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?
- 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!
- 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.
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