.Sunshine for the best results.Wait for overcast days and shoot as much as you can, when you can. Don't just shoot a few things and say 'that'll do' - it's good to have about a week's worth of listings ready to go on your hard drive for the times when weather and schedule are inflexible.
Above, (unedited!) shots of the same necklace using natural and artificial light. Though there is only a subtle difference, you can see below after editing there is still something 'off' in the artificial shot; the blues and yellows aren't quite right and the whole thing looks a bit too harsh and flat. Even after editing (see below) the lamplight shot is still somehow 'not quite there'. It might not look that different to you, but I'm holding the necklace in my hand right now and I can tell you, it's not the same colour as the lamplight image shows. Natural light is jut a flattering to an inanimate objects as it is to humans, so use it whenever you can.
Technissential #2 - Any camera will do - just learn how to use it!Any camera is fine for shooting images for your shop- really! My first digital camera was purchased 10 years ago and still takes a great picture, even though it's only a 3.6 megapixel dinosaur. But if you want to get the best from your camera, switch it to manual and learn how to understand the settings of white balance, apeture, shutter speed and ISO.
So get out your manual (or download it if you no longer know where it is) and learn your camera's settings. Even if you only learn how to set your white balance - a simple setting on your camera which will turn your yellowed or blue-soaked shots into more natural tones.
Above, changing the white balance has changed the light and tones drastically in these (unedited) shots. The center image is correct- on the left it is too blue and on the right too yellow. All 3 photos were taken within seconds of each other; the only thing that's changed is the white balance setting.
Technissential #3 - post-process
Post-processing your images after you shoot them can mean the difference between a good photo and a great one. Not just perfectly good photos made better, but you can save low-exposed pics, or wrong white balance setting, or most frustrating of all, when purple doesn't want to come out purple. In the image below, the left half is unedited - straight out of the camera- while the right side has had basic post-processing in terms of light/contrast, colour adjustment and sharpening. You don't need Photoshop for this; Gimp is free and easy to use, and if you want more control you can get PS Element fairly cheaply on eBay. Consider it a good business investment!
That's the technical taken care of, let's move a bit deeper into some Research n Development. These tip will hopefully teach you to achieve pictures which both stand out from the search results and give you an improved social network presence. Practically every category on Etsy is flooded now and it's no longer enough just to have great photos - you gotta know how to flaunt it!
Know what you're shooting forIf you just head on into it randomly snapping images, you're going to have a bad time. Know what you need for the listing, and make sure all 5 images convey the whole piece without repeating themselves. Don't bother uploading similar or out-of-focus images, it's just a waste of time and gives the impression you don't know what you're doing. Make sure you have an image that shows the object in it's entirety as well as images which show details like clasps on jewelry, lining in bags, labels in clothing etc. An Etsy specific tip- to avoid those ugly grey edges around some of your images, make sure all your photos for the listing are either landscape or portrait. If you're intending to pin your listing, use portrait orientation as it looks better in Pinterest.
Take as many pics as you can - the more the better. Above is a cropped screenshot of my listings folder; I average about 20 shots for every item I list; from these I'll narrow it down to the best 5 and discard the rest. Being able to pick the good apples from the bunch is much better than just dealing with the few you've got.
Love your backgroundThere's a lot of people that will tell you the best background to use is the one everyone else uses - the white background. I can't see the sense in this- your background is what makes your shop; it showcases your inventory, captures the heart of your target market and helps you accentuate your brand (what they now call 'tell your story'). Used to be that everyone was keen on the pure white background, though lately I'm seeing a rising trend in a dove grey backdrop. You don't have to live like that!
Above is a shot of various papers and old book covers I recently explored for backgrounds; I've settled on a staggered pile of old papers now and I use it in varying layouts across all three of my shops. If you set yourself apart and define your style by having a signature background, soon enough people will recognize it by sight outside of Etsy. This is especially helpful on social networking sites where credit of the original image can be lost. A distinctive visual style will work infinitely better than any watermark. If you want more help on what background is right for you, check out my older blog post on the subject.
Props are your friendBackgrounds aren't the only thing that can set your style - a consistent prop or display is a great way to create unity in your shop, especially if your stock has a large variety. If you sell a lot of something particular like jewelry, but in many different styles, the same one or two jewelry cases or bracelet prop can bring a cohesion.
Boxes, tins, candlesticks and small china dishes all have their own personality. Props are fantastic not only for giving a sense of scale but also for conveying mood. If you have a tea set or some fine dishes to sell, fill them with delicate pastries; baskets look great filled with rustic bread rolls and handmade candles always look nice displayed in silver trays. Furniture is especially in need of props- that antique kitchen table will look even better laid with a tablecloth and garnished with a chair or two. If it all seems a bit too much like hard work, just keep the prop shots for listings where the selling price makes it worthwhile.
Follow the leaderYour first image (which I call the leader) is the one that gets you the attention, so make sure it's a sparkler. It doesn't necessarily have to be one that shows the whole object, some shops have a style that relies on showing just tantalizing glimpses of details. Your image isn't just there to illustrate what's for sale- it's also going to work it's butt off networking and advertising you all over the internet. It may seem as simple as standing out from search results, but from there it's noticed on activity feeds and in a user's favourites. Before you know it it's in treasuries and being shared on Pinterest or Tumblr and featured in blogs. When people are attracted to images online, it often isn't really about what's for sale, it's about the picture of the thing that's for sale. The more engaging your image is, the more likely it's going to get around.
This little blue dish was in my shop for about 5 months before someone bought it; in that time however it racked up an incredible 636 hearts and 89 treasuries! This padlock gained 253 hearts and 44 treasuries.They weren't particularly expensive objects, but the images were so admired that they paid for themselves time and time again in advertising for me and were seen by thousands of people. And I didn't have to lift a finger!
Change is goodOnce you have something listed, it could run it's whole 4 month listing time without being purchased. When it comes time to renew expired listings, take a look over it and make sure there's nothing that might be a problem in it's being sold. Are the images showing the right scale? Is the texture on the material being showcased? Does the reflection of your camera make it look like there's a mark on the glass? Maybe the first image jut isn't appealing; many's the time I've had a listing that wasn't selling, so I changed the picture and boom- off we go.
On the left is the leader image I originally used on the listing for a tie. It was okay, but the board didn't give an idea of scale and the tie looked too long for it's 1940s origins. In the right image, I used the male torso; it gives a nicer idea of scale and looks more appealing (I can show the whole tie in another image in the listing). Sure enough, using the vintage mannequin rather than the board gained me much higher views.
My final tip is - don't overdo it! These things take time and are filled with trial and error- I doubt there's a single 'online merchant' who's 100% confident they're doing everything right. What's most important is that you're happy with it, and it's working for you. Not all your listings have to be perfect treasury fodder, not all your images have to be prize-winners. Aim for about 80% gold and 20% glitter.