5 Product Photography Lessons I Wish I Learned When I Was An Etsy Seller

Back when I was selling on Etsy, I had no idea how to take product photos. Sure I was selling photo greeting cards, prints and magnets, but taking product photos was a different world to me.

No matter how many times I tried to improve my photos  (or so I thought), I felt like my photos never really improved. They always looked amateurish. The lighting was uneven, the angles were awkward, my composition was meh. Overall, I wondered how I even got any sales online because there were other shops that were selling similar products that had much better photos than mine.

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But when I started practicing product photography again this time around, I actually was able to improve my photos exponentially. 

So what have I learned since then? A lot. Here are some things I wish I had realized early on that I think could have made a difference in my product photos and my online sales.

1. Standard home lighting sucks for product photography

pink floral magnets

A product photo from my Etsy selling days

You know those overhead lights in your bedroom and bathroom? Yeah, they're not the most adequate light source for photographing products. Why? Because oftentimes your light source is far away from the thing you’re trying to photograph and you can’t control the direction or distance of it. Plus, it can also throw off the colors of your products in your photos.

When I was photographing my products to sell on Etsy, I was using a low wattage overhead light in my living room. The lighting was fine for watching TV at night or reading a book at night, but not for photographing products to sell online. 

I thought the light source was fine when in reality, it wasn’t.

I’d always end up with product photos with weird shadows, odd color casting, and grainy-type photos. I think at one point I tried a side table lamp and while it helped make my photos brighter, the uneven lighting was still a problem. 

I didn’t realize at the time I had ideal windows to photograph my products if I used natural light instead of the bad overhead light in my living room. If I had used my north-facing window light, the color casting would have been neutralized, unflattering shadows would have been minimized and my photos would have come out less grainy. If only I had known!

2. Have you REALLY tried everything?

Looking back, I thought I had tried everything to improve my photos, but really I hadn’t. I think I was telling myself I had and thought, “Oh well, I guess this is it. This is as good as my photos are going to get,” even though I didn’t like them and know they didn’t show off my product well.

Then one day I got together with 2 Etsy sellers from the local community and went over to one of their houses to work on our shops and take product photos. The woman’s house we were at told me to take my photos next to this window that she liked to take her product photos in. After a few photos, I thought, “Omg, these photos look so much better than the ones I take at home!!!!” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to take all my product photos there, but it was impossible due to time and how many products I had. 

dog photo print etsy

One of the photos I took at an Etsy seller's house

And for some crazy reason, I thought I could only take better product photos at her house because she had the right lighting and that I didn’t at my home. Omg talk about a big fail on my part

After that, I never thought to figure out how to replicate the lighting at home so I could take those types of product photos at home. Instead, I stuck with my crappy overhead house lighting to take product photos, which is sad. 

But now, I know I have great lighting at home and love using my north-facing windows to take product photos. The lighting is perfect and all I needed to do was to take the time to practice and experiment with playing with the lighting a bit to create beautiful product photos.

3. Using these (inexpensive) tools will make photographing products easier 

When I was taking my product photos the first time around, I just used 2 pieces of white mat board as my background for my product and my camera. Nothing else. Well, I did use a lightbox a few times (more on that in a bit), but overall, I didn’t really use much to take my product photos.

It didn’t cross my mind that getting a tripod would have made taking product photos easier. It not only would have kept my camera stable when adjusting or switching out products, but it would have helped me be more consistent in my product photos. I wouldn’t have to guess each time how far my camera needed to be from my product like I had to do when I was holding the camera in my hand.

I also didn’t realize that if I had used foam core boards, I would have been able to have more control over the lighting. Having some foam core boards (or mat board) would have helped me control the direction of the light on my products and soft my shadows more. If only I knew!

4. The more things you’re able to control, the better

One of the things I tried when I started taking product photos for Etsy was a lightbox. It was the thing a lot of sellers were using to take their product photos and since I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing, I figured I’d try it out. 

I decided to make my own lightbox via an online tutorial because I didn’t want to spend the money to buy one online. And I’m glad I DIY’d my own box and saved my money because my photos didn’t come out very good. I wasn’t sure why though because so many other Etsy sellers were using them and said they were great.

So when I decided to try product photography again, I again made my own lightbox with an old shipping box and a white trash bag for fun. I used some grow lights (I’m a plant parent, by the way) as my light source and took some test shots. I quickly realized I hated the box. 

lightbox product photography

My DIY lightbox, the 2nd attempt

I realize though this time around that the reason I didn’t like the results is that I had too much light. Since there was light hitting my product from all directions, it was creating some glare issues and it was also eliminating all shadows which created a flat product photo. Shadows provide some depth to a product and removing them makes a product look one-dimensional. 

The other problem I was having was I couldn’t shoot my product from different angles. I was confined to one side of the box which was really annoying for me.

So, after a second attempt at photographing my products with a lightbox, I again tossed the box because I wasn’t liking the results.

I soon realized that using seamless paper with some foam core boards next to a sunny window produced much better product photos. The lighting was better, I could position my camera (and product) in different directions and play with shadows. 

product photo beach print

My product photos now, without a lightbox

I’ve come to learn the more control I have over my setup to photograph products, the better because I have no desire to shoot photos that look flat and dull like I see on Amazon.

5. Get inspired by your competitors

When you’re just starting out selling your handmade products online, chances are you might not know how to photograph your products. Or maybe you have product photos, but you’re not sure how to make them look better. 

One of the things I wish I had done to create better product photos when I was selling on Etsy was to look at competitors for photo inspiration.

By looking at product photos from businesses that sell similar products, you can get a bunch of ideas for your own photos. You can get ideas backgrounds, lighting, styling, and what angles to shoot your product from, and more.

Final Thoughts

Looking back at my product photography journey, it reminds me that photographing products is a work in progress. Just like with other aspects of your business and what you create and sell, you learn as you go. Your first product photos are probably not going to be great, but as you keep practicing and learning, the better they’ll be.

What's 1 thing you struggle with when photographing your products? Leave a comment below and let me know!


About the author

Imelda Jimenez-LaMar is a product photography coach and former Etsy seller, who said goodbye to her corporate job to create a business teaching photography. She is on a mission to demystify product photography for makers who want to create product photos that sell their handmade products online and grow their handmade business.

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