March 11, 2018

Showcasing Your Art: Product Photography Deep Dive

If you sell your art and handmade items online or use online tools to promote offline sales of your work, photography is one of the most important elements of success. I'm not just saying that as a photographer; consider the perspective of a potential buyer. If they can't hold your work in their hand, they need images to make them feel like they've seen it in person. Your job is to help them visualize how it would fit into their lives. We've talked a little about staging your photos to entice buyers, but let's dive deeper into what makes for effective product photography in the handmade space.

Monster Dance Designs | Ten Twenty Studio | Ornamental Things
Killer Queen Designs | Proof + Theory | Whipdizzy Handbag Co.

The long term goal of most photography for artists and makers is to sell their work. With Jury Photos, you're looking to wow the judges of an art show or open call for the opportunity display your art. With product photography on the other hand, your audience is made up of shoppers who are likely to evaluate the images in a different way. While you want to show them quality and craftsmanship, you also have to help make a case for why they should buy from you. The best handmade photography drives people down the marketing funnel in the following steps:
  1. Catch their attention among all of the options and clutter.
  2. Stand out from the competition, handmade and mass-made.
  3. Help buyers envision owning, using, displaying your goods.
  4. Convince them they want or need what you have to offer.
  5. Make sure what they receive meets their expectations.

Key Characteristics:

Lighting & White Balance
First and foremost, your images need to be bright enough that viewers can see the detail. You want to show them texture, craftsmanship, color. Improperly exposed images will not accurately represent what you're offering. Buyers are more likely to scroll past because poor lighting isn't eye catching and doesn't give a clear impression of what they're ordering. When it comes to the type of lighting, beyond brightness, you need to pay attention to any color cast. Your goal is to show your work accurately so anyone who does order from you will get what they expect. Overcast days offer nice even lighting that’s often cool in color tone, while indoor florescent lighting is more yellow. Gray cards are the best tool for correcting the white balance after photographing.

Post Processing
While I don't recommend relying on editing as a crutch for fixing a constant string of bad photography, know that most images will need some basic processing to give the most professional impression. Little tweaks to exposure to brighten or adjust contrast can make a huge difference. You will also be able to correct any color cast with white balance. Editing should be a part of your process to make sure your work is well represented. That doesn't mean you need to be a Photoshop expert, but it helps when you know your way around to correct minor issues or inconsistencies.

When staging product photos, pick a background that allows the piece to really stand out. In many cases, pure white is best, and that will allow the images to blend nicely into a website with the same color pages. Of course, pure black will offset some handmade items better, and creative colors or textures can be eye catching. The important thing is that your background doesn't distract from your work or make it hard to perceive important details.

Jamie Spinello | Morningstar Curio | The Coggler's Shoppe

Staging & Composition
Once you've determined your backdrop, you next need to pick any props or staging. Be sure you only add things that contribute to the message – which is making your handmade work desirable. It must be clear what you're selling, so don't use any staging that overpowers your products. How you arrange these added elements can help; for example, your art should be the focus. As a photographer, I use props to create an impression, so they need to be secondary and often out of focus or partially cropped out of the frame so there is no question about the main subject. Props also need to tell a story, whether that's how you made your work or how it should be used, that's up to you and the medium. Bath and beauty goods are commonly staged with their ingredients so you know how it's made. Jewelry may be show on a model so you can imagine wearing it. 2D artwork can be depicted hanging in a home to show how it looks with furniture. The options are endless, and you're welcome to be creative, but be purposeful. Here are some other good tips for staging.

GwenMaddie | Monster Dance Designs | Morningstar Curio

If you use models to show off clothing, jewelry, accessories or items being used, it's a good idea to keep the people anonymous, at least for product shots. Feel free to show other examples with actual people and their faces in social media or marketing photos, but with your online store, you want buyers to be able to imagine themselves in that person's place. So just show hands for example or ear lobes. You don't make it to look like you have a bunch of headless people wearing your clothes, but you can crop strategically to avoid identifiable features.

Pearl Kissed | Flip Solomon | Susan Ribnick

When you offer a range of items that are similar, be it different colors, patterns, sizes, you need to be mindful of the consistency in your images. Product listings on the same page should go together. It may seem like a lot of repetition to photograph all of your work on the same backdrop and with similar props, but that's the best way to represent yourself professionally. While you may not shoot all of your items at the same time, plan to use a consistent setup or at least break things out by series or category with their own look and feel.

J Bennett Gems

Various Angles
To help your buyers feel like they really know the product without seeing it in person, you should include a variety of shots. Show your shoppers the front, back, side, top, with props, without props, compared to other sizes or colors. There's a reason why Etsy values listings higher that have a bunch of images. If you pick a set of angles that shows off your work best, then you can shoot everything in that same rhythm (back to consistency again).

Sunshine Clay

If you'd like to see more examples of how I shoot product photos, please visit my portfolio. This type of image can be really fun because there are lots of creative ways to compose each image. Just be sure you are giving the most profession and enticing presentation.