Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Take Better Photos In Three Easy Steps

Go from this:

To this:

I've been reading every article I can find about improving my Etsy shop. Things have been very slow in the shop so I have plenty of time on my hands for expanding my horizons. In general I'm stuffing my head with every bit of information I can about this whole business of selling jewelry online that I can!

I've been making lots of treasuries in the brand new Treasury East on Etsy. What a wonderful toy...er...tool! I think it is a fabulous way of finding great artists on Etsy and getting to meet them. It's a wonderful creative outlet being a curator of these beautiful collections.

In all my searches for brilliant items for my treasuries I have found my eye being trained to what kind of photo really "pops" off the pages of Etsy. That has led me to re-read my camera's manual. I've been experimenting with different techniques, lighting, settings, and re-shooting many of my items, while doing some editing of others. I thought I'd share some of what I have been learning.

I have found myself often frustrated in my treasury searches because I will find a piece of jewelry that is absolutely beautiful that I would love to include, but the photo is so dark and small that I can't use it. Here's what one may look like:

You can see this Aquamarine Teardrops In Steel Necklace is a lovely piece, but this picture doesn't do it justice. It needs to be brightened up and cropped. I use Windows Photo Gallery for all of my editing. It has everything I need. There are plenty of free online photo editors available like Picasa and Picnik. These are easy to use and have everything you need.

The first and most important part of taking pictures is to get a clear and crisp photo that is not blurry. For this you will have to familiarize yourself with your camera's macro setting. The macro setting is for closeups and is indicated by a yellow flower. If you don't have your camera's manual, you can use Google to find it online. Just setting the camera to macro is not enough for a clear picture. Here are three essentials for getting a crystal clear shot:

1. Plenty of light, either natural light or full spectrum bulbs.

I use Reveal 100 watt bulbs in a clamp-type lamp. I have two of these lamps and I can move them around for different effects and shadows. If I want more shadow I use just one lamp. I personally don't like to use natural light because it is impossible to manipulate. You have to go where it is and that is less than convenient. I have plenty of windows but not in positions that give me good angles. Direct sunlight is too bright and will wash out the pictures. Besides, the weather is never reliable! So I stick with my little clamp lamps. That way I never have to wait for a sunny day to get great shots.

2. Use a tripod.

I always use a tripod. You can get a tripod for as cheap as $1. I had one from the dollar store and granted, it did break after about 3 months, but that was more than my dollar's worth!! This tripod in the picture is one that my dear sister gave me. I don't know exactly where she got it, but you can get a desktop tripod for around $15-20. If you can't shell out for a tripod, then at least put your camera on a pile of books or a box - something solid that you can line up with your subject so that you are not holding the camera in your hands. It is virtually impossible to get a sharp picture when you are holding the camera in your hands!

3. Find the correct distance from the camera to your subject.

This is crucial. If your picture is blurry, there is nothing you can do to improve upon it in any editor.

You can get an idea from your camera's manual of what distances it can handle on the macro setting. But then you will have to experiment to find just where it works best. I read my manual fully, but when I went to apply it all, it seemed nothing was going the way I expected. So I just started snapping pictures and experimenting to see what would give me the sharpest shot.

I see lots of pictures on Etsy that are blurred simply because the subject was too close to the lens. Sometimes you have to take a picture further away and then crop it later in the editor. Don't worry about getting in close to the subject when you take the picture. Just make sure the picture is in focus and you can crop it later, which will make it fill the frame.

That brings me to filling the frame. The picture below is better as far as the brightness, but the necklace is too far away. You really want to see the central part of the item and nothing else. Too much empty space around the item is no good. Don't worry about showing the entire piece in your first picture slot. Just zoom in on the very best part of the piece for the first picture - that picture will be in all the searches where people are shopping! You really want to fill the entire frame with the best part of the subject.

So in the picture below, I need to crop out the extra space and hone in on that centerpiece of twisted wire and aquamarine. I also want to brighten it further.

Here is the final picture:

That really pulls your eye in nicely.

Next I'll show you a good first slot picture, and a better first slot picture.
The first picture of the Get It In Gear Earrings is fine. It's sharp and bright, easy to see. Not a lot of empty space around the subject. It's a very respectable photo. But I really wanted to add some drama and I wanted to play up the industrial feel of these earrings.

So I switched out my lace background for an etched glass tile and zoomed in very close to the earrings. I used just one lamp which made beautiful deep shadows which highlight the piece brilliantly.

Here you can see the difference between one picture taken of Etched Brass Steampunk Earrings in natural daylight (top picture) and one taken at night with only incandescent lighting (bottom picture). The daylight picture has a clarity that the other does not have. But it also has a kind of flatness about it.

I like the mood in the second picture better for this piece. I wanted it to have that "ruins" feeling to it.

Well, I hope this little article has been enlightening for you (pun intended). Have a wonderful photo session!!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I love this article. You know I've been struggling with photography too. Thanks for the insight, I'll have to put this to practice!

  3. Very clear and concise descriptions and before and after photos! Great! I might just try those full spectrum bulbs you used because I've struggled with good lighting.

  4. Great post, very useful tips for photographing jewelry. While I don't sell mine I still like to show it off online, and am gradually working towards better pictures.

    Thanks :)

  5. Hi, nice blog & good post. You have beautifully maintained it, you must try this website which really helps to increase your traffic. hope u have a wonderful day & awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

  6. Great advice! Great pictures make all the difference in the world when it comes to online sales. It can be tricky to get it right and takes time to get a feel for it. It has taken us awhile to get to the point where our blog pictures are acceptable in my eyes. I think we still have a way to go but they are getting better everyday, thanks to tips like yours!

  7. Thanks for the great comments! I'm so glad my little bits can be helpful! I am continually learning more and changing my pictures.
    Lrc, Claire, Lydia, Cindy, thank you all for reading and commenting!! It makes my day to know someone is enjoying my blog!!

  8. I agree! Great post! Lots of nice tips on photographing jewelry!

  9. Hi, I also sell jewellery on etsy and have been improving my photos. I'll have a look for that macro for sure! thanks for the tips. I must look into this treasury business. best, susan

  10. Thanks for reading and commenting Andrew and Susan!!
    Susan - be careful: making treasuries can become addictive!!! LOL! enjoy!

  11. This post came along at just the right time. It's been my intention to re-take all of the photos in my shop, but I lacked motivation, and proper advice. Thank you so much for putting the information out there for the rest of us to use :)

  12. I'm so glad to hear that I may be helped Megpie!! That just makes my day! Good luck with your new pics!