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The Top 3 Mistakes I Made When Photographing My Products For My Etsy Shop And How You Can Avoid Them

When I was learning to take product photos when I had my Etsy shop, I swear it’s like all the photography knowledge I had learned went completely out the window. I was quickly learning that photographing a beach sunset was different than photographing a product.

Product photography was something I hadn’t done before so it was awkward and frustrating to try and get this amazing professional-looking photo I’d see online all the time, only to totally get unflattering, dull photos.

Looking back, I realized I made a lot of mistakes, but here are 3 mistakes that would have improved my product photos.

Mixing lighting sources 

When I would photograph my products, I’d end up with photos with a red or yellow cast to them. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was mixing my lighting.

What’s that mean? 

It means I was using indoor lighting to take my photos while I had curtains open which was also letting in natural light from outside.

When you start mixing light sources, you can get weird color casting in your photos. This can be hard to see when taking photos, so it’s best to upload your photos if possible to a computer to fully see how your images look.

All digital cameras have an auto white balance feature (a tool to help balance and neutralize colors in a photo) that you should be using when taking your photos. But if you’re mixing lighting sources, adjusting the white balance doesn’t always work well because your camera can’t balance the colors well. 

I should have stuck with either indoor lighting or outdoor lighting as my light source. Not both. 

To make photographing your products easier, pick either natural/outdoor light or indoor/artificial light as your light source.

If you’re relying on the natural light coming in from a window, be sure to shut off any indoor lights that may be in the room your shooting in.

If you want to use indoor light, close any curtains or blinds so you don’t get any unwelcome natural or artificial light (like a street lamp) coming in.

Not adjusting the white balance

Sometimes when I was photographing my products indoors, I’d forget to adjust the white balance. White balance is an important feature in photography because it can help save you a lot of time editing your photos.

Digital cameras (including your mobile phone camera) have an auto white balance feature. While it can be really good, it’s not always accurate. If you don’t have the option to manually adjust the white balance, there are camera apps you can download that have more camera features, including the option to adjust the white balance.

By adjusting the white balance before you take a photo, it can greatly reduce the time it takes to edit a photo after. If you don’t, you may end up trying to fix a photo where no matter how much you try to get the colors to balance, the colors may still look off.

Not having enough light

When I would take my product photos, I would usually take them on the floor of my living room. But because I have a sofa in front of a window, the sofa would block light from hitting the floor, leaving me with insufficient light. 

So what did I do to fix this problem? I would turn on a side table lamp or overhead light to get more light.

Looking back, neither solution was great. By using overhead light, the distance from the ceiling to the floor is probably close to 8 feet which is far if I’m trying to photograph my product. By the time the light reaches my product, the light isn’t very bright. Add in light from a table lamp and I would end up with areas in my photo that were brighter or darker, creating an unflattering image. 

What I should have done is get close to a window and used natural light! I didn’t have any studio lights so natural light should have been my go-to source for lighting.

Now that I know my living room windows are north-facing, they’re great for photography because the lighting is even and consistent throughout the day. East and west-facing windows are more inconsistent and south-facing windows can create intense lighting.

If you want to know how to deal with some of those lighting challenges, click here to learn how.

One thing I did do correctly

I will say the one thing I did from the beginning when I was taking my product photos was keeping them simple! I attempted a few times to get creative when it came to photographing my products but I never really like the results. So I stuck with photographing my product against a plain, white background.

It’s really important to remember that when learning anything, especially product photography for your business is it takes time to learn what works. Not all products photograph the same. Some products are more challenging while others are a little easier to photograph. 

The more you practice and apply these tips, the more your photos will improve. You’ll begin to understand how to fix problems and learn how to take great photos of your products.

What’s 1 thing you’ve been able to improve on when it comes to photographing your products?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Why Photographing Your Product Packaging Can Make You Stand Out As An Online Seller

When shopping in person for items, for the most part, products are packaged up and ready to go. Products have labels with instructions, ingredients, and so on. Plus, chances are you’re responsible for transporting the product home. 

But that doesn’t happen when you buy online. As you know, unless you’re selling in person at a pop-up event or craft show, customers can’t pick up and handle your products or always see how you package your product when they buy from you online.

Hair Care Bars by Soap Cauldron

It’s hard to know how a product will be packaged up and put in the mail and shipped off to you. And we all know that when buying online, you never know what state something will be in when it arrives at your home. Something could be broken, squished, ripped or even wet! 

The thing with purchasing handmade products is when something is made from scratch, you may not know things like how to properly take care of your newly purchased item, how to wash it, how to store it, and what it’s made out of. And you might not know how it will be packaged before it shipped too.

So why not show this to your customer before they buy? 

Napkins by Eko Kreations

But you might be saying, “I don’t need to photograph the packaging or ingredients. They know I’ll package their item carefully and send the info they need to use my product.”

And I’ll respond and say, “Think again!”

Look, you never know if your customer is a regular shopper of handmade products online or if your customer is buying a handmade product for the first time ever online. Customers might be wary of how their product may show up because while you make amazing things, they don’t know how you package and ship your items unless you show them.

And you might say, “I put in the description how the item is packaged and shipped!”

And I’ll say, “People don’t read.” It’s true. So help your customers out and photograph it!

I’m sure we’ve either experienced personally or heard of a shipping disaster where the first thought is, “Who the heck packaged THIS?? How did they think it was okay to package this up like this??” 

Assume all your customers are newbies to the online handmade world and show them you’ve thought about their needs and questions about how your item will arrive on their end.

Candle by Fiamma Candle

Here are some things to consider when photographing your product

Directions

Do you print instructions or directions for your product? Photographing it will communicate to your customer that you won’t leave them confused about how to care or use your product when they receive it. Whether it’s not to leave your product out in the sun or to wash it on the hot cycle, never assume your customer will know how to care or use your product. 

Soap Bar by Soap Cauldron 

Ingredients and materials

I don’t know about you, but I like to read through the ingredients of products before I buy especially if they’re products I haven’t purchased before. Recently, I bought a handmade product and it wasn’t until a while later did I realize it contained an ingredient my body has a reaction to. If the seller hadn’t printed out the list of ingredients, I would have assumed the product was ok for me when in reality it wasn’t. Making sure you list ingredients or materials is really important, especially because today so many people have multiple allergies and sensitivities. 

Soap Bar by Novo Bath & Body

Special details of your packaging

Do you do something special or fun with your packaging? Show it off! 

Packaging by Soap Cauldron

Product ready to ship

When you’re shipping out products to a customer, feel free to take a few shots of how it looks in the shipping box. If you put your items in an envelope, show the items before they go in the envelope. You can add these photos to the shipping FAQ area if you sell directly from your website or add them to your listings if you sell on Etsy or a similar website. This way, they are aware of how your products are wrapped and shipped and feel more comfortable buying from you. I strongly suggest this for those of you who ship items that can break in shipping like pottery or glass products. 

Remember, photographing the packaging of your product not only reflects your brand and story of your business but also provides the full customer experience. It’s important to share as much information as you can with your customer through not only your descriptions but your photographs. It helps build your reputation and trust as a seller because customers will know what to expect when they buy from you and hopefully turn them into happy customers who keep coming back.

Do you photograph the packaging of your products? 

Want to learn how I took these product photos? Subscribe to my email list and you’ll receive a free PDF download on how to get perfectly lit product photos where I show you my setup!

In Conversation with Marja of MGG Studio

When I became involved with the local SF Etsy community and going to craft shows, I’d often see Marja selling her jewelry. I’d consider one of the OG’s of the local Etsy community! She was always so kind to me anytime I’d swing by to say hi and ask if I could take her photo. 

As her business evolved over the years, so has her product photography. Jewelry isn’t one of the easiest things to photograph (ask any online jewelry seller!), especially when dealing with shiny, reflective metals, but Marja has it down!

Keep reading to learn about how she photographs her work and how it has impacted her business brand.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you make and sell?

I’m Marja (rhymes with aria), the designer and maker behind MGG Studio. Once upon a time I was convinced I was going to become an academic, but after I finished my Ph.D. the siren song of the jewelry studio was just too strong. I create bold, sculptural jewelry that is designed to feel as good as it looks. Because I believe that good design and sustainability go hand in hand, I prioritize recycled metals when crafting my jewelry.

Photo by Nicole Morrison Photography

What made you open up your online business?

I launched MGG Studio in 2014. Before that, I had started another jewelry business, lemonade handmade jewelry, which still exists on Etsy. (although MGG Studio is the focus of my attention).

 Bizarre Bazaar in San Francisco in 2012

I started MGG Studio because I wanted to push myself creatively. I enjoyed making the designs from lemonade handmade jewelry, but I wanted to explore bolder, geometric, and more sculptural shapes. Initially, I tried folding those new designs into the lemonade handmade brand, but it was confusing for my customer; I realized that I was actually looking at a different customer for these new pieces, so I split the line and MGG Studio was born. I kept lemonade handmade jewelry because I still have a great audience for those designs!

How did you learn how to take photos for your business? Do you have any resources you’d like to share?

So, so, so much trial and error. I also asked just about everyone I knew for advice. I quickly learned that photographing jewelry is very challenging. 

What’s 1 thing you wish you had learned in the beginning about photographing your products?

There’s actually two things: 

1) Never underestimate the importance of lighting. Lighting is everything. 

2) Every photo will need some editing, no matter how good it is. I killed myself trying to shoot the perfect photo straight from the camera until I realized that EVERY good photo that I saw had been edited to some degree. Learning just a little bit of Photoshop has made the biggest difference in the quality of my photos.

What’s your process for photographing your products? Do you have a setup or system in place?

For product photos with a white background: 

I use a (relatively) ancient camera (it’s a 11-year-old Canon DSLR).  What makes the biggest difference is I shoot in a photo box with quality lighting and I shoot raw images so that I have the largest file size to work with when I’m editing. I edit all my photos in Photoshop – I know relatively little about the software, but I know enough to crop, clean up the background and alter the white balance and clarity of the photos to my liking.

For lifestyle/ behind the scenes shots:

I’m lucky in that my studio has amazing light, so I’m able to capture behind the scenes/ process photos with just my iPhone. I don’t bother editing these photos in Photoshop, but I have some apps that I like to use to tinker with the white balance and contrast. My favorite is VSCO – it has a free version but it recently started tagging the photos edited in the free version with a VSCO watermark so I sprung for the paid version. I think it was about $20 for the year, and it was totally worth it. VSCO also has lots of filters presets, although I don’t really use those that much.  I also occasionally use the app Snapseed, since it allows you to select and lighten just certain areas of your photos if you just need a little extra brightness in one spot.

For my model shoots: 

I work with other photographers for my model shoots since that is way outside of my comfort zone.

In what ways has photography been important for your business? 

I think having good photos has been a game-changer for my business. In addition to providing my online customers with a better feel for my product and how it looks in real life, strong photos have leveled up my brand. Learning more about how to photograph my pieces has also given me a better ability to style my photos to position my brand and pitch it to the audience that I think it’s best suited to.

What are 2 pieces of advice you’d share with someone who is learning how to photograph their products for their online business?

 

  1. Ask for advice. There are wonderful makers out there who have lots to share about how to get the best images of your specific kind of product. Cultivate a relationship and see if they’d be willing to share any tips!
  2. Keep your eyes open! While it’s always good to have photos of your pieces on a clean white background for website and PR use and applications to shows (some shows require it), they’re not all that interesting. So I’m constantly challenging myself to find other ways to display and photograph my work – whether it’s behind the scenes at the studio or on models.

Do you have any brands, social media accounts, or websites that inspire you in your business?

So many! I really love a clean, clear photo, so brands that embrace that aesthetic are really appealing to me. Yield Design Co is a great example.  

What’s your favorite thing about having your business?

I’m one of those people that always wants to be learning, and having this business pushes me to learn and grow continually. I love that I get to use all parts of my brain from the creative to the strategic to the number-crunching – it’s very satisfying.


You can find Marja’s jewelry at her website, and follow MGG on social media on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

 

Love this post? Subscribe to my email list and you’ll receive a free PDF download on how to get perfectly lit product photos. Plus, hear about upcoming blog posts and other tips!

Why Sharing Your Unique Story Through Visuals Can Be Powerful as a Handmade Online Seller

I had so much fun this past weekend watching and supporting the SF Etsy team #shoptiny online event. It was held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The event was to showcase and support the local SF Bay Area’s maker community since all in-person events are currently on hold until who knows when!

They featured a number of different makers from jewelry, to home decor to fashion and everything in between!

What I loved most about the event were the stories and videos! Makers showed off their workspaces, how they make their work, and even walked us through their booth displays (it’s like you were at a show!). Some even shared DIYs which was a lot of fun to watch and follow along.

Trina Moreau (and her daughter) of Decadent Mini

I know A LOT of artists, makers, creatives, etc., don’t like having their photo taken, being on video, or being in the spotlight. I get it because I struggle with it too!! 

But you know what? It’s SO FUN for those of us on the other side!

Through the videos, I learned about the screen printing process (omg it’s so much work!), the basics of drawing, how truffles are made, how scarves are created, how to letterpress cards, and so on. 

Kristina Sullivan of Eko Kreations

It was a good reminder of how important it is as a creative who is selling handmade items to share not only your story of you but your work process. By sharing what inspires you, the work that goes into creating the products you sell, seeing works in progress and so on, adds so much value to you and your products.

We normally see the end results of what you make, but by sharing how you got to the final product, it helps us appreciate you and the work even more. 

Through telling your story and sharing with us who you are, you can inspire us, help us feel connected to you and the work you create. 

I felt SO inspired throughout the event! It took everything in me to resist the urge to purchase from every single maker! But it showed me the power of storytelling and important it is to leverage this in your business when you’re a maker.

Robert Liu Trujillo of Art of Rob Liu Trujillo

You may say to yourself, “I don’t have any good stories to share,” or “I don’t have anything interesting or unique to share.” 

Um, yes you do!

Here are a few writing prompts to help you get started:

  • What inspires you?
  • What are the tools you use to create?
  • What materials do you use?
  • What are some interesting facts about what you create most people might not know?
  • When did you start creating your work? What’s the story around that?
  • What’s your workspace look like? Maybe give us a tour?
  • What’s your favorite part of what you make?
  • How long does it take to create your work? 
  • How did you learn how to make what you make? Self-taught, in school, etc.?
  • Is there a personal story or history to each piece you create?

Share your responses through videos or photographs. Document the process. Give us a behind the scenes view of what goes into what you create. 

Leah Jachimowicz of Coffee n Cream Press

If you can, ask a family member or a friend to take photos of you with your camera phone or an actual camera. Bonus points if you know someone is a photographer who takes good pictures.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. The more you practice sharing your story and all the amazing skills you have to create your work, the easier it will get. Photos and videos are powerful, especially when selling online so help us connect with you by giving us the insider’s view of what goes on in your world.

Do you love hearing the stories behind handmade products from your favorite makers? Let me know in the comments below!

*Artists featured in this post were just a few of the amazing makers and creatives who participated in the #shoptiny SF Etsy event.