Saturday, February 15, 2014

Photographing your online shop inventory - it's more than just good technique

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. While I was thinking about this I was reminded that it's my turn to do a blog post for the Vesties team I'm a member of on Etsy. We're a team of vintage dealers who pride ourselves in having beautiful shops selling authentic vintage, so we share as much info as we can with each other in whatever field we're knowledgeable in. So if I'm sharing it with them I might as well share it with you too! Spreading the love is what I do.

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 technicals 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.

Okay let's go!

Technical #1 - natural sunlight

Sure 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.


Technical #2 - Any camera will do

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. So get out your manual (or download it if you no longer know where it is!) and learn your camera's settings. Especially critical to good photos is 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.

Technical #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 for

If 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- make all your images landscape orientation (wider than they are long) and you will avoid those ugly grey edges.


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 background

There's a lot of people that will tell you the best background to use is the one everyone else uses. 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. Don't fall for it.



Above is a shot of various papers and old book covers I'm currently exploring for backgrounds; I change them up a little now and then to inject a bit of 'fresh air' into my shop. 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 friend

Backgrounds 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. If you have a tea set or some fine dishes to sell, fill them with delicate pastries or rustic bread rolls. 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 leader

Your 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 choose images for these things, 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 good

Once 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, the texture on materials, that there's no chips in a glass rim or scratches in the leather? Maybe the first image jut isn't appealing; if it has a lot of views but not that many treasuries, maybe it needs a better image. 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 1930s origins. In the right image, I used the male torso; it gives a nicer idea of scale and looks more appealing (and 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.

11 comments:

Blackwillow Boho said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As you're well aware sometimes getting great photos of the things that we take time and effort to find or create can be the worst part of the journey. And I for one need all the help I can get.

fanciful devices said... Best Blogger Tips

OMG- I'm gonna link this to my next blog post for sure. everyone needs to read it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
white balance tho- not just for changing color temp but also to brighten the pic w/o loosing detail!!!!!!
also i love that you showed all the images you had to choose from and how the tie looked better on the mannequin.
take notes people!

Wildthorne said... Best Blogger Tips

A wonderful tutorial for photographers, thank you so much for sharing this and for taking the time to put this all together. I love all the examples you chose, but honestly lady you really do have a magic touch when it comes to lighting and photography. <3

Shawna Mayo Barnes said... Best Blogger Tips

WONDERFUL tips and tricks and couldn't come at a better time! Thank you so very much for sharing your words of wisdom!

Shawna
jsbarts.blogspot.com

Gill said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you so much for so many useful tips on what I find to be a very troublesome job.

Vintajia Adornments said... Best Blogger Tips

Lots of tutes out there about how to, but not many on the why. Great post on the fact that photo shoots are a very important part of the creative process and deserves care and consideration to yield the best results.

Cindy Cima said... Best Blogger Tips

Excellent post - thanks for sharing!

lisa mitchell said... Best Blogger Tips

fab info...it always amazes me how many out there don't realise how important the imagery is to their business!!

Lucie said... Best Blogger Tips

Thank you for this brilliant post Penny!
Now I must find and experiment with some new backgrounds...
p.s. I have linked my last blogpost to yours :)

Best Online Casino said... Best Blogger Tips
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Marketing theProduct said... Best Blogger Tips

While others are satisfied with the text descriptions, it’s easier to convince them to buy your products when they can see them through photos. It’s easier to convince customers that you’re selling great products by providing them with quality photos. Moreover, you’ll avoid returned products and disappointed clients. Well, I just like to remind everyone that you should have a properly detailed website in order to maximize the benefits of these photographs. Thanks for the share! :)

Adam Ithiel