Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Photo Saga

Written by beckykazana

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!


Winchell Clayworks said...

I also use a piece of white matboard to reflect light onto the front of whatever I'm photographing. It's reflected light off a paper background, so you don't get the harsh shadows, but it does brighten up the object. If you're using the tripod and the timer on the camera, you can really get in there and angle the light where you want it.

brinnet said...


I've been trying to work on my product photography for an Etsy shop, too.

I'm also using a Nikon D40, so our camera is the same, but what kind of lens do you have? If you're new to your D40 and haven't used a prime lens (one that doesn't zoom), I really recommend trying one. (I'm using the 50mm f1.4 It's great because it allows you to create those fuzzy backgrounds and, more importantly, allows you to take advantage of the light that's available.

I also really recommend using natural light as much as possible. (I'm sure you've heard that before). I just have been photographing on the floor of my apartment near a window that has light. I put a white piece of paper under the product, and fiddle with the manual settings until it looks bright and cheery enough. (Usually around 100 f3.5 if I've got good light)

Anyway, I'm still working on my photography (you can see my shop and photos at ), but I think that natural light is very important, followed by a crisp lens (the one I mentioned using is only around $100)

Good luck with the photography!

The Fab Miss B said...

Hello all- thanks for the feedback! I can tell that this is one area where one always keeps refining! Can't wait to try out your suggestions- keep 'em coming!

Tara said...

These look SOOOOO good! I want the woodland fairy at the bottom! I don't even know what I would do with her, but the photo makes me want one!

FABULOUS ARTICLE! Thanks for inspiring me!