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PSS Guide to Etsy: Styling your photos

Welcome to my ongoing series on running your Etsy shop. See other posts here.

Today let’s chat about one of my favorite topics – product styling and photography for your business. This truly may be one of my most favorite parts of running my Etsy shop. Getting a really gorgeous photograph is a creative challenge for me; I’m always trying to improve in this arena and I thought I’d share some of my tips & tricks.  And while I’m not going to go into the details of what settings to use and how to shoot using only natural light, I definitely recommend beefing up on your skills.

Many Etsy shop owners probably aren’t able to hire out a photographer to shoot all their items; usually you’re kind of a one-man (erm, or woman) show and when all you have is 5 images to showcase your item, you have to make it stellar. Image is everything for the online shop owner!  Online tutorials from Nicole’s Classes have been worth their weight in gold as I’ve been working my way through product photography. Nicole offers a class on Tabletop Photography that is excellent if you have already mastered your DSLR. If not, I recommend starting with Photo 101.

The first thing is to decide what kind of photos you need to take.  Do you require a model for your clothing or accessory item? Is your home accessory shown on its own or staged in a room? Will your servingware be shown with food? What’s going to represent you and your products to the best advantage? Then from there, begin collecting all your needed supplies.  Determine what style of photographs you need – for this post, I’m discussing products styled with accessories and photographs showcasing products only, against white backgrounds.

If you’ve ever watched shows like the Rachael Zoe Project, you’ll notice that when they go to photoshoots, they show up with loads and loads of items to pick & choose from. This is a great idea to adopt – have all your items (and then some!) on hand so if something isn’t working, you can quickly switch it out with something else. I lay everything out on my dining room table (next to the window that gets the best indirect natural light in the house) so I can swap things out as needed.

Smaller items like jewelry, or in my situation, iPhone cases, may do best when shown against a simple or white background in a tight closeup.  I don’t know that there’s any one right or wrong answer on whether to use a patterned/textured backdrop or not.  Try both and see what works best for your item.   In this instance, I always keep a few plain foam core boards on hand to use as a white surface to shoot on.  However, you may also find that you need a backdrop to make your item pop.  When I first started photographing my lucite trays,  they got completely lost against a white background because – hello! – they’re clear! They weren’t being represented quite as fabulously as I had imagined in their photoraphs because you lost the tray against the white backdrop. Enter in the bright backdrop as well as styling accessories.  By amassing a large collection of wrapping paper and fabric, I am able to mix and match patterns (my signature look) and overall I’m adding value to my brand and hopefully also evoking a certain feeling in the shopper.

But products shot against a white background can impart a certain crispness and overall clean feeling to the item. Experiment with multiples of the same item and make sure that your whites get really white. Experimenting with curves, contrast and white balance in your photo editing software will make a huge difference in the final photo.  Buy plain ol’ foamcore boards. They’re cheap and you won’t feel bad if you bend them up or accidentally step on them (which you will). I keep a few on hand. Black also works great, too.

Styling accessories shouldn’t take away attention from your item; they should add personality to the overall value of the image. What do you want the viewer to feel? Maybe your line of products is more earthy & handmade – are you photographing against a glossy white backdrop? Then it’s probably not true to your overall brand – maybe kraft paper or a piece of wood would be a better texture for your item. On the flip side, if you want your item to be perceived as luxurious, determine what you need to impart that image to the shopper.  Maybe you create luxury pillow covers in sumptuous expensive fabrics – in that case, I wouldn’t photograph it it on an Ikea sofa.

Great sources for styling accessories:

  • Anthropologie (for dishes)
  • Craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s
  • Paper Source (I always use their flat wrapping paper as my backdrops – great selection!)
  • Florists (for cool vases)
  • Estate sales, garage sales for vintage dishes such as milkglass
  • Fabric stores (quilting shops in particular for inexpensive yet interesting prints)
  • Ikea (EXCELLENT fabric options there)
  • Shop Sweet Lulu

Finally, a few things to keep in mind as you’re finalizing your imagery:

  • What the photo will look like in thumbnail size(aka, your first showing)? Partly changed now that Etsy allows you to crop an image in the listing creation, which solves a lot of problems.
  • Photographing multiples of one item can often create interest in the photograph. Show a variety of colorways, etc.  Experiment with multiples of 3s, 5s, 6s, and 8s.
  • Take multiple shots from a variety of angles so when you’re editing, you have lots to choose from. Get up close & personal, but also take a few from far away.
  • Create a product calendar of when you’re releasing new stuff. Block off a period of time (example: a week or # of days) to shoot all your products at once so you can get it all done in one fell swoop.  For example, I will be photographing holiday items in mid-October in preparation for the holiday launch the first week of November. I can get all the styling for new products done at one time and it creates a deadline for me to work with.
  • Are your images clear & crisp enough for magazines & other media to use and/or photoshop as need be for their publications? White backgrounds often lend themselves best to this as well. If they need it for print media, be sure to have high-res photos available at the ready.

In the end, styling your photos for your shop can be extremely time-consuming but rewarding for your brand. The overall goal is to add value to your items and to your brand. Remember that with over 850,000 shops, sometimes it’s easy to feel like you get lost in a (very large) Etsy crowd. Having fantastic imagery is the #1 way to set yourself apart.

Whew! That’s a lot of info!  Got any tips up your sleeve? I’d love to hear them.

 

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  • Great post!

  • Tan

    Fantastic advice! I have a problem with natural light in my home. The windows are so oddly placed that I don’t get much. Is moving too extreme? 😉

  • Sara Moore

    Super duper helpful and informative post, Rachel! I’m about to start photographing the holiday card collection, as well as some new products, so this is very timely. Keep ’em coming!

  • Naturelle

    Nice!!! Do you use Photoshop Elements to finalize the design? I’m just starting to use it but I’m having a hard time with shapes so I’m bringing my photos into illustrator instead to finish the design…the only is that I’m afraid the photos don’t have the quality…I would love your thoughts!??

    • RachelShingleton

      I typically edit all of my photos in Aperture and then if I’m adding text, etc., I do it in Illustrator or Photoshop. Either one works great for me.

      • Naturelle

        Thanks so much for replying and replying so promptly! 🙂 I think I’ll continue to edit my pixs in PS Elements and then add the design in Illustrator…it’s so much easier (at least for me). Thanks again!! I love your site…it’s like design porn lol

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